I really hope these guys succeed with their prize-winning solar-powered lanterns. Fighting global warming will not always go together with improving the lot of the poor, but this looks like a great win-win. I hope they get the financing they need to scale up (CDM anybody?), and that it doesn’t get stuck in just a few niche markets. The key thing will be to get the distribution right. Urban areas will be easier than rural, and are the sensible place to start.
Price sensitivity is also a concern. At $10 they are pretty affordable, but at the upper quoted price range ($45) they might struggle to get buyers amongst the poorest, as they then constitute a capital investment. Although the lamps may rapidly save owners more money than their original purchase cost, the poor typically buy their kerosene at $1-2 a time. $45 is a lot of cash for someone that poor to part with at a time. However, local entrepreneurs (i.e. little shop owners) who know their customers could maybe sell them on a kind of hire-purchase basis if they were able to reach a similar arrangement with their distributor. I’m sure there must have been similar kinds of marketing experiments with other products aimed at the poor, so hopefully D.Light can learn those lessons and apply them well.
Inventing the device is a big step forward, but, in my view, the greater challenge lies ahead: how to get them into the hands of all the world’s poor? As others have commented before me, if Coca Cola can do it, so can they, but we shouldn’t pretend it will be easy. Unlike the iPhone, these kind of devices will not sell themselves.