We have the most interesting customers in the world whose stories and insights about their countries provide us with invaluable market insight. At a lunch meeting with a customer end of last week, he talked about a near-disaster at Kinshasa International airport some days prior. An Air France airbus was just about to land at night when the entire airport, including the runway, experienced an electricity blackout. Now if you live or have been to Africa you know that night time gets pitch black where there are no lights. This is great for stargazing but dangerous when you are a pilot pretty much flying blind in the dark with buildings looming close by.
Indeed, the aircraft almost scraped a building but luckily the emergency lights came on in the nick of time and the pilot was able to avoid a disaster.
Well that got us thinking some more about light, safety, electricity and light deficit/poverty. Just how little is discussed about it generally because there’s such an abundance of lighting in more advanced countries that it’s taken for granted. The discussion is more about the quality of light, for instance, do LEDs match conventional light sources in luminosity? (yes! And surpass conventional), light and connectivity (Internet of things) and what light can do for our sensibilities, e.g., the emotive influence of light.
One can’t really talk about lighting in Africa without discussing the dire power issues.
If we use electrification rate as a proxy (this varies by country), roughly one in three Africans have access to easily accessible lighting. Even at this low penetration, electricity is unreliable. Blackouts are ubiquitous through out Sub-Saharan Africa due to power generating shortages. Darkness is disorienting and unsafe. Every time lights go off due to power failure is like playing Russian roulette, hoping that we can dodge a mishap when blackouts strike - One would expect prioritization of power for activities where it’s a matter of life and death, e.g., ICU in hospitals roads, runways—which doesn’t seem to be happening.
Closing this light/electricity gap might take some time depending on specific leadership in respective countries. But what if lessons are borrowed from the exponential growth of mobile phone penetration on the continent where difficulties in getting access to fixed line telephony due to lack of infrastructure led to a leapfrog to mobile?
Imagine if there’s a leapfrog to more enabling technologies such as LEDs, Solar , portable grids, driven by private enterprise perhaps in a similar manner to how mobile penetration has grown exponentially on the continent!
(This post was originally published May 25, 2014)