How I Built A 450 Lumen Solar Light (40 Watts Equivalent)/USB Battery


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 which was referred to as a ‘slum’, as poverty is a widespread issue there. This was done for Red Nose Day as part of a Comic Relief project.

There, Zayn visited a boy named Christopher that had to sift through rubbish to get what he could 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 the fact that it requires no refueling or other recurrent expenses (such as electricity, lubrication, coolant, etc) due to the fact that it is solar-powered.

In this case, the environmentally friendly option is the most financially sustainable, as the importation of oil is costly in multiple ways.

This device is a solar-powered USB charger, USB battery (otherwise known as a power bank), solar-powered desk lamp for reading, and lantern.

The reasoning behind this device is that 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. It is titled at an angle so that it is not only slanted appropriately for charging, but 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, if any. The USB charger is intended for people who can afford cellphones but 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.

My portable, DIY solar-powered desk lamp, lantern, and USB charger combo device. Image Credit: Kompulsa.

My portable, DIY solar-powered desk lamp, lantern, and USB charger combo device.
Image Credit: Kompulsa.

There are drawbacks…

It Is Expensive

This device is expensive, partly due to the fact that it is a 4-in-1 device, and it has a large enough solar panel that generates enough to power all its components, even during cloudy weather. The cost of separate standalone devices may also add up to more (roughly $18,000 if all the parts were equivalent to mine), I did not receive quantity discounts on any of the parts.

The cost of the parts are as follows (including tax, and note that I didn’t buy all the parts):

Calculations were made using a USD exchange rate of $102.93 JMD. I did not buy all the parts, as I already had some of them. However, I included what they would normally cost anyway.

  1. 10 Watt solar panel: $4,300.
  2. 450 lumen LED: $500 (most lanterns are under 200 lumens).
  3. 55 Wh lithium-ion battery: $5,500 (most lanterns use primary (non-rechargeable) batteries).
  4. Cooling fan: $500.
  5. Junction box: $440.
  6. Light diffusing attachment: $60.
  7. USB charger/USB battery electronics: $100.
  8. Switches: $407.
  9. Bar connector: $60.
  10. Leg (stand): $314.
  11. Handle: $250.
  12. Thermal grease, screws and wires: $200.

Total: $12,631 ($122 USD).

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.

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