Inventor’s solar charger a bright idea
Share this article:
Growing up in rural KwaZulu-Natal with no electricity, no running water and long distances to travel just to collect water and firewood for cooking is tough, especially for children of school-going age.
Trever Colvelle, 26, could never have imagined that the long evenings spent studying while enduring the foul fumes of the paraffin lamp and his many treks to the river to collect water for the family would later spark a business idea.
Colvelle, of Bulwer in the Midlands, won the top prize in the Ithala Inkunz’isematholeni Youth in Business Competition for his invention of the Solar Nexus, a foldable solar charging device that opens out into a golf umbrella shape and powers a heater, radio, TV and lights, eliminating the need for candles, paraffin stoves and open fire cooking. His invention is waterproof, enabling consumers to use it for protection in rain or for shade when walking long distances, to absorb solar energy to charge the device’s battery. Its battery power ranges from 5 000 to 10 000 milliamps and lasts up to eight hours.
Colvelle grew up in Elandskop, a 45 minute drive from Pietermaritzburg, and matriculated at KwaMncane High School in 2010.
“After school I travelled long distances to fetch firewood so that my mom could prepare something to eat and, after that, we had to do homework with candles or paraffin lamps and sometimes the smoke would get under your nose,” Colvelle said of his school years.
His mother was a sole provider, a gardener who grew vegetables and chopped firewood to sell to locals and he had to walk 2km to the nearest river to fetch water for the garden. His father was disabled and unable to work.
“All I wanted to do was change my reality. I wanted to study hard and go to university. I persevered and earned four distinctions in matric,” Colvelle said.
Colvelle graduated from the University of KwaZulu-Natal with a bachelors degree in geography and environmental management last year.
“After university I realised that I was creative and that I could use that to challenge the status quo, so I tried to confront the problem I grew up with because I realised it was the reality for many South Africans who live in informal settlements and impoverished areas where they travel long distances.
Before you do you homework you have to travel four or five kilometres to fetch water and firewood. It started as an idea – how could I help people have electricity to power their lamps and stoves?” he asked.
At university he studied agro- meteorology. His professor, Michael Savage, had set up a laboratory powered entirely by solar energy.
“That inspired me and gave birth to my idea,” Colvelle said.
“At the beginning of this year I had a eureka moment and thought why not turn this into something portable, because people are mobile all the time. I started rough drawings and it got finer as I went along,” he said.
“It was only when I came to Ithala Inkunz’isematholeni where my idea actually changed into a business. I went to a workshop where I was taught how to approach this as a business and with business planning,” he said.
Colvelle is now in the process of forming a renewable energy company, Technote, through which he will market the product. He aims to take it a step further eventually by creating financial incentives through buying power back from consumers for resale.
“I have come up with a business model where the product is lightweight and foldable, so you can put it in your pocket. So why not let people collect solar power, charge the battery and sell it back to me so they make money for themselves? I can bundle it and sell it back to the municipality,” he said.
“They say dynamite comes in small packages, but what I intend to do is revolutionise the way we see energy in SA. I want to do away with shack fires completely because they are an unnecessary accident in an age where renewable energy is so advanced – we even have solar panels that are literally paper size and as light as that, so I don’t think anyone should be without power,” he said.
Colvelle is in discussions with the retailer, Game, to stock the product, which he expects to be available to consumers for between R300 and R500 next year. “It’s for all users, not just the needy communities who will need this more because it speaks directly to their utmost need. Electricity prices increase so you could save by taking all your gadgets and connecting them,” he said.
Colvelle also plans to connect with companies to supply poor communities with the device as part of corporate social investment projects.