When Annex resident Michael Pietrzak spent time working in a refugee camp in Malawi, he couldn’t help but notice that one of the greatest challenges residents in the camp faced is one that often goes unreported.
He was invited into a man’s home and, despite it being the middle of the day, the inside of the house was nearly pitch black.
“It was so dark, I couldn’t even see the guy even though he was right in front of me,” Pietrzak recalled.
He soon learned a shocking 85 per cent of Africans face similar situations as they have no access to electricity due to high energy costs and the lack of a proper power grid.
In order to light their homes, many resort to cheap lamps fueled by kerosene and other conventional fossil fuels, which cause copious amounts of indoor air pollution and lead to respiratory conditions and death.
“Indoor air pollution kills more people than malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS combined,” Pietrzak said. “And then there’s the economics of it. A lot of African families are spending up to one-third of their income on traditional fuels.”
In order to offer a safer, less expensive alternative, Pietrzak teamed up with friends Symon Edmonds, Tyler O’Reilly and Gabrielle Scheliga to start Lightseed Energy, a company that aims to put solar-powered lamps in the hands of some 580 million families living in rural areas across Africa.
The small desk lamps will charge during the day and then provide four hours of light at night.
“It will help with health, wealth and the environment,” Pietrzak said. “They can cut their energy use by more than 15 times, it reduces indoor air pollution, people will be able to operate businesses longer and students can study after dark.”
The company has started a crowd funding campaign through which they hope to raise $30,000. That will allow them to reach out to some 2,000 families.
Lightseed Energy plans to get the lamps into the hands of families with primary school-aged children first and foremost.
“That’s kind of the silver bullet - if you can fix the education system, you can fix a lot of other problems in the long term,” Pietrzak said.
The partners have already managed to make connections in Zambia, with contacts over there handling the logistics and paperwork, getting everything set up for when the Lightseed team heads over there in the spring or summer.
Eventually, the company aims to become a sustainable business with entrepreneurs in Africa handling the on-the-ground duties, which will help Lightseed Energy reach out to more communities. They will also look into larger lighting systems in addition to the small desk lamps.
“By 2030, we hope to have solar in the hands of every African family,” Pietrzak said.
While that may seem an ambitious goal, Pietrzak noted that cellphone usage exploded in Africa once the proper infrastructure was in place.
“Ten to 15 years ago, virtually no one in Africa had a cellphone, but now everyone does,” he said. “It’s like that with electricity - there’s no electrical grid across most of Africa, or a very poor one at best. We want to replicate the cellphone model and get light into people’s homes.”
Lightseed Energy’s crowd funding campaign will run through Friday, Jan. 10. To donate, visit www.indiegogo.com/projects/light-for-africa
To learn more about the company and its vision, visit www.lightseedenergy.com