SunSaluter

By: Eden Full

Poverty , Nature Lover

Without clean and renewable energy sources, there are 1.3-billion people living in extreme poverty. Being “energy poor” causes a humanitarian and environmental toll of catastrophic proportions. For example, 3-billion are cooking with kerosene, charcoal dung, crop-waste and other bio-mass fuels which releases toxins into the air, killing both people and planet. 783 million people do not have access to clean water and almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation. 

Despite ubiquitous agreement that we should invest in clean and renewable energy solutions, today 81 percent of the world’s energy still comes from fossil fuels. Emissions of carbon dioxide have more than doubled since 1980 as the world’s demand for electricity keeps rising.

Families without electricity often spend 10-20% of their income just on kerosene gas for light at night, which is dangerous and provides inadequate light for adults to work and children to study by. Solar energy is a proven solution for alleviating energy poverty in the developing world, but it is often still too expensive for poor, rural consumers. Furthermore, solar panel rotators (called trackers) are virtually never used in remote, off-grid settings due to their high cost and tendency to malfunction. Instead, solar panels are fixed in place and generate as much as 40% less electricity than they are capable of.

With the world population forecasted to increase to over 9-billion people by 2050, there is an urgent need to get off-grid populations powered by affordable, clean and renewable energy resources. The big question is: “How do we achieve the dual goals of expanding energy production for those without power and drastically reducing emissions from sources such as coal that produce carbon dioxide, the primary contributor to climate change?”

Being that the sun is by far our largest renewable energy source, I have devised a solution that may be the answer.

Did you know, that in just one hour, the sun delivers enough solar energy to the Earth’s surface to power the entire global economy for a year

SunSaluter is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving energy and water access in the developing world. We also help local entrepreneurs establish for-profit organizations using our simple, human-centric SunSaluter technology.

Unlike conventional solar trackers which use complex electronics and are prone to failure, the SunSaluter uses only gravity and water to rotate the solar panel throughout the day. As a result, we are able to produce 30% more electricity than non-tracking solutions at a cost that is thirty times cheaper than conventional motorized solar trackers. With a water purifier built into our system, SunSaluter also generates four liters of clean drinking water! By combining energy and water collection into one simple device, the SunSaluter improves consistent usage of the purifier, which is the Achilles heel of clean water programs.

SunSaluter uses the principle of old-school water clocks. On one side of the SunSaluter, we have a valve and a pop-bottle. As water drops out, it reduces the weight of the system, thus rotating the panel. By controlling the flow-rate of each water drop we an determine the speed of the rotation, and follow the sun!

Providing more electricity to off-grid communities means the people can charge cell phones, reduce their reliance on kerosene lamps, access the radio so that they are connected to their national and global counterparts. In addition, we are proud of the fact that we are addressing the challenge of safe drinking water access. According to recent reports, about 650 million people, or 10% of the world's population, do not have access to safe water, putting them at risk of infectious diseases and premature death.

One of the reasons our solution has been so successful in 16 countries is a result of open-sourcing the technology behind SunSaluter. Local manufacturers can build the modules themselves, creating an economic opportunity for the local population. In addition, we give local engineers the guidance, mentorship and funding they need so that our solution can spread and scale.

Our bold idea is not to be just an organization that produces clean electricity and water, but to empower the community to connect and work together and be able to provide for their families.

Team Members

  • Eden Full Goh

    Founder

    Hi! I’m Eden. I like to make stuff. I discovered the power of solar when I was nine years old after finding a book at the library with the steps to build a small solar car. After building it, I got hooked on the idea that I could be an inventor or a scientist. So I started doing research projects and participating in science fairs. During one international competition when I was 14-years old, I met a girl from Indonesia who looked at my early SunSaluter prototype and told me that it could have extraordinary impact in "energy-poor" developing nations. That’s when a light-bulb went off in my head, and I realized that I could use my talents in science to help other people. Today I am a mechanical / electrical engineer and software developer interested in building products to solve society’s biggest problems.

