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The Solar Fablab Toolkit: From a $1 solar light bulb to a DIY microgrid

Make poor communities energy self reliant by openly designing and providing the parts needed to build their own low cost infrastructure

Photo of Mauricio Cordova
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*Please Upload User Experience Map (as attachment) and any additional Beneficiary Feedback in this field

The user map follow Apaeze's life from identifying a need to provide lights at night for her kids to study, to becoming a small solar technician and entrepreneur and not only allowing her kids to study at night but sharing her electricity with her local community, spreading the benefits of sustainable, lower cost electricity.

Explain your project idea in two sentences.

Allow poor people to make and assemble their own sustainable solar systems by designing easy to use and understand parts, tools and tutorials, to create affordable and long lasting sources of energy

What is your organization name? Explain your organization in one sentence.

Faircap CIC is a social enterprise, an open innovation lab developing affordable DIY technology

Is this project idea new for you or your organization? If no, how much have you already executed on?

We have been prototyping during the last 12 months, going thru different ideas, designing a parts system, sourcing components, finding suppliers, analyzing costs, talking to potential end users and small distributors in developing countries, and making an MVP.

What is the problem you aim to solve with this idea? How would you define this problem as urgent and a priority in your target community?

Affordability, sustainability, scalability and self reliance of energy for poor communities. Lack of electricity means lack of prosperity and opportunity. Solar energy is a promising alternative specially if it breaks the dependency on fossil fuels that has created much conflict in the past.

What is the timeline for your project idea? What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years?

Finish the product design phase and apply for funding for tooling and molding for parts during 2017. In 2018 we plan to have a first series production and market test in 3 locations, two in Africa, one in South East Asia. We will run workshops for locals to produce simple to understand training content. We will develop distribution alternatives thru large organizations and distributors during 2018 and 2019 while improving the design using continuous user feedback.

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of responsibility).

We innovate thru an open, collaborative methodology involving designers, makers, engineers, end users and field experts, to prototype and implement an idea. We have a workshop based in Barcelona and we work together with the rest of our community in other cities like Paris and Berlin.

What do you need the most support with in this project idea?

  • Business Development/Partnerships

What is your primary goal over the next 6 weeks of Refinement?

  • Try something different, new or scary :)

How do you currently measure (or plan to measure) results for this project?

During the prototyping we measure: - Costs of bill of materials - Performance in Wh - Time for charge and discharge - Usage scenarios During implementation: - Number of parts/toolkits produced and distributed - Number of beneficiaries - Estimated Wh produced - Economic savings and benefits - CO2 emissions savings - Qualitative improvements in the way of life

How has your project proposal changed due to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase?

Parts should include graphical, easy to understand instructions so that even young people or illiterate people can easily learn how to put a simple solar system together. Peer learning is very important, specially in small rural communities, so it´s an opportunity to take advantage. One idea could be to promote a member of the community to become a solar technician.

(Optional) What are some of your still unanswered questions or concerns about this idea?

Affordability Competitiveness with other alternatives Best way of distributing to scale the project

The $1 Solar Light Bulb: Our goal is to design simple to use DIY self assembly and self installation solar energy products, parts and tools that can help low income and off grid communities become energy self reliant

