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'Rent-a-Light' Seen as a Bright Idea in Kenya

A Kenyan engineer is developing a business with a grant from the World Bank Group and a device called the PowerPack. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

Charles Rioba is an engineer and inventor in Kenya. He and his company, Solar World Limited, have developed a product called the PowerPack. The PowerPack is a small solar-lighting system. The device is portable, so it can be taken anywhere. It provides light with one or two L.E.D. bulbs. An L.E.D. is a light emitting diode.

But the PowerPack can also power a small transistor radio for as long as six hours. And it can be used to recharge a mobile phone.

How often the PowerPack itself needs to be recharged depends on usage. Solar World says the device is best for a small family, up to three people.

People who want to use a PowerPack can buy one. Or they can rent one fully charged, and also pay to have it recharged. Or they also charge it themselves with a small solar panel. It collects energy from the sun into a solar battery.

The World Bank Group considers the Rent-a-Light plan a bright idea. In May, Charles Rioba was one of sixteen winners of a Development Marketplace competition. They each won a grant of up to two hundred thousand dollars.

The winners were announced at a conference in Ghana as part of a program called Lighting Africa. Lighting Africa aims to provide modern lighting to more than two hundred fifty million people by two thousand thirty. They live "off-grid," unconnected to a national electric-power system, except in some cases illegally.

In Kenya, more than eighty percent of people depend mainly on fossil fuels for their lighting needs. Fossil fuels are oil, natural gas and coal. Burning fossil fuels, however, can cause health problems from indoor air pollution.

The Rent-a-Light project includes about one hundred local agents to supply the PowerPacks and ten centers to service them. The company hopes to reach about eight thousand homes within eighteen months.

Vijaya Ramachandran is an expert at the Center for Global Development in Washington, D.C. She notes that a lack of electricity and a lack of good roads are major barriers to a better life in Africa. In most of the African countries that she has studied, power supplies are cut off for several hours during each day.

And that’s the VOA Special English Development Report, written by Jerilyn Watson. Go to to find transcripts and MP3 archives of our reports. We will also post a link to a list of all sixteen winners of the Lighting Africa competition. I'm Chris Cruise.