Marjan van Aubel is an award-winning solar designer whose innovative practice spans the fields of sustainability, design, and technology. In collaboration with scientists, engineers, and institutions, she works to promote extreme energy efficiency through intelligent design. From working with expandable materials to domestically integrating solar cells, through her works the designer tries to redefine our current relationship with solar technology to accelerate our transition towards it. One of her latest works is Sunne, an indoor solar lamp equipped with photovoltaic cells and an integrated battery, allowing it to harvest and store enough energy throughout the day to light up a room at night.
Without the need for a plug or external electricals, Sunne is reduced to the shape of a simple oblong suspended from two steel wires. By moving the solar panels from the roof to the window, the designer focused more on the process of harvesting the sun’s energy (less powerful than outside). The side facing the window incorporates SunPower Solar Cells, which Van Aubel developed in collaboration with the Energy Research Center in The Netherlands. These solar cells are so powerful that they can even drive cars: the Lightyear One car uses the same technology.
On the other hand, Sunne’s room-facing side is covered in LEDs with the battery and printed circuit board placed behind them. The light turns itself on automatically at dusk and can be adjusted to three settings – Sunne Rise, Sunne Light and Sunne Set – these can be modified by touching a sensor on the lamp’s anodized aluminum frame. The settings mimic the colors of the sky throughout the day, while the lamp’s oblong shape is intended to be reminiscent of the horizon. Van Aubel and her team are planning to develop an app that would display information about the battery level and how much light is being received by the solar cells so users can position the lamp to ensure optimal harvesting conditions. At the moment, Sunne is only available to the public through the new Kickstarter campaign, launched last week.
The designer described Sunne as the beginning of a new “solar democracy”: “It’s the first object that people can have in their home and can actually buy and [own] to have access to solar energy. While traditional roof-mounted solar panels are restricted to homeowners and those who can afford to have them installed, Sunne was designed to be accessible even for renters living in small urban apartments. Solar cells are becoming much cheaper, giving solar design lots of new potential. We can finally move beyond the price reduction and efficiency question and develop its aesthetics and the way it is integrated…”
Despite these words, the person who rents a small urban apartment will hardly be able to buy Sunne at the current price (at the moment, on Kickstarter it is possible to buy a lamp for 750 €). To be able to talk about solar democracy, Sunne needs to be sold at a lower price and its efficiency should be increase. This technology could be very useful especially for urban spaces (public urban lighting) but also for isolated places (from African villages to Pacific islands, from isolated huts to mountain villages). In this case, there would be a considerable saving of electricity, reduction of polluting gas emissions, and a true and real solar democracy.