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It began as a sustainable technology project for a group of students, but now the solar bottle bulb is brightening the darkest corners of the world.
Text by: Brittaney Carter      Country: Philippines

he residents of Sitio Maligaya, Philippines, spend as much time as they can outdoors. To foreigners, they may just look like day laborers, keeping busy with everything that needs to be done before the sun sets. But the truth is they spend so much time outside because their homes are dark.

In this small community, most homes have no electricity or light. On a larger scale, 3 million Philippine homes are just like those in Sitio Maligaya, cloaked in darkness 24 hours a day. In the Southeast Asian island nation, where electricity is available but expensive, many families have to go without it in order to reduce household expenses. And their hardships are made even more insurmountable by the fact that homes that do have electricity often face an increased risk of fire due to improper wiring.

However, a group of students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology saw the plight of families in the Philippines as a challenge. How could they create a sustainable lighting source with simple materials and without the use of electricity? They answered the challenge with the solar bottle bulb.

The idea is a basic one: clean a liter-sized plastic bottle, and then add water with two capfuls of bleach. The bottle is then fitted snugly into a square-shaped piece of corrugated metal that will provide coverage over a roughly-cut hole in the roof of a house.

The water in the bottle will attract sunlight and refract its rays, redistributing the light throughout the room. Because the bleach can prevent algae from building up in the water, one solar bottle can be as illuminating as a 50-watt light bulb and last as long as five years.

“This is a really unique product because essentially it works when the sun is shining. There is a specific kind of slum dwelling that has essentially no windows, and anything that can bring a little light into one of these dwellings is welcome,” explained John Barrie, Executive Director of the Appropriate Technologies Collaborative.

Its technological genius lies in its simplicity, and the solar bottle bulb could mean the difference between daytime and darkness in areas that do not have access to safe and affordable electricity. In fact, once MIT students introduced the solar bottle bulb, the MyShelter Foundation in the Philippines used the technology to light homes all over the country. They named the lighting project Isang Litrong Liwanag, which means “A Liter of Light” in Tagalog. Isang Litrong Liwanag has stated that its mission is to light at least one million homes by the year 2012.

As a cost-effective alternative to electricity, the solar bottle only costs about two dollars to make and a few minutes to install. In addition to its immediate effects for lighting in the developing areas, it also presents an opportunity for economic empowerment. “The bottles are a free resource, and the corrugated metal and caulk is all you need,” Barrie added. “Someone could provide this at a relatively low cost, and people can make a little bit of money.”

Another appealing aspect of this solution to affordable lighting is the fact that they are easy to replicate. Solar bottle bulbs do not require factory-made parts that will be difficult to maintain, and making the bottle is a process that almost anyone can learn to do. One particular video, produced by Isang Litrong Liwanag, continues to be re-posted in online communities because it demonstrates step-by-step how to make a solar bottle.

“It’s actually being done by people in the field,” said Barrie. “You can get YouTube anywhere on the planet, and you don’t even have to speak Portuguese to understand the gentleman in the video who is explaining how to do it.”

Overall, the solar bulb’s greatest impact may be what it represents–a changing global community where even the economically disadvantaged can access the tools they need to help one another. As Barrie explained, “The beauty of it is that people are starting to solve their own problems. It’s creating a net public good through social media.”


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Easy Summary

People who live in Sitio Maligaya, Philippines spend a lot of time outdoors. They spend so much time outside because their homes are dark – they have no electricity.

The solution is basic: clean a plastic bottle, and then add water with two capfuls of bleach. The bottle is then put tightly into a square-shaped piece of metal that covers a hole in the roof of a house.

The water in the bottle attracts sunlight and refracts its rays, redistributing the light throughout the room. The bleach prevents dirt from building up in the water, so one solar bottle can last as long as five years.

The solar bottle costs two dollars to make and a few minutes to install. It is an opportunity for economic empowerment. “The bottles are a free resource,” explains John Barrie, Executive Director of the Appropriate Technologies Collaborative. “Someone could provide this at a low cost, and people can make a little bit of money.”

 

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A liter of light illuminates Philippines

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Vocabulary

A Liter of Light .

Sustainability.

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