After eight years as a management consultant for Accenture, civil engineer Linda Krondahl was looking for something new. Drawn to return to a past career in product development and convinced that solar energy would enjoy strong growth in coming years, she set out to create a solar lamp for off-grid use that could stand up to harsh climates and tough conditions.
HiNation, the company Krondahl founded and leads today, plans to release that lamp by early 2010.
“I looked to see where I could do the most good while getting a small company off the ground,” Krondahls says. “Most people don’t normally give any thought to having access to electricity, but it’s a different story if you’re trekking in the mountains or if you live in rural Africa. That’s when we realize that electricity makes our lives a lot easier.”
The HiNation solar lamp, which measures 15 X 15 cm, gets all of its power from the sun and stores it in lithium polymer batteries. It’s made from just a few component materials, which are simple to separate for recycling. And to keep it working even under hard use while also limiting the need for spare parts, it’s sturdily built, waterproof and dustproof. The light source consists of energy-efficient light-emitting diodes.
The HiNation lamp is designed to last for at least three years under daily use, a considerably longer lifetime than most products currently on the market.
The lamp can be used to charge a mobile telephone or other electronic gadgets via a USB port. The price in Swedish shops is expected to be about SEK 1,500 (US$200).
“Most solar lamps available today require a cord between the solar source and the lamp itself. Many of them still use lead batteries,” Krondahl says, adding that she hopes to see similar technical solutions from competitors, both to increase awareness among consumers and to meet enormous latent demand.
Cheaper than kerosene
The solar lamp is targeted primarily toward affluent customers like campers, sailors or other outdoor enthusiasts. HiNation is also marketing to safari arrangers and lodge owners in Africa and Asia, where diesel generators are often the only source of electric power. But as volumes increase and a network of distributors is developed, the company hopes to appeal to more cost-conscious consumers as well.
“We’d eventually like to work with aid organizations to get the lamp out where it’s really needed, in rural parts of developing countries,” Krondahl says. “We have talked with the Red Cross, and they want us to get more established so we can prove that this product really stands up to hard use and lasts longer than the cheaper competition.”
Krondahl hopes that aid groups will subsidize the solar lamp for sales to groups or for rental in remote villages. While it may be too expensive for individuals to own, rental could make it less expensive than kerosene lamps.
During the autumn of 2009 a prototype of the solar lamp will undergo final adjustments before launch at the end of this year or early in 2010. Students from the Royal Swedish Academy of Science are working on design adjustments and improved mechanics. Testing under rigorous field conditions are planned as part of a cooperative project with the nomadic Maasai people of east Africa, who have shown considerable interest in the product.
When full-scale production begins, Krondahl says HiNation will for the first time need to seek external financing. “We’ve chosen not to bring in a financial partner yet, mainly because we haven’t met the right company or person,” she explains.
But she’s already looking toward improvements: “We get a lot of questions about making the solar lamp larger or smaller,” Krondahl says. We’d like to make it capable of charging a computer, and a version with replaceable batteries is another idea.”
Article published in August 2009