Social Enterprise Spotlight: Portable Solar Lighting
Monday, August 15, 2011
“How many _____ does it take to change a light bulb,” may no longer be just a joke. In inventing the LuminAID Light, a solar powered portable device, Andrea Sreshta and Anna Stock have created a possible alternative to Thomas Edison’s 1879 electric discovery that has the potential to change, not only the light bulb, but also the world. It is no wonder that they are one of the three social entrepreneur finalists for the Pipeline Fellowship pool.
Nearly 1.6 billion people in the world lack access to electricity. Yet, because they do not lack the desire for light, these billions resort to dangerous and toxic alternatives of illumination such as candles and kerosene lamps.
Other forms of alternative energy such as wind and solar, while safe and effective, never have been a realistic option for the developing world. Massive and expensive, most wind and sun-powered innovations have not found a cost-effective way to penetrate those markets. Solar power costs, according to the New York Times, “four times as much as coal.” That is what sets the LuminAID light apart.
Though solar operated, the LuminAID light is compact and affordable. It is an inflatable pouch that has a thin-film solar panel with two-coin cell rechargeable batteries. It, as the company’s website says, “(i)nflates to produce a quality of light similar to a lantern,” providing five hours of light. Except that instead of looking like a lantern, it resembles a pillow, which is what Sreshta and Stork originally called their product. That was back in January 2010 when, as design and architecture students at Columbia University, LuminAID was merely a school project.
Sreshta and Stork were assigned to craft a solution for communities suffering from a disaster through design. It was two weeks after the January 2010 Haiti earthquake. While everyone else was focused on how to deliver food, water and shelter to Haiti, the two architecture students turned social entrepreneurs honed in on the one thing that wasn’t there: light. “Andrea and I read and heard about the dangerous conditions in the tent cities,” says Anna Stork, “how people lacked resources for safety and survival. Light is actually a very basic need that we often take for granted.”