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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!

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Master map.png

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

Photo of Alex Warner
Team

What kinds of jobs would this create before, after, and when the solar panels are in operation?

Photo of Jacob Schual-Berke
Team

Hi Alex! Apologies for the late response - we just returned from vacation. The jobs we are looking to create are primarily in manufacturing the SunSaluters. This can be done by just about any community member. We plan on continuing to handle the sales and distribution in-house, but it is feasible that some of the more enterprising village level manufacturers could also distribute and sell the units. Let me know if that answers your question or you need more information!

Photo of Nathan Lucy
Team

Jake and Eden, as you're seeking to develop overseas manufacturing partnerships, I'd like to invite you to test a tool that may help you and others like you come up with unexpected ways to motivate people to partner with you.

My team has been doing a lot of work on the variety of motivations for participating in renewable energy projects. We want to help RE project leaders learn all the unexpected, effective ways to motivate people to adopt renewable energy initiatives like yours.

Take a look at our idea (https://openideo.com/challenge/renewable-energy/ideas/incentives-reference-guide). What are the chances you'd be interested in testing it out?

Photo of Jacob Schual-Berke
Team

Hi Nathan! Sorry for the late response - been a hectic week traveling around northern India! I'd be happy to do what I can to test out your tool and offer my feedback. Just a heads up though that we're a small team and all quite busy at the moment but we'll do what we can! Feel free to email me any necessary info at jake[at]sunsaluter.com - thanks!

Photo of Nathan Lucy
Team

Jake, thanks for the response. I'm afraid that we're not moving forward with our idea. However, if I can be resource to you in any way, don't hesitate to reach out at nmlucy@gmail.com. If you've got a newsletter, please add me to it. I'd love to keep up with your project.

Photo of Jacob Schual-Berke
Team

Hi Nathan,

Sorry to hear you won't be moving forward with the idea (for now anyway!), but absolutely, we'll keep you posted if there's anything we can work on together. Will add you to our mailing list as well!

Best,
Jake

Photo of Aaron Sebesta
Team

Hi Jake - great updates! Rural manufacturing and distribution are definitely key challenges but I think some of the HCD approaches will really benefit you in helping find local solutions that can be readily adopted. Interviewing local mechanics, metal workers, and other similar laborers to understand their expertise, supply chain, and barriers will really help you answer the question of how you might train and empower them to create the product themselves.

As I've thought about it more, I anticipate distribution will be most easily facilitated through existing solar manufacturers/distributors - have you looked at the prospects of having the SunSaluter sold pre-integrated into the solar panel by the manufacturer (or at least alongside as 1 single purchase, rather than an add on)? If the manufacturer can make claims about the electricity generation including the 30% gains thanks to SunSaluter they will be more likely to make more sales, and probably more than happy to purchase and package your product! Some of the most successful products are sold as a "white-label" product, and resold, often without the consumer even knowing it, while having even greater financial and social impact!

Let me know what else I can do to help brainstorm/test potential models or design additional HCD experiments!

Photo of Jacob Schual-Berke
Team

Hi Aaron, absolutely, that's one of our ultimate goals to have solar distributors offering the SunSaluter along with their other products. As we scale things up in India I think that's not too far off - and hopefully other countries will follow. I'm off to the village of Khoiri tomorrow and we'll be seeing how to get things going with them!

Photo of Aaron Sebesta
Team

Congrats Jake and Eden on being selected as a top idea!

Photo of Jacob Schual-Berke
Team

Thanks Aaron for this and all your help!

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Hi Jake and Eden.
Congratulations on an incredible innovation Eden! Awesome ongoing story!
Your idea emphasizes that the SunSaluter is designed for the developing world. Your map shows several sites in the US where it has been deployed to date. Can you tell us a bit about where they are deployed in the US, what communities, who are the users, and what the circumstances were that they found you or you found them? Did you sell through an off grid solar provider as you are doing in India? Did you connect with an NGO working in renewable energy in the US? What is the cost of one unit if one were to purchase this now? In the developing world what are the end users using the product for? homes, businesses, other?
Looking forward to learning more!

