Solar LED Lights: The Key to Developing World Productivity?

  • Published on July 17th, 2012

Imagine you couldn’t simply flip a switch to produce light after dark. What would that keep you from doing? Reading? Writing? Depending on your lifestyle, there are probably many activities that would be limited. Now imagine you could get the light for these activities… but doing so might make you sick. Would that be an acceptable trade-off?

Those have traditionally been the options for 1.5 – 2 billion people around the world who don’t have access to electric lighting: either stop productive activity after dark, or use technologies like kerosene lamps or wood fires. Sound mostly like an inconvenience? Again, think of all the things you do after dark because you have access to light and electricity, and then consider the quality of life you’d experience without those things. According to the United Nations Development Program, improved lighting doesn’t just result in more comfort and convenience, but also a 30% increase in income, and better health. Lights are weapons again poverty.

That’s why technologies like solar-powered LED lights are so important. While we first-worlders might consider such items cool gadgets that might be useful on a camping trip, these devices give people in the developed world quick, useful access to light. The sun’s energy is readily available, and the LED bulbs ensure that that energy, once gathered, is used as efficiently as possible.

A number of social enterprises have focused their efforts on bringing such technology to the developing world, and distributing it in a manner that creates economic opportunities for the world’s poor. Here are just a few of them:

  • d.light: With a global focus, d.light’s line of solar-powered LED lights can provide 4-12 hours of light on a full day’s charge. The company’s most recent product, the S1, also has AC charging capacity. (via Andrea Learned at G+)
  • Flexiway: This company’s Solar Muscle light not only has two settings and can produce up to 8 hours of light, but also can be connected to more Solar Muscles to create bigger lighting sources when needed.
  • Nokero: This Denver-based company’s solar-powered light bulb isn’t really a bulb in the strictest sense, but a flexible housing for a small solar panel and four LEDs. We took an in-depth look at this company two years ago; you can also find out more about their work in the video above.
  • LumenAID: We’ve also covered these inflatable solar-powered LEDs. Developed at Columbia University, LumenAID’s lights are easily transportable and lightweight. They’re also now available for pre-ordering.
  • ToughStuff: This company has created a modular line of products that can interconnect, so a customer can use them for light, or for phone charging or even powering a radio.

No doubt this is just a handful of the companies doing innovative work on this front; if you know of others, share them with us.

Image credit: Screen capture from Nokero Introduction video

About the Author

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg is the founder and editor of sustainablog. You can keep up with all of his writing at Facebook, and at