• 10.21.09

Will the World’s Cheapest Solar Lantern Pull in Profits While Igniting Economic Development?


When the sun goes down, much of the world goes dark. At-home productivity sinks–you can’t read or learn without light–unless you can afford to buy kerosene, which emits noxious fumes.

D.Light, a company that originated as a project at Stanford’s design school, wants to solve that problem: They just made the world’s cheapest solar lantern.

After a single day’s charge, “Kiran” provides eight hours of light. It’s not on the market yet, but D.Light estimates it will cost about $10. They have an ambitious plan to sell 10 million such lights by 2010, and have been hiring furiously to accomplish that.

They’re certainly backed by an impressive roster of investors, including the Acumen Fund and Draper Fisher Jurvetson–presumably because D.Light is exactly the sort of business that C.K. Prahalad advocated in The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, his canonical book about profiting from developing markets. The basic idea is that for-profit business can succeed where NGOs and government aid have failed: If you can serve developing markets with ultra-cheap, mass-produced goods, you’ll have access to massive profits while igniting economic development.

Access to electricity has been a particularly hot topic in the for-profit, social improvement field, because electrical infrastructure remains anemic in much of the
developing world–while gadgets such as cellphones have become vital tools in the development
of markets, healthcare, banking, and even education. We’ve recently seen, for example, these mobile solar-clinics on camel-back, and also FLAP, a bag that doubles as both a light and a solar-charger.

[Via Design Boom]CK