Monday, June 16, 2008

D. Light: Solar-Powered LED Lights For the World's Neediest


Designing sustainable products for the consumer that spends just $2 a day can be a dual challenge: The goods have to be cheap and eco-friendly. That’s the hurdle facing D.Light, a startup that is officially announcing its products this morning. The company, which is in the process of moving its offices to Shenzen, China, from Mountain View, Calif., is making three LED and solar-based lighting products that cost just $10 to $30 and are meant to replace kerosene lanterns.

Starting as early as July, D.Light will start selling its first solar-charging LED light called the Nova for around $12 to $25 (pictured to the left). One hour of solar charge can provide one hour of LED light on the medium setting. There are four settings: low, medium and high — and the ultra-low “nightlight.” The company will also soon sell the Comet (the second photo after the jump), which is a solar-powered desklight, priced $12 to $16. Then there’s the Vega (first photo after the jump), a fast-charging LED light meant for users that have a daily but sporadic connection to the power grid; the Vega costs around $15.

In many regions of India and Africa that are not connected to the power grid, kerosene lanterns provide much of the lighting. Problem is, kerosene lanterns can be unsafe and cause respiratory problems; they’re also generally pretty dim and are a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. D.Light President Ned Tozun tells us that, while no one would argue replacing kerosene lanterns is a bad idea, technologies such as LEDs and solar panels have just started to become cost-effective replacements. And D.Light is a trying to make a real dent in the kerosene lantern problem.

We’ve written about D.Light before; the startup is a local do-gooder founded by Tozun and his business partners down at Stanford. And the company has already gotten backing from Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Garage Technology Ventures, Mahindra & Mahindra, Nexus India Capital, Acumen Fund, Gray Matters Capital and Michael Marks (the Chairman of Flextronics).

What’s up next for the company? Scale, scale and mass production. This is a business centered around driving down the costs of the product, and that means streamlining production and finding the lowest cost manufacturers around. Tozen won’t go into much detail about its parts suppliers — only that the company is working with Seoul Semiconductor for its LEDs and plans to produce in “the millions of units.”

Stateside, you’re probably asking: How can I buy one of these, and will they ever be at REI? Not anytime soon, says Tozun; the company is strongly focused on getting its goods to the developing world first. We asked if there was some kind of buying plan like the one proposed for other goods like the One Laptop for Child, where a customer in a developed world could pay many times the price and have one or more delivered to developing markets on the consumer’s behalf. Tozun says the company is considering all options and still formulating its market plan.

Images courtesy of D.Light.

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