Earlier this year London-based start-up Deciwatt was named national winner of Shell Springboard 2015 with their pioneering low-carbon invention GravityLight. By simply harnessing the power of gravity this easy-to-use apparatus has the potential to transform millions of people’s lives across some of the most poverty-stricken regions in the world.

Designers Martin Riddiford and Jim Reeves started developing GravityLight in 2008, aiming to produce a practical alternative to the carbon-heavy kerosene lamps used by millions of underprivileged people living without access to electricity. Their invention translates the momentum of a falling weighted bag into energy that can provide up to 20 minutes of light.

This year’s Springboard win has earned Deciwatt not only a £150,000 grant to continue developing GravityLight but also validation from some of the greatest minds in the industry.

Light switch

“Roughly 1.3 billion people across the world are living without access to electricity,” says Jim, drawing attention to the scale of the issue the industry faces. “Millions of these people are forced into the poverty trap of using kerosene, which can consume as much as 30% of household incomes.”

Thanks to a low-cost design, GravityLight reduces a family’s kerosene spend and will pay for itself within only two to three months of making the switch. However, eliminating the need to burn high-carbon kerosene has more than just financial benefits; it has huge health implications as well.

Jim explains: “In India alone approximately 1.5 million people suffer severe burns as a result of using dangerous kerosene lamps. Kerosene is also an extremely low quality and very dirty fuel. The World Bank estimates that 780 million women and children a year breathe kerosene fumes equivalent to inhaling 40 cigarettes a day.”

Light support

Shell Springboard, launched in 2005, has been supporting young entrepreneurs and their innovative low-carbon ideas for 10 years, providing funding and business expertise. For Deciwatt, this support has come at a critical moment.

“Our aim is to provide clean energy solutions for humanitarian relief as well as a range of applications in developed markets,” says Commercial Director Caroline Angus. “Shell’s funding will help us to convert existing links in the relief market into orders and sales, as well as develop a radio attachment to provide news, education and entertainment alongside light.”

A proportion of Deciwatt’s profits will be put aside to support the growth of the GravityLight Foundation, which was established in 2014 to help address environmental concerns and rising poverty levels.

An extensive global trial saw the first prototype model, GL01, tested in 1,300 off-grid households across 26 different countries.

Second-generation innovation

After pooling all the feedback, the team spent the last year re-engineering, prototyping, testing, iterating and retesting their product to create a new and improved model.

“GL02 is stronger, brighter, longer lasting and even easier to use,” says Jim. “However, this isn’t only about a product. We want to create local jobs, skills and livelihoods for those who make and sell GravityLight.”

For GravityLight and the Foundation, the next stage of development includes setting up assembly of the new GL02 model in Kenya, with the first samples expected to roll off the line in spring 2016.

To find out more about the Shell Springboard initiative and the other innovative low-carbon businesses it has supported over the past 10 years, visit shellspringboard.org

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