Our goal is to develop an energy-autonomous solar cell receiver that can be integrated with a variety of smart devices to implement the Internet of Things in next-generation applications. This paper details efforts to develop such a prototype, called AquaE-lite. Owing to the capability of detecting low-intensity optical signals, 20-m and 30-m long-distance lighting and optical wireless communication with data rates of 1.6 Mbit/s and 1.2 Mbit/s have been achieved on a laboratory testbed, respectively. Moreover, field trials on an outdoor solar cell testbed and a port (turbid water) of the Red Sea have been conducted. Under bright sunlight, energy autonomy and 1.2-Mbit/s optical wireless communication over a transmission distance of 15 m have been implemented, which demonstrated that AquaE-lite with an elaborate receiver circuit has excellent performance in energy harvesting and resistance to background noise. In a more challenging underwater environment, 1.2-Mbit/s signals were successfully received over a transmission distance of 2 m. It indicates that energy-autonomous AquaE-lite with large detection area has promising prospects in future underwater mobile sensor networks to significantly relieve the requirement of pointing, acquisition and tracking while resolving the energy issues.