in the last several years, the practice of socially responsible architecture has received mainstream attention. Architects and designers are using their talent and skill to create affordable and sustainable designs for communities in need. The work of the late Samuel Mockbee and his Rural Studio led the way. Bryan Bell's Design Corps carries on this tradition, while Cameron Sinclair's Architecture for Humanity brings the design world and the relief world together on a global scale. But where do lighting and energy issues fit into a movement that has focused primarily on the physical building? The work of the Light Up the World Foundation (www.lutw.org), founded by Dave Irvine-Halliday, is addressing this question.
Inspiration in Nepal
In 1997, during a sabbatical year in Nepal, Irvine-Halliday, a specialist in photonics at the University of Calgary, was helping the University of Tribhuvan in Kathmandu set up its electrical engineering program. The visit also enabled this world-class climber to fulfill his desire to trek the Himalayas' Annapurna Circuit. Passing through a small Nepalese village, a sign invited foreigners to stop and teach local school children. When Irvine-Halliday entered the schoolroom, he was startled by the extreme darkness of the interior. Upon his return to Calgary, he embarked on finding a solution.
According to Light Up the World (LUTW), of Nepal's 3.4 million households, only 200,000 have a reliable power supply, and the average household income is only about $200 a year. Given the energy and cost restraints in the region, Irvine-Halliday realized it was not necessary to light an entire home; providing light for certain areas would suffice, and this would still be more light than these communities were used to.
Back in the lab, with the assistance of his technician John Shelly, Irvine-Halliday spent the next year creating a solid-state lighting system with a white LED that could be installed on a 'pico' (the Latin prefix for trillionth) budget. Browsing the Internet one day, he discovered that the Japanese company Nichia had already developed a white LED. 'When we flipped the switch on in the darkened lab and saw how much light this 0.1W LED provided, it was our eureka moment,' says Irvine-Halliday. With the 0.1W LED, he created a multi-diode lamp that could light a home using a simple generator as a power supply.
In 1999, he returned to demonstrate and install the system in several Nepalese villages. Since 2001, 700 homes, schools, and community facilities in remote villages throughout Nepal, India and Sri Lanka have been lit with the rechargeable, battery-powered white LED lamp systems.
Getting It Done
To date the organization has a large contingent of volunteers who help organize and coordinate lamping projects, as well as broker industrial partnerships around the world. 'We operate as a social enterprise, using business elements combined with a social mission,' explains executive director Ken Robertson.
To that end, LUTW works with both manufacturers and communities. An agreement with Lumileds allows LUTW to purchase white LEDs inexpensively. The approximate cost of a residential unit is between $40 and $60, although there are many variables that contribute to this pricing. 'Of course you get some strange looks when you tell someone you are charging the poor,' says Robertson. 'But there has to be a fee-it's a principal development point. Two billion people are affected. It is not possible to replicate that in any large-scale number on a donation basis, plus it creates perverse economics where technology is available only on a subsidy basis.'
An equally important aspect of LUTW's mission is that the solid-state lighting system offers an affordable, safe and environmentally friendly alternative to fuel-based lighting. 'Kerosene is the gold standard for close to 2 billion people. It provides an unhealthy, inefficient, expensive form of light,' says Robertson.
LUTW is about more than just providing light. It is about creating healthier and safer environments, establishing local economic infrastructures, and allowing opportunities for advancement and literacy. Ultimately it is about the generosity and vision of an individual and a testament to the power of a single idea.