Product name

The Lightie™ is a proudly South African invention with the name Lightie being a uniquely South African word.  It is also the slang word for “youngster” or “small person”.  It can also mean “Small light” in Afrikaans slang.

Product description

The Lightie™ is an extremely efficient, patent-pending, test-tube shaped solar powered “light bulb”.  It is a Picosolar device, designed to bring affordable lighting to the predominantly impoverished masses worldwide that still use paraffin for their lighting needs.The Lightie’s innovative design has been crafted to screw on & fit flush through the mouth of a standard soda bottle 22mm in diameter, thus converting the bottle into a multi functional & waterproof solar powered lantern/task light. The elongated design of The Lightie™ (made from ABS) acts as a housing compartment to both the proprietary Photovoltaic panel (PV) & its rechargeable batteries, which store the energy of the Lightie™. The Lightie™ absorbs its energy from the sun via the CIGS PV panel, built in around the radial internal surface of the elongated tube. The main ideas of conceptualizing a PET bottle for the structure of the Lightie™, was two fold. Firstly to shave off additional material related costs in the manufacturing process & secondly to have potential co-branding synergy benefits with brands such as Coke/Pepsi.  A fundamental aspect of the Lightie™ is its design to fit a PET bottle with the main objective being to solve the distribution problem.

The axial end/tip point of the Lightie™ housing contains a highly efficient 120 lumen CREE LED which is capable of outputting up to more that ten times the brightness of even the best paraffin lanterns. By Leaving the Lightie™ outside during the day, its proprietary cylindrical PV panel absorbs the suns rays, which in turn charges the batteries that in turn stores the energy for use in powering up the LED on demand, when light is needed. End users can expect to get 6-8hrs of light on the bright setting (120 lumens) and around 30-40hrs of light on the lower settings. The Lightie™ only needs 8-10 hours of sun to fully charge and can even charge in overcast and rainy conditions.

Where the product/service is being used

The Lightie™ is currently still in development but we hope to work with strategic NGO’s and other organisations and corporations that can assist in the distribution model in order to make the Lightie™ available world wide to the 2 billion living without access to the grid.

The Problems it attempts to solve or address

Every year fumes and fires from paraffin based lighting ‘solutions’ kill approximately 1.5 million people world-wide, mostly women & children. Millions more suffer from emphysema and other respiratory diseases, yet these “dirty lighting” solutions remain the go-to choice because of their short-term ‘affordability factor’ and availability. Right now, Africa is ripe for a Picosolar revolution. The figures speak for themselves, according to Patrick Avato director of the Lighting Africa program, ‘Africans alone spend $10 billion a year on kerosene, and there are more than 600 million people without electricity,’ he says.  According to figures from the International Energy Agency, at least 20% of the planet’s inhabitants are still without the simple luxury of a light-switch.

From the shantytowns of Sub-Saharan Africa to the sprawling slums of the Indian sub-continent, night-time brings with it a noxious ritual of candles, gas lamps and open fires. “Fuel-powered light is dangerous, polluting, expensive and dim,” says Dr Evan Mills, founder of the Lumina Project, an initiative that promotes low-carbon alternatives to fuel-based lighting in the developing world.

According to studies conducted by Mills and his colleagues at the Berkeley Laboratory at the University of California, this “dirty light” consumes 77 billion liters of fuel worldwide, costing its predominantly impoverished end-users a total of $38 billion annually.

And they don’t call it dirty for nothing. If a single kerosene lantern burns for an average of four hours a day it emits over 100kg of CO2 a year, says Mills. “The combustion of fuel for lighting consequently results in 190 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to one-third of the total emissions from the UK,” he adds.

This is where the Lightie™ comes in. Its benefits are clear; It is small, durable, easy to mass distribute. It cannot cause a shack fire, it releases zero carbon emissions, aids better health, improves education, it even ‘forces’ recycling in an indirect way. One of the most important factors of the Lightie™, is that it can help impoverished end users save as much as 20% or more of their monthly income that would otherwise be spent on paraffin. Even for the lowest earning end users, the Lightie™ will pay itself off in as little as one or two months, after which it will continue to provide free light for at least another three years before the batteries would need to be replaced. The Lightie™ will light up homes, schools & health clinics with clean, affordable & freely available UV light from the sun.

Design Approach

With 600 million people in Africa and 2 billion world-wide still suffering from light poverty (lack of light), with 2 million dying annually from paraffin laterns for lighting purposes, spending as much as 25% of their income on this dirty fuel for lighting it didn’t make sense especially since the technology was available and the price having come down thanks to mass production in cellphone and other mobile electronic technology. We looked at this problem for a long time and realised that it basically boiled down to distribution. This was my inspiration behind the design of the Lightie™.  We looked at the biggest distributors in the areas mostly affected by Light poverty and quickly realised that they were not in the market to sell anything other than what they were selling i.e. Coke were only interested in selling Coke, Unilever only interested in selling soaps and detergents etc we thought if we could make these massive corporates interested then perhaps we could partner or piggyback off their massive distribution networks. This was my inspiration behind the creation of the lightie.

Technology Used

Technology for the Lightie is evolving. The Lightie is patent-pending and our current prototype makes use of semi-flexible photovoltaic panels welded together in series. At this stage we cannot divulge much more on what makes the Lightie™ so efficient. Research is ongoing.

Business Model

This has been answered above in previous questions. But at this stage Lightie™ is still in the development stages and we are currently seeking for strategic partners for pilot testing purposes as well as roll out and distribution purposes.

Lessons Learned

Our biggest challenge was coming up with a unique, innovative and affordable Picosolar light design that could be matched to a unique and potential commercially viable distribution concept. This proved to be the most challenging part. Another big challenge in our journey to conceptualization and implementation was finding the right industrial designer, IP lawyer and above all, time, money and a balanced lifestyle.

As a young social entrepreneur, Michael Suttner, founder of  The Lightie, started this journey at 24 and what followed was an incredible journey of ups and downs and learning the ropes as he went along.  He found that the best thing to get traction and exposure was to enter as many social innovation and impact competitions as possible.

Going forward, the challenges they envision in the implementation of this project will lie in the areas of distribution, marketing and production.

Contact details

Michael Suttner Founder / CEO
The Lightie™ Solar Light
Mobile: +27 (074) 799 69 82
Skype: TheLightieSA
Twitter: @TheLightie / @Msuttner
Website: or