Light from the sea

A salt-water-powered lantern for coastal communities in developing countries

Global demand for electricity is rising, and the need is particularly pressing in developing countries. However, weak infrastructure means that isolated communities around the world have limited or non-existent access to a reliable electricity supply.

Colombian renewable energy start-up E-Dina and WPP’s Wunderman Thompson Colombia division have developed a device that uses salt water to generate electrical power. WaterLight works through ionisation: electrical energy is produced when salt-water electrolytes react with magnesium inside the device. Work on developing the light was prompted by World Health Organization statistics that indicate there are still about 840 million people worldwide without access to electricity.

The new light enables work at night in places off the electric grid by replacing traditional kerosene lanterns. And, unlike solar lights that require a long charging period, a WaterLight is ready as soon as it is filled with salt water. Children can use the light to study and craftspeople can extend their working hours. In the Guajira Peninsula, Colombia, members of the Wayuu tribe who are testing the devices have been using them on boats to enable night-time fishing. The lantern can also slowly charge a mobile phone or a small radio through a USB port. In emergency situations, the WaterLight can even be powered by urine.

Each WaterLight has an expected lifetime of about 5600 hours, which equates to two or three years of use. WaterLight is still in the early stages of development and, for now, the cost is high ($60–100 per light) compared with solar lights. It is currently available for purchase by nongovernmental organisations, governments and private organisations.

At Creative RSK, we care about social development and energy policies. For example, we recently helped frame the key messages for the Royal Town Planning Institute climate action plan. We also help our clients describe and promote technologies for the energy transition and help them explain their strategies for environmental protection and social development in local communities.