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Surprising Science

Bringing Solar Power And New Investment To Africa

By selling rechargeable lanterns to people living in areas with little or no access to electricity, San Francisco-based d.light represents increased investor attention to “the junction between development work, renewable energy and profit-driven business.”

What’s the Latest Development?

Recently, d.light, a company that manufactures rechargeable solar-powered lanterns for sale to people in developing countries, celebrated “10 million lives improved” based on sales figures and the number of users per lantern. The lanterns, which are built using LED lighting and advanced battery technology, are meant to last for years and are cheaper in the long run despite their initial cost compared to kerosene and other traditional energy sources. Founded five years ago, the company is currently manufacturing between 200,000 and 300,000 lanterns each month.

What’s the Big Idea?

d.light’s success highlights increasing interest in locating the sweet spot between renewable energy, social impact, and profit. Co-founder Ned Tozun says that they were able to attract investors by demonstrating the potential size of the market: Over a billion people worldwide have no access to electricity, and for another billion, what access they have is unreliable. Also, the situation isn’t likely to change anytime soon: World Bank studies estimate that billions of dollars of infrastructure investment would be needed to provide universal access. Renewable energy technology only makes up about 2 percent of the market today, according to Tozun. 

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