the water container in the morning and then
adjusts the flow of water from the vessel
with a control valve. As the water empties
out of the water clock and the container gets
lighter, the weight balance changes, causing
the panel to slowly rotate towards the sun.
By the end of the day, the container will be
empty, and the solar panel will come to rest
facing the sunset.
The SunSaluter also works double duty: the
water that flows from the water clock can be
connected to an optional filtration system,
which then flows into a container, providing
users with up to four liters of clean drinking
water each day. Although it seems diminutive,
it is an important bonus feature of the system
given that 783 million people worldwide have
no access to safe drinking water, according to
the U. N.’s 2012 Millennium Development Goals
report. The amount of filtered water from
each tracker could satisfy the two-liter per day
need for two people; with two panels, a family
of four could conceivably have the minimum
amount of drinking water it needs for survival.
Although the SunSaluter achieves a lot,
the design is so simple that no special aptitude is needed to build it.
“The point of the SunSaluter design is
that you can build it even if you don't have
any technical knowledge,” Full Goh says.
She adds that the system is intentionally
uncomplicated in design so it can be built
using locally available, low-cost materials. In
some places, this might be wood; in others, it
might be bamboo or recycled metal.
This flexible design aspect is one reason
the SunSaluter is more economical than
other trackers. “One SunSaluter costs us
about $25 [to make], and we don’t mark
up the units by a huge margin,” Full Goh
explains. “Some of our past competitors that
have gone out of business charged upwards
of $600 per panel, because they used com-
plicated electronics to get a maximum power
point tracking algorithm in place.”
There are systems that cost less than those,
but typically the lower-cost tracking systems
still run the end user at least $100, Full Goh
explains. This is expensive for many of the
SunSaluter’s intended users. “It is also worth
mentioning that these [$100] systems are
automatic, and so the people who are paying
for them can probably afford them,” she notes.
By comparison, the SunSaluter is a fraction of the cost of these trackers, making it
an affordable option for those who might not
otherwise be able to purchase one.
BUILDING LOCAL ECONOMIES
The SunSaluter also has another goal: in addition to being an energy poverty solution, Full
Goh’s team hopes that their product will drive
local business creation in areas where there
are often few economic opportunities for
“There are many great technologies, such
as solar lanterns, but the only economic
opportunity around them for local entrepreneurs is distribution, because they’re manufactured abroad,” says Jake Schual-Berke,
SunSaluter’s chief operating officer.
RECAPO, SunSaluter’s Malawian distributor, is an example of this vision at work. The
organization develops local applications for
energy and water filtration in rural communities. Its plan is to sell and install affordable solar electricity and clean water supply
systems through SunSaluter.
Matengula calls SunSaluter a “
transformational technology” because of how it supports
communities by increasing solar panel efficiency
and providing clean water at a lower cost than
other available methods. His own organization’s
operational capacity has been greatly impacted
by using the SunSaluter as well: RECAPO’s office
had no electricity until the organization started
working with SunSaluter. Now, Matengula and
his team have a solar panel that is able to light
four rooms and the building perimeter and
charge their cell phones and laptops.
NO T ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL
What allows entrepreneurs and organizations like RECAPO to create new income
7:00AM 12:00PM 6:00PM
FIG 3: Power output chart
knowledge to build and
low-cost materials are