Scrapped solar panels and laptop batteries combine into power generation microsystems to bring energy independence to remote locations.
For PowerWells co-founders Brad, Nick, and Amatus, it has been a busy three months. The three guys from very different backgrounds (a former town planner, an e-waste specialist, and a West-Papuan tinkerer) met at a Hackathon at Substation 33, an e-waste recycling facility near Logan in Brisbane’s south, in late November. They quickly realised their mutual desire to come up with something that could make a difference to the lives of those in developing communities. Here in Australia, they saw e-waste all around them – major battery dumps, technology and devices merely three years old constantly becoming landfill, and in one of those lightbulb moments – the PowerWells concept was born.
The PowerWells story sounds like a start-up fairytale, which is not to say that it hasn’t been a lot of hard work. In just three months, the three entrepreneurs have formed a partnership, designed a fully recycled power generation kit, tested and finalised the microsystem’s design on-site in an Indonesian village, raised over $12 000 through their crowdfunding campaign to finance the first 100 kits, and – tadaaaaa – secured GEM Energy’s sponsorship for their upcoming community consultation tour to rural Indonesia!
It may come as a surprise to some, but villagers in regions like remote Indonesia use their mobile phones a lot. Just like the rest of us, they like to stay in touch with each other and the world and take advantage of the economic and educational opportunities provided by global interconnectivity. They also use these devices as a convenient way for providing lighting at night – a cheaper option than kerosene, small batteries or candles. In the absence of mains power, people often travel long distances to the nearest town to charge their phones.
PowerWells are set to change that energy poverty dynamic, unlocking valuable time and resources for remote villagers.
One full charge of a PowerWells microsystem can charge a single iPhone up to 100 times, or up to 50 devices at once. The idea is that a village’s PowerWell will become a similar central point for the community, just like a village well – a place where people come to charge their device and socialise, before taking their charged device and using the power where they need it. The power will also be valuable for lighting up communal spaces at night.
The cost for one PowerWell (and yes, the name was inspired by the Tesla Powerwall) is just $120, made up of a single solar panel, a battery pack made from 25 upcycled laptop batteries, and a few other, easily sourced recycled materials.
If you think a PowerWell might even be an ideal addition to your home, so you can say bye-bye to the grid, you might need to think again though. The amount of electricity produced by the kit is comparably small for what we Westerners are used to consuming. PowerWells won’t (yet) be powering fridges or air conditioners. But for remote villagers all around the world, PowerWells will make a huge difference.
The PowerWells concept is a powerful example of energy independence and GEM Energy are excited at the opportunity to support these gamechangers on their mission. For us here at GEM, solar energy is not just a way to make a living, it’s our way of life – we are passionate about renewable energy, and we want more people to have access to it – not just in Australia, but throughout the rest of the world as well.
We are proud to support PowerWells on their Indonesian Community Consultation Trip to ascertain how the power generation kits can best serve local villages.
Stay tuned for our weekly PowerWells updates!