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Global TIES Team Earns Honors For Solar Lantern Project

The circuitry of the solar lantern with its plastic encasing removed.

The circuitry of the solar lantern with its plastic encasing removed. Photo courtesy of Global TIES.

Undergraduate students from UC San Diego designed and built an extremely affordable solar-powered lantern to provide not only light, but a source of income to a partner village in the Philippines. Their engineering and business savvy earned them the top spot in the Energy and Resources category at the Big Ideas social innovation competition at UC Berkeley, a third place finish at Booz Allen Hamilton’s Ideas Festival, and a spot at the Clinton Global Initiative University.

The One Village Philippines team, one of eight Global TIESprojects at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering, designed, tested, and improved the solar lantern over the course of two years, and will deploy their latest version this summer. The students work in partnership with Filipino non-governmental organization Gawad Kalinga and their Enchanted Farm village to teach the villagers how to make and sell the lanterns as a source of sustainable income.

“The idea is that this will be a community-owned enterprise, and it will be the villagers that will be operating the business,” said Eric Richards, a third-year cognitive science and design for social innovation studies student at UC San Diego, and member of the One Village Philippines team. 

The lanterns are made from recycled plastic jars and a bamboo stand— both of which can be locally sourced in or near the village — with a solar panel and electronic circuit bought in Manila, a one-hour drive from Enchanted Farm. The village does have electricity but it is costly and they experience frequent brownouts.  Some surrounding villages do not have access to electricity at all. These solar lanterns provide a stable source of light to power the villagers’ evening and night activities, including allowing children to complete schoolwork after the sun sets.

Students deployed the initial version of the lantern two years ago, and have been field testing and improving it based on user feedback since then. It costs $3.50 USD to produce the lantern, and villagers will sell them for approximately $5 USD.

Elaine Silverman, a second year mechanical engineering student, said the lantern takes six to ten hours of direct sunlight to fully charge, and will provide light for about eight hours once fully charged. She said the students plan to continue improving the lantern with potential features, based on villager feedback, such as USB charging and additional handle designs to hold lantern like a flashlight.

Silverman said the technical component of the project has been an exciting challenge and learning experience, but she’s most enjoyed seeing how engineering can interface with humanitarian work.

“For me, the coolest part is we’re doing something very different—we’re not just giving our partners lanterns, were helping them start their own community-owned enterprise,” Silverman said. “The impact of that is far greater than just giving them lanterns.”

One Village Philippines beat out 29 other graduate and undergraduate teams in their division at Big Ideas to claim the $9,000 prize, which will go towards fully implementing their solution and continuing to improve upon the lantern’s design. They are also one of four Global TIES teams selected to participate in the 11thannual Clinton Global Initiative University meeting in October in Chicago.

Global TIES is a course-based social innovation and sustainable community development program offered by the Jacobs School of Engineering.  It partners interdisciplinary teams of UC San Diego students with nonprofits and non-governmental organizations to co-create solutions to socially urgent problems in San Diego and the developing world.

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