Lighting Off the Grid

Monday, May 22, 2006

Sitting in a brightly lit classroom at the Stanford Business School three years ago, Matt Scott got to wondering what it would take to light the rest of the world. Artificial lighting may not seem a necessity like food or shelter, but 1.6 billion people around the globe lack access to electricity and the on-off switches we take for granted. Inspired by the Light Up the World Foundation, which promotes the use of energy-efficient light-emitting diodes (LEDs), Scott, now 31, traveled to India and in 2004 partnered with Amit Chugh to devise a market strategy for replacing the kerosene lamp.

The result is the Mightylight, a waterproof, shockproof, LED lamp that can be used as a flashlight, reading lamp or ceiling fixture. Solar powered, capable of holding an eight-hour charge and designed to last 100,000 hours, the Mightylight is safer and more cost effective than kerosene lamps, which are expensive to maintain and dangerous to use. (Not only do they start a lot of accidental fires but they are also a primary source of indoor air pollution, a major killer in developing countries.)

Scott and Chugh’s other innovation is Cosmos Ignite, the company they founded to market Mightylight. Inspired by C.K. Prahalad’s The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, about the collective buying power of people earning a few dollars a day, they believe that capitalism–not charity–is the best way to address the needs of the Third World. So in November they began selling Mightylights for $45 each. The LED technology is so advanced, says Chugh, that “anyone in New York or Delhi would love one of these.” Chugh, 38, hopes to release a $30 model soon and even cheaper lights thereafter. With help from foundations, Cosmos Ignite has sold and distributed more than 4,000 Mightylights for earthquake relief in Pakistan and to the poor in Afghanistan, Guatemala and Kashmir. In India, fishermen and weavers are already using the lights to extend their work hours. Says Scott: “The exciting thing–more than just the light itself–is the model of using a sustainable approach to effect social change.”

Source: Time (link opens in a new window)