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Solar lamp, water filter aimed at India's poor

The Sollys solar lamp and Sheba water filter are designed to help people in India who live without electricity and clean water.


People working on low-cost technology solutions to the challenges of life in developing countries gathered last month in Colorado to exchange ideas, and two of them addressed some of the most basic needs--light and clean water--for people in India.

The International Development Design Summit is a kind of inventor boot camp geared at producing viable prototypes for products that can help the world's poorest. IDDS 2010 was held at Colorado State University.

One project discussed at the conference is the Sollys solar lamp. Like the Nokero solar bulb, it can replace polluting, ineffective kerosene lamps used at night in poor rural villages with little or no electricity. Some residents walk for hours every month to obtain kerosene and carry it home to mountain communities.

Volunteer group Avani manufactures and distributes Sollys in part of the Indian Himalayas in Uttarakhand state. It says there are no other solar lamps available in the region, where far-flung communities are not connected to electricity grids.

Avani trains locals to manufacture the lamps out of parts sourced from Indian companies. Sollys consists of a solar panel connected to a battery-operated fluorescent lantern. One model costs $45 and can be purchased through a partner microcredit loan for about $2 a month, which is what many families spend on kerosene oil. The price includes two years of maintenance, something Avani says distinguishes Sollys from competitors.

The group says its Sollys lights can operate for three days without a charge, which comes in handy during the monsoon season and its overcast skies. Avani sells about 500 lights per year, and aims to reach 1,000 families in 2011.


Another project featured at IDDS 2010 is the Sheba water purifier. Under development by AYZH, a group operating in southern India and beyond, Sheba has been undergoing various designs since conceptualization at the first IDDS, held at MIT. AYZH says water problems affect about 70 percent of 360 million Indian women aged 16 to 64.

The Sheba purifier consists of a plastic filtration top and a clay pot at the bottom, where clean water is stored. Dirty water is first poured through a rudimentary filter on top that consists of eight layers of sari cloth in a hoop lid, which blocks larger bacteria and sediment. Next, ceramic candle and activated charcoal filters cleanse the water before it pools in the clay pot, where it cools naturally.

AYZH is still partnering with other organizations to start selling Sheba, and field tests are slated for November in India. Lab tests have already shown that Sheba can improve the smell and taste of water, as well as remove dangerous bacteria, according to AYZH. The filter is designed to meet criteria set by the Bureau of Indian Standards.

After a pilot test of 100 units in January 2011, Sheba is expected to be sold to and through women in India for $19 apiece, including a free filter replacement after six months; it's estimated to cost about $3 per year to operate. It's slightly cheaper than the plastic Swach water purifier introduced by India's Tata Group, and AYZH believes Sheba's incorporation of familiar sari and clay will make it more popular among villagers.

Women's self-help groups are expected to assemble Sheba purifiers, which would create economic as well as health benefits. Meanwhile, we'll see what ideas IDDS 2011, tentatively slated to be held in Ghana, will cook up.