Lanterns that use light-emitting diodes (LEDs) powered by batteries, which are in turn charged by grid electricity or small solar panels, have emerged as a cost-competitive alternative to kerosene and other fuel-based lighting technologies, offering brighter light for longer duration at equal or lower cost over time.

This Paper presents lessons learned from the introduction of solar LED lanterns in rural Malawi. We discuss a market-based program using new and existing local commercial structures such as vendors and cooperatives to sell lanterns to village households without subsidy. The paper addresses issues of enterprise development, community interactions, and survey data on lighting use and expenditure patterns before and after LED lantern introduction. Households that purchased a lantern reported high levels of satisfaction with the LED lanterns as well as savings in annual kerosene expenditure comparable to the price of the lantern. These households also reported monthly incomes comparable to the price of the LED lanterns whereas non-adopters surveyed reported monthly incomes about half this level, suggesting a need for financing options to maximize adoption among poorer populations in rural areas.

These results suggest that similar market based models of LED lighting technology dissemination have the potential to be replicated and scaled up in other off-grid regions in developing countries. However, viability of local cooperatives and supply chains for lantern products over the medium-to-long term remain to be assessed.