Saturday 7 February 2015

MIT-USAID Program Releases Pioneering Evaluation Of Solar Lanterns

Reports on Effectiveness of Solar Lanterns 

The CITE – Comprehensive Initiative on Technology Evaluation group, funded by the United States Agency for International Development – USAID has released its first report recently, evaluating the effectiveness of solar lanterns in Uganda, Africa.

The team of MIT faculty with students, set off for western Uganda to conduct CITE’s evaluation of solar lanterns and researchers conducted hundreds of survey with consumers, suppliers, manufacturers as well as non-profits in order to evaluate eleven locally available solar lantern models. In order to assess each product’s suitability, researches computed rating score ranging from 0 to 100 on the basis on how the product’s attributes and features perform.

Attributes include characteristics inherent to solar lanterns like brightness, time to charge and run time and features include less central characteristics like a lantern’s ability to charge a cell phone. Sanyal comments that the importance of cell phone charging was a surprising and noteworthy finding. The said device seems to appear like Nalgene water bottles which soaks up energy during the day and switches on at night.

 The analysis of the solar lantern market in Uganda, where one can purchase over a dozen various lanterns costing between $14.17 and $79.99 had a few surprises. According to MIT professor, Bishwapriya Sanyal, he stated that `what surprised them was that the market was flooded but no one knew which one really works’.

Charging – Placing on Roofs - Daytime

Researchers observed that the best intentions of the producers did not always sync with how products were utilised in the real world. The producers of the solar lanterns have intentions of placing them on roofs to be charged during the day though most of them would not leave them there fearing that they could be stolen. The features that users would be interested in is `would the solar charger also have a port to charge their cell phone and these observations would probably change the way manufacturers made their device, according to Sanyal. He points out one thing which stuck him was that consumers were concerned whether or not the solar lantern charged the cell phone and that they did not expect this feature to be so important and for some, connection would be more valuable than having light.

Need to be Nimble with Changing Market

CITE worked with USAID with the intention to select solar lanterns as product family for its first evaluation. Sanyal states that evaluating solar lanterns would enable CITE an opportunity to learn from USAID’ existing partnership with Solar Sister, which is a social enterprise distributing solar lantern in Uganda, a country with few people having access to light after dark.

This could be very beneficial to them. CITE researchers worked closely too with Jeffrey Asher a former technical director at Consumer Reports in order to learn from existing production evaluation model. Evaluation of products in laboratory at MIT or Consumer Reports is quite different from evaluating them in rural Uganda though both are important according to Asher a co-author of the CITE report.

He states that the greatest challenge of Consumer Reports’ has been evaluating products which are presently in the U.S. market and CITE has found that in developing countries, they need to be more nimble in keeping up with the changing market.

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