Why don’t most solar panels follow the sun across the sky? If they did, they could produce 30 percent more electricity. Conventional wisdom says it would be too expensive. Too complicated. But impossible?
Not for Eden Full. A Canadian engineer, entrepreneur and solar tinkerer since she was 10, she submitted her idea for a solar tracker to the Climate CoLab, an online climate crowdsourcing community created at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). With 50,000 members around the world developing, debating and refining ways to tackle climate change, the Climate CoLab is picking up innovations from unexpected sources.
Like Full’s invention, the SunSaluter. Here’s how it works:
In the morning, the user fills a bottle of water attached to the edge of a solar panel. Water then drips into a filtration system, providing up to 4 liters of clean drinking water per day. As water drips into the filter, the bottle becomes lighter, and the solar panel gradually tilts to follow the sun’s path. Relying on gravity and water, SunSaluter maximizes power production while providing safe drinking water.
After extensive testing in India and Malawi, and 60 prototypes later, Full had accomplished the impossible. Common materials make SunSaluter 30 times less expensive than many mechanical systems.
Turning an idea into reality
Despite the success of her prototype, “it was hard for people to want to take a chance on me,” Full said. Without an advanced degree and still in her early 20s, even she doesn’t consider herself an expert.
But as part of the Climate CoLab community, she stood out. And judges, including nearly 200 leading scientists, policymakers and business leaders, awarded her the 2015 Climate CoLab Grand Prize and $10,000.
Right now, SunSaluters are working in 16 countries and already making a difference. Full says SunSaluters have allowed the OneMama clinic in Kirindi, Uganda, to eliminate kerosene lamps and even to create a supplemental phone-charging business with the extra electricity. She plans to use the Climate CoLab award to expand.
Opening the doors to innovation
“Our goal is to open up the elite conference rooms and meeting halls where climate strategies are developed today and bring that discussion into an online forum where anyone with a good idea can contribute,” said Thomas Malone, director of MIT’s Center for Collective Intelligence, which runs the Climate CoLab.
Other winning innovations from 2015 Climate CoLab contests came from contributors in India, Kenya, Chile, Austria, Ghana and the United States.
Could you be the next Eden Full? If you have an idea that addresses climate change, all you need is an Internet connection and email address to join the Climate CoLab community. New 2016 contests include projects addressing climate adaptation, clean energy, green transportation and more.