My first solar power purchase!

Given the numerous power outages here (including a short, 20-minute one today!) I’ve been looking for an economical way to have light in the dark without electricity.  We have a battery operated spotlight, a headlight and an oil lamp (as well as candles).  They work pretty good (the headlight’s the best) but still don’t offer much illumination, especially if you want to read.

Then, a couple of weeks ago I came across an article in the little local ex-pat magazine called The Lowdown about a UK-based non-profit group called SolarAid.

Here’s a description of their Zambia work:  “This project installs solar PV systems on schools, clinics and community centres. It trains people to start businesses selling Sunny Monkey products for lighting homes and charging mobile phones.”

I emailed the local Zambia office to find out about their Sunny Monkey products (description of what they’re doing here) and found out they’re fairly close to us in the Kabulonga area of Lusaka, on a little dirt road off of Roan.  The next morning off I went on my first solar power mission.

The offices are difficult to find but if you keep looking to the east on Roan Road you’ll see the bright yellow SolarAid sign at the end of one dirt road.  (When I arrived there Karla was on the phone giving another hopelessly lost customer directions…”no, you’ve gone too far again, turn around and drive very slowly looking to the right…”)  The offices are down this long narrow driveway with virtually no parking (I double-parked behind another car).

I walked in and met Karla and told her I wanted to find out what type of solar products they had.  She was extremely helpful and gave a visual demo of all of their products.    They have all of their samples right there on a table as you enter the little office.

I purchased the lamp/cell phone charger combo for 120,000 kwatcha (about $25).  The lamp can be used as a desk lamp or as a wall lamp.  There’s a handy dandy little hook on the side to hang it on the nail and then you just point the gooseneck light up and out instead of down.



The kit came with six different cell phone adapters.  Sure enough, one fit my Samsung phone.





The box has instructions on its side and it was pretty self-explanatory. I was excited to charge the lamp the next day and wouldn’t you know it, it was cloudy!!  I put it out there anyways and believe it or not it still charged.  The instructions said to charge it for 3-4 hours but I just left it out there all day and when I checked it at ~ 7 hours it was fully charged, even in about 90% cloudy weather.

The cord is actually really long so you can leave the lamp indoors and have the panel outside.





The solar panel charges a battery in the lamp, but to charge the cell phone you just plug it directly into the panel and it charges the cell phone battery.









The lamp has three settings — bright, medium and a nightlight.

Here’s a room in complete darkness at night.

Here’s the same room with the nightlight setting.  Karla said the nightlight setting is brighter than a single candle.


You can read without eyestrain with both the medium and bright light settings.  The medium setting lasts about 7-8 hours and the bright setting lasts 3-4 hours.

Here is the medium setting.


And, here is the bright setting.


The bright setting definitely illuminated the whole room so you could do normal tasks, like cook or do a puzzle or play a game, but it’s a strange bluish-white light, so it doesn’t mimic “normal” electric-powered lights.  However, if you use the light as a desk lamp it offers excellent lighting for reading or up-close handiwork.  I find I can’t read to a lantern or a candle — too dim and it hurts my eyes after ten minutes.  But, this light, despite being blue/white, was great for reading.

Using my typical 2-4 person panel sample of low-income Zambians, consisting of our three guards and gardener, I asked them separately and out of earshot of each other if they had electricity.  Because it was daytime I only had the two person sample of Bernard the guard and Danny the gardener who both independently said they didn’t have electricity and that they used candles in the dark. (Though it’s hard to believe given my current research techniques, would you believe that ten years ago I was a highly trained research professor conducting country-wide studies using the latest in rigorous sampling and statistical techniques?  Well, it’s true…my academic name is different from my married name though so it’s pretty easy to live this housewife alias.)

We’re going to buy them each a set so their young children can do homework at night.  They’ll be thrilled!  What a life changer for the vast numbers of people in Africa who live without power.


About Kimm X Jayne

Gravatar Photograph from the exceptionally talented Ben Heine.
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5 Responses to My first solar power purchase!

  1. Lisa says:

    wow=yes, solar power is a game changer for so many and I’m so glad you did this post! they will love it I’m sure and their kids will be thrilled. With the crazy weather we’ve had in the states the past year or so with power outages this is a good idea for everyone.

  2. mbasil says:

    LEDs are very efficient, which makes the whole thing workable.

  3. Joanne Hutchinson says:

    Cool! Thanks for the info. When I come back I will buy one for Njamba.
    I am now thinking that if I can afford it I would like to come back next September. World Vision is unable to facilitate getting letters to Njamba as they delete all the computer info on the children when a project closes and rightfully so. It is so hard to get to his village I can understand the difficulty. I will hopefully set up an arrangement with the Liuwa Game Park to have Mwualuka pick up mail when he is in Kalabo getting supplies. I wish I had arranged that when I was there before.
    Hopefully David & Max can accompany me there. I have been looking into renting a 4×4 online but it is really hard to find out any info. I will keep trying or ask Max. Maybe he will have his business running by then as he is hoping to buy a little bus ( taxi) I am not sure which.
    Therefore I would like to give Njamba the money to go to grade 10 at boarding school which is about $200USD. From what I understand his 20 yr old brother is now in grade 10. I was committed to supporting him until he finished school and I would like to still do that.
    So I may be able to come and buy you & Thom dinner this time.
    Keep those blogs coming, I love them.
    Hope you have a great Thanks Giving! Our just past this last week end.
    Take Care!

    • Kimm X Jayne says:

      That sounds wonderful! I’d like to do the same maybe when we leave for our guard and gardener. Nice you have contacts with David and Max. We’ll have to try a restaurant in town next time! xo

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