Vail Valley: Inventor with local ties wants to light up the developing world
Vail, CO, Colorado
DENVER – Steve Katsaros thinks he can help light up the developing world.
Katsaros, a 1991 Vail Mountain School graduate who’s now a patent attorney in Denver, has had a hand in numerous inventions, from shaped skis to high-tech devices. His latest idea is the Nokero solar light bulb. According to a release from the company, the bulb is designed to bring solar light to the roughly 1.6 billion people around the world who live without electricity. Many of those people use kerosene lanterns indoors, which can be unhealthy, and even dangerous in some cases. And a Nokero press release claims those lanterns release 190 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air each year.
Like a lot of good ideas, the inspiration for the bulb came in something of a flash. Katseros has friends who own a solar-technology manufacturing plant in China. They’d been asking him for an invention, and, not long after a December visit, the idea struck.
“I was looking at a construction light and it just came to me,” Katseros said.
The Nokero bulb uses small solar panels to recharge a battery-powered LED bulb. the whole thing is about the size of a standard light bulb. The company claims the replaceable batteries can last for two years or more, and the bulb will provide up to four hours of light when fully charged, and about two hours when charged on a typical sunny day.
Katseros could have licensed the idea to an outdoor-gear maker and called it good. But he had bigger ideas.
“We’ve done everything we can to make this solar bulb affordable and long-lasting so the people who need it can afford it, and reap the benefits, ” Katsaros said. “There are so many ways this product can change lives – It can help keep families and shopkeepers safe, help students study at night, eradicate indoor pollution, and reduce worldwide carbon emissions.”
And the idea went from drawing to reality in a matter of weeks. After his January spark, the factory in China got to work, and is now geared up to make 600,000 bulbs per month.
But manufacturing capacity has to meet marketing, which can be tricky when selling $6 products to people who make the equivalent of $2 per day.
Katseros has joined with non-governmental agencies including USAID and the United Nations Development Program, as well as EnviroFit, a nonprofit group selling energy-efficient cookstoves in India.
The match with EnviroFit is to provide a package deal of a cookstove and a Nokero bulb.
“The idea is the lady of the house benefits from the cookstove, but the man of the house benefits from the light,” Katseros said.
The company claims people using kerosene lamps spend as much as 5 percent of their income on fuel. Despite the initial outlay, Katseros said the Nokero bulb can pay for itself in fuel savings in a matter of just a few months.
And the bulb has already been making some sales over the Internet.
“Our website went live yesterday and we’ve already been making sales,” he said Wednesday afternoon.
The Nokero bulb is a way to bring modern conveniences to places on the planet that aren’t really set up for them. In the same way cell phones have brought communications to places that have never had telephone land lines, the Nokero light can bring light to places that have never had electricity.
“I’m really excited about this,” Katseros said. “We just need to out the word (to non-governmental agencies) and find those relationships.”
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.