Nearly half of all households in Africa use kerosene for lighting. These households are usually not able to connect to national electricity grids. Kerosene can be very damaging to people’s health and to the environment. Kerosene also uses a lot of a household’s income and may become more expensive in the future. For people who cannot connect to the electricity grid a safer and often cheaper source of energy for lights is solar power.
When we burn kerosene it produces smoke and polluting gases such as carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. This smoke is very damaging to human health, especially when kerosene is burned indoors which traps the pollution inside. Worldwide air pollution kills more people every year than HIV and Malaria combined. Burning fuels like kerosene causes 600,000 deaths a year in Africa alone.
The pollution from kerosene can cause health problems such as asthma, cataracts, heart disease, strokes, lung disease and lung cancer. Spending just a few hours with a kerosene lamp causes the same amount of damage to someone’s lungs as smoking 40 cigarettes. Very young children are particularly vulnerable to health problems caused by burning fuels indoors like kerosene. The light from kerosene lamps is dull which forces people to sit very close to the lamp which increases the risk of these health problems. Another problem is that kerosene is often stored in plastic bottles or milk jugs; because it is a clear liquid young children often mistake kerosene for water causing accidental poisoning. Health problems caused by using kerosene can lead to very costly medical bills which can cause serious problems for low-income households.
Kerosene is a serious fire hazard. Kerosene lamps can easily be knocked over and can also be explosive. If the kerosene is accidentally mixed with other materials such as gasoline it becomes even more explosive. Fires can catch on quickly in dry conditions and when homes are built using wood. Accidental fires can injure or kill people.
The smoke and pollution released when we burn kerosene is also damaging to the environment. Burning kerosene releases greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) which cause climate change (also called global warming). A kerosene lamp emits 340kg of CO2 emissions a year. Climate change causes problems across the whole of Africa.
Households can spend lots of their income on kerosene which means they have less money to spend on other things. Sometimes households will have to limit what they use the kerosene for meaning they cannot use light as and when they need it. Often rural households will have to pay much more for kerosene than those in urban areas. In Ghana buying kerosene in rural areas cost 170% more than the price in urban areas.
Kerosene is a product that comes from oil. Oil prices throughout the world are rising. Oil is a non-renewable resource which means it will run out. As our oil resources run out fuels like kerosene will become even more expensive. To keep kerosene affordable some governments pay towards the price of kerosene. Often this subsidy does not reach the rural households. If people switched to different sources of energy, this money could be invested into something else, for example clean water or roads.
Burning other fuels such as fuel wood, animal waste and charcoal has similar bad impacts to burning kerosene. Using batteries can stop the health problems caused by kerosene and the risk of fire. However if batteries are not thrown away safely they can damage the environment.
Solar lighting is one great opportunity to provide African people who are not connected to electricity grids with a safe and non-polluting source of lighting. Solar energy uses sunlight to generate electricity. Africa’s sunny climate is perfect for solar energy. Solar lights usually cost a similar amount to what households spend on kerosene. Solar lighting can even be cheaper than buying kerosene. In Malawi using solar lamps reduced the cost of lighting by almost 50% per building. Larger solar home systems that can power lights but also radios and mobile phone chargers may also be affordable. Households can use regular loan payments similar to what they pay for kerosene to purchase solar home systems using mobile money.