Portable Light

Empower People.

The Portable Light Project enables people in the developing world to create and own energy harvesting textiles, providing the benefits of renewable power as an integral part of everyday life.

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The Luz Portatil Brasil team met in Santarem, Para with project partners Fabio Rosa/IDEAAS and Davide Pompermaier of Projecto Saude e Alegria (PSA). The team presented the first Luz Portatil prototypes for discussion at public meetings in Caboclo Communities on the Tapajos and Arapuins rivers of the Amazon, an area which encompasses one of the Amazon’s largest Extractive Reserve regions. The Caboclo people, the largest group of Amazon inhabitants in Brazil (estimated by Greenpeace to be 6 million) are forest dwellers of Amerindian and Portuguese descent, who depend on the river ways and forest for food, livelihoods, shelter and medicines. Most river communities do not have access to electricity; others use the government program “Luz Para Todos”, which imports and sells diesel-generated electricity at monthly fees of 15 Reis for three hours of light per day.

The people we met were excited about using Luz Portatil. They reported that the renewable LED light was much brighter than any flashlight they had, and that kerosene, candles and batteries cost families between 20 and 40 Reis per month. They requested a low light setting, as women like to be able to check on their children at night and suggested many different ways in which access to light and the ability to charge a cell phone could help to grow local sustainable businesses in the communities.



Coopa Roca, the well known women’s artisan group from Rocinas, the oldest favellas in Rio de Janiero, is sewing the solar textiles for Luz Portatil Brasil. This July, the Portable Light team met at Coopa Roca to discuss the patterns with the seamstresses and pick up the first set of solar textiles. It was inspiring to see the Coopa Roca studio; from here you have one of the best views of Rio and the ocean. The women of Coopa Roca work collaboratively using their artisanal skills to earn money so they can plan their lives and take care of their families. Many have strong family ties to the north of Brazil, where the solar textiles they have made will be used by people in isolated River Communities in the Amazon region. In this way, Luz Portatil Brasil benefits two communities—one in the south, the other in the north of Brazil. Read more about the PL Brazil project here.


The Global Journal of Geneva, Switzerland has named the Portable Light Project to their top 100 NGO list, an international ranking of the world’s non-profit organizations that are making significant contributions to global governance. The Global Journal commends the Portable Light Project’s integrated approach of “intersecting energy and mobility with low carbon processes” as crucial in a world fraught with conflict, global warming and rapid urbanization.

The Portable Light kit is recognized for its innovation and capacity to “adapt to a diverse range of cultures and needs, moving away from the 20thcentury historical design model of the hard plastic and glass ‘single form product’ to a soft infrastructure with less than half the embodied energy and carbon emissions of conventional solar power.” The Global Journal is a yardstick of innovative practices in the developing world for many international organizations and government officials, and the Portable Light team is very excited and honored to have made the 2012 list. Read the full press release here .



The Portable Light Project was selected among over 800 entries from all over the world and recognized for best sustainable energy practices in Nicaragua in partnership with NGO Paso Pacifico (link). The ENERGY GLOBE Award was founded in 1999 by the Austrian energy pioneer Wolfgang Neumann and is one of today’s most prestigious environmental awards.

In Nicaragua, women are leading the way on re-forestation and bio-diversity conservation. In partnership with Portable Light and the Clinton Global Initiative, Paso Pacifico has developed training programs to help local campesinas learn about the endangered turtle species and protect their beaches from turtle egg poachers. For each hatchling successfully protected they receive an incentive payment. Their monthly income equals a rural laborers salary, but the job is flexible because women can coordinate their schedules. More than 10,000 turtles have been hatched due to the efforts of these women over the past two years. As women in Nicaragua find their traditional roles expanding, they embrace new ideas and technologies to support themselves. When the Portable Light Project and Paso Pacifico brought solar lamps to the communities, the women used the renewable light to patrol beaches, help their children with homework at night and cook for their families in predawn hours. “One woman told me how excited she was the first time she got up to feed her baby and make tortillas at four a.m.” said Paso Pacifico Director Dr. Sarah Otterstorm , “She could do so in light instead of darkness. Something so inexpensive improves lives dramatically.” Read more about the winners here, and download a PDF of the Portable Light project description in English or German. For more on NGO Paso Pacifico and Portable Light see pasopacifico.org/turtle-rangers.



