Home > Indian solar industry, Indian solar/PV industry, LED lighting devices, solar photovoltaics, solar/PV > Want to enter solar off-grid business? Build your own solar LED lanterns and emergency lights!

Want to enter solar off-grid business? Build your own solar LED lanterns and emergency lights!

January 3, 2010

I’ve been looking at the search results on my blog. It doesn’t surprise me that solar is a top search topic with searches such as ’emerging opportunity in solar cell manufacturing’ ranking very high.

Some other interesting solar-related searches — ‘list of new solar manufacturing companies’, ‘vertically integrated solar/PV companies’, ‘making home solar power in India’, ‘FDI in India for solar projects’, ‘solar PV production in India’, ‘solar products manufacturing opportunities’, ‘solar cells manufacturers’, ‘India solar opportunities’, ‘top rated solar products’, etc.

Wow, I am overwhelmed! Friends, I have touched on each one of these aspects over the past year and will continue to do so in future.

There has been a lot of interest in off-grid solar applications in India and elsewhere for quite a while now. I’ve been discussing how one can easily enter the solar business with my associate Usha. Friends such as Ravi and Shilpa have got into discussions with me regarding the solar business in India as well. There have been a few requests on LinkedIn too, to comment on NSM and also, how to get into the solar LED lantern business.

That’s very interesting and heartening to learn that folks are getting serious about solar and LEDs. Many thanks to those who think I am capable enough to write about such topics. It is very humbling!

Now, if you search the Internet, you can find sites that offer tips on how to build you own DIY solar LED lantern — which, I consider a very easy way to enter the off-grid market in India.

Build your own solar LED lantern
Let me attempt this with the solar LED lanterns. First: how do you enter the off-grid solar applications business in India or anywhere? There are three ways of doing so.

One, either you build/manufacture a product yourself. Two, become a franchisee for some local manufacturer. Three, simply import products from manufacturers in China, Taiwan or anywhere else, and sell it in India, or wherever you are!

What would you actually need to build a solar LED lantern or even solar emergency lights?

* Solar cell/panel of say, 2W
* Two or four LEDs — you can go for high-brightness LEDs too!
* Small transparent plastic containers, preferably with holders to hang, if needed.
* Terminal block
* Wires, toggle/selector switch and other basic circuitry to connect to the LED
* 2A or 3A batteries

If you want to build a rechargeable unit, add a NiCd/NiMH rechargeable battery and connect it to the solar cell/panel.

Now, am sure you can assemble this! If not, find some electrical engineering student to do it for you. Or, some electrical mechanic! Or, search the Internet for sites who tell you how to do this, if you want to save on the assembly cost too!

Where can you source these materials? From electrical suppliers or components distributors! Or, from the open market itself.

What will be the development cost for building a basic solar LED lantern? I reckon, not even Rs. 200 (US $5), or even less!

Where can you sell these? Anywhere! Hope you have seen the Hindi movie — Mumbai Se Aaya Mera Dost, starring Abhishek Bachchan, where he brings a TV to his village and how it changes the village’s lifestyle. Or, I hope you’ve seen the Hindi movie, Swades, starring Shah Rukh Khan, where he literally ‘brings’ electricity to a remote Indian village!

Try visiting your own village (if you belong to one), or your home town. Am sure there are power cuts galore, if you happen to live in India. Just go there and ask around if the people would be willing to try out your product. Once they can see it in use and understand its benefit, who knows, you could be in for major success. Most importantly, think, how you can help improve the quality of life of the rural folks!

Oh, think about our farmers too. If you can develop good quality solar irrigation pumps, that would be great! It won’t be a bad idea either to visit the Auroville and The Matri Mandir in Pondicherry. They use solar cookers!

If making this solar LED lantern looks easy, then try and building your solar decorative lights, solar lamps, solar camping lanterns, solar flashlights, solar emergency lights, etc. The choice is yours! Share your success stories with me! 😉

Maybe, there are too many makers in this field, some would say. I feel, the only differentiator would be in the quality of the LEDs used and how long your product would operate in a day — if 10-12 hours or more, brilliant!

The National Solar Mission (NSM) has ambitious plans. Maybe, here’s a way of participating and contributing to its success.

Finally, I am a layman, who doesn’t understand engineering. What I’ve said here is in simple, layman’s language. Am sure there are many knowledgeable folks out there, who can share their experiences.

Updated: Jan 7th, 2009: I have to add some more information. First, I am simply overwhelmed at the response this post has received so far. Many, many thanks to all of you who have shared your valuable experiences.

Further, this simple business model can be used by practically anyone — whether the person is based in either rural Africa or even Latin America. I wish to thank a LinkedIn networker, Steaphany Waelder, for pointing this out. I will also post Steaphany’s comment here for everyone to see and benefit.

My idea was to provide the simplest of business models for folks who could be interested in such a business. Of course, everyone is free to innovate, and spend of features, etc., as they go along. Best of luck!

