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The Lightie: A small light with big ambitions


March 9, 2014

The Lightie is a solar-powered light designed shaped to fit right into the neck of a standard soda bottle (Photo: The Lightie)

The Lightie is a solar-powered light designed shaped to fit right into the neck of a standard soda bottle (Photo: The Lightie)

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South African designer and social entrepreneur Michael Suttner recently unveiled the Lightie: a portable solar-powered light that fits into a standard soda bottle. The low cost and durable device is designed to provide sustainable, safe, and affordable lighting to people in developing nations – and anyone else with a low income.

As highlighted by the pop bottle lighting project, a lack of suitable lighting can be a serious issue where there's no grid-based electricity. In areas of Africa, for example, people often use kerosene lamps, which are expensive to run, produce harmful fumes, and can lead to accidental fires.

Deriving its name from a South African slang word that roughly translates as "youngster," the Lightie is shaped so as to fit snugly into the neck of a standard soda bottle, screwing securely onto the top like a lid. It can also be used without a bottle, and clipped to a belt, worn around the neck, or hung up as a lantern.

The main components of the Lightie include an efficient CIGS photovoltaic panel, an LED light, and integrated rechargeable batteries. Following around five to eight hours of exposure to sunlight, the 120-lumen device produces illumination for up to eight hours on its brightest setting, or up to 40 hours on the lower setting. It is very easy to use, and activates automatically when it detects that the sun has set.

Though a solar powered lamp is nothing new in itself, the Lightie's designer hopes to position his creation as the iPod of sustainable lighting. In order to bring this about, Suttner is in preliminary talks with Coca Cola, a company certainly well positioned to run the kind of high-level campaign necessary to put the Lightie into the hands of those who need it most.

The current expected cost per device is around US$13, which Suttner told Gizmag is roughly the amount an African family can spend on a month and a half's supply of kerosene for lighting purposes.

Source: The Lightie

About the Author
Adam Williams Adam scours the globe from his home in North Wales in order to bring the best of innovative architecture and sustainable design to the pages of Gizmag. Most of his spare time is spent dabbling in music, tinkering with old Macintosh computers and trying to keep his even older VW bus on the road. All articles by Adam Williams

Keying this in with a multinational corporation producing billions of bottles might just work as it's implementation, not technical ingenuity that counts the most.

Kerosine for cooking and lamp fuels kills large numbers of people throughout the world. Fumes and spilled liquid are toxic, accidental fires are frequent, price is substantial. It's long been a goal to get rid of kerosine as much as possible.

That said, there are many companies pursuing solar lighting, including Nokero. Field research increasingly shows that tech giveaways don't work well because end user's needs are not met.


At $13, the Lightie produces about 900 ~ 960 lumen-hours per day. In a 30-day month, that would be about 27000 ~ 28800 lumen-hours per month. In a month and a half, about 40500 ~ 43200 lumen-hours. Can you tell us how many lumen-hours are produced by burning $13 worth of kerosene for lighting purposes? We need that number to calculate the payback time from fuel savings alone. Also, the lumen output of the kerosene lamp, as they may need to buy more than one Lightie to replace it. While we are looking at total lifetime-cost-of-light, we would also need the expected wear-out times for Lighties and kerosene lamps, to do a really good comparison. It would be great if we could show people the money saved from buying Lighties instead of kerosene lamps and kerosene.


The solar panel configuration seems less than optimal, as less than half of it receives sun, no matter what direction it comes from. Better to unfold the solar panel inside the bottle and put the LEDs below it.

Michael Crumpton

Does the soda bottle fulfill any technical function, or is it part of the design simply to hold the Lightie vertical (and attract the interest of soda companies)?


Just an educated guess...

The photo cell array is designed to work no matter which direction it is pointed as long as the red top is up trading efficiency for fool proof operation.

The LED appears to be yellow green instead of white possibly for less current draw and longer light time.

Buzz Allnight

As a lot of these villagers will share a common cooking area, incidentally increasing the risk of spills and injury, families could club together to share the costs of multiple lights, giving better or at least safer lighting and hopefully reducing the use of kerosene lamps. People will, however, probably keep using 'kero' in stoves and for fire-lighting, so it will be hard to stop the use entirely.

The Skud

The ones I've got decorating my garden stay on almost all night, and cost me 80 US cents ($1AUD) from my local dollar-shop...


I'm with Christopher. Just get a bunch of those el cheapo solar garden lights !

Martin Hone

I have seen a better idea than solar electric generation for lighting. It involves a raised weight, which when it lowers down, turns gear wheels on a small generator, which lights the LED. The weight can either be a large stone or a bottle of water, either of which cost practically nothing.

As far as using kerosene for cooking, a better idea would be to cook during the day, using a solar oven, which gives free heating. The food could then be put into insulated boxes, and kept hot for a considerable amount of time.

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