A Shining Light For Millions: The SolarPuff

We’d literally be left in the dark without lighting. Pinning all our hopes on 10-16 hours of sunlight (season depending), flickering candles and campfire illuminations to aid us with clear navigation and visibility. Luckily for the majority of us this isn't a reality. Over time we've been presented with various different lighting systems. Oil lamps and candles reaching back to 4000 BC, the first application of oil street lights in 1000 AD, then there's no forgetting Alessandro Volta and Thomas Edison's game changing invention of the lightbulb.

In modern life artificial light is no longer hard to come by nor is it treated as a luxury. Whether it's stuffy office blocks with glaring light panels or it's the latest LED lightbulbs to hit enthused consumers; nearly each and every retail store or liveable property has some sort of lighting implemented.

It's also common place to open up interior design magazines and be confronted with the latest light fixture that ‘you must have' in your home. And although celebrating the latest aesthetics and technology in the lighting world is good for the development and evolution of contemporary lighting, there's some lights that warrant separation from the rest of them.

Importance Of Light

There's a lot of things in this world which are unfair. Hunger, poverty, war, the inability to source clean water, homelessness, murder, exploitation, the list is seemingly endless. However, limited or no access to light is often left out. It’s an elementary ingredient to everyday life; we need light to see people and to communicate, to study work, to play sports, to fix machinery, to read your favourite books.

We would incur a huge hindrance if electricity suddenly disappeared and the lights went off. Yet there are millions of people going through this travesty right now; they have no electricity, therefore they have no light. Official statistics allegedly state that a quarter of humanity are still living without light; with 1.3 billion people having no access to electricity. The IEA (International Energy Agency) has predicted that by 2030 – 635 million people living in Sub Sarahan Africa will still be without electricity.

Just like how food aid is distributed to countries suffering from starvation, light aid is developing into a real demand for humanitarian services. With this, inventors and designers have either been collaborating with charities or working on their own accord to help improve the living standards of those who need it.


solarpuff classroom

A fantastic illustration of light aid in action is the SolarPuff by Solight Design. The SolarPuff is a featherweight, portable and easily assembled light which runs on solar energy alone. Influenced by origami the SolarPuff uses a ‘fold out’ contraption; by simply opening it up and forming a cube shape the light will fully assemble. Once the SolarPuff has assembled it requires facing direct sunlight for four to five hours, as a result it produces four to five hours of artificial light via its solar panel.

These basic yet ingenious solar lights have all the makings to positively impact millions of lives. Their use is infinite, they can help light up a classroom full of youngsters who are eager to gain an education, they can light up a home for obvious navigational necessities, they can prevent break-ins and will generally make the location a lot safer to live in. In areas without an electricity grid – such as tent camps in Sub Saharan Africa, a power outage will increase the probability of rape by 20%. Another bleak reminder of how limited or no access to light can incite traumatic experiences.

For such a tiny and unorthodox light the SolarPuff is surprisingly bright – providing more brightness than a kerosene lamp. People with no access to electricity regularly look to kerosene lamps to light the way; however the risks connected to these lamps are well documented. The Intermediate Technology Development Group and World Health Organization suggests that indoor air pollution from kerosene and similar indoor lighting fuels result in more than 1.5 million deaths per year, presenting lung disease, respiratory problems and eye-related issues. This is another unnerving fact that the SolarPuff is seeking to improve.

Another superiority of the SolarPuff is its resistant but flexible nature. The material is eco friendly and easily foldable, making it perfect to transport and carry around. Maintenance costs are also a world away from kerosene lamps or battery operated flashlights. The SolarPuff needs no batteries or refills and will work for at least a year after purchase.

Not Just For The Unfortunate

The SolarPuff (as well as other similar products) are already being used in not only disaster zones or off-grid areas but they're being introduced to households looking to cut back on their energy bills. Night time occupations such as fisherman are also able to harbour the goods of the SolarPuff, this is because the light possesses waterproof and buoyancy qualities too. The SolarPuff is being piloted across Nigeria and Haiti with the view to assign more organisations and areas with the light.

Recent lighting innovations have seen mood changing dimmers, colour changing LEDs and other fabulous fixtures launched into the modern consumer market. Yet while designers tweak styles and characteristics of expensive light fittings, there’s still an overwhelming percentage of humanity without basic light. If governments are not prepared to spend money to help transform off-grid locations into environments with electricity then regrettably it's over to creations such as the SolarPuff to support people. With inventions such as the SolarPuff being considered as just one of the answers, there is in fact a shed of light at the end of the tunnel. But let's hope that the light is prolonged and prosperous, and its beam can revolutionise millions of lives that deserve better.

Author: Tom Bray works for a national electrical wholesaler – Direct Trade Supplies, a company which specialises in LED lighting Tom regularly contributes to magazines and websites.

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