The Little Sun project was founded in 2012 by artist Olafur Eliasson and engineer Frederik Ottesen to affect significant global change in the area of sustainable energy access – specifically, to bring clean, affordable, solar energy to the 1.1 billion people worldwide living without electricity in ‘off-grid’ areas.
Little Sun is at once a suite of solar products, a work of art, a social business, a global project and a way to connect the world through sharing energy.
Size of business
Employees: 25 in Berlin HQ
Little Sun currently has distribution in around 10 African countries as well as in Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, and Japan. We utilise the funds generated from on-grid sales of Little Sun products to spread light and livelihoods in off-grid communities. Every Little Sun sold in an on-grid area of the world delivers one Little Sun to an off-grid region at a much lower, locally affordable price.
Launched at London’s Tate Modern, the Little Sun project has since distributed over 500,000 Little Sun lamps worldwide – and that number is quickly growing. Little Sun’s unique combination of beautiful design and exceptional engineering has made the products popular across the globe. The products are fun, accessible tools educating people all over the world about the benefits of solar power and sustainable sources of energy.
The Little Sun project addresses the need for light and energy in a sustainable way that benefits off-grid communities, creates local jobs, and generates local profits. Rather than a short-term fix of donating products to an off-grid region, we focus on the longer-term goal of building profitable off-grid businesses that distribute Little Sun energy at locally affordable prices. We work with our vast network of Little Sun sales agents in off-grid areas to kick-start their businesses, providing business starter kits (with an initial seed capital of Little Sun products to sell on credit), micro-entrepreneurial training, and ongoing support to those who need it.
In only four years of operation, the Little Sun project has already made a significant impact in both off-grid and on-grid areas of the world. Of the over 500,000 Little Suns distributed so far worldwide, over 250,000 have gone to off-grid areas. As people replace their toxic fuel-based lighting and energy with Little Sun solar-powered energy, 99,995 tonnes of CO2 emissions have been reduced from the atmosphere thus far. The products have saved off-grid users a total of $55,137, 283 on household energy expenses to date. And over 600 African entrepreneurs have become Little Sun sales agents.
Impact Investment by Bloomberg Philanthropies (5$ Million)
Opportunities and plans for the future
At this moment Little Sun is at the beginning of the "energy ladder". Until now there are two products. In autumn 2017 the third product will be launched. In the future there will follow more products, Little Suns aim is to become nergy service provider with a wide range of products. Very ambitious aim to 2020: Sale of 1 Mio products.
Pitfalls and challenges
How did the project came to life?
We founded the company in 2012 based on an idea by artist Olafur Eliasson and his friend Frederik Ottesen, who is a solar engineer. Thinking about energy access in Ethiopia, more specifically children studying next to poisonous kerosene lamps, they had discussed the feeling of sharing the sun with everyone else, connectivity – how does this feel? That, combined with the fact that solar and LED technology had evolved to be affordable and efficient let them conclude that everyone should be able to hold a bit of sunlight in their hands. So they began working on a solar lamp.
Olafur developed a first lamp design with a lot of feedback from friends in Ethiopia, while Frederik worked on the technology - and discussed the question of how we could have an impact. We knew that art, design and creativity have the power to evolve thoughts and to create opportunity and harnessed this power to create the Little Sun project. Shaping a positive and iconographic little tool to generate energy seemed to be a sensible path ahead. Since then, Little Sun became a symbol for global togetherness, energy access and sustainability. The lamp makes as much sense for a child in New York as it does for an adult in Sweden or a teenager in the Awasa region of Ethiopia. We all have to deal with how our resources on this planet are being used. We have different access to these resources, but we share one planet.
Pictures by courtesy of Little Sun.
Christinenstrasse 18/19, Haus 4