Eden Full studied for two years at Princeton University and is currently taking gap years to work full time on her startup, Roseicollis Technologies, after being selected for the inaugural class of the 20 Under 20 Thiel Fellowship. Full, who was named Ashoka’s Youth Social Entrepreneur of the Year at the Techonomy conference in 2011, founded Roseicollis to take her solar panel tracking invention, called the SunSaluter, to developing communities and established markets that need them. Read excerpts of her talk below, or download the full transcript.
Full: SunSaluter is a device that I’ve developed that rotates solar panels to follow the sun using mechanical water flow. And this will give you 40 percent more electricity and clean water.
So I had the chance to demo the SunSaluter in Kenya, in Indonesia, and in Egypt. It was a great chance to meet a lot of people. It was really interesting. I would, like, set up the SunSaluter in a village, and a lot of people would come and ask me, “Oh, this is cool, how do I get one?” And it would be awkward and I would have to tell them, “No, we’re not ready to sell yet, but it’s great that you are interested.”
Now I want to share with you how I have kind of cultivated the company and the product vision now that we can move forward.
As some of you might know, there is a big problem in terms of water-related deaths that happen in the developing world. And it occurred to me that I can link this problem with water and the problem with solar together. Water is such a big problem, right. 3.4 million people die each year from water-related diseases. And that’s actually more than the number of people who die from HIV and AIDS.
There’s 1.5 billion people who don’t have electricity and there’s 780 million people who don’t have access to clean drinking water. So what if I try to tackle both problems at once?
In Africa, where the area is where I want to work, there’s so many people who have less than—in the country that have—less than 50 percent of that country has access to electricity. And then if you look at how many people don’t have access to clean drinking water, there’s also a big overlap in that region.
And visiting these countries helped me realize that if I could find a way to integrate both products together while keeping the cost of the unit low, then that’s really what I should be targeting.
If we look at small-scale solar, which can be defined as anywhere from 30 watts to 15 kilowatts, there is a big need for that right now. And I crunched the numbers on this. Two million SunSaluters could be deployed right now in the developing world to 2.5 billion potential users.
If you’re wondering how other trackers on the market are, trackers that rotate to follow the sun, a lot of them use electronics or they use passive designs. And so a lot of these are either really expensive, really not [sic] counter-intuitive or they malfunction a lot. And what I realized was that those existing trackers are just designed for the completely wrong market. We still need rotating solar trackers because they give you 40 percent more electricity, but not the way that people are doing it now.
The biggest thing is that people aren’t willing to pay money for plain-old clean water solutions. We need something that incentivizes them to use that system every day.
If we can combine 40 percent more electricity and clear water in the same integrated product, that would make a difference to a lot of these villagers’ lives.
The SunSaluter is a device that will use mechanical water flow in a simple way so that the design is very tangible. It can be manufactured locally. And so our next plan is to actually establish a subsidiary in East Africa where we can make these locally. The economic value behind this is that installing the SunSaluter, which will be $20 to $25 at a unit cost, is cheaper than buying another 40 percent of a solar panel to get that increase in electricity.
What we want to do is reduce not only the amount of water-borne diseases using a filter that’s built into the SunSaluter, but we also want to reduce the payback for these systems and reduce the amount of maintenance that people need to go through in order to use it.
How does it work? We filed a patent on this recently. You pour water into the system on one side of the panel at the beginning of the day, and we have a special valve that will control the flow rate of the water so that the flow rate of the water dripping out of that container, it matches the rate at which the sun is moving across the sky. Then you’re now getting clean water at the same time that the physical imbalance is causing the solar panel to rotate.
This was the pilot that we deployed a couple of years ago in Kenya. And this was the most recent pilot that was deployed two months ago in Tanzania. One of the things that I did this year was I hired a number of team members to work with me, so the guy in the photo is our first hire of the company.
We also deployed in Uganda. And Uganda actually turned out to be our most promising market. And so we’re likely going to be setting up our subsidiary in Kampala.
The daily impact for having a SunSaluter is you can charge a whole extra lantern, two extra cell phones, or an extra 12-volt battery just by having 40 percent more electricity, plus the 4 liters of clean water you get, and this is all for a $20 to $25 unit cost.
So far we’ve reached 5,000 villagers, but we want to reach more. And I believe that this is possible through licensing of the SunSaluter product to companies that have expertise in other countries. We already have two companies in India and the Philippines that are interested in working with us.
We want to deploy 500—at least 500 units in the early quarter of next year. We’ll have started our first manufacturing run. And we’d like to reach over 15,000 villagers and even build out the team even more.
It’s an honor to be able to speak here and share about my progress over the last year. I just want you to know that Techonomy changed my life for the better. And I’m just so thankful. And I hope to be able to move forward on this. Thank you.