Sunlabob Renewable Energy Ltd.

Home  /  Community-Level Power  /  Current Page


Lighting Off-Grid Lao With Solar Recharged Lanterns



Headquarters: Vientiane, Laos
Established: 2000
Impact Areas: Laos, Uganda, Tanzania, Afghanistan, Cambodia
Type: For-Profit
Energy Sectors:
Business Model Types:
Staff Size: 70
Annual Budget: N/A
Major Funders: FMO Development Finance Company, Triodos Bank (commercial loans)
Awards: 2005: World Bank Development Marketplace, DGS Solar Prize
2006: BBC World Challenge Finalist
2007: Ashden Award, National Energy Globe Award
2008: UNEP Sasakawa Prize, Lighting Africa World Bank Development Marketplace, National Energy Globe Award, Tech Museum of Innovation Award
2009: National Energy Globe Award, Asia Forum for Clean Energy Financing Finalist
2010: Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship Winner, Winner Cleantech National Competition in Singapore


Sunlabob is a Lao private energy services company offering a range of energy products and services and pioneering a franchised approach to rural electrification.


Energy Products/Services

  • In addition to its rural electrification system, Sunlabob offers a range of products such as solar PV systems, solar water heaters, lighting systems, water, wind and biogas power products, hybrid systems, e-transport, energy audits, and power conversion and backup systems. See here.

Target Market

  • Poor off-grid communities in Laos and other developing countries


Org Name here

Revenue Streams

  • Sale of lanterns
  • Rental of charging systems
  • Sale of recharges
  • International consulting and product sales

Value Proposition

  • For the past 10 years, Sunlabob has been working to offer sustainable off-grid lighting to poor rural Laotians at a price equivalent to the $4-6/month they currently pay for kerosene.
  • To deliver off-grid power to poor villages , Sunlabob has designed an innovative  model in which villagers buy light as a service through community-owned lanterns which are charged every few days from a village-based solar station rented from Sunlabob and operated by a village franchisee.  Systems receive up-front subsidization but are designed to be sustainable in the long-term without further funding.
  • Sunlabob also offers a range of other energy products and consulting services to other clients in Laos and around the world.

Problem Addressed

  • Only 48% of people in Laos have access to the electricity grid.
  • The average annual consumption per capita is 135 kWh, while the global average is 2,490 kWh.
  • Laos is also one of the poorest countries in the world, and 74% of the population lives on less than $2 per day.
  • The government has not been successful in delivering lighting to most rural communities and it is challenging developing systems that can offer lighting at a price people can afford.

Where They Are Now

Impact to Date

  • Trained over 200 technicians
  • Installed more than 7,500 solar systems in over 500 villages and locations in Laos, also expanding to Cambodia
  • Developed affordable solar lantern rental system for Laos that has since expanded into Uganda and Afghanistan.
  • Launched the non-profit Lao Institute for Renewable Energy (LIRE) in partnership with other organizations to research and test renewable energy technologies.


  • 2000: Sunlabob founded
  • 2006: Developed Solar Lantern Rental System concept
  • 2009: Expanded model to Uganda and Afghanistan
  • 2010: Establishment of Sunlabob International Pte Ltd (Singapore branch)
  • 2011: Development of Sunlabob Pico Solar Lantern Rental System (Improved lanterns system)

Growth Plan

  • Only 48% of people in Laos have access to the electricity grid.
  • The average annual consumption per capita is 135 kWh, while the global average is 2,490 kWh.
  • Laos is also one of the poorest countries in the world, and 74% of the population lives on less than $2 per day.
  • The government has not been successful in delivering lighting to most rural communities and it is challenging developing systems that can offer lighting at a price people can afford.

How They Deliver


  • Sunlabob experimented with a number of different distribution models before arriving at its current structure for delivery to small rural villages.
  • Key from the start was the need for a village based franchisee from whom customers would buy or rent the energy products.
    • This both established customer trust since people associated the Sunlabob brand with someone from their community, and provided someone at village level who was responsible for and capable of maintaining systems over time.
  • Sunlabob first tried selling 20-100W fixed solar home systems, but because many people could not afford to buy solar systems up-front, and credit was hard to come by, Sunlabob tried a rental scheme, with franchisees collecting a $4 monthly fee from customers and taking care of maintenance.
    • This proved too expensive for Sunlabob, as franchisees had to go to customers’ houses to collect unpaid rents and perform maintenance, and when customers tried to get out of paying, franchisees had very little leverage.
  • Sunlabob’s current system creatively addresses these problems:
    • First, Sunlabob has shifted from fixed solar home systems to 1Watt portable LED lanterns.
      • These require less maintenance and customers have to go to the franchisee rather than the other way around.
    • Second, rather than making the systems self-sufficient electricity-wise, the lanterns need to be charged every 10 hours (3 days or so of use) at a central charging station.  Each station handles 50 lanterns.
      • This means that if customers don’t pay, their light gets cut off, incentivizing them to go to the franchisee rather than forcing the franchisee to track them down.
    • The central charging station is owned by Sunlabob and maintained by the franchisee and the lanterns are sold to a Village Energy Committee, which rents them to the villagers, so Sunlabob and the franchisee are only responsible for the central charging station.
  • Sunlabob’s lanterns contain microchips which count the number of hours used, which not only allows them to cut off after 10 hours of use, but also let Sunlabob track the total number of hours used by all lanterns, which let them keep track of carbon saved.

