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Harry Verhaar, Philips: Lighting up the road to sustainable development for all

28 March 2013
Harry Verhaar, Philips: Lighting up the road to sustainable development for all

Harry Verhaar, Senior Director Energy & Climate Change, Philips Lighting, shares his views on creating the solutions, models and market approaches to benefit a larger part of the global population through collaborative energy access.

When exploring the challenges and the role of access to lighting (through access to energy) it is surprising to note that human nature tends to focus on differences rather than on analogies from which we can take (past) learning, thus accelerating the global transition to a sustainable society.

In the case of ‘access to lighting and energy’ we see the enormous challenge of bringing sustainable and affordable clean energy lighting mainly to families and communities in rural areas in emerging and developing countries. Quite some discussions focus on the lagging economic development of rural communities in Africa and India, and then label (lack of) energy access as a problem, or at best as a CSR initiative.

Though we as mankind are virtually 100% identical across the world, often we tend to focus on the one percent difference in color, language, geography, religion or prosperity level often followed by the creation of conflicts. Without being naïve, it is my belief that we can learn much more from exploring, celebrating and learning from analogies.

Energy Access is such a challenge, that can turn into an opportunity when exploring the analogies between todays developed world and those in current developing countries.

For those living in developed countries (mostly the current OECD countries), it is only three – at most four – generations ago that these countries were struggling with high population growth, child mortality, lack of education, ‘shoddy’ healthcare and had no electric light bulb, a technology now being phased-out globally. As soon as our (great-)grandparents acquired access to affordable energy – be it this was coal – they addressed some basic needs, like lighting and cooking, quickly followed by addressing more aspirational needs like communication, healthcare and entertainment (radio, TV, mass-sports).

This is the vision that should support and empower collaborative energy access initiatives. The two differences being that instead of taking three generations, we need to go through this development spiral in one generation, and instead of old analog fossil technologies, we should work together to leapfrog to clean meaningful solutions like renewable energy, solar-LED lighting, smokefree cooking, mobile phones (already happened); and rural – mobile data driven – healthcare.

In short energy access was a vital enabler for socio-economic development for many of us in the past, and is a vital enabler for Sustainable Development for All (SD4All) today.

As solutions leapfrog to new clean technologies, so will we need to switch from selling hardware (with higher initial prices being a hurdle for low-income people) towards selling services, with capital and operational expenses combined in monthly payment mechanisms.

Likewise we are at the verge of [and many of you pioneering] the integration of mobile technologies, not just for communication, but for payments, for marketing, for capacity building and training as well as for enabling the actual service delivery.

A great example of the social benefits of solar-LED lighting are the so-called ‘Community Light Centres’ an initiative recently launched by Philips.

During the next two years Philips will create more than 100 ‘Community Light Centers’ across Africa and South America. These are areas the size of a small soccer pitch to be lit with a new generation of innovative solar powered LED lighting systems. These provide an astonishing amount of light and the big idea is to enable life in these areas at a communal level after dark with a resulting social and economic impact.

Addressable issues include security, sport, education, rural healthcare, extended commercial activities and social community activities. Philips is partnering with the Dutch Football Association (KNVB) to develop this concept further in Africa & South America. The project also has the backing of the UN SE4ALL initiative. See also this video.

We as Philips recognize we are just at the beginning of the Sustainable Development for All revolution, and hope to co-create this with you (in the GOGLA community and beyond), as one thing is also clear to us, this is a journey none of us can travel alone. We look forward to creating the solutions, models and market approaches with you, for the benefit of a large part of the global population as well as our public and corporate economic future. And I am convinced this will be an engaging and rewarding journey for all involved.

See our work with Philips

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