Explain your idea

There is a about a billion people around the world without access to basic electricity supply. Most of them living in under $1-3 per day. Kids are not able to study at night or they do using dangerous and expensive sources of light like candles and kerosene lamps. Shops and businesses can't thrive after sunset, there is more insecurity, violence and rape risks for women when it is dark. Health centers can't operate at night or can't use electrical devices like fridges for vaccines. Starting with a single low cost, long lasting LED solar light bulb that costs just $1, to a complete system that can provide the basic energy needs to a low income household, school, shop or health center in a rural setting in developing countries, we design simple, low cost and long lasting products, parts and tools that can be easily assembled by local technicians or even end users. In comparison to other sources of energy like kerosene lamps or disposable battery lights, small solar panels can last several years, lithium rechargeable batteries support 300-500 charge cycles and LED lights consume very low power and can last 14,000 hours. Combining these parts in the smallest form factor that can be scaled according to the user needs would solve the affordability problem, making it the most cost effective and sustainable source of electricity in the long run. Solar panel prices have dropped over 90% in the last 15 years and this trend will continue thanks to improvements in manufacturing technology and mainstream adoption of solar energy. Thanks to the worldwide adoption of small battery operated electronic products the prices for batteries have decreased and will continue to decrease in the future. The same goes for LED lights, which are replacing incandescent and florescent high efficiency lights all over the world. These three trends will make it possible to drop the costs of a simple solar light bulb from the current $3-4 today to around $1 in a couple of years. A similar trend will occur with larger systems that today cost around $1.5 per watt and in a couple of years it will cost around $0.5-1 per watt. Solar energy is already a more competitive source of energy in most tropical areas, where also most of the poorest populations live. Why we believe that solar energy lays at the intersection of peace, prosperity and sustainability? First of all solar energy is the fastest growing renewable source and has the potential to power most of the world's electricity needs. Electricity brings prosperity and development, more hours of the day to work, study and being productive, more hours for business and shop owners to stay open, more hours for health centers or schools to operate. And prosperity generates much less violence and conflict. At the local level more electricity brings more security, less crime, less violence, less opportunities for sexual attackers. At the global level, ending the dependency on fossil fuels will produce less wars and corruption.

Who Benefits?

We can potentially reach a billion people who do not have access to electricity, providing extremely low cost and durable solar energy systems.

How is your idea unique?

One of the most important aspects in deploying solar based energy are the self-sufficiency and low carbon emissions characteristics of these systems, coupled lately with the drop in solar panel prices that make solar energy as cost effective or even cheaper than fossil fuels like diesel and thermoelectric energy generation. The unique methodology that we plan to apply is open and collaborative, which relies in the sharing of knowledge and training of beneficiaries who in turn become the main actors in running a workshop, creating new products, innovating, making and spreading peer to peer knowledge. We do not apply a top down, closed model whereby the local maintenance and continuous support of the energy infrastructure is always reliant on a central organization. We design products that are highly affordable, scalable, durable, repairable, that make end-users the main actors and co-creators.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Prototyping: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing my idea.

Tell us more about you

Faircap CIC ( is a young design social enterprise which was born out of POC21 ( a technology innovation camp held in 2015 just months prior to the COP21 summit, where 12 open source and collaborative projects proposed by citizens, designers and makers tackling climate change issues were supported and accelerated. We designed and prototyped a simple to use, extremely low cost, anti-bacterial, water filter that could be screwed into a regular plastic soda or water bottle, enabling people without access to clean drinking water. We have received financial support from the Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF) and mentoring from Oxfam and Save the Children. As a young design organization we are highly focused on researching, prototyping, testing, sourcing, manufacturing and bringing to market highly affordable products and solutions that can impact billions of people, in a collaborative way. We carry out a unique design methodology that is open, bringing designers, engineers, scientists, field professionals and end users together to develop the best solutions by sharing knowledge, experience and ideas. We have a regular workshop where we plan and conceptualize new ideas to solve other acute problems arising in humanitarian relief efforts. During the last year we have been testing and prototyping simple to use, affordable, modular solar energy systems that could help cover the energy needs of low income populations and refugee camps. We have developed a portable solar powered device to sterilize water, a solar light bulb and portable solar DIY kits.

Expertise in sector

  • 1-2 years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered social enterprise.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Anne Evans

Affordable solar-powered satellite/wireless broadband could also be a part the package you bring to rural communities. Have you looked at that? Our solution works anywhere in the world. Please see our submission:

Photo of Mauricio Cordova

Dear Anne, yes! communications is also another application that can be powered up by DIY solar systems. I visited your submission, It would be great if you can share with us the power requirements to estimate the size of a system. It will be a very interesting joint exercise. Thanks! Mauricio

Photo of Anne Evans

Drop me a line with your email and I'll send you some specs. Thanks! Anne

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