$5 Solar Lamp To Fight Fuel Poverty

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Originally published on Ecopreneurist.

solar light

Sometimes, it’s the simplest things that can make a big difference in people’s lives, and this affordable solar light falls right in line with that, as it involves something we take for granted (a safe way to illuminate a home after dark), but which is a luxury in many parts of the developing world.

Here in the west, all we need to do is flip a switch, and we’ve got a cheap source of light that doesn’t pollute our home and that can provide plenty of time after dark to prepare meals, complete homework, read, enjoy our family or loved ones, or do our daily chores.

But that’s not the case in many areas, where the only viable source of light may be a kerosene lamp, which is not only unhealthy to burn indoors, and a possible safety hazard, but also requires a constant supply of relatively expensive fuel to operate. And while many different versions of solar lanterns and solar lighting options are available, not many of them are affordable to a family living in poverty, which is why this $5 solar light could have a big positive impact on the lives of those who use them.

The MiniSun12H, developed by the NGO SunLife, is a affordable, durable, solar-powered light capable of providing 12 hours of light from 8 hours of charging. At the cost of just $5, this solar light is cost-competitive with a kerosene lantern, with the added advantage of never needing to be refueled with expensive and dirty kerosene in order to use it.

“The dangers of kerosene lamps are very real. The World Bank estimates that 780 million women and children breathing kerosene fumes inhale smoke equivalent to 2 packs of cigarettes every day. 60% of adult female lung-cancer victims in developing nations are non-smokers. These fumes kill an estimated 1.5 million women and children in Africa every year. The kerosene needed for the lamps is a constant burden on the household income for these very poor people.” – SunLife

The MiniSun12H solar light project, which is currently raising money through a crowdfunding campaign, can not only serve as a “village light bulb” with its clean and renewable illumination, but because of its low cost, could also serve to enable its users to save money for additional lights or other appropriate technology tools, and to put money back in their pockets, month after month.


MiniSun12H has been designed from the ground up after years of tinkering! It’s manufactured from robust materials and simple enough to ensure it remains cost-effective while delivering ample bright, safe task light for 4 hours, and 8 further low-light hours.

  • 5.5cm x 5.5 cm 0.2W solar PV panel
  • UV resistant plastic case
  • Bright LED light
  • Requires 8 “tropical sun” hours to charge.
  • 2 light settings: bright “task” light + night light
  • 12 hour discharge (4 task + 8 night light hours)
  • Design life of 3 years.
  • ROI against kerosene purchase approx. 1 month
  • Metal hanging arm.
  • Plastic “S” hook and nylon string for hanging.

If you’d like to see this affordable solar light get launched and field-tested in a big way, and eventually get into the hands of those who most need them, see the MiniSun12H Indiegogo campaign or the website for more information

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Derek Markham

Derek lives in southwestern New Mexico and digs bicycles, simple living, fungi, organic gardening, sustainable lifestyle design, bouldering, and permaculture. He loves fresh roasted chiles, peanut butter on everything, and buckets of coffee.

Derek Markham has 467 posts and counting. See all posts by Derek Markham

12 thoughts on “$5 Solar Lamp To Fight Fuel Poverty

  • Why is there so much attention of every Joe blow that makes a solar LED lamp? It’s starting to reach scam proportions with the amount of kickstarter and indiegogo over-hyped “breakthrough” solar lamps out there. Putting a couple of niMH AA’s in a plastic box with an LED and solar cell is nothing special. What needs to happen for widespread use in affected markets is Government/NGO support and mass production of devices that can actually produce the level of power and light needed. It’s the technology and cost reductions that is driving this to be a viable Kerosene replacement. Not another kickscam of someone who acts like they re-invented the wheel by producing a barely functional lamp.

    • There are hundreds of millions of people who do not have grid power and probably would not get connected for decades.

      This is phase one of getting them some basic clean electricity.

      Right now many of these people are spending money that comes very hard for them to raise on kerosene and candles. Solar is now cheap enough to replace their old methods if someone can get the products into their hands.

      There’s no correct solution yet. There’s more than enough room for many, many start ups. Over time some people will be successful and others will drop away.

  • This seems to me to be an opportunity for a worth while charitable initiative.A needed item could be provided to the poor of developing nations, while reducing fossil fuel use. I am assuming this product is not terrible energy intensive to manufacture

    • Not a charity. Perhaps some donated money to get thousands of small local businesses started. Some capital used to finance local entrepreneurs and do the outreach to find them.

      With micro-solar systems that pay for themselves in a year from kero/candle costs there’s room for local businesses to spring up and create jobs while making technology available to people who need it.

      There is plenty value in micro-solar to be a self-sustaining business.

      People who light their houses with kero or diesel generators pay a very high price per lumen.

  • Hopefully these won’t turn out like those garden solar lights which fail 3/4 of the way through summer and can’t be used the next year.

  • You know what really needs to be developed is a small solar battery that can power or connect to anything.
    The first thing that comes to mind is to use usb tech for the interconnection part.

  • I strongly agree that solar has incredible promise for the developing world. The benefits are many and renewable energy technology can truly provide energy independence for billions of people. That is the real story. I will re-iterate my opinion that this technology revolution is not coming from another kickstarter of someone who combines cheap parts in another completely obvious and unoriginal manner. I believe I have seen at least 20 of these in the last few months and based on the parts used they are far less useful then they hype themselves to be.

    I’m starting to suspect the average $5-10 crowd funded solar LED lamp project as all about generating something for the starter of the project. Or perhaps class credit. Its a compelling story and at the least they have raised awareness of the issues and potential. But companies like d.light, Nokera and M-KOPA have been making these for years. Plus large NGO’s and governments have been making efforts at village solar and other solar projects large enough to provide power for basic refrigeration (for vaccines for example), phone/tablet charging and other uses beyond a light that will run for a couple of hours and produce as much light as your average throw away key chain novelty flashlight.

    Look at something like the Juice Box for a truly multifunctional approach that can have a much more significant impact. I strongly believe solar is going to revolutionize the lives of the bottom 40% of the world. My only gripe is in seeing these over-hyped stories that treat every cheap solar-led “inventions” like a new and novel idea, rather then a re-hashed instructable level project.

    Or maybe I’m just getting cynical and need to take a nap. 😉

    • it is the cost factor that is significant. Even today the cheapest solar lamp on the market stall is about US$10. If you earn US$1-US$2 a day, that is seriously out of your budget. We make no claim to have invented solar tech, nor LED’s, just taking the time to combine them in a way that will make them affordable to people that live in abject poverty.

      Please try to remember that as you type away on your keyboard, in your house, with your heating and lighting and plumbing.

  • Pros: This has a larger solar cell than most
    Has a night light
    Reasonable design life
    Cons: needs a cell phone charger
    Replaceable battery??

    • I’m thinking all these devices should use commonly available rechargeable batteries like MiNH AAs. Batteries are the weak point in a system. The panels should last for decades and the LEDs for a couple of decades.

      Go with a battery that is already in high production.

      Rechargeable AAs are cheap enough that people could afford multiple sets and have some backup for cloudy days.

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