SERC’s yearlong effort coordinating the Lighting Global 2012 Outstanding Product Awards culminated in the announcement of the award winners at the 3rd International Off-grid Lighting Conference and Trade Fair in Dakar, Senegal in November. This marks the second time SERC has led the Outstanding Product Awards effort; the first was at its inception in 2010. Lighting Global, which is closely associated with the Lighting Africa and Lighting Asia programs, is a joint initiative of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and World Bank. The Outstanding Product Awards recognize exceptional off-grid lighting products and seek to encourage the development of quality, affordable lights for the estimated 1.6 billion people in the world who lack access to electricity. Providing access to quality lighting enables people to reduce their use of expensive fuel-based lighting, such as kerosene lamps, which in turn lowers their exposure to air pollutants, minimizes fire hazards and mitigates greenhouse gas emissions.
Lighting manufacturers entered 25 different products in this year’s competition. Products were divided into three price-based categories: ‘Budget’ products under $30; ‘Mid-range’ products between $30-$72; and ‘Premium’ products from $72-$135.
An initial screening based on preliminary tests narrowed the candidates down to 16 finalists. All award finalists underwent a rigorous assessment process involving detailed laboratory testing, evaluation by people living in off-grid areas of Senegal, Kenya, and India, and final judging by a panel of experts. The entire process took over seven months to complete and not only informed the judges, but also provided valuable feedback in the form of test reports and end-user evaluations to the lighting manufacturers.
SERC played a substantive role in all phases of the assessment. SERC’s lighting test lab coordinated with the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (FISE) to test the technical performance of the finalist lamps according to the Lighting Global Quality Test Methods.
Concurrently, SERC team members and SERC alum Jennifer Tracy coordinated the field evaluations in which 18 focus groups of 10-12 people in India, Kenya, and Senegal provided end-user perspectives about the products. Each focus group member was able to try out one of the candidate lamps in their home for 1-2 weeks. Following the in-home trials, each group met for a feedback session in which participants reported on and demonstrated their lamps as part of a group discussion. This field feedback was a key part of the judging process.
Finally, SERC served as part of the expert judging panel, which also included experts from the UN Foundation, the German development agency GIZ, the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association (GOGLA), and the World Bank Group’s Lighting Africa and Lighting Asia programs. In making their final selections, the judges considered overall design, technical performance, environmental impacts, truth in advertising, ease of use, special features such as mobile phone charging, end-user perspectives and price.
Several members of SERC’s lighting lab team attended the awards ceremony in Senegal and were thrilled to congratulate the winning manufacturers. All the winning lamps (see photo, below), aside from the winner in the budget category, offer the ability to charge a cell phone in addition to providing high-quality lighting service. The awards ceremony and gala dinner were sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy under the Global Lighting and Energy Access Partnership (Global LEAP). Visit the conference website for a list of product award winners and to view photos from the event.
Following the excitement of the Outstanding Product Awards, SERC’s off-grid lighting team continues to work with the Lighting Global program to promote clean off-grid lighting in the developing world. In the coming months, SERC and the Lighting Global team will expand their efforts beyond Africa to support quality assurance activities related to the IFC’s Lighting Asia program, which launched activities in India in May of 2012 and is planning future work in additional countries including Bangladesh.