Saturday, January 16, 2010

Kibera Community Youth Program’s Solar Project

by Nels Nelson

Wycliffe Sande of the Kibera Community Youth Program, shown here in his office with me, is organizing a solar energy program within the infamous Kibera slum of Nairobi. The program offers consultation and installation service for household PV panels and also builds small PV units to be sold within the community aimed at the target group of citizens without access to the electricity grid.

One of the products being developed is an integrated PV light system. The components are a hard crystalline PV panel (5.3 x 13.3cm) connected to a tray of three AA rechargeable batteries and then ten LED bulbs inside an FSC-certified hardwood case.

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The advantages of this design are that it can be assembled within the slum and the product is reasonably durable. The disadvantage are that it is too expensive to be purchased by slum dwellers (~30 Euro, equivalent to three months rent), it is not water resistant, and a few design flaws limit its practicality. The high cost is resultant from the PV panel, which is of Swiss make and costs over 6 Euro, and the FSC wood, which was recommended by Greenpeace. The light beam is quite focused (due to the deep inset of the LED bulbs) which limits the product’s ability to offer diffuse light in a room.

If you are a product designer with an inclusive worldview, I challenge you to redesign the product to reduce the price and improve functionality. I would consider using a less expensive PV panel, such as a flexible thin-film cell and replacing the wood with locally available recycled material, such as plastic packaging or rubber from tires or inner tubes. I would keep the idea of using recharchable AA batteries because it extends the use of the product to battery charging. The dream product should be able to illuminate a small shop window or a living room for at least four hours, offer water protection, cost less than 5 Euro, be able to be assembled within a slum workshop, use recycled or renewable materials for the casing, and last for many years.

Sande would love for you to offer a new design. Comment on this post and I can put you in touch with him.