When you don’t have any electricity, having light when it is dark is a big deal. Light provides security. It also provides a way to see to do homework, have dinner with your family and perform essential tasks. If you’re in a part of the world where electricity is limited or not available at all, having a way to light up the darkness is invaluable. Thankfully, the Danish artist and engineer pair of Olafur Eliasson and Frederik Otteson have found a way to bring a little sun to the world via a portable, solar-powered lamp.

A Global Project

The Little Sun project began as an idea Eliasson and Otteson had for a way to create a small solar lamp for people without electricity in Ethiopia. It has since expanded to become a global project that has touched more than 1 million people. Because solar energy is becoming increasingly economical, it makes sense to get as much of that technology out to the people who can benefit the most from it. Get Little Sun’s story in two minutes:

Illuminating the Need for Cost-Effective Lighting

Around the world, more than 1.3 billion people live without access to electric light, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). One example the UNEP gives is that in West Africa, an average of 76 percent of the population lacks access to electricity. And those households that aren’t connected to electricity can spend up to 20 percent of their total budget on kerosene.

The cost isn’t only monetary; breathing kerosene toxins negatively impacts human health. According to LiveStrong.com, “Breathing the fumes long-term could result in neurological or kidney damage, including blood clots that damage the brain, heart or other organs.” The UNEP also reports that kerosene lamps cause 4.3 million deaths per year.

In addition, worldwide kerosene use has “been estimated to emit up to 200 million tons of CO2 annually, which is the equivalent of emissions from approximately 60 large U.S. coal plants, heightening the need to develop sustainable alternatives,” says Imagine Peace.

Solar-powered light is more cost-effective, safer and healthier for people and the planet. And as an added bonus, the Little Sun supplies light that is 10 times brighter than a kerosene lamp, so it is better for eye health as well.

A Social Business

Photo: Little Sun/Imagine Burundi

Little Sun operates as a social business, meaning that the concept was created specifically to address a social problem, not to maximize profits.

What makes the Little Sun project unique is that it strengthens communities. Through local partners and entrepreneurs, Little Sun creates local jobs and generates local profits. Every time someone in a developed country buys a Little Sun solar product, it makes it financially possible for the company to provide funding, business starter kits and micro-entrepreneurial training. These local business then sell the Little Sun solar products at a fair and locally affordable price.

Currently, Little Sun is available in 10-plus African countries, including Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Kenya, Senegal and Ghana. Customers can also purchase the solar lamps in Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia and Japan. Since launching in 2012, Little Sun has distributed more than 439,035 portable solar lamps worldwide.

By the Numbers

Photo: Little Sun/Nicky Angunwa

As of May 2016:

  • More than 1 million off-grid people have been empowered by Little Sun.
  • 600-plus African entrepreneurs have joined the Little Sun project.
  • Off-grid households have saved $10,110,006 on energy expenses.
  • There has been a reduction of 25,732 tons of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere.

In November 2016, the 22nd Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) met in Marrakech, Morocco. During the opening ceremony of the COP22, all the delegates shared a “solar-powered sunrise.” Thousands of Little Sun solar lamps lit up the room. This served to symbolize that every person has the right to have access to sustainable energy.

The Future of Little Sun

Where is Little Sun headed? “We envision a future in which the number of people without access to clean, sustainable energy will drop from 1.1 billion to zero,” the organization says on its site. “We believe passionately in energy access for all — improving health, education, gender equality and environmental sustainability — aligning with the Sustainable Development Goals as outlined by the UN.”

“Light is social. Light is life.” — Olafur Eliasson

To find out more information about Little Sun, visit littlesun.com. You can also find a Little Sun solar lamp for purchase at Uncommon Goods.

Feature photo courtesy of Little Sun/Franziska Russo

By Wendy Gabriel

Wendy Gabriel is a freelance eco-writer based in California. Wendy's work has been featured in numerous publications and websites, including the Chicago Sun-Times, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Fox Business News and Mashable.com. For nearly six years, she was a weekly contributor on a popular radio talk show in the Upper Midwest with a segment titled “Simple Tips for Green Living.”