29 March-4 April 2013 #649

A green sun

Yantrick by

After reading reviews of the new BlackBerry Z10, a Made in Thailand vibrator, and a killer mouse, Yantrick this week turns readers’ attention to a gadget that is handy, affordable, and highly relevant for energy-starved Nepal.

It is called simply, Light, because that is what it is: a simple solar-powered light for those long, dark load shedding hours. Designed by Nepali engineer Sujit Acharya and Made in China, the Light is a sturdy contraption that is made to withstand rugged use in rural Nepal. But after trying it out for a few days in Kathmandu, Yantrick finds it the best system for urban Nepal as well – especially because the cities suffer more hours of power cuts at night than rural areas which have local microhydro.

Acharya has added other features besides the light that he thinks are useful for us powerless Nepalis: a FM radio with scanner, a speaker for your MP3 player, a digital clock with alarm, a mobile charger with multiple adapters, and even a siren. The LED light consumes very little power and has five settings for optimum brightness: normal, medium, high beam, bed light, and night light. The Light can be charged from mains power.

We had to point the panel to the sun and the 6V lead acid battery was fully charged within three hours. The manual says you have to charge the battery fully every 15 days even if you are not using it to extend the battery life, which is about four years if used properly. The unit is dust and water-proof, and can give 24 hours of illumination on a full charge.

At Rs 3,100 and with a one year warranty, the Light is a good buy that lets you say good bye to darkness. On the down side, the radio is kind of primitive and could easily have been integrated with the clock to allow the user to see the frequency of the FM band been tuned into. As it is, you are forced to scan blindly, channel hopping until you recognise the melodious voice of your favourite RJ on Hits FM. The size and shape is a bit unwieldy, although the handle seems to have been ergonomically designed. Would have made a lot more sense if the light switch was on top of the handle so it could be turned on and off with the thumb while (let’s say) we were trying to find our way to the outhouse while on a reporting assignment in rural Nepal.

“Forty per cent of Nepalis don’t have access to electricity and the ones that do have to deal with increasing load shedding, so the solar lamp is ideal for both rural and urban Nepal,” Acharya told Yantrick, “also, if you calculate how much you would spend on kerosene and candles, you will find that the light pays for itself in a year’s time.”

One way to slash the cost further may be to lose the siren, which isn’t much use and Acharya says the new model won’t have it. However, he is working on a solar light-radio that has an inbuilt earthquake alarm that gives users up to 30 second warning before the big shock arrives. Acharya’s team got its Chinese patent for the solar lamp and will be adding more units into the Nepal market where 3,000 have already been sold.

YANTRICK’S VERDICT: Great light backup for the house, for trips outside the city, camping trips, and as a convenient way to save the cost of batteries. Can’t wait for the one with an earthquake alarm. And come to think of it, the Light will be handy in a post-earthquake scenario as well.