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Little Sun

A big ambition for a little light

When we arrive home, many of us flick the light switch without a second thought. Yet there are 1.6 billion people – around 22% of all humans in the world – who live 'off-grid'. That is, without a mains supply of electricity.

When the sun goes down, life is compromised. Working is limited to daylight hours, reducing income; medical care becomes more risky; and education levels drop, as reading becomes difficult. Even activities such as cooking and socialising become challenging. All of which amounts to a major developmental issue for off-grid communities, and something of a catch-22. Kerosene lamps are a commonly-used substitute but are expensive to run and produce harmful fumes.

Artist Olafur Eliasson and engineer Frederik Ottesen wanted to do something about the situation. So they created Little Sun: a solar-powered lamp and global project to get clean, affordable light to the huge number of people living off-grid.

A work of art, that works in life

One Little Sun converts 5 hours of sunlight into 10 hours of soft light, or 4 hours of bright light. It can be used flexibly: on a desk for studying; attached to a bike; carried as a torch; or any other way the owner can imagine. And it saves households 90% in fuel costs over 3 years, compared with kerosene.

We worked with Studio Olafur Eliasson to take Little Sun from idea and prototype to fully established product. In close collaboration, we helped to articulate the fundamental concept of Little Sun: a work of art that works in life.

Our actions have consequences for the world. Little Sun is a wedge that opens up the urgent discussion about bringing sustainable energy to all from the perspective of art.” Olafur Eliasson
A social business, not a charity

With a working product and concept, Studio Olafur Eliasson could have looked to distribute Little Sun lamps as a form of international aid. Instead, we worked with them to develop an innovative social business model: sales of Little Sun in on-grid communities – Europe for example – were to subsidise the cheap supply of lamps to local sales agents in off-grid communities, helping to generate local profits and build livelihoods.

The entrepreneurs themselves would be supported by a network of distribution partners within their countries, providing them with business starter kits and micro-entrepreneurial training. Little Sun would be a social business that spread light, safe energy, and profits everywhere they worked.

We went on to create a simple and iconic visual identity for Little Sun, producing designs for the website, packaging, point of sale and posters. We also designed the Tate Modern exhibition, which launched Little Sun into the world. Tate's visitors were able to explore their exhibitions in the dark, using only a Little Sun to see. They were also able to create their own 'sunlight graffiti' using the lamps and ten short films were commissioned, showing the impact of Little Sun in off-grid communities.

Time: the most valuable commodity

Little Sun launched at Tate Modern as part of Festival 2012. Since then, the Little Sun lamp has received official certification from Lighting Africa, a joint IFC and World Bank program. To date, over 165,000 Little Sun lamps have been distributed worldwide – around a third of these in off-grid areas – with more than $1.5m saved in household lighting costs.

Little Sun currently has distribution in eight African countries: Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Senegal, Ethiopia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, as well as in the European Union, the United States, Canada, Australia, and Japan.

In off-grid communities, Little Sun is making the day longer: children study, families cook, businesses remain open, and people socialize safely. It’s amazing what can happen when you put a few more hours in the day.