A/D/O by MINI | Krystal Persaud wants solar for all

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Krystal Persaud wants solar for all

A/D/O Workspace alumna Krystal Persaud creates solar panels that can be placed in any window, allowing even apartment dwellers to harness clean, renewable energy.

Many urbanites are increasingly conscious of their electricity sources and usage, but due to their living situations, aren’t able to do much about it. It’s near impossible to convince a landlord to install solar panels on the roof of an apartment building, thanks to high cost implications and permit complications.

“Solar for apartments and people in cities is interesting, because most solar companies are just focused on traditional residential homes,” said designer Krystal Persaud, founder of tech company Grouphug, who has come up with a solution for energy-conscious, space-poor city dwellers.

Her Window Solar Charger acts like a personal solar panel, collecting sunlight to charge a built-in battery that can be used to power small electronic devices. Housed within a bamboo frame, the photovoltaic cells are designed to be hung in, or stuck onto a window, while a transparent backing still allows light to pass into the space. The product is designed to blend seamlessly with most interior decor, and provide apartment renters an easy step towards their desire to living greener.

“I surveyed 100 people and I talked to all my friends, asking: ‘For you to be more sustainable, what do you think you should do?’ And they said, ‘Well, if I had all the money in the world, I guess I should go solar. But I live in New York, so how would I ever do that?’” Seeing a gap in the market, the designer put on her entrepreneurial hat and began working on a solution.

In search of a career that combined arts and sciences, Persaud studied industrial design at Georgia Institute of Technology. After graduating, she spent seven years working at educational toy company Littlebits, where she gained knowledge of developing business and bringing products to market. The designer then founded Grouphug in 2018, deciding to focus on sustainability, and particularly the unexplored possibilities offered by solar tech.

“In the sustainability field... not a lot has changed in terms of technology,” she said. “But there's this huge appetite for it now in terms of marketing.”

“There's just so much opportunity, I think, for more creativity and design within solar,” Persaud added.

Over the course of a year – with the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign – she developed, prototyped, and began producing and selling her Window Solar Charger. The product is intended for charging small electronic devices, like smartphones and tablets, via a USB port incorporated into the frame. The 10-watt lithium battery can store enough energy to charge an iPhone twice or a tablet once. Bike lights, and wireless headphones and speakers are among other compatible products. “The way I use it, it hangs above my bed during the day and it charges the battery, and then at night I plug my phone in and go to sleep,” Persaud said.

The designer has also scaled-up this technology, creating a 150-watt version in the shape of a cat’s face. Aptly named Solar Cat, the functional piece was installed in a window at New York Hall of Science earlier this year – attracting the attention of passers-by and proving that larger varieties of the product are viable. “I am thinking about, and looking into, a way to make the panels more modular, so people can buy multiples and connect them together,” said Persaud.

Photos by Justin Ryan Kim

Both the Window Solar Charger and Solar Cat were brought to life while Persaud was a member of The Workspace at A/D/O. Joining the co-working space in Brooklyn, she was able to try out the in-house workshop tools – including a laser cutter, CNC machine, table saw, soldering irons – with the help of the on-site team. This enabled her to test out ways to manufacture her products, before settling on the laser cutter as her equipment of choice.

“I'm a one-person company right now,” said Persaud. “I have a bunch of contractors, but having the availability of all of the tools that I just couldn't afford… especially in the beginning, it would be so impractical for me to buy [them].”

“I've probably made like 50 panels in the workshop over the course of the last few months,” she added.

To spread her knowledge of solar-powered tech, Persaud is partnering with The Workspace to host an event later this month. The four-hour Solar Energy Workshop will cover the basics of solar energy, demonstrating and testing circuit boards, and coming up with fun ideas for solar devices to be discussed and critiqued. “The workshop is really focused on making solar energy feel more accessible to the average person,” Persaud said.

Photo by Justin Ryan Kim

Looking ahead, Persaud believes the future appears increasingly bright for solar tech. The cost of photovoltaic panels is rapidly decreasing, so the technology should become accessible to a much wider group. There are also very few big-name solar brands right now, aside from Elon Musk's Tesla – but this could soon change, said Persaud. With a more crowded market, prices for buying and installing solar panels could fall further still.

“Strictly from a marketing perspective, I think there's an interesting gap happening where solar is viewed right now,” she said. “There will be competition for different features and different things that people want, [which will] move it forward.”

Hurdles to cross, however, are the “burdensome” laws and construction permits for installing solar panels on the exterior of buildings, which in the US vary state-by-state. “There's a lot of red tape that I think, as states getting more progressive, will hopefully get easier,” said Persaud, remaining optimistic. But until this happens, her window chargers provide a “gateway” to solar energy and a “first step into buying something that you use every day”.

The Solar Energy Workshop takes place October 13, 2019, 12-5pm, at A/D/O. Get your ticket.

The Workspace at A/D/O offers a variety of membership tiers for creative professionals. Find out more.

Text by Dan Howarth.

Photography courtesy of Grouphug, unless stated otherwise.

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