  1. Dipak K Mookerjee
    January 4, 2010 at 5:16 am

    Hello Pradeep,

    Indeed it is my pleasure to read your blog “How to start Solar Business”. Can I get Usha’s email id so that we can exchange our ideas or any of your friend who is already in this business !

    • Usha
      January 11, 2010 at 1:36 pm

      Hello Mr. Mookerjee,

      You can get in touch with me at technusha@yahoo.com. Would like to know more about what you are doing in the solar line.


  2. Ravi
    January 4, 2010 at 7:16 am

    Dear Pradeep,

    You are doing a excellent work in spreading the awareness about the renewable energy business in India.

    You were very quick in getting this blog out in just less than 24 hours of our discussion. Great !!

    Cheers & Keep up the good work.

  3. Pradeep Chakraborty
    January 4, 2010 at 7:21 am

    Thanks Dipak and Ravi… if more people can benefit, great! 🙂 Happy new year…

  4. Jo Kuo
    January 4, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    If sourcing LEDs or solar cells from Taiwan, you can simply go to Taiwan Stock Exchange to find the OTC listed companies. — http://emops.tse.com.tw/emops_all.htm

    Or, join Opto Taiwan Tradeshow held in Taipei World Trade Center to get the guide book, which has hundreds of LED manufacturers listed in it (the attendee). — http://www.twtc.com.tw/e_index.asp

    You can also go to websites as below to source TW LED and solar cells firms and industries info.

    PIDA: http://www.pida.org.tw/usub/en/index.asp
    TOSEA: http://tosea.org.tw/index.php

    Finally, visit the websites of suppliers to see if they do offer the products you need to source, and then call them!

    Happy sourcing, and great post, Pradeep!

  5. Pradeep Chakraborty
    January 4, 2010 at 6:33 pm

    Many thanks for sharing your knowledge and expertise, Jo. This is brilliant! Great to have links to Taiwan based companies! Am sure, it will benefit a lot of folks who read this post.

    Wish some others could post similar links for China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, etc., too — and authentic ones only, and no spam please!

  6. Dhaval Malaviya
    January 4, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    Great post Pradeep.

    We are also planning to get into Startup with some innovative products based on solar energy (PV cells). Currently we are in prototype phase designing our first product.

    This is gov. site promoting renewable sources of energy — MNRE — which may be useful.

    In India, I found that a solar panel is available at cost of nearly 160 Rs Per Watt. Do you have any more details on pricing of solar panels?

    I see price of PV cells as major hindrance to promulgation of solar powered electricity and devices. Again solar thermal technology is cheap.

  7. Iyer Kumar
    January 5, 2010 at 12:18 am

    Nice post Pradeep.

    Key is distribution channel. Are there established distribution channels to sell to?

    Costs of making a solar lantern in high volumes would be at Rs. 700-800, with the bulk of costs going to the solar cell. With margins, expect a sale price at best of Rs. 2000/- at retail level. Is this a viable product at this cost or does it need to be subsidized for market penetration?


    January 5, 2010 at 3:29 am

    Hi Pradeep,

    Wonderful, you were kind enough to share your skill with all members.

    The 2W or 3W modules can be easily made as a tiny industry. As you described, the assembly of lantern is so simple. I hope many of the readers will have the idea to promote such business in the nearest future in India.

    The 2W /3W solar module can be created with broken solar cells cut to smaller pieces, encapsulate and use an optical (concentrator) system to boost the output, so that with little silicon content /smaller cells more tiny panel can be made.

    Kindly give me the email details of Usha and Ravi.

    • Usha
      January 11, 2010 at 1:38 pm

      Hello Mr. Ravi,

      You can reach me at technusha@yahoo.com.


  9. Mayank Bhatia
    January 5, 2010 at 4:16 am

    Hi Pradeep,

    It is always a pleasure to read a nicely written post on renewable energy. So good job there.

    Cost of solar panels is still the most prohibitive component. it still runs at around Rs 160 to 200 per W. Also, its way cheaper to get larger panels (per watt) compared to smaller more portable panels. Given that, I guess a 3W panel would make sense (i bought one for Rs 500 and measures 1.5ft by .5 ft.)

    It is cheaper to use a larger number of cheap white LEDs rather than a power led. The cheapest 1W power LED is at Rs 40 where as regular white LED is at 1.5. Using an Array of white LED will provide better distributed light. (and avoid complex constant current driver necessary for power leds.

    Reflector is another key component since a well designed reflector will truly make more light available for use.

    Rest of the electronics is quite simple.


  10. Kiran M R
    January 5, 2010 at 4:35 am

    Dear Pradeep,

    Very good to read out the details in your blog. I have already developed the lantern and LED lighting as per the MNRE specifications of India Govt. Am looking for partners who can promote these products…


    • Pradeep Chakraborty
      January 7, 2010 at 10:23 pm

      Hi Kiran, I will try and speak with you soon about your venture! 🙂

    • Usha
      January 11, 2010 at 1:32 pm

      Hello Mr. Kiran,

      Can you give more details on your products. Are you also looking at any manufacturing assistance for you products.

      email: technusha@yahoo.com

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