It has been a long journey, from a remote village in Indonesia, to “Pitch@Palace” in London, and back to Australia to manufacture the “Power Well.” The idea grew from a refugee’s suggestion at an innovation weekend run by Substation33. The story was told to me by Brad Claire on my recent visit to Substation33’s Kingston workshop. You might remember we have already published a couple of articles about Substation33:
Substation33 is the training arm for NGO YFF. It now has 14 paid workers who coach, train, and mentor the 600 volunteers from a range of demographics who perform 80,000 hours of work per year. Tony Sharpe (manager) tells me they place 100 people a year into regular jobs ranging from manual labour to hospitality to high-end engineering.
A group of people gathered at Kingston, south of Brisbane, to work out an answer to a social/environmental problem and came up with the Power Well. One of the participants was a refugee from Indonesia — specifically, from a small island east of Bali, called Sumba. He described how he had to walk many miles to find a power source to charge his phone, how his family huddled around their kerosene lantern in the evenings, and how it cost almost two thirds of their income to power that lantern. Breathing in the fumes of a kerosene lamp has been compared to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.
Out of the weekend came a paint bucket battery with a solar panel — all reused of course. The team flew to Indonesia on a trip sponsored by Jetstar to see if they could install it. The Power Well had to be assembled in the hotel room. On the way to the village, they passed a solar farm which had stopped working due to lack of maintenance. The irony.
It took two and half weeks from idea to install.
The Power Well team then switched from paint tins to pipes and won a competition to “Pitch@Palace.” Part of the prize was a trip to London for the product pitch. Claire tells the story of the partially assembled Power Well being found on the bed, management calling the police, and mayhem ensuing. The hotel’s 140 rooms had to be evacuated, as well as a 4 km range of surrounding buildings. When the device was finally explained to the police, they congratulated the team on their invention. It even made the Courier Mail back home
Now they are shipping their Power Wells to Sumba — 130 have already been installed. Gone are the paint buckets and pipes; the device is enclosed in sleek plastic cases laser cut from the backs of old computers. The motherboards are made from new at Substation33. The batteries are reused from old phones and laptops. The Power Well is 90% reused materials in terms of weight.
Substation33 has partnered with local Sumba Sustainable Solutions to provide the household solar systems. Each month an agent from Sumba visits the village and collects the $2.50 (or goods to that value — a woven mat or bag) to pay for the system. The system is then reset and provides light and charging for the family. The agent is also able to check the health of the system and that of the village.
One hundred and sixty two power wells are stacked in the warehouse ready to go to Indonesia. Substation33 is looking for a corporate sponsor to increase the rate of install. Possible sponsors can reach out to email@example.com. Substation33 is also looking for ways to encourage local manufacture.
More power to them, I say!
Featured image: Sadalmelik (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons
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