SociaLite Lighting Systems Inc

Engineering for the Middle of Nowhere…

Technology


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We learned that there is much more to light than a battery and an LED. Completely unexpected and unanticipated were the fistfights that arose when users were reluctant to release their prototype lanterns to the next family—police intervention was required to force the transition. Our design approach had failed to appreciate the enormous social impact of light and the consequential change in social dynamics, our mentors had missed this as well. Over the succeeding years, we have encountered numerous instances of behavior that is alien to those of us outside the communities—none bad, just turns of completely unexpected events and unanticipated outcomes.
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The Lantern


Reused plastic containers are used for the lantern housing, through hole circuit boards, for the LED drive and battery charging circuits, are assembled using battery powered soldering irons. The LED lanterns, powered by a 6V lead acid battery, available in local markets, are charged at the central community charging station, a mini-grid comprising one or more 100W PV panels, a charge controller and one or more lead-acid batteries—designed to distribute the cost of expensive components. Requiring only a weekly recharge since the lanterns run on full power for about 40 hrs (and reduced power for about 120 hrs), a 100W charging station is able to support about 80 lanterns.
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Sharing expensive items, such as imported photovoltaic panels and locally available car batteries, reduces the individual of a lantern cost. For the housing, clay proved too heavy and molded plastic too fragile—once broken it is irreparable. Containers that no one can afford when full provide a valuable resource when empty and are readily available in the larger markets. Undergraduate students in Ghana and Rwanda placed the battery and the circuit into a robust plastic hair relaxer container. With two bicycle spokes they connected this to a translucent juice bottle to diffuse the light and used a third spoke for the handle.
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Exploring ideas through which these communities can become more self-reliant led to the concept of a Lighting System in a Suitcase. A kit from which to build, install and operate a standalone lighting service that combines imported components—electronic circuits, tools for assembly, a solar panel and a charge controller—with a comprehensive set of instructions, in the form of pictograms and videos in local languages. With a flexible photovoltaic panel, everything imported for an eighty-lantern kit fits into a cylinder of diameter and length approximately one third of a meter.
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To this are added the locally sourced lantern housing materials, a car battery and the 6V lantern batteries. The complete system is now ready for delivery to the community—on someone’s head, a bicycle or the back of a donkey—a functional manufacturing and supply chain that requires no infrastructure, mini-grids that can be installed and operated throughout environments ranging from desert to jungle devoid of roads, mechanized transport and electricity.

Mobile Charging Stations


New in 2020 is the implementation of a mobile power unit, a mini-grid on wheels to serve the power needs of smaller communities for whom it is currently uneconomic to install a dedicated system. We envisage the first implementation in February 2020 in the Wa West District in the Upper West region of Ghana.

Fixed Charging Stations


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Isolated communities comprising more than about 50 households have their own mini-grid with or without the optional audiovisual entertainment system. The mini-grid is capable of simultaneously charging up to 20 lanterns and 8 mobile phones (numbers adjusted to suit community requirements) and powering the home theater. The community members chosen to run the charging station are responsible for collecting the weekly charging fee for the lanterns, the per use fee for charging phones and renting the entertainment system.