Bringing sustainable light to off-grid communities in Africa

Today 1.2 billion people around the world do not have access to electricity. Without light, they resort to using dangerous and unhealthy toxic carbon-emitting kerosene lanterns to extend daily hours to be able to do daily tasks such as cooking and studying. To address this issue, the VELUX Group and the social business Little Sun are collaborating to help bring clean, reliable, and affordable light to off-grid African regions.

Winning solar lamp design of the VELUX Natural Light Project. Credit: VELUX.

Winning solar lamp design of the VELUX Natural Light Project. Credit: VELUX.

In November 2014, design students from all over the world were invited to design a special edition solar lamp in honor of the 75th anniversary of the VELUX Group. The Natural Light Project was launched to mark the milestone of the VELUX Group’s work in improving living conditions around the world by bringing daylight into people’s homes. Using an entrepreneurial distribution model the project will donate 14,500 solar lamps to entrepreneurs in off-grid communities in Senegal, Zimbabwe and Zambia. The NGO Plan International is the distribution partner and will facilitate training of young entrepreneurs in the communities. In this way, the Natural Light project will create employment opportunities, grow communities and thereby improve livelihood in off-grid African regions.

The distribution model employed is very similar in concept to micro loans, in which small local entrepreneurs who cannot obtain loans under normal circumstances due to a lack of steady income or collateral are offered small loans that can help their businesses get started. To get their sales started, these entrepreneurs will initially receive a stock of Natural Light lamps for free. Once they have sold their stock, the result is a profit for themselves and also the capital to purchase additional lamps to sell, establishing their own self-sustaining small businesses. Rather than a short-term fix of donating lamps to an area without electricity, Plan works with and train local entrepreneurs to build profitable local businesses that distribute Natural Light lamps.

We – the winners of the design competition, Mariana Arando and Luca Fondello are both industrial design students at the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina.

We love the idea of improving living conditions in the world. Unfortunately sometimes designers and engineers forget that instead of creating a solution to a problem they just create new products that have no real purpose and do not solve any problem. Little Sun and the VELUX Group had a vision and wanted to solve an actual social problem. In many parts of Africa people do not have electricity and the solar lamp will make it possible for them to read, walk in the dark or do many other things. The project will improve the living conditions of thousands of people and contributing to that leaves you with a good feeling.

Talking about the light we thought about that throughout the human history people met around the flames of a bonfire, in the sun, or some other type of light. For us it was very important to communicate the idea of light being something that bring people together. Joining moments where people talk about the day and spend time with friends and family. The idea of light being an element that joins people together was the fundament for our design concept.  With this solar lamp every member of the family can bring his or her own light home.

Velux Daylight Symposium London2015. Winners of Natural Light, Mariana Arando (middle) and Luca Fondello (right). Credit: VELUX.

Velux Daylight Symposium London2015. Winners of Natural Light, Mariana Arando (middle) and Luca Fondello (right). Credit: VELUX.

On 3 September 2015 we presented our design at the 6th VELUX #DaylightSymposium together with artist and chairman of the Natural Light jury Olafur Eliasson.

The VELUX Daylight Symposium celebrated its 10th anniversary with a two-day conference focused on daylight as a driver of change in today’s 24/7 society. The Symposium took place in London on 2-3 September and payed tribute to the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies 2015 (IYL 2015) proclaimed by the United Nations and Unesco.

More Information

The name ‘Natural Light’ refers to the fact that the lamp works from being charged by the natural light of the Sun. Of course to fit with this sensibility, the lamp has been designed so that the glow is as welcoming, warm and natural as possible. Five hours of direct sunlight will fully charge the Lithium battery. Then the lamp will deliver 25 lm for at least 4 hours (brightest setting). Using the dimmer to lower the light output will increase the duration up to 50 hours (at lowest setting). Considering regular daily use the battery will last up to 5 years.  We are using a highly efficient Samsung LED with a color temperature of 5000K (neutral white). The solar panel is made of highly efficient mono-crystalline SunPower solar cells delivering 0,5W at 4,4V.

Follow the Natural Light solar lamp to Africa: www.naturallight.org.


VELUX-Mariana Arando-Luca Fondello-Natural Light-solar lampMariana Arando and Luca Fondello are the winners of the Natural Light – International Design Competition. They both live in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and are studying Industrial Design together at the University of Buenos Aires (FADU, Department of Architecture, Design and Urban Planning). Both students are very committed to their education, while also remaining open to wider learning from exciting projects and gaining new experiences from competitions such as the Natural light project.

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3 thoughts on “Bringing sustainable light to off-grid communities in Africa

  1. Thank you for highlighting this great injustice in our world today and for doing what you are doing to help. The “Electrify Africa” initiative needs more focus and support as the latest projections are for 1bn to still be without access to electricity in our world in 2030.

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