“I believe that solar products should be affordable for people at the bottom of the pyramid.”
Two events have deeply influenced Xia Li’s life and the potential she sees in the climate economy. The first was seeing an entire family in India scavenge metal and plastic sheets to build a makeshift home. The second was a documentary on melting icebergs and global warming.
These two seemingly unrelated experiences led Li, at age 24, to found ShenZhen Power-Solution, a company that started off designing and manufacturing solar products to meet the needs of people living at the bottom of the pyramid.
But Li’s goal was not simply to create a profitable product for millions of people. More ambitious than that, she saw that replacing candles and high-pollution kerosene lamps with solar lamps tackled two overlapping issues: access to electricity and health problems.
Over the last ten years, she estimates that Power-Solution, with an annual revenue of $10 million, has delivered solar lights to over 5 million low-income households, supported some 36 million people in 65 countries, and avoided 3.87 million tons of carbon emissions. “Our affordable prices, high quality, and practical product innovation to reduce costs means our market has grown steadily,” Li says.
An early solar innovator, Li was a pioneer in helping low-income communities leap past grid-connected electricity and go directly to solar. One way she keeps ahead of the market is regular visits to customers in off-grid areas to understand and forecast their needs. It’s worth noting that Li has done all this without international investment and in markets plagued with political instability, currency fluctuations, and undeveloped transportation systems.
Li says she continues to focus on the social value of her work, not just the commercial value. “Empathy made up my mind that day in India,” she says. “I believe that solar products should be affordable for people at the bottom of the pyramid.”
She advises investors and buyers to pay attention to the increasing range of opportunities and potential partners in developing countries. “Don’t limit your view of climate solutions to just clean energy. Pay attention to other innovative companies that are, for example, reusing and recycling materials.”