Solar-powered lamp and charger

Contributed by British Museum

Click on the image to zoom in. Photograph copyright Trustees of the British Museum

There are around five billion mobile phones in use around the world todayThis lamp is powered by the small solar panel connected to it. As well as providing light, power from this panel can be used to charge mobile phones. This object has been chosen to reflect our ingenuity, and the challenges we face, in the twenty-first century. The kit uses a range of new materials and technologies, including silicon-chip technology, which can also be found in computers and mobile phones. Here it is used in the solar photovoltaic cell, which converts sunlight into electricity. Exposing this cell to eight hours of bright sunshine provides up to 100 hours of lamp light.

How is this technology changing lives?

There are currently 1.6 billion people across the world without access to an electrical grid. In these areas, objects such as this allow people to study, work and socialise outside daylight hours, vastly improving the quality of many lives. Additionally, households using solar energy rather than kerosene lamps are able to avoid the risk of fire and the damage to health that kerosene can cause. Once purchased, this kit costs very little to run, making it a very efficient option for many people living in the world's poorest countries.

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  • 41. At 21:43 on 23 October 2010, AlanS wrote:

    I was perplexed when the 100th object was first announced, but now I fully understand - brilliant choice!

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  • 42. At 21:25 on 24 October 2010, tenire wrote:

    Do you realise that the oldest object in the museaum [flint tool] and the the last object have their salient feature in common? Silicon - how's that for continuity. I find this quite moving.

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  • 43. At 13:07 on 26 October 2010, Miles Hodgkiss wrote:

    I rather fear to the poor man and woman the expense of this lamp is still in the main going to be prohibitive. As an innovation it will not at all benefit the lives of the truly poor, the beggars, the illiterate, the dispossessed, the bonded labourer (slaves), actual slaves and most servants. If anything, for these people, matters are likely to get worse as kerosene prices escalate as rumours of competition are circulated in the energy markets.
    In my opinion what you will have on your shelf for the world to admire is yet another example of a rich man?s frippery. In a few years time there will be more of these devises cluttering up middle class shelves and cupboards in the first world than actually find their way into a deserving home in the third world. And isn?t that precisely what the money markets and manufacturers hope to achieve by this exercise. All you are doing is helping to absolve the guilt of the middle classes who will continue, in the manner of their unconscious, to fund the life styles of the rich merchants and bankers who they secretly admire.
    Perhaps a few reputable charities will bulk purchase these lamps to give away. But I expect an awful lot of the less reputable organisations with ideological agendas will be using them as bribes to garner support for causes that can only result in war and bloodshed.
    Maybe the British Museum will lead the way by founding a charity to overcome these difficulties or more likely, call me a cynic if you will, perhaps they will argue a way out by passing the buck or by informing us that they have bigger problems of their own to put first. How about it Ian, how many lamps a day will you sponsor to go to the poorest of the poor?

    Many thanks for the thought provoking series and the opportunity to comment freely, and, my apology for raving like a lunatic on more than one occasion. It has been a thoroughly good catharsis and no doubt good for the little grey cells. It has introduced me to Wikipedia which will be invaluable in the future and I look forward to the follow up series either with yourselves or with the BBC. And next time I find myself in London with some free time on my hands I will make the effort to come and take a lingering look into some of the interestingly labelled pieces from the rest of your collection.

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  • 44. At 15:17 on 26 October 2010, muswellnel wrote:

    Wonderful, enlightening, series. I heard every one and loved them all. Neil MacGregor has offered us the best in broadcasting, and his charming delivery has tied the series together .... but some credit surely to writes and editors and producers for the excellence of the whole. They all, regretfully, seem anonymous, shame!

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  • 45. At 10:34 on 29 October 2010, Alan Price wrote:

    Neil MacGregor's last minute acknowledgement of the industrial revolution as indicated by his final selection was ridiculous!
    Like many academic historians he seems to have a "top-down" elitist veiw of humanity which is preoccupied with the political or religeous outlook of ruling classes, but ignores the wealth creating bits of the cultures that produced them.
    How did he arrive at solar-power without including a Coalbrookdale iron cooking pot, or even a simple iron moulding box, earlier in his list?
    Metallurgy, mathematics, mechanics and machines had all been known for thousands of years before 1709, but it was Abraham Darby's experiments with smelting iron with coal (actually coke) after that year which made the modern world of mass production possible. It was the biggest technological leap of the last millenium and Britain's biggest contribution to history ever!
    In this context his choice of this object (and number 97) was an insult!

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  • 46. At 11:54 on 29 October 2010, Miles Hodgkiss wrote:

    Oops. My apology. When I wrote -How about it Ian, how many lamps a day will you sponsor to go to the poorest of the poor?- I of course meant Neil, as in MacGregor and not Ian as in some one else on my mind. Sorry again. The question however still applies. How many lamps does the BM intend to sponsor, rather than clutter up a shelf (middleclass or otherwise)?

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  • 47. At 12:23 on 31 October 2010, RA Neil wrote:

    The 100th object for this series is very well chosen.
    Would love to know where I can get one and how much they cost.
    Solar power has got to be the way forward.

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  • 48. At 12:38 on 4 November 2010, john wrote:

    I think that the 100th object should be - an inked fingerprint.
    The most important human achievement ? and the one most worth celebrating is an idea
    ? the idea that we all have the right to be involved in equitably shaping our lives.
    It?s a very big idea and like all ideas, it?s invisible but it seems to me to that it can be powerfully represented, visibly, in a little bit of ink pressed on a fingerprint which demonstrates that an individual has exercised that right to equitably shape their life when they voted.
    This is not art ?pressed in the service of power?, but art - in this case, ink, pressed in the service of the people.
    Now that?s a real art - and it?s worth celebrating.

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  • 49. At 00:51 on 5 November 2010, Stew Green wrote:

    It was outrageous was like listening to a pseudo Green activist propaganda .. I could hardly bear to listen.
    It isn't the object that sums 2010 society... except maybe it does .. It tells us that we live in a society of 2 parts : Green dreamy wooly thinking with it's "too good to be true", "Imaginery numbers" dominating debate over a real world of practical and proper maths and science.
    "100 hours on one days charge" they said... Why wasn't the device name mentioned ? Ah I found it in a Telegraph article last year's a D.light 250
    I haven't tracked down any independent test yet, but the manufacturers limited datasheet says the 100 hour is at super low light setting, they also say "4 hours at study light setting for one days charge". And that's a nice picture of a child studying, but I guess if a child eats then sleeps for the recommened 9-10 hours then all study could be done in daylight anyway etc. As an electrical engineer who has often been to areas of the world where people are not connected to the grid, I think in the real situation on the ground now and in the future solar lamps aren't very important yet they'd have you believe 1.6 billion people might use them.

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  • 50. At 12:09 on 24 November 2010, Alan Price wrote:

    Stew Green's criticism of the one-hundredth object in comment No. 49 is spot-on! Of course, it could be said that Neil MacGregor's indifference to, disdain towards, or ignorance of, the world of practical technology as exemplified by his list constituted the ultimate post-industrial irony. His final object is grossly wasteful of scarce resources, inefficient, and virtually useless! It will only work if the sun is shining, but if the sun shines you don't need it! Perhaps it really is the best representation of the mess human beings have made, and of the intellectual decline we seam to be in! Apparently Neil MacGregor has been admitted to The Order of Merit. There is hope for all of us!

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