Published on January 30th, 2014
by Nicholas Brown
One day, while I was trying to find something to watch on YouTube, I came across a touching video of Zayn Malik’s trip to a region in Africa (a place was referred to as a ‘slum’ due to the widespread poverty there). This trip was for Red Nose Day and was part of a Comic Relief project. Zayn Malik helped promote the project using his celebrity attraction (he’s a member of the band One Direction).
There, Zayn visited a boy named Christopher that had to sift through rubbish to get what he needed to survive. Christopher showed him his home, which you can see in the video below. This is the video that motivated me to design a robust solar lamp, and of course the fact that it requires no refueling or other recurrent expenses (such as grid electricity, lubrication, coolant, etc), since it is solar-powered.
In this case, the environmentally friendly option is also the most financially sustainable, as the import of oil is costly in multiple ways.
This device is made of a solar-powered USB charger, USB battery (otherwise known as a power bank), solar-powered desk lamp for reading, and lantern.
The reasoning behind the creation of this device is manifold. People in Christopher’s situation have to go out and search for supplies, so they need adequately bright lighting to do this. They also need to study at home and do homework — this is where the desk lamp orientation comes in. The lamp is tilted at an angle not only so that it is slanted appropriately for charging, but also because the tilt causes the LED to shine down and concentrate its light onto reading material to ensure clarity.
The light-diffusing attachment prevents unpleasant glare from the LED, and helps to spread the light throughout the room, making it useful as a lantern as well.
Finally, the built-in USB battery would enable people to charge their cellphones, mp3 players, and any other small USB devices they may have. The USB charger is intended for people who can afford cellphones but live in or travel to remote areas. This combination device has everything integrated into the solar panel, and it has a handle, so it is only a little over an inch thick.
There are drawbacks…
It Is Expensive
This device is relatively expensive, partly due to the fact that it is a 4-in-1 device, and it has a large enough solar panel to power all of its components, even during cloudy weather. The cost of separate standalone devices add up to roughly $18,000 JMD — note that I did not receive quantity discounts on any of the parts.
The cost of the parts, in Jamaican dollars, are as follows (including tax, and note that I didn’t buy all the parts):
- 10 Watt solar panel: $4,300.
- 450 lumen LED: $500 (most lanterns are under 200 lumens).
- 55 Wh lithium-ion battery: $5,500 (most lanterns use primary (non-rechargeable) batteries).
- Cooling fan: $500.
- Junction box: $440.
- Light diffusing attachment: $60.
- USB charger/USB battery electronics: $100.
- Switches: $407.
- Bar connector: $60.
- Leg (stand): $314.
- Handle: $250.
- Thermal grease, screws and wires: $200.
Total: $12,631 ($122 USD).
The calculation at the end was made using a USD exchange rate of $102.93 JMD (this is subject to change considerably). I did not buy all the parts, as I already had some of them. However, I included what they would normally cost anyway.
I purchased the solar panel and the various electrical connectors locally (in Jamaica).
Did It Have To Be This Expensive?
Not at all. 450 lumens is more than necessary, and it only requires 1 night of battery capacity. Therefore, a solar panel half the capacity of this one could have been used instead, the LED could have been half the brightness, reducing its cost to $200, and a battery which is half the capacity of this one could have been used, reducing the battery cost to the $3,000 range.
Follow me on Twitter: @Kompulsa.
About the Author
Nicholas Brown has a keen interest in physics-intensive topics such as electricity generation, refrigeration and air conditioning technology, energy storage, geography, and much more.
My website is: Kompulsa.com.