Kerosene transition to off-grid lighting solutions – Situation Analysis

Some 1 billion people do not have access to clean and sustainable light sources because they are not connected to national grids. The only accessible option for some is kerosene lighting and cooking (Kaygusuz, 2012). The major population who have no access to light is concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa with around 598 million people living in darkness and relying on conventional energy sources like the kerosene. Kerosene lighting has detrimental health effects as the soot from the burning of kerosene produces toxic black carbon and Particulate Matter (PM) which cause serious health issues. Kerosene lamps can also cause serious injuries from burns, poisoning of children, and inadequate illumination for studying. Kerosene is a very poor energy source from a socio-economic, environmental, and economic perspective (Amigun, 2011).

Negative impacts of kerosene lighting

1. Socio-economic impacts
4 to 25 billion litres of kerosene is used annually for household lighting globally (Jacobson et al, 2013). Kerosene lamps pose a serious threat to the overall well-being of human beings and can result in accidental fires. Kerosene lamps produce very inefficient and poor lighting (3 to 4 lumens as compared to 900 lumens from a sixty-watt bulb). Children who study in light produced by kerosene lamps inhale toxic smoke which is harmful to their growth and development. Thousands of people are maimed each year in Nigeria alone due to kerosene lamp explosions and severe burns caused by accidental overturning of kerosene lamps.

2. Economic impacts
Many developing nations subsidise kerosene to make it affordable for poor and this is a heavy financial burden on the governments. In Sub-Saharan Africa alone, $10.5 billion is spent a year on kerosene and approximately $291 million people use kerosene for lighting and cooking purpose. Kerosene lighting, though affordable, curbs economic prosperity and productivity (Barany et al, 2015).

3. Health impacts
There are thousands of examples of structural fires, severe burns and high death rates caused due to accidental overturning of kerosene lamps. Black carbon produced from the burning of kerosene is associated with respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, pneumonia, visual health issues, cancer and even birth defects (Bornjour et al, 2013).

Transition to off-grid lighting

A very promising pathway for access to clean energy are solar lighting systems which offer cheap, safe, cost effective, and better illumination. The solar revolution has transformed the lives of many downtrodden and poverty struck people especially in Sub-Saharan Africa who did not have access to clean and sustainable light and were forced to use dangerous kerosene lighting. Solar lighting ensures improved health, increased productivity, economic growth and overall empowerment

Positive outcomes

Solar lighting is more sustainable, accessible, resilient, versatile, requires low maintenance and is flexible. Solar technology requires initial capital which is a bit high but the cost of the operations is negligible. Also, light and heat from the sun are free.

Non-conventional energy resources are labour-intensive as compared to the conventional fuel sector and therefore has the potential to support increased number of jobs than the fossil-fuel sector. As per the Solar Foundation’s 2013 National Solar Jobs Census, around 143,000 manpower were recruited in the United States solar establishment in 2013 alone (Alstone, 2014).

Global level initiatives

– UNEP-(GEF)-en.lighten initiative
– Lighting Africa
– Power for All/ d.light
– UNDP India/ Light and Livelihood Campaign.
– International organisations (SolarAid, Global Off-grid Lighting Association, Tata Energy Resource Institute)

The Way Forward

– Establishing the right policies to increase the energy access.
– Total elimination of kerosene subsidies and redistribution of subsidies to promote solar lighting
– Market expansion for renewable energy fuel and products
– Increased investments in solar energy technology
– Increased awareness of solar lighting benefits among the masses
– Well-developed infrastructure/regulation for proper recycling of spent products


Alstone, P., Lai, P., Mills, E., & Jacobson, A. (2014). High Life Cycle Efficacy Explains Fast Energy Payback for Improved Off‐Grid Lighting Systems. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 18(5), 722-733.

Amigun, B., Musango, J. K., & Stafford, W. (2011). Biofuels and sustainability in Africa. Renewable and sustainable energy reviews, 15(2), 1360-1372.

Bárány, A., & Grigonytė, D. (2015). Measuring fossil fuel subsidies. ECFIN Economic Brief, 40, 1-13.

Bonjour, S., Adair-Rohani, H., Wolf, J., Bruce, N. G., Mehta, S., Prüss-Ustün, A., & Smith, K. R. (2013). Solid fuel use for household cooking: country and regional estimates for 1980-2010. Environmental Health Perspectives (Online), 121(7), 784.

Jacobson, A., Bond, T. C., Lam, N. L., & Hultman, N. (2013). Black carbon and kerosene lighting: an opportunity for rapid action on climate change and clean energy for development. The Brookings Institution, Washington, DC (United States). Global Economy and Development.

Kaygusuz, K. (2012). Energy for sustainable development: A case of developing countries. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 16(2), 1116-1126.



One thought on “Kerosene transition to off-grid lighting solutions – Situation Analysis

  1. “Some 1 billion people do not have access to clean and sustainable light sources because they are not connected to national grids.” – Say wut? Show me one national grid that provides clean/sustainable light… 8-P

    “Solar lighting is more sustainable” – Say wut again? If by “more sustainable” you actually mean “less unsustainable” then sure I could believe that! Otherwise last I checked solar lighting still came from finite reaources… not to mention leaves a toxic mess in its wake.

    Just so everybodys clear, progress is a cultural myth and technology is not going to save us…

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