A company which produces affordable solar panels for India’s unelectrified villages has been given this year’s top Ashden Prize for Sustainable Energy, one of Britain’s most prestigious awards for innovative use of sustainable energy technologies.

D.light Design, India, received the £40,000 overall Gold prize for “its passion and dedication to the cause of ridding the developing world of the health and pollution problems associated with the use of kerosene lighting”.

Judges said they were impressed with the company’s “highly effective marketing strategy which has put solar lighting within reach of over a million people in 32 countries with significant potential for further expansion”.

The award is supported by Christian Aid.

Ned Tozun, president of the Silicon-Valley based company which also has offices in India, told The Hindu that India was the biggest market for its products in Asia though he declined to give any figures. He said that nearly 450 million Indian homes did not have electricity admitting with a laugh that his company’s business would suffer if India was fully electrified.

“We have been in India for three years and our aim is to eliminate the use of kerosene. We want that the people who have no electricity enjoy the same quality of life as those who live in electrified areas,” he said.

Uttar Pradesh, Orissa and Bihar were among the big markets in India. A solar light panel, called Kiran, which, after a full day’s charge, can work for eight hours had been very successful.

He said the award would raise the company’s profile and encourage it to invest in more sustainable energy technologies.

Giving the award, leading British environmentalist David Attenborough said: “These award-winners are champions at delivering practical ways of protecting our planet and its precious biodiversity through the use of sustainable energy. They are reducing carbon emissions and protecting local eco-systems, while improving the lives of the people they touch. They deserve to be celebrated for their important role in tackling both climate change and poverty.”

Sarah Butler-Sloss, founder and chair of the Ashden Awards said: “Our 2010 winners are living proof of the significant contribution that local sustainable energy initiatives can make to tackling poverty, lack of access to resources and the threat of climate change. We are delighted that we can highlight the work of these pioneering projects in the hope that decision-makers across the globe will be inspired by what can be achieved through the strategic use of simple, yet innovative technologies.”