The Portable Light Project has been selected as a semi-finalist award winner for the Buckminster Fuller Challenge, a design prize for innovation inspired by the exploration, discovery, invention and teaching of Buckminster Fuller. Fuller ‘s pioneering approach at solving complex problems combined an emphasis on individual initiative with whole systems thinking, scientific rigor and understanding of nature's underlying principles.

The Portable Light Project was selected from among 250 entries after a rigorous review, interview and discussion on strategy. Portable Light was one of two initiatives invited by the Buckminster Fuller Institute to present at the 2012 Bioneers Conference in Marin County, San Francisco. Read more about the Portable Light Project here.



Patricia Gruits and Heather Micka-Smith travelled to Brazil this October, to conduct a Portable Light studio workshop on solar textiles with students and faculty at PUC in Rio de Janiero. A new design, the Loop Lantern was unveiled by the PL team and developed in collaboration with students under the direction of PUC Design Professor Luiza Novaes. The Loop Lantern unfolds from a very compact, flat solar charging footprint to two different illumination positions. One is a hanging conical volume that reflects light for general room illumination –think: lampshade, but without the incandescent bulb, of course—the other folds to form an instant, portable office space where people can study, write or charge a cell phone.

The intensive studio workshop session at PUC, which attracted a large number of Brazilian design and fashion students, addressed the basics of Portable Light pattern making, photovoltaic technology integration and flat to form fabrication for solar textile lanterns.


We’ve made a number of upgrades to our Portable Light flex kit. There are three LED light levels on the upgraded kit and the team has been conducting several weeks of round-the-clock light level tests. With a fully charged battery (six hours of sunlight) the low light (reading, ambient) runs for 20 hours, the medium light (tasks, illumination) runs for 10 hours and the high light (> 100 lumens for way finding or spot light) runs for 3 hours.

The Portable Light kit battery is audio responsive, so it announces its own status level while inside a solar textile. The battery talks to you to let you know when it’s fully charged with a single long beep. When the battery level is low, it emits a series of three short beeps to let you know that soon the light will be off. The responsive battery on the PL kit enables people to ‘hear’ energy levels and understand how to manage the energy they generate—if every electrical appliance was able to do this, we’d all have a better idea of the power we’re using.



There are four global geographies that can be associated with lack of energy access and poverty. 1. Rugged mountainous/arid zones increase costs of transport and civil engineering necessary for centralized electricity. 2. The densely populated edges of rapidly urbanizing mega-cities attract people who migrate in search of work, and settle in barrios, favellas, and shantytowns often with irregular/no access to electricity. 3. Oceanic islands and isolated coastlines form another key geography, isolated both by distance and limited governmental access to funds. 4. Global tropic zones, especially rainforest/river systems constitute another type of geography where water, heat, rain and humidity sequester carbon but can erode electronics. Each of these geographies has its challenges, and often these conditions overlap, as we see in Amazon cities such as Manaus or Santarem.

The Portable Light project has not been active in the equatorial tropics until now. But with our new initiatives in the Amazon regions of Venezuela and Brazil, the flex kits need to become water resistant. To prepare PL for the tropics, PL engineer Carlos Greaves is running corrosion tests on coated circuit boards using a humidifier in an enclosed box of water to simulate the humid environment of the Amazon. The circuit will eventually be enclosed in a water resistant case, which fits in a waterproof textile pocket. In the Amazon, each month in the rainy season averages 5.5 hours of sunlight, enough to charge the solar textiles. Even so, the low light setting, which can run for over 20 hours, will give people the capacity to use LED light for four or five nights even without sun. For a detailed map of the Net Primary Production Potential of these geographies click here.



Visit ELLE.com to read more about the award winning collaboration between KVA MATx and top designers to create the ELLE/Portable Light Project bags.


The Portable Light Project is on exhibit at TED in Long Beach, CA. The Portable Light solar textiles were selected by TED as one of two innovative energy projects that are changing the future of energy in the developing world. Portable Light Founder Sheila Kennedy, a professor of Architecture at MIT joins fellow MIT Professor Amy Smith who is exhibiting her charcoal fuel project in this event!