Photo of Jacob Schual-Berke
Team

Thank you Bettina! The deployments in the US have gone to a variety of folks - anybody who wants one can get one! Most of these have been people/organizations which reached out to us. Some have been used as educational projects for high schools, some for demonstrations in environmental/appropriate technology centers, and some for individuals who really need to get some extra juice out of their existing solar systems. We have sold them directly, as in the US we are sufficiently capable of distributing the SunSaluters ourselves. In the states the volume cost is $20.

The SunSaluter can simply make any solar panel more efficient, so they are used wherever solar panels are used! In the developing world the most common uses are homes and community areas.

Happy to answer any more questions you have - thanks!

Jake

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Hi Jake. I love the idea of schools buying these for their educational programming. When you partner with the off grid solar companies do you know how the projects are financed? Is there micro finance lending involved? Are projects government supported? Thanks!

Photo of Jacob Schual-Berke
Team

Hi Bettina,

The off-grid solar projects are usually financed by loans from microfinance organizations/rural banks, but we have also worked on a number of philanthropically funded projects with NGOs. To my knowledge we haven't done any that were government funded yet - though that would be nice because those tend to be big projects!

Thanks for your questions!
Jake

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Hi Jake. Thanks for the information!
How are you locating the partners you mention - the solar companies, and also the NGOs, such as the one you mention in your comment to Jenn above? Is this all based on your work on the ground? Face to face meetings in local communities? Do the NGOs that you partner with ever facilitate the RE projects in communities as opposed to doing the research, making the connections and funding the projects themselves?
I have been in conversation with Shuting on her idea which is a P2P/C2C Energy Lending Program: https://openideo.com/challenge/renewable-energy/refinement/using-p2p-micro-finance-for-powering-up-renewable-energy-more-evenly Would be great to hear any insights you have about interest in a model like this in the communities you are interacting with in India and Africa. Are you aware of any P2P lending for RE projects, such as Kiva for entrepreneurs? What are your thoughts on this model for purchasing a SunSaluter as an example?
We are trying to figure out how to connect lenders to borrowers and also how to enable borrowers to make informed energy choices. Is there RE business competition in the areas you are working? How do local folk choose their RE and who helps them learn about their options so that their multiple needs are met?
Any insights you have in terms of local context would be great!
Thank you.
Bettina

Photo of Jacob Schual-Berke
Team

Hi Bettina,

Happy to help and thanks for the questions!

Our partnerships outside of India have been fairly opportunistic - mostly from people contacting us or otherwise encountering them by chance. We are fortunate to have received some nice media coverage in the last few years which has helped us attract partners. Within India, we have been much more proactive in contacting partners and getting them on board. It requires lots of calls and emails, but the off-grid solar community is still pretty small and collaborative, so our friends in the space have been very helpful in connecting us. Likewise I'll be happy to help in any way if I can : )

In fact the organizations we work with always facilitate the RE projects. SunSaluter has a very small team and a technology which enhances what our partners do, so we rely on them for almost all of the implementation and facilitation. Each organization understands its customers/beneficiaries better than we do, so we want to let them take the lead.

I think Shuting's idea is great. It reminds me of SunFunder, but it sounds like it allows individuals to post their RE projects rather than having to be part of larger campaigns (so like Kiva for RE). That makes a lot of sense - there are lots of crowdfunding/microlending sites that have proven the concept, and it seems like a good idea to create one that focus on RE. In this way you could establish yourselves as experts on the subject and provide the necessary due diligence that general sites might not have. I believe that is what you would have to do and where you can really add value - to vet the projects and make sure they are feasible/lendable. Your website would be the portal for connecting borrowers and lenders and would give the lenders the assurance they need to make the loan. Definitely I think the SunSaluter could be featured on the site if there are people who want it to be part of their project : )

You might be interested in this opportunity for pro-bono consulting to get your idea started (http://www.enea-access.com/call-for-projects/), or https://www.chicagoideas.com/special_programs/bhsi or some opportunities hosted by USAID.

