Help from the Solar Market


A nonprofit organization CAN-DO partnered with LuminAID to distribute almost 1,000 lights in Haiti in 2012. Image: LuminAID / CAN-DO

For many, late summer means long, hot sunny days, low air conditioning temperatures, and high electricity bills. But around the world, over 1.2 billion people live without access to basic electricity. Those living in rural areas—including in Africa, India, in the U.S., as well as survivors of humanitarian crises and natural disasters—don’t just lack electricity. Their environments often lack the infrastructure necessary to support the power grids found in developed countries.

For those living without electricity, access to cheap, easy-to-use, and easy-to-replenish light is a game changer. In the aftermath of disasters, it can be the difference between life and death. And for people in rural areas, light can ease safety concerns against fires and explosions or unwanted company.

Making solar products for people living without reliable electricity brings up a vital point: those products must meet certain standards because this consumer base not only lacks electricity, they also lack access to traditional support systems like distribution channels, paved roads, and repair experts. Given that, products providing electricity and battery power should be safe, self-sustaining, require minimal maintenance, should be easy-to-use, and should be durable.

Fortunately, people living off the grid are being shown the light. Some companies are engineering portable solar products to meet the needs of this population. Their products represent feats of engineering and design, often sharing an appreciation for simplicity. Below are four products helping lead the solar-powered way.

The LuminAID is a solar-powered light that packs flat and inflates to create a lightweight, waterproof lantern. Image: LuminAID





A New Solar Light

The brain child of Anna Stork and Andrea Sreshta, founders of LuminAid, Chicago IL, came to life in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

“We were researching what was being sent down there and we were surprised to learn there was not a lighting product being distributed in the volumes needed,” says Stork. “We saw how a portable, rechargeable light that could be cost-effectively and easily shipped and distributed in large volumes could really improve the comfort and safety of those victims.”

The result was LuminAid’s 3-ounce solar light. Luminaid has been used by people in more than a dozen countries, and sent to disaster survivors of Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Isaac in Haiti.

The light features one button with two settings—low power and high power—that correspond to the amount of LED light that can be dispensed before another solar charge is needed. In addition, the solar panel and rechargeable lithium-ion polymer battery are sealed inside a waterproof, lightweight, inflatable translucent pillow. In exchange for six to seven hours of sunlight absorbed by the monocrystalline solar panel, the Luminaid can dispense up to 16 hours for low power and eight hours on the high.

It’s a feat of engineering that National Geographic Channel’s “Doomsday Preppers” star Tim Ralston described as “simplicity at its best.” Indeed, simplicity, an appreciation for the consequences of LEDs and an awareness of the target audience, played a vital role in the product design.

“LEDs produce a significant amount of glare on your eyes,” Stork said. “In order to read, you need something covering the LEDs to diffuse the light. Other design decisions were based on making it simple to use and as lightweight as possible.” 

Like most products, the Luminaid has undergone small tweaks, including small changes to the type of solar panel, the type of LEDs used. These adjustments rely heavily on the feedback of users in the field.

Explained Stork, “One of our largest customers is a disaster relief aid customer that has distributed tens of thousands to emergency situations, and they have been a great source of really useful feedback for us.”

At $8 a piece, the Nokero N182 is the most affordable and compact solar light bulb in the world. Image: Nokero



Nokero’s Solar Lights

Nokero, Denver, CO, is short for “no kerosene,” and was created by Steve Katsaros to replace kerosene lamps used in poor and developing countries. Kerosene lamps, particularly popular in developing countries, have been widely documented to cause fires and explosions and release toxic fumes. Because Nokero lights were created specifically with poorer populations, who use kerosene lamps more often, in mind, the engineering specifications were kept as simple as possible.

“Having a very simple, intuitive, easy-to-understand product is really critical,” said Katsaros.

Nokero’s product designs reflect that concept of recognition. “Everybody knows what a light bulb is,” he said.

Nokero’s first generation solar light, the “N100,” was basically a light bulb with solar panels attached, according to Katsaros. For the next line, the “N200s,” Katsaros kept the simplicity and identity of the light bulb, but added features like handles and stands.

Another change from the first line of solar lights to the current one was made to the activation button. The original N100 featured a slide switch to turn the light on; the N200s now have a push button. Katsaros said that such a small change made a world of difference as customers weren’t always familiar with the slide mechanism, but were familiar with the push button.

Depending on the light, Nokero bulbs can run from three to 15 hours, and require anywhere from six hours to a full day’s worth of sunlight exposure.

Over a million Nokero solar lights have been sold in Africa and Indonesia, and the lights continue to be used in disaster relief efforts worldwide.

MPowerd’s Luci

Like LuminAid’s solar light, MPowerd’s “Luci” was created in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. At four ounces, Luci is waterproof and inflatable. In exchange for 8 hours of sunlight, the solar lamp will remain illuminated for up to 12 hours. The light comes with three light settings and the ability to collapse to one-inch in size.

Later this year, MPowerd, New York, NY will release Luci Aura, a multi-colored solar light as a “safe, energy saving alternative” to candles.

We saw how a portable, rechargeable light that could be cost-effectively and easily shipped and distributed in large volumes could really improve the comfort and safety of those victims.

Anna Stork, co-founder, LuminAid


September 2014

by Brittany Logan,