Unite to Light

In Who's Doing Cool Stuff? by Mark Sylvester

unite-to-light-solar-LED-lamp Unite to Light is a local non-profit that provides solar products for people in developing countries. Lighting should be safe, clean and affordable to all. Over 1.5 billion people rely on fuels such as kerosene for lighting. Such fuels are expensive and provide inferior light for studying and other purposes. They produce smoke and soot which are unhealthful, irritate the eyes and lungs and expose those around them to the same negative health effects as heavy smoking. Lack of suitable home lighting is directly linked to illiteracy, poverty and heath problems. The current widespread burning of kerosene for lighting results in substantial carbon release and environmental pollution. Unite to Light has an innovative solution to this problem and is making an impact across the world. UCSB has been involved for many years in research on higher efficiency visible LEDs, led by Prof. Shuji Nakamura; more efficient solar cells, led by Prof. Alan Heeger; and more efficient batteries, led by Prof. Dan Morse. These are active research areas in the Institute for Energy Efficiency at UCSB. The solar powered lighting project started with a visit from Pastor Kofi Fosuhene and Dr. Osei Darkwa to Santa Barbara.  Their visit was organized and supported by Goleta Presbyterian Church and Pangaea, a Santa Barbara nonprofit devoted to improving living conditions in Ghana that was started by Dr. Steve Eskow and Sarah Blackmun.  Dr. Darkwa visited the Institute for Energy Efficiency and explained that many people in Africa, who rely on kerosene for reading, suffer health problems and financial hardship.  He asked if the Institute could design an affordable reading light.
Although many solar powered flashlights are available, he was interested in reading lights because of the problems related to children and education.  John Bowers, Jock Bovington and the Engineers without Borders – UCSB Lighting Group became involved in this problem along with three local engineers: David Schmidt on electronics,  Norm Gardner on the physical layout and Marty Jenkins on quality and reliability. After going through several designs, the first samples were sent to Ghana and met with great enthusiasm. The nonprofit, Unite to Light, a non-sectarian effort, was formed and continued improvements and developed relationships with manufacturing companies.  Working on an ongoing basis through Pangaea and Goleta Presbyterian Church, 100 lights and then 800 lights were sent to Presbyterian churches in Ghana and distribution began. Unite to Light is now engaged with over 100 organizations in over 60 countries on 4 continents to supply solar based lighting to people in the developing world. Distribution partners include other non-profits, relief organizations, individuals developing small businesses in villages, private businesses that buy the lights in quantity, service clubs.  Rotary International and Direct Relief International, a worldwide charity providing disaster relief and other services are two key partners. Unite to Light is now engaging with other organizations to supply solar based lighting and solar powered e-readers to the developing world.