Greenlight Planet, one of the finalists in the 2016 Zayed Future Energy Prize competition, is a leading SME making solar-powered lamps and mobile phone chargers. It was launched by one University of Illinois student in 2005, Patrick Walsh. He studied engineering, physics, and economics there and earned two degrees. Over the last 10 years, Greenlight Planet has sold about 1.8 million lamps.
Walsh got the idea for his company during a work trip to India, where he saw the dangers of kerosene lamp use. He partnered with two students from his university and they raised $600,000 to start up the company. Several years later, they had sold 10,000 lamps, and sales grew to 600,000 by 2012.
The socially conscious company also employs local people as sales associates. There are now about 6,000 of them in five Indian states and they sell tens of thousands of lamps each month.
It might not sound like having a solar-powered lamp would make such a difference in a person’s life, but it can, because kerosene for burning in lamps can be expensive over time. Prices also fluctuate, so they can hit poor people hard. Fumes from burning it indoors often harms human health, and handling it can also be hazardous. Even worse, accidental fires injure and kill many poor people around the world each year. Many have no health insurance, and being unable to work can drive them deeper into poverty.
So, providing solar lamps and phone chargers is actually a great thing to do for poor people who often don't have access to regular, consistent sources of electricity... or any at all. Some villagers might walk ten miles in a day to charge a cell phone, which is sometimes the only device they have to access email or to be able to communicate over long distances.
Greenlight Planet now has 630 employees and is available in 33 countries, with over 7 million users of its products.