From sub-Saharan Africa to Bangladesh, the off-grid solar market is posting impressive growth rates. But access to finance has choked the sector’s ability to truly scale. 

That’s why a new Series C investment in industry leader d.light is worth paying attention to. This latest (and largest) investment in off-grid solar sends a message about the ability of companies in this space to raise serious investment.

Talk to anyone paying close attention and they’ll likely agree that the off-grid solar space is ready to break wide open. In recent months, off-grid solar provider BBOXX announced a $2 million Series A from Khosla Impact. Shortly after, Persistent Energies led the first investor exit the space has seen

Now the solar lighting company d.light has enticed a serious lineup of investors, including DFJ, Omidyar Network, Nexus India Capital, Gray Ghost Ventures, Acumen Fund and Garage Technology Ventures into an $11 million Series C round.

This investment brings d.light's total raise to $40 million, while also helping cement its industry leadership. That alone is great news for the space, but it’s worth paying attention to who was involved. DJF is no lightweight. With investments ranging from Tesla to SolarCity, the firm has been involved in some of cleantech's most exciting and innovative companies. The fact that the firm is paying attention to this sector is a positive sign for both d.light and other startups developing off-grid solar solutions.

“We are seeing an enormous growth opportunity to provide clean, affordable solar light and power products to the relatively untapped markets of the developing world, and to make a positive impact on the lives of so many underserved consumers," explained Mohanjit Jolly, DFJ's managing director.

That growth is evident in d.light’s sales numbers. The company has sold 6 million solar power products, serving as living proof that solar power is transformative, even at watt scale. Indeed, small is big.

In addition, Omidyar Network managing partner Matt Bannick will now join the d.light board. This is a vote of confidence in the company that may help rally the much-needed pool of capital that social impact investors command. This set of nimble "speedboat" investors can help pave the way for the larger debt investments (the "supertankers" of the finance world) that will be required to truly scale the space.

D.light’s latest raise signals that something big may be brewing. As companies slowly but surely raise the capital they need to light people’s lives, we are facing the real possibility of meaningfully addressing energy poverty. Growth rates now resemble mobile phone expansion in its early days -- and if the market continues to expand, an end to energy poverty could come faster than anyone could have expected. For the billions around the world who are living in the dark, it couldn’t happen a moment too soon. 


Justin Guay is associate director of the international program at the Sierra Club.