Boulder’s World Panel Enters Joint Venture to Solve ‘Energy Poverty’

October 21, 2013

Boulder Daily Camera

When John Anderson made a trip to Sub-Saharan Africa, the local solar technology entrepreneur saw a need he wanted to meet. Although mobile technology usage was booming in the continent, African residents also faced limitations in finance and electricity.

“Going over there, my heart fell for the people with no power,” he says. “It’s really debilitating.”

During the past few years, Anderson – a former professor with the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business who now serves as an affiliated executive faculty member at the College – worked on the development of a high-performance, low-cost solar charger for portable devices. He and colleagues were able to use the photovoltaic price crash to their advantage and created a unique design that they later patented.

Those development efforts resulted in the official formation of Boulder-based World Panel Inc. in November of last year. This past week, World Panel took another big step in accomplishing Anderson’s Africa-related goal.

World Panel entered into a joint venture with OneSource IML, a Golden-based provider of manufacturing and supply chain services, to form OneWorld Solar LLC. The joint venture plans to launch several handheld solar chargers with the initial target market of the hundreds of millions of off-grid cell phones in Africa, Anderson says.

Financial terms of the joint venture were not disclosed.

The joint venture, which was formed specifically to launch the charges in Africa, will be headquartered in Golden. World Panel’s headquarters will remain in Boulder.

“These guys have a global footprint, deep-reaching supply lines and they really had a synergy effect with the culture and the mission (of World Panel),” Anderson says of OneSource. “So it became obvious that we should work together.”

Officials for OneSource were not available for comment late last week.

The joint venture plans to launch its suite of products next month at AfricaCom, a telecommunications trade show. OneWorld Solar plans to exhibit at the three-day event and also further conversations with some of the continent’s largest telecoms, Anderson says.

“Really if you’re going to make any kind of a dent in energy poverty, you’re going to have to be big and you have to be scalable,” he says.

Anderson did not disclose the prices of the solar chargers, but said they were made for people who make $1,500 per year. The cost of a charger could be quickly recovered, he added, noting that owners could sell the electricity from it by charging others’ phones.

When in the Khayelitsha township outside of Cape Town, Anderson sold a charger to a resident who paid $37 – roughly a month’s wage for residents in the township – within minutes of being offered, officials for World Panel said. The resident said he bought the charger because the batteries on his family’s phones were consistently dead and that he would make money by charging others’ phones, officials say.

“It’s a very interesting technology and an extremely interesting market,” Anderson says. “It’s very fun and rewarding.”

According to Anderson, World Panel is in the process of raising its first round of funding. The $1 million round is “almost full” and expected to close next month.

Formed as a “triple-bottom line” company — one with a focus on “people, planet and profit” — World Panel’s potential is great as there are millions of off-grid cell phones across the globe.

“We call it World Panel because everyone can use one in the world, but where do we start,” he says. “You got this great lake here and you’re going to drop a bucket of water in it. Our mission is personal solar for all, and where we go after Africa, we’ll get pulled into it.”