I think local folks usually choose RE products when they are brought to them (i.e. by a grassroots NGO or a rural sales caravan). Often times people don't know anything about these products, so it requires the organizations to reach out to them and convince them that their products are worthwhile and trustworthy. A lot of people are very hesitant to invest their precious money in solar without knowing how it works. These people usually live in such underserved regions that they have very little choice, so the products they choose are based entirely on which companies have reached out to them. Therefore regarding your site, you might have trouble getting people to come to you, so in order to get them on your site I think you would need to partner with local organizations to enlist them. I believe this is how Kiva does it, via MFIs.

Hope that all helps, do let me know if you have any more questions, and good luck!

Jake

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Hi Jake! Thank you for your generous and insightful response! It is great to get the perspective of someone working in the field - and out in the field! I have copied and pasted your answer into a comment on Shuting's IDEA and linked SunSaluter IDEA there as well. This way everyone over there can benefit from what you have shared.
Interesting I think that "door to door" sales is important not only in remote regions for a transition to RE. Spending time with and getting information to people in a clear, easy to access, and tangible way is key whether you live in rural India or NYC!

Thanks again and keep up the great SunSaluter work! Looking forward seeing impact with this!

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Winning Idea ! ---------> Congrats Jake and Eden!

Photo of Jacob Schual-Berke
Team

Thank you Bettina!

Photo of Alper Yaglioglu
Team

Congrats!

Photo of Jacob Schual-Berke
Team

Thanks Alper!

Photo of Lakshminarayana Udupa
Team

So you are in India now!
Have a great stay.. Looking forward to your success in the mission!

Photo of Natalie Lake
Team

Hi Jake and Eden!

I just thought of another potential use for your idea! So the last turbine I built was to power a water pump and a drip irrigation system for a patch of dry forest in the middle of the desert. What if your panels pumped water and the SunSaluter then worked as both a panel rotator and a drip irrigation system!? This could work in both the developing and developed world in the agriculture and reforestation sector.

For getting the word out about SunSaluter, have you guys thought about doing an infographic similar to what the People's Solar just made? Meena recommended that they use http://piktochart.com to create an infographic for communicating with partners and also as a sort of email campaign. I think this might prove useful to you guys as well!

Looking forward to seeing your refinement updates!

Photo of Jacob Schual-Berke
Team

Hi Natalie,

That's a great idea, and something that I think our CTO has thought about before. The SunSaluter's valve has a fitting for rubber tubing (so that the water can be recollected in a basin), so all one would have to do is pop little holes in it and use it for that drip irrigation.

Piktochart looks awesome, I'll definitely play with that - it could be great.

I also saw that you're based in SF - me too! I'm out of town for a couple months but would love to get together and brainstorm when I'm back!

Jake

Photo of Natalie Lake
Team

Hi Jake,

I would love that! Let me know when you're back and I'd love to meet up. Best of luck in refinement :) Cannot wait to see your Piktocharts :)

Photo of Jacob Schual-Berke
Team

Hi Natalie,

Great - I'm back in town at the end of March and look forward to meeting you then! If you'd be so kind to shoot me an email at jake[at]sunsaluter.com we can keep in touch! Enjoy the warming bay weather, it's freezing here in northern India!

Best,
Jake

Photo of Natalie Lake
Team

Great! sending you an email now :) It has been a chilly rainy weekend here in SF (chilly for SF) hahaha. See you when you get back!

Photo of Jen Sokolove
Team

Hi there. What a great project! Eager to hear if there's a specific new community you're hoping to break into. If so, do they already have solar and, if not, how might SunSaluter evolve to address what feels like a high tech/low tech disconnect between solar panels and your creative water-based tracking system?

Photo of Jacob Schual-Berke
Team

Hi Jen!

In fact, there is! There is an off-grid village called Khoiri which is about 1.5 hours outside of New Delhi. We have a great NGO partner there who is deeply involved with the community, so they help facilitate our work. We have installed 5 systems there with SunSaluters, and will be doing more soon. With our next round of installations, we want to have the community members actually build the SunSaluters themselves form our kits. This would not only be great in giving a sense of ownership for their systems, but we want to see if we could outsource some manufacturing to them and buy back the finished product to sell to our other customers.

