5 Crazy Ways to Light the Developing World

For millions around the world, reliable electricity is only a dream. According to figures from the International Energy Agency, at least 20% of the planet’s inhabitants are still without the simple luxury of a light switch. Many depend on wood fires, kerosene lamps, and other dirty, dangerous sources of energy for just a little bit of light and heat. The World Bank estimates that, as a result, 780 million women and children inhale smoke, which is equivalent to smoking 2 packets of cigarettes, every day. 60 percent of adult, female lung-cancer victims in developing nations are non-smokers. A study at the Berkeley Laboratory at the University of California found that this “dirty light” consumes 77 billion liters of fuel worldwide, costing its predominantly impoverished end-users a total of $38 billion annually.

As solar and other renewable energy technologies become more advanced, however, alternatives are emerging. Since many in developing nations are used to living “off the grid,” these low-tech options are ideal solutions, allowing families to eat, study, and converse with each other long after the sun does down.

Here are five innovative products either already on the market or in development that could drastically reduce fossil fuel consumption and improve indoor air quality around the world. Did we forget one? Please share it in the comments!

1. GravityLight

Although the cost of solar panels continues to drop, they’re still far too expensive for the average family in the developing world. Not only do the panels require complex installation and wiring, they also need a storage battery if the power is to be utilized when the sun’s not shining. GravityLight is an ingenious design that uses a clever belt and pulley system to generate light through the force of gravity. It takes only 3 seconds to lift the weight which powers GravityLight, creating 30 minutes of light on its descent. For free. The GravityLight is currently gathering funding on Indiegogo. Click here to find out how you can help bring it to market.

2. Liter of Light

liter of light, solar lamp

When it comes to affordable and planet-friendly, you can’t get much better than a lamp upcycled from trash. Unlike other solar lanterns, the “Liter of Light” one requires no wires, light bulbs, or costly solar panels. All it needs is a plastic bottle, water, bleach, and some sturdy hands to put it in place. Luckily, those low-cost supplies are things that even those in remote and impoverished areas can get their hands on easily. This brilliantly simple idea has brightened up 28,000 homes and the lives of 70,000 people in the Phillipines.

3. Hawk Light

hawk light, solar panel, solar lantern

Just because rooftop solar panels are expensive and require skilled technicians to install doesn’t mean that we should abandon solar energy as a lighting solution. We just have to get creative. In order to understand what would truly be useful for residents, industrial design student Murray Sharp and his team spent time living in Alexandra township, in Johannesburg, South Africa. It quickly became apparent that people needed something more than a flashlight for emergencies. So Sharp and his team set about designing the Hawk Light: a combination portable solar panel and lantern that also offers an electrical plug for charging small devices like a cell phone. The lantern features three LED strips that are placed at 60 degree intervals giving a wider range of light. The LEDs are low power, allowing them to last longer on power generated by the panel.

4. WakaWaka Light

waka-waka light, solar light, swahili

The bummer about most solar-powered lights is that they require up to 12 hours in direct sunlight just to produce an hour or two of artificial light. This means you’ve really got to think ahead in order to utilize the lamps without frustration. Such is not the case with the WakaWaka Solar Light. This extremely rugged case is made from recycled plastic and designed to fit on to the neck of a standard glass beverage bottle. Just eight hours of exposure to sunlight or artificial light packs eight hours of bright light, 16 hours of reading light, or an amazing 80 hours of night safety light into the device’s 3 AA rechargeable NiMh batteries. The best part is that for a limited time, each WakaWaka Power (combination solar light and charging device) you purchase, the company will donate 1 WakaWaka Light to a family of 5 in Haiti where 370,000 people are still living in darkness.

5. Wind Up Lantern

wind up lantern, NEBO

Sometimes you just don’t have the luxury of waiting for the sun. The NEBO Wind Up Lantern is a portable, reliable energy-saving lantern with 24 super bright white LEDs guaranteed to last for more than 100,000 hours. All it takes is a minute or two of turning the crank handle to wind up the lantern to create hours of light.

Related Reading:

D.Light Design: A New Path To A Brighter Future

Solar Sister: A 2011 SVN Innovation Award Winner

Solar Lighting Could Revolutionize Africa In 10 Years

Image via Thinkstock

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Alicia Guevara
Alicia Guevara2 years ago

Very interesting! Tks!

Jessica Sutton
Jessica S.2 years ago

I want a Waka Waka light now! That's too cool! ...and cute! :-)

Ana Passos
Past Member 2 years ago


Karen R.
Karen R.2 years ago

thank you

Ana R
Ana R2 years ago

Thank you.

greenplanet e.
greenplanet e.2 years ago

Innovative ideas. Good to hear.

John B.
John B.2 years ago

Thanks Beth for the wonderful article, photos and video.

Patricia H.
Patricia H.2 years ago

thanks for posting

vee s.
vee s.2 years ago

Two sources of power not mentioned. which also drive more than just light are : 1) the children's play roundabout which provides power to pump water from wells and 2) micro-hydra schemes which use small local streams and the fall of water to provide power. ............See www.practicalaction.org ..... a group which has a host of clever but very simple technological ideas which help poor villagers, such as "refrigerator" pots, smoke free cookers, fish farming boxes, floating gardens and much else. Pass it on !!

John Mansky
John Mansky2 years ago

Thank you for the article...