SunSaluter started out as a science fair project I did in high school. After finding out that there were applications for solar in the developing world, I geared my project towards social entrepreneurship. It has evolved from the first solar car I built when I was ten, to something I realized was more about providing an integrated solution that could really work for people and change their lives. The various iterations of the SunSaluter are a reflection of our observations with locals and their needs: first, it was just a solar panel tracker, and now it’s even a device that provides water in an integrated way. We’re hoping that it can be manufactured, distributed, and maintained locally.
How many SunSaluters have been deployed so far?
Five: two in Kenya, two in Tanzania, and one in Uganda. We have reached 5,000 villagers and learned a lot about how people live their lives in East Africa, as well as how to provide a tool that meets their everyday needs.
How important is data in preparation for your trips or for needs assessment?
Data is extremely important in preparing for our trip. We are able to use statistics from DevInfo in order to determine that, for instance, Uganda is only 9% electrified. We use data to determine if the market size is sufficiently large to justify a need, how to proceed, and how to pitch to different distributors and partners. Without data and statistics, we’d be going in blind. It’s very important to at least crunch the numbers, see if our project is feasible, and what the overlap is between the number of people that need clean water and electricity.
Please explain how your solar panels work, and how you are able to provide clean water in addition to energy?
The system rotates the solar panels to face the sun, which increases their potential efficiency by up to 40%. Then, the first step is to pour water into the SunSaluter on one side of the panel at the beginning of the day. A valve is responsible for controlling the flow rate of the water so that it matches the rate at which the sun is moving across the sky. If water is filtered simultaneously, you’re now getting clean water at the same time that the physical imbalance is causing the solar panel to rotate.
This also makes a lot of financial sense, right?
Yes. For a unit cost of less than $50, villagers are able to charge for an additional lantern, an extra battery, as well as the 4 liters of clean water generated.
What incentives are you generating within the local communities with this new SunSaluter? How is this profitable for your organization?
We’re still thinking about how to incentivize local communities to use the SunSaluter. The added value is that 40% more electricity is cheaper than buying another 40% of a solar panel. We hope to manufacture this device at a low enough cost while selling it for slightly above cost of manufacturing to generate revenue and sustain the organization We’re still fiddling around with revenue models.
Whats next? Have you developed the SunSaluter into a commercial product?
We’re hoping to start a local manufacturing subsidiary early next year and get things rolling. The SunSaluter is in the process of becoming a commercial product: we filed for a provisional patent and are looking for partners and distributors to ensure that this actually goes to market.
Do you plan on using UgandaInfo in your work?
I’m definitely going to use UgandaInfo in the future. Knowing the population size, the electrification rate, and understanding what proportion of that is rural and what proportion is urban in trying to understand our market is fundamental.
Data making a difference.
For more information, please contact Mr. Muhammad Mumtaz Ahmad, Senior System Analyst, Bureau of Statistics Punjab, at email@example.com.