A Bright Idea for Rural India

solar light by UC Davis student

Nikitaa Sivaakumar, left, and her light

November 2017 - In her native India, recent design MFA graduate Nikitaa Sivaakumar saw people struggling with inadequate lighting and noxious fumes from kerosene lanterns.

Solar lighting seemed like a good solution for a nation where 25 percent of the people live without electricity. But most solar lamps cost $20 to $30, and that’s too expensive in rural India where the average monthly income is $12.  Her solution is MakeGlow, a lantern made from a small solar panel, rechargeable battery, LEDs, and recycled cardboard. Total cost: $2.

“I wanted to come up with an easy-to-assemble, low-cost, fun and practical approach to providing lighting and learning the basic concepts of solar technology,” Sivaakumar said.

A big part of the project is having teenage students make the lights. Students build the lamps by cutting and folding a piece of discarded cardboard then adding electrical components. She tested the building process with students in Chennai, India, and Berkeley, California.

“It was designed to create awareness about solar technology through a hands-on experience in classrooms where students build their own MakeGlows,” she said.

MakeGlow won second place in the Energy and Resource Alternatives category (from among 300 entries) in the Big Ideas competition at UC Berkeley; Honorable Mention (top seven of 326 projects) at the Big Ideas Pitch Day at UC Berkeley; and a Poverty Alleviation through Sustainable Solutions grant from the UC Davis Blum Center for Developing Economies.

- Jeffrey Day, content strategist, College of Letters and Science