A recent study proved that many households in impoverished regions around the world are starting to shift away from inefficient and polluting fuel-based lighting (candles, firewood, kerosene lanterns, etc) to solar-LED systems.
While this trend has tremendous environmental benefits, this study has also found that it spurs economic development as well, in particular, creating 2 million potential new jobs.
Evan Mills, a Berkeley Lab researcher, has conducted the first global analysis of how the transition to solar-LED lighting will impact employment and job creating. His study was recently published in the journal Energy for Sustainable Development in a paper titled, “Job creation and energy savings through a transition to modern off-grid lighting.”
The study solely focused on the “poorest of the poor”, which equated to 112 million households mainly in Africa and Asia that can’t afford even a mini solar home system, which could potentially power a fan, a few lights, a phone charger, and a small TV. This particular group can only afford entry-level solar lighting.
In all, Mills found that fuel-based lighting today provides 150,000 jobs worldwide. He did a similar analysis for the emerging solar-LED industry and also collected data on employment rates for larger manufacturers and distributors representing the majority of global production.
For every 1 million of these lanterns, an estimated 17,000 jobs were provided.
In the end, Mills’ research found that the quality of the jobs would be much improved. With fuel-based lighting a lot of these people are involved in the black market and smuggling kerosene over international borders, and child labor is often involved in selling the fuel.
The fuel-based jobs can tend to be very unstable due to acute shortages of kerosene and government subsidies going up and down. It’s a very poor quality of livelihood and the community itself is toxic. These new solar jobs will be much better as they are legal, healthy, and more stable and regular.
In addition to job creation, the potential environmental benefits are also enormous. A study Mills published in Science in 2005 estimated global off-grid lighting energy expenditure at $38 billion per year. That corresponds to CO2 emissions of 190 million metric tons per year, or the equivalent of those from about 30 million typical American cars.