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Bright idea gives light relief

Bright idea gives light relief

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090601_e07.jpg

An NGO aims to reduce the use of expensive and environmentally damaging kerosene lanterns by distributing LED replacements in rural Cambodia

Photo by: Bennett Murray

GERES Village Entrepreneur Supervisor Narein Sourn shows off a rechargeable lantern.

A NEW initiative by French environmental  NGO GERES aims  to shine a light on energy efficiency and reduce the carbon footprint in rural areas from inefficient kerosene lanterns.

GERES Village Entrepreneur Supervisor Narein Sourn said the lack of a national power grid meant people in rural villages usually relied on kerosene lanterns for nighttime illumination, which was bad on many levels.

"The kerosene lamp is not good for the environment, and [villagers] spend much money to buy kerosene," he said.

It costs bewteen 200 and 400 riels to keep a lantern burning on kerosene for four to five hours, she said.

As an alternative, GERES has introduced longer-lasting, cleaner LED (light-emitting diode) lanterns to the countryside at the same price that villagers currently pay to run a kerosene lantern.  

The lantern has now become a tool

to empower

households.

GERES rents the lanterns to central village operators, who in turn charge villagers 300 riels a night to rent the lanterns.  

The lanterns can operate 12 hours a night for five days before the battery needs recharging.  

At the end of the five-day period, the villagers return the battery to the village operator and are given a new one.  The distributor then recharges the battery with a diesel-powered car battery and rents it out again.  

GERES Eco Business Development Manager Ruben Mahendran estimated that the village distributor can make $45 a month in profit from the rentals.

Whereas villagers will typically burn 250 mililitres of kerosene a week with traditional lanterns, the LED lantern batteries only require 12.5mL of diesel to keep them charged for a week.

Furthermore, the LED lights do not expose the entire household to indoor pollution from the toxic fumes.  The flammable kerosene also poses a fire hazard to rural homes.

GERES hopes to use solar power in the future to make the system truly environmentally friendly.   

Not just green

In addition to the increased efficiency of LED lanterns, they also provide better lighting than kerosene lanterns, making it easier for students to study at night, according to Narein Sourn.

"Children cannot study very well with the kerosene, because the lamp is not bright enough," he said. "People can also work later into the night on economic activities such as weaving, silk-making and fishing."

GERES has run the project as a pilot program in five villages in Kandal province and has thus far distributed 300 lanterns.

"The lantern has now become a tool to empower households," Mahendran said.

GERES has also been conducting market research in Kampong Chhnang with the intention of expanding the project.  In the future, GERES hopes to make a profit from the rentals that can in turn be invested in further rural development projects.

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