Anish Thakkar is the CEO of Greenlight Planet, which makes affordable solar home lighting for the 1.6 billion off-grid people. The firm recently signed a new funding deal with the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) to pump in more into making a change in lives of the people who are devoid of access to electricity.
India Inc. caught up with Thakkar to explore what this new funding means and delves into wider Solar India targets set by the Indian government.
What does the OPIC investment mean for your solar targets in India?
We’re on a mission to reach 30 per cent of the world’s 1 billion off-grid villagers by 2020. This investment will help us set up distribution in new markets – like Nigeria, Pakistan, Ethiopia and new regions of India – making Sun King solar lights available to more homes.
And it allows us to launch our Easy Buy consumer finance program this year. Easy Buy is a new mobile technology which allows consumers to pay for their Sun King investment in small increments overtime, making Sun King drastically more affordable to price-sensitive off-grid families.
What are some of Greenlight Planet’s key regions of focus in coming years?
Over 1 billion people around the world still use dirty, dangerous kerosene lamps for light at night. Greenlight’s Sun King solar lanterns are the most popular off-grid solar product in markets like India and East Africa.
We are investing heavily to set up distribution channels and last-mile partnerships in new markets like Nigeria, Ethiopia, Myanmar and Pakistan – an important step in making high quality solar energy available to all.
In your view, has India set itself a realistic solar energy target?
Over 80 million villagers in India still live in off-grid or under-electrified areas, turning to dirty kerosene lamps for light at night. We’re very excited about India’s focus to bring solar to the nation-and we’re excited to be a part of that!
How do you see off-grid solutions developing across the world?
To reach the world’s 1 billion off-grid homes, solar energy must be a reliable and affordable investment for all. Our recently-launched Rs 500 ($7.50) Sun King Pico is an important step in making that a reality: for less than a typical household’s spend on kerosene in for months, families can bring a bright, safe solar light into their home – turning their kerosene lamp off forever.
Affordability also means developing new technologies and business models to make solar investable for families. With our Easy Buy technology, families can get their Sun King investment on day one, without a large, upfront investment. Families pay for the product in small amounts over time – as low as Rs 10 per day (14 US pennies) – in much the same way as we pay for prepaid talk time. When your energy balance runs low, you can make a small payment to top up balance on your system, for as little as Rs 10 for a day of solar energy.
On a personal note, what attracted you to this sector?
When Patrick (Walsh), Mayank (Sekhsaria) and I met in 2006 as engineering students at the University of Illinois, we knew the world’s most exciting consumer electronics technologies – like high-efficiency LEDs and small lithium batteries like those in cell phones – could be used for more profound impact on the world than powering the next smart phone. We are thrilled that the technologies we’ve developed are used by 20 million off-grid villagers around the world today.
But 1 billion people are still in the dark at night. We have a lot to do yet!