SARA GOUDARZI is a Brooklyn
writer and holds a master’s in
journalism from New York University
and in bioresource engineering from
Rutgers University. Her non-fiction
has appeared in National Geographic
News, The American Scholar and CNN.
com, as well as Scholastic’s Science
World Magazine, among others. She
teaches writing at N YU and is also an
avid writer of poetry and fiction.
Very few people eagerly await the day that their work becomes obsolete. But Eden Full Goh does. The former Thiel Fellow and Princeton University student has been playing with small solar panels and cars since she was 10 years old. When she was in high school, she “tinkered” her way to a solar tracking contraption that
she is now marketing as a transitional technology to help solar energy users in
developing communities get the most out of their devices.
Full Goh’s model—called the SunSaluter—is
a simple, non-motorized solar panel rotator
that follows the sun throughout the day,
helping to boost a solar panel’s efficiency
by as much as 40 percent. The prototype
was conceived in 2008 as her entry project
for the Intel International Science and
Engineering Fair. Later encouragement from
a professor at Princeton and financial support from the Dutch Doen Foundation and
billionaire entrepreneur Peter Thiel’s foundation helped her refine the SunSaluter. The
device now has a presence in more than 15
countries via Full Goh’s similarly named non-profit organization.
“Our goal [as an organization] is to spread
this design as widely as possible—to serve as
an intermediate technology that helps make
solar panels more efficient until they become
more affordable in developing countries,”
Full Goh says.
Approximately 1. 3 billion people worldwide
lack access to electricity. The majority of the
energy unserved and under-served live in
sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia. They
do not have easy access to light when the
sun goes down or to reliable means of connecting to the world electronically through
radios and cell phones. The energy options
that are available to them are often expensive, low quality and even unsafe.
“People living in developing economies
expend a lot of energy in the form of manual
labor to collect resources for providing
(often) poor quality lighting in their homes,
for safe and clean water and for charging
cell phones,” says Lawrence Matengula of
RECAPO Malawi, a community organization
that is also a SunSaluter distribution partner
for East and Southern Africa.
In many regions where the need for energy
access is most pronounced, sunlight is in
plentiful supply. Solar energy is therefore an
ideal source of power where grid connectivity
is unavailable or unreliable.
Malawi, for example, is a country in Southern
Africa where 85 percent of its 15 million people
live in rural areas—only one percent of whom
have access to electricity. Because Malawi is
landlocked, shipping in and out of its borders
is expensive. This means that solar panels are
prohibitively expensive for most Malawians,
even though prices have plummeted worldwide
in recent years. Whereas in some places they
may cost US$0.25 to $1 per watt, in Malawi
they cost $2 to $3 per watt.
It is places like Malawi that SunSaluter
is meant to add the most value. Full Goh’s
vision for SunSaluter is to help solar energy
become a more affordable option by boosting solar panels’ productivity, and to expand
off-grid communities at the same time.
Solar energy technologies have advanced, but are still not
universally accessible. A simple device allows today’s solar
power users to get more out of their products—and soon, it
will be available for anyone to replicate.
PATH OF THE SUN 06 36