Turn on the Lightbulb: Design for Change
Illuminating a light bulb has become a symbol for a bright idea, and an emblem of “genius.”
Often the idea arrives as an out of the box click moment after years of development and testing brings it to the public eye. In the case of Thomas Edison, he became iconically synonymous with the invention of the light bulb, even though he perfected and effectively mass produced an invention that had already been in development.
We have reached a global moment where climate change, increases in technology use, rising tides and rising populations are calling for many solution-oriented eureka light bulbs, especially light bulbs that are sparked by renewable energy. The interesting thing about the design world is how some of the most breakthrough concepts can eclipse the originator to become replicable trends. And in many cases, where altruism eclipses commerce, these ideas are having viral impact.
The energy industries fueling the light bulbs of our homes and businesses has come to a crossroads, with increases in solar arrays, solar panel installations along with wind farms, geothermal plants and water power innovations. Yet the corporate giants of Big Oil have greased the wheels of the political machinery for so long, they have big influence on the spin about renewable energy. (BP, the company that brought us the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, was a proud sponsor of the 2014 Olympics…)
Yet innovation continues.
In November 2012 Little Sun was featured at COP18, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Doha. The UNCCC presented their “Little Sun Garden,” an interactive exhibition of multiples of this solar-powered light company founded by famed Icelandic artist, architect and designer Olafur Eliasson and engineer Frederik Ottesen. Better known for art projects and installations, exploring spatial and light concepts, Eliasson discusses the project in depth with Co.Design’s Belinda Lanks: “Famed Artist Olafur Eliasson Creates LED Light For Developing World.”
The first production batch of Little Suns was brought to Ethiopia in May 2012 as part of the World Economic Forum on Africa, with a plan to create sustainability business distribution pods around the world. Five hours of charging in the sun produces ten hours of soft light or four hours of bright light. Their motto?
A work of art that works in life
At the Sustainia Award ceremony in Copenhagen in November 2013 Eliasson staged a performance for the well-heeled crowd:
This is an entrepreneurial example of a well-known artist tapping his fame and notoriety to produce an problem-solving object with potential for global energy and economic impact. Similar to successful companies with a “give-back” model, like Tom’s Shoes and Warby Parker eyeglasses, the purchase of a Little Sun lamp provides funds for lamps to be delivered to areas of the world that are completely off the grid.
Check out Solar House 2.0, a pine cone-like structure designed by a team in Barcelona. The ingenious design captures the sun at all kinds of angles, allowing for maximum energy capture. The building runs its air conditioners on 100% renewable energy.
According to Kyle Vanhemert at FastCo., the design combines ingenuity with advanced software to create a building optimized for the sun’s path at the specific location:
To start, Rubio gathered data on how the sun traveled across the sky above the Olimpic Port throughout the year. That data was then plugged into a piece of software which used it to determine the optimal size and shape of each module on the Pavilion’s exterior. The result is a structure that’s intimately connected with its surroundings.
Gabriele Diamanti’s Eliodomestico is an open-sourced solar oven designed to transform salt water to fresh water, especially for those in developing countries. The project recently won a Core77 Design Award for Social Impact.
Diamanti’s goal is to transcend traditional business and charity models by offering plan that is replicable, with global distribution through NGOs who connect local craftspeople with micro-loans to set up production in their communities. As he sums it up in an interview with FastCo’s Jordan Kushins:
“So the NGO is the spark, micro-credit is the fuse, the local craftsmen are the bomb!”
Other innovative projects use even simpler materials to illuminate slums in some of the poorest areas of the world: plastic bottles, water, a few drops of bleach and glue. Liter of Light, a project launched in the Phillippines, is one example of a simple idea with a clear DIY plan being replicated in areas of the world where illumination once seemed a luxury.
What are your thoughts on the power of light bulb ideas, solar power and shareware innovation?