Sometimes, Great Ideas Do Fall From the Sky

The innovative #makethefuture campaign from Shell brings gravity-powered light to Kenya

Written by Ryan Jebavy • December 24, 2016

Sponsored by:

"There aren't a lot of products designed for the world's poorest people," said inventor Jim Reeves at a TEDx talk in 2014. "You don't have to be an economist to understand why that is. When you start with a blank piece of paper and you ask yourself, ‘really, what do people need?’ then it takes you on a different path."

Thinking about this question spurred Reeves on to co-found GravityLight, a UK-based foundation dedicated to developing a unique gravity-powered light source for families and communities where there is limited or no access to electricity. GravityLight is one of the energy innovations supported by the Shell #makethefuture campaign.

Providing access to cleaner and more sustainable energy is at the heart of Shell’s ambition to support innovative companies that are developing alternative energy solutions for future generations. Shell innovation programs such as LiveWIRE and Springboard award funds to such companies aiming to reshape the future through sustainable energy. The GravityLight Foundation—a past Shell Springboard winner—is a prime example of an organization with the aim of improving access to safe and sustainable energy for millions.

Currently, many households without electricity get their light from kerosene lamps, which are known to be inefficient and dangerous. GravityLight aims to provide an alternative to replace kerosene lamps in these households with more luminous LED lights that run on clean, gravity-generated power.

The technology behind GravityLight is almost as simple as its name. Essentially, a medium-sized sack is filled with rocks, sand or soil and attached to a chain that is connected to a gearbox. The gearbox is hung from the ceiling, the weight sack raised, and as the sack slowly falls, it turns the gears, which power a small generator to illuminate the LED.

Recently, Shell and GravityLight kicked off the 50-Night Tour in Kenya in order to introduce this new way to light homes to 50 communities across the country.

It’s all part of the Shell #makethefuture campaign – which is visiting communities across the globe. This global “energy relay” kicked off earlier this year in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Seven Shell-supported bright energy ideas came together in Rio’s Santa Marta community, which was the first area to benefit from the relay. To help celebrate and spread the word, six artists including Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson, DJ/producer Steve Aoki, Brazilian singer Luan Santana, Nigeria’s Yemi Alade, Britain’s Pixie Lott and China’s Tan Weiwei took part and collaborated on a new music video to highlight the work of #makethefuture.

As Shell and GravityLight continue to spread the word about GravityLight’s potential, influential entrepreneurs and media outlets are taking notice: Bill Gates tweeted his admiration, calling it a “cool innovation,” and Forbes has previously called it an “inspiring project”.

To show your support for the GravityLight relay in Kenya, simply sign up on the #makethefuture pledge here. You can follow the Shell and GravityLight team’s journey across Kenya, here .

Sources: TEDx Talks. "GravityLight - lighting a billion lives: Jim Reeves at TEDxWarwick 2014." Online video clip. YouTube. Google, 18 Apr. 2014. Web. 22 Nov. 2016. https://youtu.be/qwEmgwrVUag.

"GravityLight Research Across Kenya." The Gravity Foundation. N.p., 08 Nov. 2016 Web. 22 Nov. 2016. http://gravitylight.org/blog/2016/11/4/gravitylight-research.

"GravityLight Research Across Kenya." The Gravity Foundation. N.p., 22 Sept. 2016 Web. 22 Nov. 2016. http://gravitylight.org/blog/satlights.

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