Out of the darkness with a solar-powered light bulb

Now you can turn sunlight on and off with this solar-powered light bulb!

By Benjamin Shaw

Most of us think nothing of turning on the lights. But nearly two billion people live without electricity, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

When the sun goes down, people living off the grid can’t simply flick a switch. They live with the dark or burn fossil fuels such as kerosene for light.

Social entrepreneur Stephen Katsaros invented a solar-powered light bulb he hopes will bring clean, safe light to people in the developing world.

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Photo by Larry Bollig

The 6-ounce Nokero bulb is the size and shape of a traditional light bulb. But inside the weatherproof, plastic casing are five white LEDs that burn for four hours on a full charge.

Hang it in the sun during the day and four photovoltaic panels on the outside of the bulb charge the replaceable AA battery. A day outside will give you about two hours of light.

Safety device as well as a light source

Katsaros calls the bulb a safety device as well as a light source.

Burning kerosene emits carbon monoxide and other pollutants. The World Bank estimates that breathing kerosene fumes from an indoor lamp is equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. “And nearly one million people a year die from kerosene lamp fires,” says Katsaros. “That doesn’t take into account the huge number of burns.”

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Stephen Katsaros discussed his invention on National Geographic Weekend, a weekly radio program hosted by Boyd Matson.

Katsaros came up with the concept for the bulb in January. And when the idea began taking shape as an actual product he quit his job as a patent agent at a legal firm to focus on promoting it.

Campers, hikers and even those looking for an easy way to light the back patio are interested in the bulb says Katsaros. But he is focused on delivering Nokero to developing countries and disaster areas. “We are trying to reduce the cost so that the 2.8 billion people in the world who make less than two dollars a day can afford this.”

At U.S.$15 each, the bulbs may still be out of reach for many in the developing world. But Katsaros says the price will be significantly reduced for bulk orders. And, he says, each Nokero bulb will pay for itself within five months if the owner will no longer need to buy kerosene.

Benjamin Shaw.jpgBenjamin Shaw produces the weekly radio program National Geographic Weekend with host Boyd Matson. Hear it on on XM/Sirius satellite radio (XM channel 133 Sundays at noon), subscribe to the iTunes podcast, or get the show streamed to your iPhone, Blackberry, Palm, or Android OS phone with Stitcher Radio.

Changing Planet


Meet the Author
More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn