Looking Away From The Grid To Power Future Lighting Solutions [Future of Light]

Designers are recapturing and repurposing the energy resources at hand to make light accessible to everyone.

A drawback to traditional grid-based lighting is that it’s expensive, requires extensive infrastructure, and is difficult to maintain over time. As we begin to take stock of the amount of energy we need to power communities across the globe, sustainable design solutions are being developed to circumvent the electricity grid entirely, bringing low-cost, long-lasting lighting to everyone.

In a trend we are calling Sustaining Light, PSFK Labs has identified innovative designs that are using alternative sources of energy to power sustainable, low-cost lighting solutions, creating new opportunities for people living with limited resources. By exploring new methods for capturing and repurposing the resources at hand and making light accessible to everyone, these products showcase the power light has to improve people’s lives.

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Urban Green Energy Inc. has installed 120 solar and wind-powered streetlights in Pingquan, north eastern China. Its first US installation took place in 2010 in San Francisco, with installations underway on four continents, including Asia, where the population and economic booms of the last twenty years have necessitated more energy use. China uses the highest volume of electricity after the United States and depends on coal for much of its energy, greatly increasing the need for alternatives. Instead of opting for costly traditional lights that would require burying wires in the ground and connecting to the grid, the city chose a more sustainable route. UGE’s Sanya lights are equipped with a wind turbine and two 280 watt solar panels, allowing them to function completely independent of the grid energy system.

Outdoor lighting is a growing category in the sustainable energy industry. Mateo Chaskel, VP of operations at UGE, explains, “One of the key markets [of development] is outdoor lighting, where the costs of wiring the electrical grid to a remote location can be prohibitive, and installing off-grid lights can lead to economic prosperity in the area and significant savings over traditional options, all while being a sustainable zero-emission option.”

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Circumventing the traditional energy grid is the future of sustainable lighting, says Winka Dubbeldam, principal at Architectonics. “Whatever we can do to relieve the grid is incredibly important and it’s not going to be one solution. It’s not going to be only solar or only wind. I think at this point we just have to do all of it at the same time.”

An unexpected combination of light and gravity is already being deployed to communities in Africa and southeast Asia. GravityLight is a lamp that is powered by adding weight to a mesh bag that hangs below the device. As gravity slowly causes the weight to descend, the lamps generates 30 minutes worth of light. The device is recharged by simply returning the weight to its original position, starting the process anew. The light can also be adapted to power other electronics such as radios and battery chargers. GravityLight itself has no batteries to run out, replace or dispose of, creating a completely clean and green alternative to lighting. Created by Martin Riddiford and Jim Reeves of London-based design group deciwatt.org, GravityLight is designed for use in the developing world as a safe and low-cost alternative to kerosene lamps, which emit harmful fumes when used indoors.

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Urban Green Energy’s street lights and GravityLight explore use of charging solutions that leverage alternative sources of energy to power sustainable lighting solutions. These examples also 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 by promoting well-being and creating more opportunities for economies and activities to take place at all hours of the day.

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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