How One Man Solar-Illuminated 25,000 Lives

For Canadian professor David Irvine-Halliday, lighting up the world is a full-time job

The front lines of the global solar movement are not on American rooftops. They are in India, Kenya, the Congo, Ethiopia and many other countries, where electricity is scarce at best. Most people in poorer regions survive by foraging for firewood or using kerosene lamps. These are mechanisms for survival, but they are also costly and harmful to people and environment. It is a problem for the poor that perpetuates their poverty. Children and their schools do not have light to study by, making it extremely difficult to get the education needed to better their own lives and those of their family.

Solar power is a logical solution. A handful of international aid organizations have seen the light and are working hard to deliver clean, self-sufficient lighting to the rural poor. Solar-Aid and Solar Electric Light Fund are two recognizable names. There is another organization, Light Up The World, that is also making a profound impact, and it comes with an interesting story.

The Story of David Irvine-Halliday

If not for a canceled flight, Light Up The World wouldn’t exist. The setting is Nepal, 1996. Canadian professor David Irvine-Halliday finds out his flight home has been canceled and that it’ll be weeks before he can catch another. Clearly unfazed, Irvine-Halliday decides to go for a 14-day hike through the Himalayas. On his way, he encounters a small village with a tiny schoolhouse. Walking by that school, he hears children singing, yet there is no light inside. In that moment, Irvine-Halliday both wonders at and realizes the issues facing poor, rural villages all over the world.

Eventually, he went back to his laboratory at the University of Calgary and began experimenting with light-emitting diodes (LEDs). After toying around with pedal power and hydro power, he settled on solar power, which makes a wonderful companion to LEDs because both have excellent longevity. LEDs use 10 times less electricity than conventional incandescent bulbs and last many times longer. What Irvine-Halliday dreamt of was a solar lighting scenario that could last for decades.

In the end, he worked out a product that consists of a single white LED light, small battery and solar panel. In 2000, he went back to Nepal and began putting these in homes. Soon, his piece of the solar movement was growing, so Irvine-Halliday started the Light Up The World Foundation and expanded his solar-powered relief plan well beyond the borders of Nepal. To date, Light Up The World has provided 25,000 people in 51 countries with solar LED lighting.

Irvine-Halliday’s latest scheme is to make entrepreneurs out of the people his organization aids. He is working to get recipients micro-loans for the solar lights, which they can pay back over time with money earned and/or products made by LED light. Irvine-Halliday worked hard to get the cost of his mini-lighting system down to $100. That is certainly a lot of money to those living off a dollar or less per day, but similar to a home solar power system in the States, it is a long-term investment that bears dividends. $100 represents about a year’s worth of oil or kerosene to run a lamp. A one-year payback is not too shabby, especially with many years of free lighting to come.

A simple missed flight has totally changed David Irvine-Halliday’s life and the lives of at least 25,000 other people. He has since quit his job in Calgary to start a company in India that will make an even cheaper and more efficient product. Lighting up the world is a full-time job.

Source: Voice of America

Photo Credit: Idea City & Light up the World

Posted on December 21 in Solar News by .

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