Social Startups

D.Light : Improving the lives of those without electricity.

Editors Note – This being the Diwali weekend we thought to cover a story about bringing light to millions of people who have none.

A staggering 1.5 billion people (1 in 4 people) have no access to electricity. Electricity and lighting is crucial to human development and indispensable for certain basic activities, such as work, refrigeration and medical and emergency services.

Lights make the world more productive

The ability to see in the dark allows rural families to operate in the dark. This means, they can work and produce more, travel, and engage with their communities past sunset. Traditional methods such as burning firewood or using kerosene lamps harms the environment. Moreover, these techniques pose the risk of fire hazards. Kerosene is an expensive commodity for rural communities. While firewood is free, the time spent collecting it is probably better spent engaged in other productive activities.

So we explored options currently available to provide cheap, off-grid lighting systems to rural communities. We found Barefoot Power and D.Light Design. These are companies that design, manufacture and distribute hi-tech, low-cost, lighting systems to the world’s under-electrified regions. We bought a D.Light Nova and decided to field test it. We found a friendly hawker in Mumbai who has been using kerosene lamps for the last 40 years. His monthly average spend on kerosene lamps has been $10 per month, or $120 per year. We bought the Nova for about $35.

Let there be Light

On his blog, Sam Goldman, CEO of D.Light recounts:

“In March, The Sikshana Foundation adopted high schools in Kanakapura, Karnataka (India) and discovered this: Students in 9th/10th Std often do part-time work in the fields or help their parents during day. They depend on kerosene lamps at night to study. Kerosene can be purchased only through ration shops and each family is limited to a ration of 3 liters per month. Kerosene lanterns coat walls and roofs with soot and pose a fire risk. In these parts, power cuts are common. When power fails, many students stop writing or studying. This impacts their performance. In response, distributed 84 D.light Kirans to students requiring extra attention in English and Math.

Results were suprising: in a district where average pass rate was 67%, more than 82% of the students using Kirans passed their exams. Most reported an increase in study time of 2-3 hours and more than 50% also said they would not have studied at night if it were not for the clean, bright light of the Kiran!”

D.Light has already provided lighting to 1 million people worldwide. The target is to provide lighting to 50 million people by 2015 and 100 million by 2020.

The Result of our field test

The Nova we field tested allowed recharging via grid AC power. Others such as the Nova S201 can be recharged via a portable solar panel. The Nova provides light continuously for anywhere between 4 to 8 hours depending upon 5 modes of operation provided. Its one-third (possibly one-sixth) the price of kerosene fuel based lamps, no fire hazards, no maintenance (unless batteries fail) and can be used quickly (ultra-portable) and easily (you only need to switch it on) whenever light is needed. The latest product from D.Light Design, the Nova S250 offers AC power as well as Solar recharge capability and can be used to charge mobile phones too.

Our hawker friend hasn’t gone back to using Kerosene lamps ever since we gave him the Nova several months ago.

If you would like to gift light to underprivileged communities that have no means to purchase lighting systems, we encourage you to participate in D.Light Design’s Give Light program.