As far as bridging that high tech/low tech gap, we really haven't found much of an issue so far. The SunSaluter/solar panel combo effectively becomes one technology from the user's perspective, and I think the communities we work with are very familiar with and fond of creative low-tech solutions (the Hindi word for this is jugad), and there hasn't felt like much of a disconnect, fortunately!

Thanks!
Jake

Photo of jamie dean
Team

Hi Jake and Eden,

I love this idea and especially that it focuses on increasing the efficiency of existing technologies (and technologies that are already in process of being deployed widely). One question - do you have a sense of the payback period? Ie. in the U.S. a unit costs $20. In how long will the increased efficiency gained pay back that upfront cost? This would be a helpful number to understand.

One thought - have you communicated with any solar distributors about partnering on this work? We still need much greater distribution of solar panels globally, so perhaps this added efficiency will help make solar a more viable option as communities consider their energy choices.

Ciao,
Jamie

Photo of Jacob Schual-Berke
Team

Hi Jamie!

The payback period for an existing system that is retrofitted ranges from about 1 - 6 months, if we assume that the 30% extra energy generated is displacing a commensurate amount of expenditure on fuels like kerosene, candles, etc. The payback period is greater for larger panels, as the impact is magnified for the same up-front cost. For a new system which is planned with the SunSaluter in mind, the payback is instantaneous! It is cheaper to use the SunSaluter to produce that extra energy than to pay for a 30% bigger panel.

Indeed we have communicated with lots of solar distributors, particularly in India. Since our technology augments theirs, and they already have last-mile distribution networks to their customers, we have a business to business model and intend to work via these distributors. As we scale up our production we are always looking for more distributors around the world!

Photo of OpenIDEO
Team

Congratulations on making it to the Renewable Energy Challenge Refinement list, Jake. We’re really excited about SunSaluter, especially because it boosts the efficiency of solar panels and provides clean water. There’s tons of potential in moving this idea forward – and we’re thrilled to have it in our Refinement mix so we can bring people together to help you as much as possible!

Looking ahead to the next 12 days of Refinement our team – along with the 11th Hour Project and the advisory panel – has a few questions that may help move your idea forward. First, we’d like to hear from you specifically how you think the OpenIDEO community can help your idea develop. Where do you hope to be at the end of Refinement? We’re also curious about methods of promotion. How are you currently getting the word out about SunSaluter and how do you see that evolving as you expand? We’d also like to see more information around how your idea is different from others in the space. How is SunSaluter unique? Lastly, we’d like to see some strategic thinking around partnerships. Who are the key players in getting this idea off the ground, especially existing nonprofits?

We can’t wait to see this idea continue to develop. Check out more tips for Refinement on our blog: http://bit.ly/oi-refine and http://ideo.pn/rr-refinetips

Photo of Jacob Schual-Berke
Team

Thank you! We're equally thrilled to be part of the next stage. We will refine our proposal and make sure it hits all of these points!

Best,
Jake

Photo of Joanna Spoth
Team

Amazing – Can't wait to see where the next week takes your idea!

Photo of Aaron Sebesta
Team

Hey Jake - congrats on being selected for the refinement phase!

I think one of the biggest things we can work towards during the refinement phase is selecting a challenge that you guys are facing and starting to narrow down on how we may overcome that. In many ways it sounds like you guys are past the point of prototyping the technology, but hopefully the OpenIDEO community can help brainstorm ways to prototype solutions to other challenges you're facing, for example distribution, partnerships, marketing, manufacturing, differentiation, or whatever other challenges may be up next for Sun Saluter.

I'd love to discuss those things further as you work in this phase- let me know how I can help with refinement - we can jump on Skype, or chat here, whatever would be the most help.

Thanks and congrats again!
-Aaron

Photo of Janice Campbell
Team

Congrats! Thought this was a great idea and glad to see it move forward. You state that the frames can be repaired locally. Does that mean you are also thinking they can be built from scratch locally? Will the solar panels themselves be funded through some partnerships?

Photo of Jacob Schual-Berke
Team

Thanks all! It doesn't look like I can reply directly to second-level comments, so I'll address each of your questions here.

