Jul 15, 2023

IKEA and Little Sun bring solar power to light at home and hand

How can we make solar energy more visible and tangible in everyday life? It's one of the questions IKEA and Little Sun set out to answer in developing SAMMANLÄNKAD, two LED lamps powered by solar energy in more ways than one. We spoke to designer Philipp Käfer and engineer Philip Holm to learn how it manifests in the eye-catching SAMMANLÄNKAD table lamp.

About one hundred and fifty million kilometres away, the hot, glowing ball of hydrogen and helium known as the sun radiates energy vital to most life on our home planet. Energy that humanity has also harnessed in the past few thousand years – from the once simple ways of concentrating sunrays for starting fires, to the complex systems that convert sunlight into a fast-growing renewable energy source today.

The latter calls to mind massive solar panels on roofs or industrial fields that feed directly into the grid. But solar power also tends to dot many daily lives in small ways. Like in tiny solar lamps decorating a garden, or a solar powered calculator set up for a math test.

"I think the massive solar panels and tiny solar lamps are the most common approaches to solar energy. Many people don't have a real feeling or understanding for the possibilities to implement it at a medium level yet, where it can make a tangible difference in their daily life", says Philipp Käfer, designer for Little Sun.

It's something a collaboration between Little Sun and IKEA set out to change, joining the former's work as a social business at the intersection of design and technology with the home furnishing expertise of the latter – and drawing on Little Sun co-founder and artist Olafur Eliasson's vision to make solar energy tangible by way of art and science.

The result? SAMMANLÄNKAD, two solar-powered LED lamps designed to spark curiosity about solar energy in everyday objects by artfully bringing a piece of the sun down to earth with them.

For the SAMMANLÄNKAD table lamp, it became a matter of bringing a piece of our solar system to the home, visually strengthened by a gyroscope design.

"It has this heliocentric energy and our planet's orbit around it in the first gyroscope ring at a 23.5-degree angle, which is the axis of the earth in relation to the sun. And the light, a half-ball, is completed by a mirror to become a full ball, like the sun at its centre", Philipp explains, adding: "We wanted to bring the solar energy to the house, to show it in a poetic way for people to literally have this energy floating in their home".

The mirror carries a lot of that power. Its function is ultimately threefold: completing the sphere, slightly adding light power thanks to its reflective surface, and visually severing the connection between sphere and lamp stand. All giving a stronger nod to the visual of the sun floating in space, the gyroscope design as enabler. And as the SAMMANLÄNKAD table lamp doubles as a pendant lamp, it can very well float in the home much the same.

"The gyroscope also offers the possibility to align the solar panel directly to the sun, so it can be charged efficiently", says Philipp, noting that the technical aspects of the lamp were also central to the design process.

At IKEA of Sweden in Älmhult, Product Design Engineer Philip Holm places the SAMMANLÄNKAD table lamp on a workshop table, going on to detail the lamp's qualities. An aspect he notes with particular enthusiasm is the power of the light, a feature managed to differentiate it from many decorative solar lamps on the market.

"An important aspect was to get a higher light output than the cosy, soft garden lighting with low power in this collaboration. It's really the size of the LED light source that makes this possible", Philip explains.

Having worked with solar cells at IKEA since about 2006, Philip sits on a great deal of knowledge regarding the capacity of solar powered products, not least at scale.

Like how every layer of glass in a window can significantly reduce the power of an indoor solar charge, even if it seems bright enough.

An important aspect was to get a higher light output than the cosy, soft garden lighting.

"Solar-powered products are best charged outdoors, so we have to make sure that they last in that environment. The sturdiness and durability are in the material, and for the SAMMANLÄNKAD table lamp, that's stainless steel for a quality finish that weathers the outdoors", Philip explains.

He also notes that the brightness of daylight offered by a cloudy, dreary southern Swedish winter day is only a fraction of that of a long, sunny summer day, which naturally has significance to solar powered products. The contrast at the same given time in peak daylight can be as stark as getting only a few hundred lux – which may not even meet the threshold for a charge – versus more than 100 000 lux in the case of the latter.

"It's important to remember that these products as solar powered are largely seasonal, which is why we made sure that the SAMMANLÄNKAD table lamp can also be plugged in", says Philip.

Ultimately, in close collaboration with the team at Little Sun, Philip came in to help engineer the SAMMANLÄNKAD table lamp towards becoming not only an eye-catching but also a multifunctional piece. Within its construction, the lamp carries several ideas initially conceived for the collaboration.

"We actually started the whole process by taking a step back to make space and shake up the perception of what solar lamps are. What can this energy do in your daily life? SAMMANLÄNKAD is really a boiling down of those ideas", Philipp Käfer explains.

It's why the SAMMANLÄNKAD table lamp doubles as a pendant lamp, why the half-sphere can be removed to be held as a flashlight in its own might, and why the lamp – upon full charge – even offers the extra feature of a limited, emergency charge via USB for a mobile device.

"In the end, you have this little ball of energy that charges by itself with a solar panel, and you can hold it in your hands. You see and feel the story behind it, and it adds a function", says Philipp. "We see so much potential in solar energy, and it's really nice to make a product that can bring it to more people's attention in this way."

The SAMMANLÄNKAD solar lamps will be available in selected IKEA markets in April 2023.

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