Better Living Challenge


Light up your life without flicking a switch

May 12, 2014

When lighting a room is as easy as flicking a switch, it’s easy to take instant power for granted. But how often do we think about living a life without the convenience of illumination? Millions of people live off-grid simply because they do not have access to formal electricity infrastructure. For them, flicking a switch means striking a match to light a candle.

That’s one of the reasons why the Better Living Challenge was conceived: to bring light to millions of people in South Africa and to find the products that can help people live better lives. To illustrate how, today’s story focuses on two ideas that can light up darkened homes.

The pull of gravity

GravityLight uses gravity to produce up to 30 minutes of light at a time. No batteries required. For more detail see

GravityLight was designed in response to the question: how can you find a kerosene alternative for less than $10? Designers Martin Riddiford and Jim Reeves rose to the challenge by creating a light that could be powered by gravity, rather than battery or solar power. No matter how long they last, batteries always need to be replaced, costing money that users don’t always have.

The idea is very simple. GravityLight comprises a light unit, a cable system and an empty bag. The user fills the bag to create a weight, and pulls the bag up to height using a pulley system. As the bag drops, gravity exerts a force on the weight, creating kinetic energy. A series of gears inside the light unit converts that kinetic energy into electrical energy, which powers an LED light.

The process generates up to 30 minutes of light, for just three seconds of exertion to pull up the light.

GravityLight is currently under further development, but successful product trials have presented a low-cost, sustainable alternative to dangerous kerosene lamps.

Speaking of kinetic energy…

Another example was developed closer to home and has also been recognised as an official World Design Capital project (#WDC608).

The NURU PowerCycle uses human pedal power to generate both electricity and income for off-grid communities. With just 20 minutes of pedalling, the PowerCycle can power five LED lights for 30 hours each. And the developers, Shakti Energy have developed a business model that can help micro-entrepreneurs to earn money and support their neighbours.

The entrepreneurs sell individual lights for R80 each. When the lights need charging, the entrepreneur plugs them into the PowerCycle unit and pedals for 20 minutes to recharge up to five at a time.

The Nuru PowerCycle brings social enterprise and off-grid electricity together in one idea that can truly transform lives.

Nuru PowerCycle uses human pedal power to generate 30 hours of light for people who need it most, while also generating an income for micro-entrepreneurs. Developed by Shakti Energy. For more see

Do you have a great idea that can bring light into the lives of so many people living in darkness? Enter the Better Living Challenge today and use your design thinking to eradicate the dangers of candles and kerosene lamps. Visit for more details. But remember, entries close on 31 May, so be quick!