Aaron, I'd love to have a Skype call with you in the next few days if you're available. I'm currently hopping all over India for some projects but I'm sure we can find a time that works for us both : ) There are lots of challenges we face which I think the OpenIDEO community could help us tackle. Would you be so kind as to email me at jake[at]sunsaluter.com so we can exchange contact details and set a time?

Janice, absolutely! SunSaluters can either be built from our kit which we ship to the partner or built from scratch if they have some basic metalworking facilities (namely welding). In fact this is our ultimate goal: to help local entrepreneurs create their own businesses around the SunSaluter technology and bring its benefits to their area. Our technology can always be improved, but it's pretty good at this point and I think the OpenIDEO community can really help us with regards to community engagement, so I'll be tailoring the proposal to that over the next few days. Sourcing and financing the actual solar panels is generally the domain of the partner. We tend to stick to our core competency of the SunSaluter, meanwhile there are many off-grid solar companies emerging around the world which can handle the actual solar systems better than we can. But since our technology integrates with theirs, we view them as our allies, not competitors!

Photo of Meena Kadri
Team

We're excited that you're planning to collaborate further with Aaron – do report back on your post here on how that plays out. We also back his encouragement to focus on a specific challenge and aim to prototype around that. Refinement is time of doing / experimenting as well as thinking :^)

Photo of Jacob Schual-Berke
Team

Will do Meena! Aaron and I are going to speak on Thursday. I've got lots of ideas for topics we can focus on, and as I'm currently in India I can attempt to try some of them : )

Photo of Meena Kadri
Team

Nice one, Jake. And you might even want to try some lightweight exploration into what matters most to folks on the ground in India. For inspiration, check out a totally different OpenIDEO idea that was posted from Nepal on a another challenge: https://openideo.com/challenge/zero-to-five/ideas/we-need-to-deliver-group-pediatric-care Check out the image of the yellow sheet where people indicated their priorities by placing stones against various criteria. This is an awesomely simple way to do human-centered field research.

Safe travels and hope things are going well in India.

Photo of Penny Atkinson
Team

Jake thank you for sharing this great news with us. The
SunSaluter is an invention that will not only help save energy but most importantly it will help save lives. I applaud the invention and I applaud you Jake for sharing it with us. Solar panel users if you want to know how much you're saving annually, check this interactive map http://www.briteenergy.com/solar-energy-facts/ Solar panels are not as expensive as they used to be so let's save our planet while saving money :)

Photo of Jacob Schual-Berke
Team

Thanks Penny! Credit doesn't belong just to me though, it goes to our great team - I'm just the one posting it here : )

Photo of Janice Campbell
Team

Win - win - win! Energy plus clean potable water. Local mobile charging stations! Cell phones are often the only means of obtaining medical, social and emergency information and care in remote areas.

Photo of Jacob Schual-Berke
Team

Thank you for the encouragement Janice! We think it's pretty cool too : )

Photo of Shuting Zeng
Team

This is AMAZING and exciting and thanks for sharing your project Jake. I read the conversations below and look forward to clarifications about the valves and water filtering system as well. This truly is a great invention: so simple, practical yet powerful.

You mentioned that you have come through over 60 iterations. Would you like to share some of the iterations? What are the main factors you have been working on to improve SunSaluter? The cost? material? efficiency? simplification of the installation and maintenance?

I checked out SunSaluter's website and learnt more about it. I think it will be great to mention in your idea that fixed panels gather 40% less energy than those which rotate.

It will be great if you can introduce a bit more about your low-cost trackers. Like everyone else here I am excited about and look forward to seeing updates on your project!

Photo of Jacob Schual-Berke
Team

Hi Shuting! Sorry for the late reply - thanks for your encouragement! I didn't elaborate too much on the water purifiers in the description because we don't have our own purifying technology - we can just integrate almost any third party purifier into the SunSaluter (though the ones we are using in-house are hollow fiber membrane ones). If you have any particular questions about that, please do ask! The valve is just a precision tap that allows you to control the rate at which the water flows and therefore how quickly the SunSaluter rotates (so you can make the speed of the sun in the sky.

