Let There Be Light: An Affordable, Solar-Powered Lantern Beams in Off-Grid Communities

Little Sun, a small, beautiful solar-powered lantern, provides a sustainable, affordable, rechargeable form of light.

What would you do if you could cradle the sun’s light in the palm of your hand? If you never thought about that question before, a new creation by artist Olafur Eliasson and engineer Frederick Ottesen may challenge you to consider it.

The aptly named " Little Sun " is a lantern powered by the sun's natural light designed to fight unequal energy distribution around the world. Part artwork, part social project tackling energy poverty, the bright yellow orb, complete with wavy rays radiating out from the center, looks remarkably like its namesake. Thanks to its small size, the functions are manifold: use it as anything from a table lamp to a bike light. The Little Sun website declares it "a work of art that works in life. It transforms the light that is for all of us into a light that is for each of us."

The project is aesthetically pleasing, but it's also a deliberate effort to tackle energy poverty that roughly 1.6 billion people experience globally. The lamp harnesses solar power to produce artificial light, providing a cleaner, cheaper, and more sustainable alternative to kerosene lamps. "Right now people living off the electrical grid pay 300 times more for light than people who have access to electricity and incandescent light bulbs," Ottesen explains. "With Little Sun we deliver 10 times more light at one tenth of the cost of using a common single-wick kerosene lamp.”

Little Sun also provides an alternative to the health risks associated with kerosene lamps. According to the United Nations Environment Program , kerosene lamps used with cow dung release toxic emissions that are directly tied to eye infections, respiratory infections, and lung cancer. Inhaling these emissions is equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day—and a single lamp can emit one ton of carbon dioxide over the course of five years. Little Sun hopes to be a "practical, affordable, and safe" form of artificial light to those in need, providing better air quality, better light, and a low-carbon alternative to kerosene lamps.

"In everyday life, it is important that we critically engage in global initiatives and local contexts. Our actions have consequences for the world," Eliasson says in a press release, "Little Sun is a wedge that opens up the urgent discussion of sustainable energy for all from the perspective of art." By the end of this year, Little Sun hopes to have 250,000 people engaged with the company as partners, distributors, and users. By 2013, Little Sun aims to be available worldwide with 50 million lights distributed by 2020. The ongoing project will be on view at the Tate Modern in London this summer as part of the London 2012 Festival, accompanying the Olympic Games.

Top photo by Maddalena Valeri. Second and bottom photos by Merklit Mersha. Third Photo by Terhas Berhe.