Light for everyone

Meet ‘Little Sun’. It is a small solar-powered lantern. “Although we won’t solve the world’s energy problem with a lamp, we will do two things: we will bring light to many people who need it, and we will address the energy problem on a global scale,” says the famous Danish artist Olafur Eliasson who has been co-developing the lantern. 

Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson introducing you to ‘Little Sun’

“Little Sun transforms the light that is for all of us into light that is for each of us. Light determines what we do and how we do it. Little Sun is a wedge that opens up the urgent discussion of bringing sustainable energy to all from the perspective of art.”
Olafur Eliasson

Photo by Gert Jensen

The ‘Little Sun’ lamp is an attractive, high-quality solar-powered lamp in the shape of a hand-sized sun. It was developed by the Danish artist Olafur Eliasson and engineer Frederik Ottesen. The project presents an innovative way to get clean, affordable light to the 1.6 billion people worldwide without access to the electrical grid. Little Sun’s sustainable solar-powered light allows people in off-grid areas to study, cook dinner, work, socialize, and continue their daily activities into the night without relying on expensive and toxic lighting like kerosene lanterns.

Work of art that works in real life
In 2013 the Mehrangarh Museum of Art in association with the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston presented a ‘Little Sun’ exhibition featuring more than 200 Little Sun lamps and a series of 16 Little Sun short films, first shown at London’s Tate Modern in 2012.

The Mehrangarh Museum of Art hosted the exhibition in the fitting location of Jodhpur, Rajasthan – known as India’s ‘Sun City’.

The exhibition opened on 8 March 2013 and ran through April. After it ended the Little Suns where donated to the Jal Bhagirathi Foundation of His Highness, Maharaja Gaj Singh II, who then distributed them to remote villages and institutions in Rajasthan through the CSR departments of various companies.

Rohingya children with their Little Suns in refugee camp in New Delhi. Photo by Austrian Burma Center

A social business and global project
The Little Sun project is created as a social business addressing the need for light in a sustainable way that benefits off-grid communities, creates local jobs, and generates local profits. The lamps are produced and distributed worldwide by establishing sustainable trade routes, allowing off-grid distributors to profit while bringing light to local users.

It is a global project connecting the world’s electrified areas with off-grid communities – purchasing a Little Sun in areas of the world with electricity allows Little Suns to be sold off-grid at much lower, locally affordable prices.

The Little Sun project was officially launched in July 2012 at London’s Tate Modern and currently has distribution in Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Senegal, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, as well as the EU, the US and Japan. The popularity of Little Sun lies not just in the global south, but all over the world.

This means Little Sun has been able to develop a unique social business model that uses the revenue from the higher on-grid sales prices of lamps to invest in the sustainable distribution of lamps in off-grid communities. Thus Little Sun is able to help create off-grid jobs and support off-grid entrepreneurs, generating local profits.

Awareness raising
Projects with on-grid partners such as art institutions, international agencies, NGOs, and private sector partners are used to raise global awareness of energy access and solar power, to reduce off-grid prices even further, and when necessary, to raise funds for lamps to be supplied free-of-charge to people outside the reach of markets.

Little Sun is not a charity. Rather than a short-term fix of donating lamps to a region without electricity, it focuses on the longer-term goal of building profitable local businesses that distribute Little Sun light. The people behind Little Sun feel that it’s not just about delivering light to people – it matters how it gets there.

A shopkeeper sells little suns in Ethiopia. Photo by Olafur Eliasson

Watch a video about the project
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