LED lighting products, many of which are solar charged, are streaming into the African market and displacing incandescent flashlights and fuel-based lighting. They hold the promise to improve peoples’ lives and reduce global warming emissions that are associated with fuel-based lighting. Unfortunately, the quality of the products is highly variable; many of them fail in a matter of weeks or months and threaten to spoil the market for improved lighting systems. To help differentiate between better quality products and the rest, SERC worked with the World Bank Group’s Lighting Africa Program over the last year to administer the Lighting Africa 2010 Outstanding Product Awards–the first awards program of its kind for off-grid lighting products in the African market. On May 18th, 2010, five products were given honors at the Lighting Africa 2010 Global Business Conference and Trade Fair in Nairobi, Kenya.
SERC was the key organization for coordinating and administering the product awards, from doing lab testing to ensuring the correct trophies were distributed to the winners during the awards ceremony. In Fall 2009 we drafted the rules and framework for the awards program. Companies who submitted products for consideration first sent samples to our Lighting Lab, where we conducted an initial screening process. Lighting Africa field agents procured samples of the finalist products that were sent to international testing laboratories for full testing according to the Lighting Africa Quality Test Method. In parallel, we conducted a series of focus groups and field trials with representative end-users in rural Kenya in January 2010. By April we were able to compile the final laboratory and field results that were the basis for final decisions by six expert judges. Finally, we designed a logo (see back page) for awards winners to use for marketing their products and helped to coordinate the awards ceremony on May 18th. The ceremony was a gala affair that included Kenyan television personalities, a troupe of acrobats, and a wonderful meal.
The awards process didn’t stop with the ceremony. For one thing, there have been numerous press releases, blog posts, and tweets to publicize the results; we’ll leave it to you to find them with some quick searching online. Also, in the days following the ceremony at the conference, we had a number of meetings with off-grid lighting manufacturers to discuss the test and focus group results. We heard time after time that the feedback we were able to provide was incredibly valuable even if they hadn’t won an award, and that they would use the results to improve their products. Lighting Africa, with the help of SERC, is building on the success of the Product Awards by continuing to differentiate among off-grid lighting products using a Standardized Specifications Sheet and eventually a Quality Seal.
Though Dr. Arne Jacobson, the original principal investigator for the project, is on sabbatical this year at the Department of Energy, the SERC Lighting Lab is continuing our partnership with Lighting Africa. Right now we’re providing a broad range of technical support services to the program that include laboratory testing, supporting international test laboratories, market research, and other supporting activities.
For more information on the Lighting Africa 2010 Outstanding Product Awards visit www.lightingafrica.org/node/109966.