Impact

Advice to my peers

People ask all the time what advice I can give to others who are thinking of launching their own project, but are worried that they don’t have the “expertise” to do it, and my answer is this: 

First, a lot of what defines an expert is based on how much time has been dedicated to thinking, researching and experimenting with the solution. In my case, I have been scaling this SunSaluter for the last 10 years!

Second, it’s definitely important to stay on top of the industry, so that you know what advances have been made in your field. Although I studied mechanical engineering in college, I didn’t really have a technical background. It was he open access of the internet that got me to the next moment of innovation. Research, research, research!

Third, get community partnerships! We do a lot of work that we do with community development and teaching entrepreneurship. This kind of investment seeds a deep relationship with our stakeholders and it ultimately means that our product is likely to succeed because they are as invested in us as we are invested in them.

Fourth, master the art of storytelling. Use social media and videos to onboard your community of supporters.

Fifth, keep that big picture focus. Small decisions, like do we incorporate as a for-profit or non-profit are ultimately less important than identifying the kind of impact you want to make. At SunSaluter, we are measuring in quality of life — giving kids the ability to do homework, connect to political elections, charge their cell phones. 

Sixth, never stop innovating! Our goal is to continue growing and looking into other technologies that can make a difference. What other opportunities can we tackle? At some point, we need to look at other problems in energy and sanitation that we can help.

Finally, be disruptive! SunSaluter believes that the most disruptive technologies are the ones that can be implemented in both the developed and developing markets. In order to preserve our planet and encourage societies to adopt renewable energy resources, we need to lower the cost of solar energy so it is more affordable for individual families in their homes and villages.

Lessons Learned

Though innovating with solar power is my true life passion, I didn’t initially know what an important role it should and will play in helping people in dire need. In fact, when someone first made mention of applying SunSaluter in the developing world, I had to do a lot of research to fully understand the opportunity.  

Consider this: global demand for solar trackers was valued at over $2.42-billion (USD) in 2014 and is expected to reach around $6.37-billion in 2020. For nations suffering from extreme poverty, the cost to adopt these new technologies is prohibitive. At the same time, the tracking mechanism in a solar-powered solution is key to increasing your impact, so I knew I had to create a design that was simple enough to be deployed in the developing world.

I applied for over 60-grants to help get support and funding, and was turned down on all but one, which came from Princeton, an Ivy-League college where I was attending school.  I decided to use this money to deplopy my first SunSaluter.  Being right on the equator, I thought Kenya was the ideal choice because it has consistent weather which would generate a lot of consistent data. 

However when I arrived, the SunSaluter was met with some apprehension. The locals were worried that they would not be able to fix SunSaluter if something failed or broke down. That’s when I realized two things:

  • There has to be a knowledge transfer between the innovator and the stakeholders. The people have to "get it"
  • Especially when deploying a solution in a devloping nation, local materials had to be used so that the parts of the whole would be both familiar and accessible to the host community. That’s when the idea of using the jerry-bottle with water came to mind.

When at 19, I was awarded two incredible fellowships which changed my life. The first was the 2011 Staples / Ashoka Youth Social Entrepreneur. The other was a Thiel Fellowship which awarded me $100,000 dollars to take two years off from college to redesign and launch my solution.

Although I never did return to get my degree from Princeton, this was a personal choice for me, and not something I would necessarily advocate for everyone.

As a result of all of my work, I have been recognized by:

  • Forbes: 30 Under 30 in Energy & Industry, 3 years in a row, 2012-14 
  • Rolex Awards for Enterprise: Young Laureate Finalist, 2014 
  • Siemens Stiftung: empowering people. Award, 2013  
  • Westly Foundation: Westly Prize for Young Innovators, 2012 
  • Mashable/UN: Startups for Social Good Challenge - First Prize, 2011  
  • Staples/Ashoka: Youth Social Entrepreneur of the Year, 2011 
  • DOEN Foundation: Postcode Lottery Green Challenge - Second Prize, 2011

In addition, I have spoken at Clinton Global Initiative University, Google[x]'s Solve For X, Techonomy, SXSW Eco and many others. A full list is available at: http://edenfull.ca/speaking/

Presently I am still running SunSaluter which I could not do without the help of my incredible team!


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