IDA Singapore: The sunrise industry of portable green power

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

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During the recent earthquake in Nepal, a Singapore startup’s technology made a difference. Some international rescue teams relied on solar power chargers made by the startup to run their mobile phones and laptops.

Similarly, following a major hurricane in the Philippines, these portable devices were deployed to charge phones when conventional power lines went down.

When emergencies occur, communications is vital, said Mr V S Hariharan, co-founder of the company Third Wave Power. “We hope that in time, low-cost solar chargers providing renewable power could be included in first-aid kits for victims of natural disasters so that they can get help and stay connected.”

Solar-powered chargers, some with built-in radios and emergency lights, also serve as a vital back-up during disasters. “In the US areas for example, some areas are prone to tornadoes, said Mr Hariharan. “Japan and New Zealand which face the threat of earthquakes and power outages are also turning to solar energy as a reliable form of renewable portable power.”

Natural disasters aside, the company hopes these devices will allow people, especially those living in rural areas of the world, to tap the benefits of modern technology and enrich their lives.

“In India for example, more people own handphones than landlines, but still many do not have ready access to power. So we started a pilot scheme in which local entrepreneurs can get these solar kits devices for about US$50. These can charge power banks which are rented out to consumers for as low as five rupees (10 cents) for a battery charge. This is part of our aim of democratising power and making it available and affordable to anyone, anywhere,” said Mr Hariharan.

With better charging technology for solar cells and improvements in battery performance, Third Wave Power aims to position solar energy as a viable source of portable power for both urban and rural communities and dispel the notion that the green substitute is simply an “alternative” form of power.

The Power of Ideas

“China has been producing many low-cost solar chargers for some time but consumers were often disappointed by their poor quality and reliability. Western versions performed better but were substantially more expensive putting them out of reach for a lot of people. We have tried to straddle the two approaches providing high-quality products at a reasonable price point.”

The local startup, which began operations in 2011, offers a range of battery packs depending on the needs of consumers. “For example, different types of handphones require different power outputs. So we try to understand what the customer requires. It’s not just the battery capacity but its power output for the intended use, and we try to marry these needs with the power banks we produce.”

Mr Hariharan remains very inspired by the evolving culture of innovation emerging among tech companies in Singapore. “The government and Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore have done much to bring start-ups, small and medium enterprises and multinationals together at their many forums and discussions which are very helpful.” 

For example, Third Wave Power took part in the Tech Alley showcase at IDA’s Smart Nation Innovations event in April to present some of its solutions for powering the Internet of Things. “Just from being there and meeting people, we got some fresh ideas from people who were looking at solar power for the applications that they are now working on,” he said. 

Another emerging area Third Wave Power is exploring: the wireless charging of devices. “Currently there are two evolving standards – Qi and A4WP. Intel is backing the A4WP which seems to be more promising, but we are not sure about the adoption curve in the marketplace and hence we are waiting for the right time to get into this.”

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