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Danish artist Olafur Eliasson designs $10 solar lamp, to sell in India

According to reports, renowned Iceland-origin Danish artist Olafur Eliasson has designed a cheap-yet-hip solar-powered lamp that he expects to be a hit in countries such as India.

Priced at $10 (Rs 560), weighing 120gm and named the ‘Little Sun’, it could be all the rage among both the rich and poor, hopes the 45-year-old artist who collaborated with engineer-friend Frederik Ottesen to make the lamp.

The Little Sun is being pitched against kerosene lamps for use in off-grid regions of the world. In India, “basic” solar-powered lamps are already available in the range of Rs 600 with an expected life of three years. But Eliasson and his team hope to cash in on the “aesthetic quality” of the product.

“We have so far not found robust retailers in India (to sell the product),” says Eliasson, adding that if the Little Sun is put in charging mode during the day for five hours, it works for five hours at night. It is more effective when it is charged directly under sunlight, adds the artist who is widely known for his large installations and sculptures.

This solar lamp is expected to last three years. Eliasson says, “Over the course of the lamp’s lifespan, its users can save 90% on what they would spend on kerosene for lighting.” A litre of kerosene is priced at Rs 12.73 in Delhi, Rs 12.28 in Mumbai and Rs 11.5 in Chennai.

He goes on: “There is a whole lot of difference between a child studying under a kerosene lamp and a solar lamp. With kerosene you end up burning a lot of petroleum products.”

According to data from the International Energy Agency, nearly 20% of earth’s inhabitants are without the luxury of an electric light and most of them use kerosene lamps instead. Experts say if a kerosene lamp burns for four hours a day on an average, it emits more than 100kg of carbon dioxide a year.

“Imagine the kind of pollution that 300 million kerosene lamps (the number of people in India who don’t have access to electricity) can cause,” says Eliasson. He adds that he and his team have worked hard to minimise production costs while still using high-quality components such as Luran S, a very UV-resistant ASA plastic (it has great weather-resistance properties).

The artist is now focusing on the African market. He has tied up with retailers to sell the product in Ethiopia, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Nigeria. The next step is to enter Asia. It is a blessing, says Eliasson, that the market infrastructure in Asian countries such as India, one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, is strong. That India has a growing rural market and a progressive retail system is a major plus, he says.

The Little Sun is produced at Shenzhen in China, with components produced by the German companies Osram and BASF, among others. Eliasson’s team has begun producing the first batch of 30,000 lamps. “Production will scale up in the coming months, and we have a target of 500,000 units for 2012,” says he.

As regards India, some of the cheapest available portable solar-powered lamps include those made by d.light, Kotak Urja, Eureka Forbes, Tata, Moser Baer, etc. However, experts say even $10 may be too expensive for solar lamps to make a dent in India’s poorest neighborhoods, but they suggest that the government procure such lanterns and distribute among the poor as part of its welfare schemes.

According to Sanjay Chakrabarti, partner & national leader, cleantech, Ernst & Young, “Such lamps (like The Little Sun) can be provided (by the government) not only to the poor, but also to people in rural and remote areas and also areas with no access to the grid.”

TERI is already running a major programme (LABL) on similar lines. Off-grid solar is starting to gain ground in India and has the potential of being a game changer, specifically in rural India.

Some of the “aesthetically appealing” solar lamps available in India include MightyLight, which sells for $25 and is developed by New Delhi-based start-up Cosmos Ignite.

Another company, Studylite developed a “cheap” solar lamp (priced at $33) for poor students in partnership with the Sankara Nethralaya, Bangalore. Two years ago, students from MIT and Rhode Island School of Design created “Enlight”, a solar lamp for $20.

For his part, Eliasson says the product isn’t meant for the poor alone. “In fact, it is meant for the rich. We mention nothing in our website about the poor. This is a product for the rich to use and be proud of its aesthetic and environment-friendly qualities,” Eliasson notes. “It is a desirable object and beyond social ambition we also want rich people to use it and cut carbon footprint.”

Eliasson actually sells the product at $5 a piece to wholesalers. The product is priced at $10 because “the idea is to make the business financially beneficial to the person who handles the last mile. It is very important to do that. Otherwise we can’t sustain this business”.

According to a statement from Eliasson’s studio, the Little Sun is on display at Tate Modern in London until September 23 as part of the London 2012 Festival.

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