When we arrive home, we flick the light switch without a second thought. Yet 1.6 billion people – around 22% of the world – live ‘off-grid’, without a mains supply of electricity.

When the sun goes down, work and therefore income is limited, medical care is compromised, and education levels drop as reading becomes difficult. It’s challenging even to cook or socialise. Kerosene lamps are a commonly-used but expensive and harmful substitute.

To address this problem, artist Olafur Eliasson and engineer Frederik Ottesen created Little Sun: a solar-powered lamp for 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. 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. Little Sun is a work of art that works in life.

“Little Sun opens up urgent discussion about bringing sustainable energy to all from the perspective of art.”

Olafur Eliasson, Artist and Founder, Little Sun
A social business
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 like Europe would subsidise the 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.

Making the day longer
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.