Ruhr Economic Papers

Ruhr Economic Papers #579

The Lighting Transition in Africa – From Kerosene to LED and the Emerging Dry-Cell Battery Problem

by Gunther Bensch, Jörg Peters and Maximiliane Sievert

RWI, 09/2015, 23 S./p., 8 Euro, ISBN 978-3-86788-669-7 DOI: 10.4419/86788669



Non-electrified people in Africa, still more than 500 million today, have been using kerosene and candles for their lighting purposes for decades. The lighting quality of these sources is low and in particular kerosene usage is associated with harmful soot emissions. Alleviating this grievance has always been a major goal of electrification programs. The present paper shows that in recent years a transition has taken place among the rural non-electrified population in Africa: without any external support from governmental or non-governmental organisations people have replaced kerosene lamps and candles through LED lamps, which are mostly powered by dry-cell batteries. LED lamps are available in rural shops virtually everywhere and provide brighter and cleaner lighting than traditional lamps. The downside of this massive increase of LED usage is a soaring consumption of dry-cell batteries. Because of the toxic content of many dry-cell batteries and since people dispose of discharged batteries inappropriately in latrines or the nature, harmful effects on the local environment are likely. We conclude by suggesting that rapid action is needed to put in place an effective waste management system.

JEL-Classification: O13, O33, Q53, Q56

Keywords: Electrification; energy access; technology adoption; off-grid energy usage; e-waste