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Distributed rural manufacturing of the SunSaluter: a low-cost, passive solar panel rotator that creates clean drinking water (UPDATED FEB. 8TH)

The SunSaluter (www.sunsaluter.com) is a solar panel rotator designed for the developing world. Using only gravity and water, the SunSaluter enables a solar panel to rotate and follow the sun throughout the day, boosting efficiency by 30%. It also produces clean water! The SunSaluter is built from common components and is 30 times less expensive than conventional motorized panel rotators (called trackers), and is much more durable without complex components. Solar power is a proven way to alleviate energy poverty, but it is simply still too expensive for many poor consumers. By increasing efficiency and lowering the overall cost per watt, the SunSaluter can help communities afford the transition to clean energy!

Photo of Jacob Schual-Berke
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The SunSaluter is a single-axis solar panel rotator. Mechanically speaking, a solar panel is mounted on a hinge, and a weight (which can simply be a bag of rocks) is suspended from one end. A container of water is suspended from the other side, and a precision valve allows control over the flow of water emptying the container. As the water empties and the container gets lighter, the panel slowly rotates at a
user-controlled rate to follow the sun in the sky. The water is collected in another container and can be consumed or reused the next day.

A third party water purifier (almost any kind will work) is integrated into the water container to create at least four liters of clean drinking water every day. By combining a family’s daily energy and water collection routines into one simple device, user behavior is improved and the purifier is used more consistently. More than 70% of clean water programs fail - typically due to inconsistent usage, not because of technological limitation.

The SunSaluter’s frame can be made from wood, bamboo, metal, or other inexpensive materials. This makes it sustainable and affordable, and if the SunSaluter malfunctions, it can be repaired locally. This ensures that the SunSaluter will never let the user down; which is critical for consumers at the bottom of the pyramid.

But what if villagers could do more than just purchase and maintain SunSaluters? What if they could manufacture and sell them as a business? We think it's possible - and that's where we'd like your help!

Since the SunSaluter is a simple device that can be built from a kit (or entirely from scratch if welding facilities are available), we would like to outsource manufacturing to communities and entrepreneurs around the world. Imagine if a villager in Tanzania or Nicaragua set up a business building SunSaluters and selling them to his neighbors: he would have an income, his community would have more affordable energy, and we wouldn't have to ship everything from our factory in India!

We would like the OpenIDEO community to advise us how to appropriately engage rural communities and partner organizations to set up such a system. How can we create a system that is human-centered and good for the communities, but also efficient and reliable from a business perspective?

What community does this idea benefit and who are the main players?

The SunSaluter is ideal for poor, rural individuals living without electricity. These individuals earn just dollars a day and often spend more than 20% of their income on kerosene gas and walk hours just to charge their cell phones. Solar energy is a great tool for eliminating these problems, but it is often still too expensive up-front for them. By boosting efficiency and lowering the cost per watt of solar energy, the SunSaluter brings solar energy within reach. For example, a 150 watt solar lantern charging station which powers 75 lanterns can be outfitted with a SunSaluter to be capable of charging 25 more lanterns. The individuals living in unelectrified communities also often lack access to clean water, so the SunSaluter provides a great additional benefit. For example, at the OneMama Clinic in Kirindi, Uganda, a SunSaluter installation has allowed women at the health clinic to not only eliminate the usage of kerosene, but to create a phone charging business to bolster their income. “The mamas are so excited that this is bringing light into an area where they spend the most time, which is in the Kitchen area, and also bringing energy for them to charge cell phones and purifying water, so we’re using it for tea and for cooking dinner. The OneMama Clinic is very grateful to SunSaluter for bringing its wonderful technology to the OneMama Clinic and to Uganda.” - Siobhan Neilland, Founder of OneMama

How does your idea specifically help your community rapidly transition to renewables?

By boosting the efficiency of solar panels by 30%, the SunSaluter lowers the overall cost per watt of solar energy and simply makes it more affordable. Excellent solar technology is already available in many markets - but cost is still a primary barrier to widespread adoption. The SunSaluter is also unique in that it be installed with new solar systems or used to retrofit existing systems. With over 2 gigawatts of off-grid solar capacity currently installed worldwide, the solar infrastructure upon which to use the SunSaluter already exists, and is growing every day. The SunSaluter is simple to build and requires no special equipment nor training, meaning any community can adopt it rapidly. Lastly, if we can get local entrepreneurs to manufacture and distribute their own SunSaluters, costs will decrease dramatically and hopefully instill confidence in the community to adopt the technology.

What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

We have already deployed over 100 SunSaluters around the world - and every time we learn something new! Regarding outsourced manufacturing, we are beginning to work with a village in northern India where the locals will build their own SunSaluters and can either use them, sell them, or resell them back to us to provide our other customers. We will be making at least 30 systems with them in the coming months, and would really love to learn how to make the process beneficial to everyone involved. We are happy to try any suggestions that people have. And of course we're open to trying this approach with other partners around the world!

What skills, input or guidance are you keen to connect with from the OpenIDEO community to help you build out or refine your idea further?

We would be grateful for any recommendations on how to set up a human-centered manufacturing and distribution partnership with these communities. What can we do to make sure it is beneficial to the community members, but also ensure standards of quality and reliability for us? What should we make sure not to do? Are there any partner organizations that you recommend that we work with? And of course, any technical or design suggestions are always welcome too - thank you!

Please indicate which type of energy is most relevant to this post:

  • Solar

This idea emerged from:

  • An Individual

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Map showing all of SunSaluter's deployments.

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Photo of David / Thomas Svarrer / Høyer
Team

Hi, we are from the 2018 OpenIDEO teams, and we would like to know more about your SUnSaluter - how many have you implemented, now, etc. - so please email me on ds@rain.yt, if possible for you and if your project still exists? Sincerely Rational Intuitive IVS, David & Thomas

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