I'll add a few sentences about our various iterations and the improvements we've made. The first SunSaluter didn't even use water and cost a ton more than it does today!

Thanks again for the input!
Jaks

Photo of Aaron Sebesta
Team

Hi Jake - great job describing your idea! So often the best solutions to complex challenges (like energy generation), especially in the developing world, are the simplest ones!

I saw that you've already deployed 100 panels - Congratulations! That's a huge accomplishment and a great opportunity to gather real customer feedback and learn and refine. You're over the biggest hurdle people face in starting new ventures!

I've been asked by the OpenIDEO team to help mentor ideas, and would love to work with you and the SunSaluter team if you'd be interested. I've also included some questions that may help clarify your post.

I'd be interested to learn more about your plans for distributing the SunSaluter units, what you've found the installed cost to be, and who you're targeting. Based on the description it seems like it's primarily focused on communities with existing solar panels, who would retrofit their panels with the SS kit, is that right? In that case, what have you found to be the training/education challenges with the communities regarding the additional charging capacity, and accountability for filling the water each day? Do you have any information on usage rates - i.e. 1,3,6 months in, are they being used regularly? User adoption is one of the big challenges in development - so if you can speak to your results there that will strengthen you case even more!

I know it's a product that's applicable all around the developing world, but it would help to understand where you have installed the prior units, and where you're currently focused (or where you think you have the strongest network and opportunities).

Thanks for your great work on this project and all your replies so far. Also - let me know how I can be of help as a mentor.

Photo of Jacob Schual-Berke
Team

Hi Aaron, thank you! We'd be delighted to have your help in developing the idea further. To answer your questions:

Since the SunSaluter is a product which integrates with solar panels, we work primarily on a business to business model, and rely on the distribution networks of our partners to reach end users. For example, an off-grid solar company will purchase SunSaluters from us and distribute them to their customers. Not only does this save us time and money, it means we can be sure our technology is reaching end users in a locally appropriate way. Each partner knows their customers better than we ever could. And since we're the only product of our kind and there are many off-grid solar companies (particularly in India), we have the fortune of viewing each of them as an ally to reach more people, not a competitor.

As long as we train the partner organization in how to build and operate the SunSaluter, we generally don't experience problems with user education, since really all they have to do is pour water in it each day. However I would say we have sometimes donated SunSaluters where they did not provide much benefit (for example if the user had no way to use the extra energy generated), and so the user stopped using it because it was not worth the effort. So the challenge is identifying the people who really need it - and in our opinion market forces solve that issue. When people pay for something, they value and use it!

I would say we focus equally on communities which have existing solar panels and those which do not. It's a huge benefit that we can retrofit existing systems, especially those that are not producing enough power, but it is actually ideal to integrate the SunSaluter with a new system so that you can size the system appropriately (e.g. battery capacity) and don't have to waste any money on a fixed mounting structure (which sometimes are more expensive than the SunSaluter itself!).

We are headquartered in Bangalore, India, and that's where we are growing operations with an ongoing presence on the ground. In addition we are expanding into East Africa. However, we can ship our kit to anyone in the world to install themselves and that's how most of our units have been distributed to 15 countries. I uploaded a map as an extra file (I thought I could put it in the body of the profile) called Master Map.png which depicts the locations of our deployments.

Hope this answers your questions - thank you for asking them - and do let us know if you have any more!

Best,
Jake

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Team

Jake, I'm so excited to see your contribution! It looks like you've done some powerful implementation already - do you have stories from end users about how SunSaluter was able to transition their community to renewable energy? Those stories might be useful in finding other areas of implementation. Do you have any implementation stories from the developed world?
I'm excited to learn more!

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Team

Hi Joanna - thank you! And we do! That's a great point, I will add a few stories and testimonials to the page.

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Congrats on this post being today's Featured Contribution!

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Thank you!

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Hi Jake,

This is a super neat idea! How will the water draining from the sun saluter be collected? (not sure if this was in the video, could not tell, so if it was sorry!) Also, I'm very intrigued by the clean drinking water aspect. Are you planning on using the sun's energy to purify the water or what exact purifier do you plan to use?

