Felix Hallwachs of Little Sun

Category: Future heads

© Christian Morgenstern

© Christian Morgenstern

A solar module, a battery and an LED. The idea to stop the setting sun and thus prolong the day perceptibly as well as the wish to help 1.1 billion people without access to electricity was the initial spark to creating a sun shaped solar lamp. Little Sun was initiated by the Berlin-based artist Olafur Eliasson together with the engineers Frederik Ottesen and Felix Hallwachs and has been sold more than 500,000 times worldwide so far. In our conversation, Felix Hallwachs, the present managing director, tells Projekt Zukunft about his future visions of  a world with sustainable energy at an affordable price. 

Mr Hallwachs, with the LED solar lamp Little Sun you bring light into regions that have no connection to the power supply system. Meanwhile you have been supporting more than ten African countries with your “little suns”. What is your vision behind that?

The idea behind Little Sun is not only to provide people without a power supply system with sustainable and affordable light, but also to enthuse people around the world with solar energy. Little Sun operates as a “social business”. The sale of the solar lamps and chargers in Germany or Europe subsidises the distribution in Africa at an affordable price for the local people. This means that for every product sold we provide a lamp or a charger to our partners without making money off of it. Locally, we train young entrepreneurs, carry out business trainings and thus offer our sellers the opportunity to finance their living expenses with the distribution of the lamps. 

Can you briefly explain the technical principle of the lamp – how does it work?

Little Sun is composed of a solar module, a battery and an LED. The lamp is placed in the sunlight with the solar module face up for five hours. It best works outside at the balcony or in the garden; if placed on the windowsill in the house, it takes a little longer. The battery saves the energy that is recovered through the solar module and releases it again at the touch of a button. The latest Little Sun Original comes with a dimmer function and can shine between four and 50 hours. The Little Sun Charge (the charger) needs to charge a little longer, about 7.5 hours, and can then both provide light as well as charge mobile phones, small cameras or MP3 players.

What makes your product unique?

Apart from the special business model, especially the founding history and the related aim are uniqe. Little Sun was founded by the artist Olafur Eliasson who got together with the solar engineer Frederik Ottesen in 2012 and developed the idea of not only designing a solar lamp but also creating a symbol for the access to energy. Our lamp is being used as both, a source of light and an educational tool. We carry out workshops (especially with children) in which we talk about climate change, sustainability and renewable energies in general. Apart from that, we deal with this subject matter in an artistic way. The project was launched at London’s Tate Modern where on certain days we switched off the electricity completely and the visitors could see the exhibitions using only the Little Sun solar lamps.

How much does the lamp cost the end consumer – in Germany and in emerging countries?

On our web shop (www.littlesun.com/shop), the Little Sun Original costs 22 euros.

This enables us to sell them at a price covering the production costs to our partners in the African partner countries. The end consumer then pays between 11 and 15 US dollars; it varies a little depending on the country. 

Your latest highlight was the Little Sun Charge – a solar charger that charges smartphones and small electrical devices within 7.5 hours and thus operates just as fast as a socket would do. Which big project do you have planned next?

The Little Sun Diamond. our latest solar lamp! It will come out in September, but it has been introduced by Olafur Eliasson already in spring at the Design Indaba in South Africa. The small lamp has similar technical specifications as the Little Sun Original, but it comes with a completely new design and also a handy stand, making it an ideal sustainable reading lamp or decoration for the garden or the balcony. 

Your slogan is very ambitious and reads: Solar energy for all. Can that even be realised? 

The slogan is in line with the aim of a sustainable access to energy for all that was formulated by the UN. Of course, there are other renewable energy sources. What concerns us primarily is to make these environmentally friendly, sustainable, affordable and reliable energy sources accessible. Especially for the 1.1 billion people that are living without access to energy at the moment. However, since the sun is shining everywhere around the world, it is of course possible to use it everywhere! 

Little Sun is a company that operates worldwide. Still you have opted for the design location Berlin. Which advantages does this offer you?

Choosing Berlin as location was not really a conscious decision. It just happened, since our founder had his office in Berlin as well and Little Sun was initially part of it. But there are many advantages for us, seeing as more and more startups are establishing themselves in Berlin, especially companies that are socially engaged, just like we are. For example, we are part of the worldwide B Corp network, an association of companies that are trying to achieve a positive effect with their work. Many other German B Corps are located in Berlin too.

You have been doing business since 2012 – which company areas have you been able to expand in Berlin and do you already make profit?

We started as a small team in 2012 and have been growing steadily since. Meanwhile, we have more than 20 employees in Berlin and one representative in each African country in which Little Sun is being distributed. Especially there, we have massively expanded our work. This was mainly made possible by the financial support of Bloomberg Philantrophies. With the five million dollars that we received in 2014, we were able to expand the local sales organisation and to professionalise. However, it will certainly take more time until we make profit. At the moment, we are looking for investors who are as enthused by solar energy as we are and who want to realise new ideas with us!

How will the world look like in 20 years?

I cannot predict how it will look like, of course. But it is certain that only together we can manage to make the world a place worth living in for all of us in 20 years. If politicians terminate climate protection agreements, then we must stand together as a world community and work towards protecting the climate. We need to be innovative and positive so that the world can turn into a fantastic place for our children to live in.

And finally, could you please complete the following sentence: Berlin is...

...a cosmopolitan, positive centre of the future integrative world.  


Tanja Mühlhans

Leitung Kreativ- und Medienwirtschaft, Digitalwirtschaft, Projekt Zukunft