A Social Entrepreneur’s Inspiration For Solar-Powered Lighting

Monday, October 21, 2013

Solar-powered light bulbs for the poor: A growing number of social enterprises are selling such technology to bottom of the pyramid households in Africa, India and other countries. One of the first to do so, Denver-based Nokero (for No Kerosene) just introduced its next generation of products, as it works to make the company’s management more professional–and able to grow the enterprise even more.

A little more background on the issue: Around 1.3 billion of world’s population lacks access to reliable electricity. Most of them use kerosene lamps, which are very very very expensive compared to incandescent lamps, (people spend as much as 30% of their income on kerosene-based fuels, according to Nokero), cause deadly fires (If you live without electricity, you’re seven times more likely to die by fire than someone with electricity, according to Katsaros), and contribute to air pollution. They don’t produce a whole heck of a lot of light, either.

But lighting that relies on solar power not only lasts longer, costs less money, and doesn’t cause fires, but it also can change people’s lives, everything from allowing children to study after dark to letting stores stay open longer. (As for the matter of how well the products work when, say, it’s cloudy, Katsaros says they can still get a charge, just not as effectively as when there’s a lot of sun).

“We’re not just manufacturing something that makes people a little bit happier,” he says. “This is life-changing.”

Katsaros, an inveterate tinkerer with a BS in mechanical engineering from Purdue University and a patent agent, got the idea for his first product in 2010, as he was drifting off to sleep. Four days later he filed for a patent and six weeks later had started limited production in China. Soon after, he launched a more efficient version, the N200, selling at $15. He’s sold about 900,000 products in total.

Source: Forbes (link opens in a new window)

Base of the Pyramid, product design, renewable energy, social enterprise