Solar Lamps Delivered To Over 7 Million People By Greenlight Planet

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Originally published on Sustainnovate.

Greenlight Planet, one of the finalists in the 2016 Zayed Future Energy Prize competition, is a leading SME making solar-powered lamps and mobile phone chargers. It was launched by one University of Illinois student in 2005, Patrick Walsh. He studied engineering, physics, and economics there and earned two degrees. Over the last 10 years, Greenlight Planet has sold about 1.8 million lamps.

Greenlight Planet

Walsh got the idea for his company during a work trip to India, where he saw the dangers of kerosene lamp use. He partnered with two students from his university and they raised $600,000 to start up the company. Several years later, they had sold 10,000 lamps, and sales grew to 600,000 by 2012.

The socially conscious company also employs local people as sales associates. There are now about 6,000 of them in five Indian states and they sell tens of thousands of lamps each month.

It might not sound like having a solar-powered lamp would make such a difference in a person’s life, but it can, because kerosene for burning in lamps can be expensive over time. Prices also fluctuate, so they can hit poor people hard. Fumes from burning it indoors often harms human health, and handling it can also be hazardous. Even worse, accidental fires injure and kill many poor people around the world each year. Many have no health insurance, and being unable to work can drive them deeper into poverty.

So, providing solar lamps and phone chargers is actually a great thing to do for poor people who often don’t have access to regular, consistent sources of electricity… or any at all. Some villagers might walk ten miles in a day to charge a cell phone, which is sometimes the only device they have to access email or to be able to communicate over long distances.

Greenlight Planet now has 630 employees and is available in 33 countries, with over 7 million users of its products.

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Jake Richardson

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9 thoughts on “Solar Lamps Delivered To Over 7 Million People By Greenlight Planet

  • There is no mention of PAYGO financing, so can we assume the model is straight sale to customers?
    The 94% of customers “feeling safer” is a striking benefit I hadn’t thought of. Perhaps more significant in big-city slums than isolated rural villages, but I could be wrong.

    • Its better for customers on lots of levels;
      First is that its a big effort to get a burnable fuel (kerosene).
      Second, its expensive to buy those fuels, so solar is a big savings in the long run.
      Third, fires in burning houses are dangerous.
      Fourth, there’s health side effects (kerosene in the home brings breathing problems).

      • Living with kerosene fumes from lamps is really hard on one’s respiratory system. I did it for a few months.

        Just the fumes from the unavoidable spilled drops of kero are problematic.
        I do question the route of these companies selling solar lanterns. I suspect selling solar AA/AAA chargers would be a better solution. Then the batteries could be used in headlamps/flashlights which could be suspended for room lights and carried out as needed. And the batteries could be used in radios and other devices. More flexibility.

        It would even be possible to set up a village battery exchange center where people could exchange discharged batteries for charged batteries for a small fee.

        • I don’t disagree… but cost. You’re taking capacitor/battery out.. adding two connectors (charging station, and consuming application) and using batteries. You’re not going to get more batteries charged either, unless you spend more for bigger panels, etc.

          These are really really bottom of the barrel cost wise, and have laser focused requirements.

          And you forgot the biggest cost of all… what about when it fails? The whole thing needs to be replaced.

          I do like your idea of a charging station for a village though. I don’t know anything about micro economies/loans. I heard there was a lot of success with that in India with cell phones.

          • A problem with solar lanterns is that they have to be placed out in the sunlight where they can be stolen (not only by ‘bad people’ but also by children and curious monkeys). Panels can be firmly attached which will eliminate most theft.

            I remember reading about one service in India where discharged lanterns were collected early in the day, charged in a secure compound, and returned charged for a fee in order to avoid theft while charging.

            The lanterns have to have a solar panel. Some lanterns charge in a few hours and then give up to 85 hours of light. That means that the panels are not being utilized for several days when they could be charging batteries for more lights or a radio.

            Moving to panels + batteries + devices make it possible to replace single parts that fail rather than the entire lantern (including its battery and panel). And it allows expansion by purchasing more components.

            I’m not sure how the math works out. Perhaps dedicated devices are cheaper. Bottom line, I’m for whatever works at the best possible price. Since these systems can be paid off in a few months to a couple of years using kero/candle/disposable/cell phone charging costs and then provide years of free electricity/light they’re winners.

          • I’m an engineer, and I’ve worked with volume products.

            Cost is king. Pennies count. Bigger panels more connectors.. cost more. Proper batteries… cost more. More complex mechanical case with more parts.. costs more. That <85 hours number… implies that its been spec'ed to still work during poor conditions, assuming component variance, and accounting for lifetime fade for the panel and battery.

            Cost cost cost… Pennies count.

            Its not just an excuse for global warming deniers. 🙂 Its still an issue.

            Its been 2-3 years since I last read up on this. Perhaps we're seeing the follow on effects from initial introduction. Based on what you're saying, I bet there are interested parties looking into communal systems now. There should also be more money available to sell the upgrade. 🙂

          • You might enjoy reading this – about how quickly solar lighting might spread.


            Everywhere I’ve traveled in the less developed world I’ve seen hardworking entrepreneurial people looking for a way to get ahead. Small solar is idea. There’s widespread demand and the capital investment to get started is small. One doesn’t even incur the cost of a storefront, just keep the stock in your house and pedal off on bicycle or take the bus to your next customer.

            These systems work. I’ve lived with micro-solar for extended periods (on a sailboat at anchor in distant places and in a cabin while I built my house). The difference one or two electric lights and a radio can make in one’s life is stupendous compared to struggling with an oil lamp.

            This is a product that needs no advertising. It sells itself via word of mouth. When other people walk by your house and see bright light but no wires running to your house they will want to know how. And then they will want to know how they can get theirs.

          • Hi Bob, I’m with you on this discussion. If a community bought the solar panel and charger etc., and a small charge was made for recharging batteries this would be a more efficient use of the panels and equipment. As it is a community project, profits can be used for other social benefit projects.

          • Nice link. Obviously, the solar + LED is a much better and cheaper solution. The margin is there. Should be able to finance it. The other thing I like, is getting folks used to, and working with solar. They save a little money, and they might just start asking the local lamp guy what else he has.

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