You might want to consider uploading user experience map, I think it would really bring your idea to life.

https://d3gxp3iknbs7bs.cloudfront.net/attachments/2c911d636249657916fa23d17adb57358385faeb.pdf

Super cool idea and I cannot wait to hear more!

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Team

Sounds like you and your team is doing awesome work, Jake! I enjoyed looking over more on your website: http://www.sunsaluter.com Could be good if you might add that link to your post so folks here can easily check out the goodness. More tips on adding links: http://bit.ly/oi_link  

So we'd love to learn more about what current challenges you face on scaling your venture and getting it the hands of those who need it. Perhaps you might tell us more about your distribution and business models in your post above? It might be a good thought to think clearly about what the new idea is for your business you're keen to float here on our Renewable Energy Challenge – given your actual (awesome!) product has already been created. Might it be about scaling, new distribution / business models or something else?

Then, we'd recommend that you create a summary (text above the image on your post) that articulates your new and specific idea for this challenge. Here's a template if you need some help, though feel free to come up with your own clarifying sentence structure.

Our idea is a_________________ [campaign/app/service/program/online platform/toolkit/social enterprise/etc.] that tackles the problem of _____________[the issue being addressed ] by __________[what your idea looks like in practice].

For inspiration, you might also like to check out an example of another organisation here on OpenIDEO, who has posted a specific idea based on their current work: https://openideo.com/challenge/renewable-energy/ideas/give-power-to-the-people

We also hope you'll join in on discussion on others people's ideas here at OpenIDEO. Your perspectives would certainly enrich our conversations and collaboration...

Photo of Meena Kadri
Team

Natalie – thought you might like to check out this video about SunSaluter that I found in the press section of their site too: http://mashable.com/2013/12/02/sunsaluter-video/

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Hi Meena,

Thank you for sharing this great video. Jake you should definitely link this video into your project idea! I've searched around and I am still confused on if they are purifying the water using the sun or a biosand filter or what. Hope you can answer my questions Jake :).

Photo of Jacob Schual-Berke
Team

Thanks Natalie and Meena! To answer your questions:

1. The water is collected by another container on the ground under the SunSaluter. It can either be consumed or reused to refill the SunSaluter the next day. The video shows them emptying on to the ground but that's now how it normally is - I'll clarify that in the description!

2. Almost any type of water purifier can integrate with the SunSaluter. When we provide the filters, we use a hollow fiber membrane for it is small size, durability, and portability. We do not have a novel water purification technology, but we are providing a novel way to improve consistent usage of existing technologies.

3. Thanks for showing us the user experience map - we'll check that out!

4. Just added our website URL - thanks for pointing that out : )

5. One of the more community-centric and less product-oriented things we're working on is decentralizing manufacturing out to villagers/local entrepreneurs all over India who can assemble the SunSaluter frames from local materials and earn a livelihood selling them (either to new customers or back to us for resale). I'll elaborate on that!

6. I'll include that Mashable video too!

Thanks so much for all the suggestions Natalie and Meena!

Photo of Meena Kadri
Team

Great clarifications & updates, Jake!

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Team

Jake - I love the name of this product. Very catchy! I'm curious, you mentioned this type of project is best implemented in poor, rural communities. Have there been any challenges posed by maintenance? Once the product is built, are the residents of that land responsible for making sure the product runs smoothly?

Photo of Jacob Schual-Berke
Team

Thanks Monika! The name credit goes to our founder Eden : ) There really are very few maintenance challenges because it's such a simple design, and that's what makes it uniquely fitted for rural communities where conventional motorized trackers often fail. It's a robust mechanical design, but if something does go wrong the appropriate materials are available locally for replacement. We typically work with other organizations to bring the SunSaluters to their communities, because we're sure those grassroots groups know the locals much better than we do. Therefore the ultimate responsibility for the units falls to the end users and the partner organizations. In this way SunSaluter is able to keep a small team but ensure our technology keeps on chugging after we've left : ) Thanks for the questions!