Sustainable Energy

Flat-pack solar light that could change lives

Anmar Frangoul | Special to

In the developing world, access to a reliable source of artificial light is a significant problem. People living without a regular source of energy sometimes use archaic kerosene lamps to bring light and heat to their homes, even though the side effects of inhaling or ingesting kerosene can be devastating.

The need for innovative ideas when it comes to energy and lighting is pressing. The International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook 2014 states that, globally, 1.3 billion people have no access to electricity. The IEA has estimated that by 2030, 635 million people living in Sub Saharan Africa still won't have access to electricity.

Read MoreFlush with success: Meet the poop-powered bus

For people living in off grid and underdeveloped communities, New York based Solight Design is hoping that its SolarPuff can help change the way people think about light and how it is generated.

Inspired in part by origami, the SolarPuff is a flat pack, foldable, solar powered light. It contains a solar panel, a lithium ion battery, LED bulbs and a polyethylene terephthalate (PET) material that is described by Solight as being, 'specially architected to inflate into a cube.'

The concept of the SolarPuff was shaped in part by the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, where an estimated 220,000 people died, according to the Disasters Emergency Committee. According to Alice Min Soo Chun, co-founder and Chief Product Officer of Solight Design, events there reinforced what she described as, "the necessity of having light in an emergency state."

Solight Design

"It had to be something that could be transported easily and could be shipped in hundreds in a box… [compared to] lanterns or flashlights that were big and bulky," Chun, who is also Assistant Professor of Design and Material Culture at Parsons the New School for Design, added.

Thin, water resistant and weighing just 2.6 ounces, the amount of light the SolarPuff gives off depends on how long it has been charged by the sun. "The solar panel needs to be facing the sun for five hours and it will give off five hours of light, if you charge it for eight hours it'll give off eight hours of light… and so on and so forth," Chun said.

Read MoreHow cooking oil could power yourplane

"There's a button that gives off a low setting of light, a high setting of light, and a blinking setting, which is also a distress signal. It's at the same cadence as international distress signals," Chun added. According to Chun SolarPuffs are currently being used in the U.S, Japan and an orphanage in Haiti.

The battle to change the way we think about energy and light is just beginning. For Chun, clean, renewable devices such as the SolarPuff have the opportunity to not only improve the lives of people on the ground but, "completely shift the way the environment is being degraded with pollution."