Revenue & Affordability

  • Customers can charge their lanterns at a price equivalent to the cost of kerosene, $4-6/month.
  • The money is split between the franchisee technician, Sunlabob, and a village fund used for long-term maintenance.
  • Sunlabob believes that while the ongoing cost of recharging is affordable to customers, the upfront cost of the lanterns is not, and that the initial sale of the lanterns should be subsidized by the government or donors, in a public private partnership where the public sector is responsible for initial investment and the private sector is responsible for ongoing service delivery.


  • Sunlabob has received a $4m loan investment from Triodos Bank and FMO Development Finance Company.
  • Sunlabob’s rural electrification program has required a great deal of experimentation, most of which has not been profitable.  As it has worked to develop a model that covers its costs, it has self-subsidized through its sale of other products and consulting services to higher-end customers.
  • Sunlabob believes that it would be very difficult to make rural electrification for customers at the bottom of the pyramid sustainable without any philanthropic or public funds whatsoever, but believes that its private enterprise approach can make public funds go much farther and deliver much stronger results.

Government & Donors

  • Sunlabob’s rural installations are often initially financed by donors, but designed to be self-sustaining thereafter. Sunlabob believes that entities like the government and the World Bank are much better at offering initial capital and subsidies than at long term service delivery, because their salaried employees are less motivated than profit-based private franchisees.
  • When Sunlabob was running its solar home system rental program, it received direct competition from the World Bank, which offered a rent-to-own system for $1/month (vs. Sunlabob’s $4).
    • However, in addition to being tax exempted and subsidized, the program kept rental costs low by using lower quality materials and leaving customers responsible for maintenance, and in the long run over 65% of systems broke down with no way for villagers to repair them or find parts.
  • Laos has highly subsidized electrical tariffs in on-grid areas, which distorts the market and makes off-grid customers less willing to pay sustainable rates for power.

Pico Lantern

Description:The Sunlabob Pico Lantern is designed to be mobile or stationary and has three intensity levels.  It received high marks from the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems.  It includes a socket for charging itself and a USB port for charging mobile devices.  These are protected by a rubber flap to keep the lamp waterproof, and are electronically isolated to prevent shorting the main electrical components.  The lantern contains NiMH batteries and a high-tech internal charge controller, which manages the system.How It’s Used:

Sunlabob’s recharging station model consists of one large solar panel (including mounting frame), one charging unit which contains a storage battery, a varied number of charge connectors, a charge controller to regulate the system, and a flexible number of lanterns (20-50).  With these systems, Sunlabob trains a local community technician to maintain and clean the panel.  This system can charge 5-16 lanterns per day, depending on its size, and has a central storage back-up battery for cloudy days.  Customers can also buy the system with a 5W panel to charge it individually or share a 10-20W panel among 2-4 households.

Product Type:

Technical Data

Lumens/Watt:  25 at 16 hour setting
Average Lamp Power and type:  2W LED
Battery Capacity and type:  The charging station utilises a 100,000 mAh sealed lead acid battery, while the lanterns themselves each use 4 2100mAh rechargeable NiMH AA batteries.
Hours Runtime/Charge:  6-50 hours, depending on brightness setting used
Charging Hours from Flat:  2.5 hours for systems with a charging station, 5 hours for standalone systems with only a PV panel
Lumens:  50 at 16 hour setting
Lumen-hours/year@4hr/day: 73,000
Service Delivered ($):  6,023 (not including variable up-front cost)
Kerosene Service Delivered ($):  872

Cost Data

Number of Households Served  50 per charging station
Upfront Cost
Estimated Retail Price: N/A- Varies
Recurring Costs
Recharge Cost: $.12
Recharge Frequency:  4-10 days
 Replaceable Products Life(years) Replacement Costs
Battery  N/A rental
5-year Replacement and charging Costs $60.60
5-year Ownership Cost $60.60+variable up-front cost

Other Products

More Resources

Online Resources

Contact Information

P.O. Box 9077

( (+856) 21-313 874