By Desmond Bentley
Something as simple as better street lighting could speed up Africa's economic and social development. "The roads are dangerous to drive at night and the darkness protects criminals," says Zeev Jakoby, who spent many years overseeing construction projects in Nigeria. "This means that everything moves slower."
Jakoby is the managing director of Globe Light & Water System
(GLW), an Israeli startup that has come up with a viable solution to the darkness issue: a sturdy, solar-powered light fixture called Orion that needs no infrastructure.
"The electricity supply in many African countries is unreliable at best, so the streetlights need to stand alone. My philosophy is to go solar – we're forever looking for new sources of energy," he says.
"The idea started to form a few years ago, when I sat one day with a relative who has a LED [light-emitting diode] factory in the US. I studied the issue in depth before realizing the way forward."
Of course, he's not the first to think of solar-powered street lamps.
"The Chinese in particular manufacture all sorts of standalone street lamps that use solar energy, but they include many small LED bulbs and inferior quality materials, and cannot withstand the conditions of Africa," says Jakoby.
These include heat, humidity, and lots of mud and dust, he says. "Another major issue is crime and vandalism. We had to build the fixtures in such a way that nobody can steal the batteries."
Two years ago, together with an architect partner, Jakoby assembled a multi-discipline team to approach this technological challenge. "I had the overall idea and brought in subcontracted experts in fields such as electronics, mechanics, optics -- whatever was needed. It's an Israeli development -- blue and white all through.” They came up with some innovative approaches to some very real problems.
"We did what Israelis do best – we thought outside the box," he says. "The problem with previous designs has usually been the integration of systems. They don't always work together optimally.
We found that this aspect needed a lot of investment. That's why there's a microprocessor inside."
He learned from others' mistakes. This included replacing HPS (high pressure sodium) bulbs, which are wasteful and have shorter life spans, with LED lamps.
Another advantage of the Orion lighting system is its low operating and maintenance costs. The battery lasts for up to five years and the lamps need replacing every 12 years on average, says Jakoby. And their physical installation is simple.
"Previously each part was supplied separately. We did it all in one -- one box containing all the parts. LED bulbs cannot work in extended heat. At high temperatures they burn out. Our LED bulbs can work in extreme conditions. One of the microprocessor's functions is to constantly gauge and control the temperature of the LED bulb. It also regulates battery use by dimming the lamps in the late-night hours, which in turn extends the components' lifespan."
Another innovation: The streetlights are supervised by a central control facility, which would be operated by the local municipality. "We can control the lights by remote, using radio frequencies to dim the bulbs, for example. We can also know if there's a problem with any of the components such as the solar panels, LED bulb or battery, and there's also the option of installing CCTV cameras against vandalism. It's a modular system."
Out of Africa
He says he devised the product with Africa in mind. "I spent many years in Africa, and used my personal contacts in Africa to get the idea off the ground. We started in Nigeria and spread to other countries."
GLW is already developing lighting systems for Nigeria, Ethiopia and Columbia.
"Now local governments are turning to us from other parts of the world. We're in the negotiation process, and hope to close deals soon and begin to market the product. After that, I expect we'll attract orders from many countries," says Jakoby.
Globe L&W is part of Globe International Holdings S.A. (“Globe”), a multinational group of companies engaged in a range of business activities throughout the world. Globe provided the financial backing for research and development done in Israel.
"Many people think that solar panels don't work when there's no sunlight. Horizontal panels are most effective between 15 degrees north and 15 degrees south of the equator. We're developing a solar-power system applicable for more northern and southern latitudes. We've already perfected the technology, and we're working on the design right now."
"We don't sell lamps; we produce light," he concludes.