In 2009, therefore, an award-winning design consultancy was approached by SolarAid, a UK charity with a mission to eradicate kerosene lamps. The team at SolarAid wanted to develop an extremely low-cost solar light, in order to reach off-grid families living on less than $3 a day.
Designers Martin Riddiford and Jim Reeves took on the challenge. Realising that batteries comprised a third of the product’s cost and PV panels, another third, they quickly realised the need to look beyond solar and battery powered devices.
They questioned the status quo. Power is typically generated and stored for later use. What if they removed the power storage - the battery? What if power could be generated as it was needed? They could reduce costs and might be able to gain in efficiency.
Martin and Jim started with a user’s perspective and a blank sheet of paper. Creating something “better than a kerosene lamp” became the benchmark for the amount of light needed. This led Martin and Jim to explore what much lower levels of power could deliver. Months of concept development and early prototypes followed.
One of the first ‘proof of principle’ designed involved a slowly falling weight attached to a bicycle wheel. Determined that the idea had potential GravityLight became a skunkworks project for Martin and Jim; a passion between consulting jobs. 3/4 years later, in November 2013 they had a working/ near production prototype and an ultimatum: either they raised funds to manufacture samples to ‘field test’ the concept and demand, or they had to put the project to bed.