In 1997, Dr. Dave Irvine-Halliday, a Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Calgary, had the vision to use LED lighting to bring practical, economical, and environmentally safe lighting to the developing world. While on sabbatical in Nepal, Dave visited local villages and was struck by the poor conditions that people lived in. Most of them were relying on kerosene lamps which produced little light and filled the homes with dangerous, toxic smoke. As the annual income of the Nepalese villagers averaged $200 USD, Dr. Irvine-Halliday realized that there was a great need for simple, safe, healthy, affordable and rugged lighting.
Pioneering in affordable LED lighting
In his career, Dave had been working with LEDs for more than two decades, and spent most of 1997 and 1998 trying to make an acceptable white light from various combinations of colored indicator LEDs. He made white light, but it was simply not bright enough to be of any practical use in the developing world. Soon he discovered that Nichia, a Japanese company, had invented a bright White LED a few years earlier and Dave immediately requested samples. The ‘eureka’ moment occurred in 1998 when Dave powered up his first White Light Emitting Diode and discovered that it provided more than enough light for a child to study with, at a minimal energy cost, and at a price affordable to the rural poor.
The begining of Light Up The World
In the early years, Dave and his wife, Jenny, self-funded their Light Up The World (LUTW) family project and built solar and LED systems – including one that illuminated a chess game at Annapurna Base Camp in 1999. In 2000 Thulo Pokhara, Nepal, was the first village in the world to be illuminated by LED lighting and solar energy, powered by Pedal Generators, and LUTW designed and built the first LED headlamp to be used on Mount Everest in the same year. In 2001, LUTW provided the first solid state medical theatre lighting in the developing world in Bagdogra, India, and villages in Sri Lanka were also illuminated.
In 2001, Dave met Ken Robertson, a development professional with extensive field experience and understanding of sustainable energy and environmental issues. Ken recognized the large scale potential of Dave’s idea and felt that solid-state lighting technologies coupled with renewable energy could be a true leapfrog technology on par with the development of the cell phone or the transistor radio. Ken became LUTW’s first Executive Director and under his direction created the NGO, Light Up The World, formally established in 2002.
Together with Roy Moore, Pauline Cummings and with significant contributions from notable others that were to become the founding board, Light Up The World progressed in status from a volunteer support group to a fully incorporated charitable organization.
In 2002, Ken led the team in building LUTW’s governance, infrastructure, operations and mission-related outcomes. Ken also led the organization’s research and development efforts to derive the world’s first economically viable solid-state lighting package now known as the “light in a box”. This system provides rural communities with an ultra-efficient, reliable and robust lighting and energy system.
The combination of Dave’s vision and Ken’s development management resulted in LUTW earning international acclaim for its innovative use of appropriate technology in international development. LUTW has received numerous prestigious awards, including: Rolex, Tech Museum, and Saatchi & Saatchi, and has been profiled in scientific articles, journals and popular publications such as Readers Digest and National Geographic.
Using partnership models developed by Ken, LUTW trained, outfitted and mentored on-the ground indigenous organizations to develop solid-state lighting and renewable energy programs within their operations.
Innovation and integration were the hallmarks of this approach. Local organizations adopted LUTW’s mandate but applied many of their own locally derived methods of enterprise development, project management and micro-finance. In this way, LUTW could extend its reach in multiples while boosting the capacity of indigenous groups to undertake their own programs.
Watch LUTW and Ken Robertson lighting up a Tibetan Orphanage in 2008
Through generous support from interested individuals, corporations, host country organizations, international foundations and industrial partners, LUTW has brought light to homes in 54 countries around the world from Afghanistan to Zambia.
Over a million people have benefited from Light Up The World projects in 54 countries before 2012
Dave and his wife Jenny started a social enterprise in 2009 called Visionary Lighting and Energy India (VLE) designs. VLE develops and manufactures renewable energy systems, primarily for the developing world. In 2020 Dave rejoined LUTW’s Board and was appointed Director Emeritus and Light Up the World continues delivering social projects to bring life-changing technologies to developing communities around the world.
Today: LUTW established in Peru with Community Projects and Social Enterprise
In 2010, LUTW established a field office in Peru and continue doing electrification projects in other Latin American countries. Peru is one of the countries in Latin America with the most people living off-grid due to the difficulty to reach the scattered populations in the rough terrains of the Andes and the Amazon.
LUTW started working in Peru supplying the technical and logistic expertise to foster collaborations between corporations and academic partners with communities and local governments. We have always have the philosophy to hire and train local people and beneficiaries for the projects so they can maintain the systems and guarantee the sustainability of the operations.
With the help of our partners from Enbridge, TransAlta, Wooree, NAIT, Texas Tech University, NAIT, SAIT, Skyfire energy, Algonquin College, Capital Power, Rundle College and more than 350 international volunteers, we have completed 77 projects electrifying schools, homes, clinics, agricultural and community buildings with solar energy.
The Social Enterprise: affordable solar energy for those left behind
In 2017, we launched a social enterprise as a model to give the opportunity to all those left behind without sustainable energy to be able to afford to own a solar system. We visit remote communities across the Peruvian Andes offering subsidized systems with financing options so they can purchase their system and limit its dependence from damaging, expensive and polluting fuels, disposable batteries and candles.
Since we have financed over 750 systems benefitting over 2000 people all around the Peruvian Sierra and some areas of the Amazon. You can learn more about our social enterprise here.
What's comming-up for LUTW, social innovation for Canada.
Once again we want to be at the forefront of life-changing technologies that have the potential to change the life of millions and make more sustainable communities.
In 2021 we partnered with Enactus Canada to bring social innovation to First nations communities around Canada. Our first projects will be at Mitawasi first nations and where we will work on completing solar powered internet camps and Aquaponics farms.
With the upcoming developments in affordable energy and satellite internet we will be involved in the social innovation of tomorrow.