Solar energy's Canadian bright lights: 3 entrepreneurs helping the developing world

Canadian entrepreneurs have come up with some smart ideas that are helping bring solar power to people living off the grid in developing areas of the world like Africa and Nepal.

About 600 million people in Africa don't have access to electricity in their homes

Canadian company SunFarmer builds solar panel installations at schools and hospitals around the world, and offers consumers zero-interest loans. By 2030, about 700 million people living in Africa won't have access to electricity. (SunFarmerTeam15/Flickr)

Canadian entrepreneurs are helping bring solar power to a growing number of Africans living off the grid.

More than half a billion people in Africa don't have access to electricity, according to Lighting Africa, a program run by the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation to improve access to energy. By 2030, that number is expected to reach about 700 million.

The need for light in those communities forces people to turn to cheap, dangerous sources like kerosene lamps and candles.

But some Canadians are stepping in to create affordable, clean energy alternatives:

Eden Full, SunSaluter

Calgary-bred Eden Full, left, founded SunSaluter in 2006, and compares her solar energy and water filtration creation to a sunflower. (SunSaluter/Facebook)
Full, who grew up in Calgary and describes herself as "proudly Canadian," founded SunSaluter in 2006.

Full designed a device that maximizes solar energy collection and filters water at the same time.

The SunSaluter device, which she compares to a sunflower, uses a simple water filtration system to act as weights and adjust the angle of solar panels throughout the day to follow the sun.

In the morning, someone collects four litres of water into bottles, which are set up to a drip mechanism on one side of the solar panel, and the drip rate adjusted. On the other side, a counterweight is attached. As the water flows from the bottles, it is filtered and the panels rotate to follow the sun because the weight balance changes. The SunSaluter provides 40 per cent more power and filtered water by the end of a day.

Eden Full's SunSaluter uses water bottles to act as weights and adjust the angle of solar panels throughout the day to follow the sun. (SunSaluter)

Sixteen countries have SunSaluters. They include Egypt, where the company recently shipped three.

Full studies mechanical engineering at New Jersey's Princeton University. She had taken some time off school after she was awarded one of the first Thiel fellowships in 2011 — a $100,000 award for young people to take two years off school and pursue a passion project. The young entrepreneur has been named one of the Forbes top 30 under 30 in the energy category three times.

Jason Gray, SunFarmer

Jason Gray co-founded SunFarmer, which is helping provide solar power to people who lost their power source after the April 25 earthquake. (SunFarmer)
Gray, an entrepreneur from Regina, co-founded SunFarmer with Andy Moon. It is now helping provide solar power to Nepalese who have lost their power source in the earthquake that killed more than 7,500 people.

SunFarmer has an office in Kathmandu, although Gray works out of a Toronto office.

The company "has ramped up efforts to support relief and recovery," he said in a statement. "Our staff thankfully wasn't hurt and our office only lost one wall. Thankfully, our existing fleet of systems weren't damaged."

Gray co-founded SunFarmer in 2013 to help bring affordable solar energy to developing countries.

Gray's model aims to overcome the high upfront cost of solar power and the frequent lack of expertise in developing countries to properly install units. SunFarmer builds installations at community institutions like schools and hospitals around the world, and offers consumers zero-interest loans.

This model ensures customers take good care of their units and holds SunFarmer accountable for ongoing maintenance, Gray says in a video on the company's site.

The loans are offered on five, 10 or 15 year terms.Once the customer has paid for the project in full, SunFarmer recycles the money into a new installation. SunFarmer aims to power 4,000 hospitals, schools and water projects by 2020.

Adam Camenzuli, KARIBU Solar Power

Ontario entrepreneur Adam Camenzuli, right, shows off some of the design tools that help KARIBU Solar Power bring clean, solar power to Tanzania. (KARIBU Solar Power)
Ontarian Adam Camenzuli co-founded KARIBU Solar Power with a similar goal: to bring affordable modular solar lamps to off-the-grid African villagers.

Camenzuli and four others created a modular lamp made up of a solar panel, rechargeable battery and mobile phone charger, and light. They made it as an alternative to dangerous kerosene lamps that can cause burning, child poisoning, poor visual health and indoor air pollution.

To make it affordable, the company uses a rent-to-own model. Customers rent the battery and light from a shopkeeper for a daily fee. They recharge their battery using the shop's solar panel. Once a customer pays enough times for the battery rental, the shopkeeper will give them the panel.

Camenzuli quit a high-paying commercial banking job in Toronto to commit to the enterprise full time.


  • A previous version of this story said Jason Gray was in Nepal. In fact, he is co-ordinating earthquake relief efforts from SunFarmer's Toronto office.
    May 14, 2015 7:14 PM ET


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?