LEDs bring hope to Africa

2013-05-31 13:01
Philips has launched a 100W equivalent LED. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Philips has launched a 100W equivalent LED. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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LED in Africa

2013-05-31 12:44

John Westermeyer, marketing manager for Philips Lighting Africa, talk about the opportunity for LEDs to light up Africa in this YouTube video.WATCH

Cape Town - Light-emitting diode (LED) technology has the potential to light up the African continent if the political will can be found, a major producer has said.

LED technology was invented by Oleg Vladimirovich Losev in 1927, though it was believed to have no practical purpose.

Monsanto was the first company to mass produce LEDs and today, major manufactures include Toshiba, Osram, Sharp, Philips and others.

"If you did a straightforward replacement of an existing luminair, you've got to look at the overall package of what you're getting. You're getting an LED fitting that has a far greater life span than a conventional lighting; you're getting a fitting that requires far less maintenance," John Westermeyer, marketing manager for Philips Lighting Africa told News24.

The company is on a road show across Africa to show off the benefits for LED technology, especially in communities isolated from the electrical grid.

Electricity demand

In Cape Town, Philips delivered a lighting package consisting of solar panels powering a battery that provides night time light for a soccer field.

"It means that we can light up a larger area - in this case a 1 000m%sup2; - using a fitting that consumes 56W of electricity as opposed to something equivalent that uses 400W of electricity if you look at conventional lighting," said Westermeyer.

The project, part of the company's "Community Light Centre" programme to roll out lit environments across Africa, shows that renewable energy solutions are viable.

"You can take all the stakeholders out of it, the reality is we're going to run short of power unless we bring about energy saving solutions," Westermeyer argued.

Eskom on Thursday published its System Status Bulletin and said that it was able to meet an average demand of 33 800MW with supply of 34 400MW.

This leaves little room for a spike in demand and the number also includes running the expensive open cycle gas turbines.

"The concern is the peak demand between 5pm and 9pm [17:00 and 21:00] when customers return home from work. Residential customers, particularly those that use geysers, space heating and pool pumps can make the biggest difference by switching off this equipment during the peak period," Eskom said.


Some have been calling for Eskom to operate as a private company in an open electrical supply market.

"Facing a winter of discontent, as Eskom warns of blackouts, the solution is clear: Follow international trends; open up the electricity market; introduce real competition through an independent transmission grid," said the Free Market Foundation.

LEDs typically consume 10% to 20% of the energy of conventional light bulbs and last for around 50 000 hours.

"And now with Led and the advancements we've made, it opens up a world of possibilities," Westermeyer added.

He said that growing urban populations in Africa would add strain to existing energy infrastructure.

"Road and street lighting is a good obvious choice if you look at the amount of energy that can be saved. If you look at Africa, by 2020, 22 countries in Africa are going to be in a dire energy crisis."

According to The World Bank, only 24% of people in sub-Saharan African have access to electricity.


"Excluding South Africa, the entire installed generation capacity of sub-Saharan Africa is only 28 Gigawatts, equivalent to that of Argentina," said the institution.

Even though LEDs last much longer than conventional fittings, Westermeyer is adamant about the fundamentals of the technology's commercial viability.

"Once all the sockets - your conventional lighting - is filled with LEDs, people are saying 'Where does that leave the lighting companies; there's no more business.' That's so incorrect.

"We're already integrating it into fabrics and clothing - quite famously for the Black Eyes Peas concert. We designed their costume; we integrated our LEDs into that."

There are also options to light architectural projects with LEDs as tourist attractions or decorative light in carpets.

Westermeyer said that the solar power gave isolated communities the opportunity to have light, irrespective of grid coverage.

"Suddenly you can plant a solar solution anywhere; in any spot. You dig a hole, put it there, and you've got light."

- Follow Duncan on Twitter
Read more on:    philips  |  eskom  |  renewable energy  |  technology

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