Illuminating Off The Grid Lifestyles [Future of Light]

Illuminating Off The Grid Lifestyles [Future of Light]

Leveraging alternative sources of energy to power sustainable, low-cost lighting solutions for the entire globe.

  • 6 october 2013

With a rising global population, many of whom have limited access to resources, the 24-hour a day lighting we so often take for granted has never looked more like a luxury to cherish. Fortunately this challenge has created opportunities for innovation. With recent advances in LED technology and the potential to harness energy away from the traditional grid, the potential for providing light to communities across the globe is now within reach. “LED technology has given us the ability to use substantially less power while illuminating things in innovative ways. What is exciting is that this means that solar and wind generated power are now viable sources to power advanced lighting systems,” noted Ed Bakos, managing director of Champalimaud during our conversation.

In a trend we are calling Sustaining Light, PSFK Labs has identified  low-cost lighting solutions that are being powered by alternative sources of energy. By exploring new methods for capturing and repurposing the resources at hand and making light accessible to everyone, these products are creating new opportunities for people to thrive.


One example of this trend is a community lighting phenomenon already being used in Egypt, Ethiopia, Morocco, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa. Philips Lighting has developed over 100 solar-powered community Light Centers throughout Africa, creating well-lit community areas that people can use after the sun goes down. The Philips Light Center is an area of 1000m2, or the size of a small soccer pitch, and is lit with solar-powered LED lights. Local authorities can provide for night-time sports activity (including soccer, as can be seen above), evening education and community events, all while creating additional revenue by regulating the frequency and duration of use. What’s more, the batteries that harness the solar energy only need to be replaced once every four to five years.


In another example of this trend, Dr. Laura Stachel and her husband Hal Aronson created We Care Solar, an organization working to bring the most basic and important technology to hospitals in Nigeria, Uganda, Sierra Leone, and Cameroon. The couple’s first project is an off-grid Solar Suitcase system for doctors that can be charged by the sun and transported to where it is needed most. The Solar Suitcase includes high-efficiency LED lights, a universal cell phone charger, a charger for AA or AAA batteries, and 12V DC outlets. The case supports either 40 or 80 watt solar panels, and stores energy in a 12 amp-hour sealed lead-acid battery. The kit can also be expanded to accommodate larger batteries. “We no longer turn away patients at night,” reports a Nigerian midwife.


Dr. Stachel shared some statistics illustrating the success of the suitcase: “We Care Solar has equipped over 300 health facilities with Solar Suitcases. In front line clinics, Solar Suitcase provide medical LED lights and power to health facilities that previously relied on candles or kerosene for suboptimal lighting. In hospitals, the Solar Suitcases provide back-up power to operating theaters with unreliable grid power. We estimate that 137,000 mothers and infants are being served each year by our intervention.”

Dr. Stachel’s Solar Suitcase and Philips’ Light Centers explore use of charging solutions that leverage alternative sources of energy such as solar, which can power portable lighting solutions for use in a variety of situations. We may expect to see more examples which explore the use of kinetic charging systems which rely on the human transfer of energy to power small scale lighting which when integrated into existing behaviors such as cycling or play, can be even more transformative.

These examples fall under a larger trend we are calling Light for Life, which explores the transformative power of light and its ability to positively impact the lives of individuals and communities.

The Future of Light series explores light’s potential to improve lives, build communities, and connect people in new and meaningful ways. Brought to you in partnership with Philips Lighting, a full report is available as an iOS and Android app or as a downloadable PDF.


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