On a mission to bridge the energy divide with a portable solar invention

On a mission to bridge the energy divide with a portable solar invention

The climate change threat has alerted us all to the need for a global response at finding solutions to protect our environment and renewable energy is undoubtedly at the heart of that drive. iGlobal connects wires with Prerna Wadikar, the mastermind behind Jeeva Global who is actively involved in this mission and was recently awarded the University of Oxford Vice-Chancellor’s Social Impact Award for her unique solar powered invention.

Born to Maharashtrian parents, Prerna was brought up in Bengaluru (Bangalore) – known as the Silicon Valley of India – and spent most of her academic life in Pune. From computer engineering she went on to pursue her Master’s in Public Policy from IIM Bangalore and thereafter an MBA from the University of Oxford.

Empowering women

Prerna’s inclination towards adapting her educational qualifications to create a larger social impact resonates with the values that she has inculcated from the inspiring women in her life. She chronicles the time when her grandmothers ventured outside the traditional roles that a woman in the 1960s was bound with: “My paternal grandmother completed her postgraduation after the birth of her fifth child and while working in a school, she taught underprivileged children at home. And my maternal grandmother ran an entire enterprise by herself.”

And, let’s not forget the supportive men who further nurtured her upbringing.

The Covid-19 pandemic has had severe repercussions on the economic and social wellbeing of employees all around the world, especially those of the daily wage workers in the labour-intensive markets who were blindsided by the endless lockdowns. The vibrant streets of India, rural or urban, are as good as an office to numerous microentrepreneurs such as hawkers whose earning potential had been disrupted.

“During the lockdown, people were not allowed on the streets. And now even when the cities are opening up, people are hesitant to buy from the street vendors.” Prerna initially introspected: “What can we do for them? How can we increase their revenue streams?”

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Road to a real product

As part of the curriculum at the Weidenfeld Hoffman Leadership Programme at Oxford, Prerna and her teammates began brainstorming on a project to address the energy challenges that are encountered in emerging economies. What started as an academic exercise, has now concluded in a real product.

Her association with Livaah Innovations Pvt Ltd, an electronic system design and manufacturing company located in Bengaluru gave her an opportunity to link up with renowned scientist Dr Sathya or the “God of Lithium-ion technology”, as Prerna described him, and Mr Bharat Rao, a reputed leader in energy infrastructure in India. Together they translated the blueprint into an actual solar chargeable Lithium-Ion portable battery, thus giving birth to Jeeva Global.

Circularity in design

Similar to a power bank, Jeeva’s rapid chargeability within an hour has the potential of running three devices simultaneously. Taking into consideration the sustainability drive towards a more circular economy, this inclusive product is made from end-of-life lithium-ion batteries retrieved from electric vehicles thereby reusing and repurposing them.

As its name suggests, Jeeva signifies life. With an aim to “enlighten livelihoods” by making energy more accessible and affordable to society, Jeeva Global is looking for fundraisers to manufacture at scale to make it “one of the lowest-priced solar chargeable products in its category globally.”

Upon hearing personal stories from her project mates about the lack of energy services in Zimbabwe, Uganda and Nigeria, Prerna began thinking on a global scale: “This product can not only be used for street vendors but can have multiple applications.”

Jeeva’s dual input and multiple output model can suffice the electricity needs of remote locations to power refrigerators and pedestal fans or even light a house.

Following a pilot phase in the northern Indian city of Varanasi, the device should be en route to other countries for a wide range of uses.

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Constructive solutions

Prerna’s constant commitment to positive social change through community service at a local organisation in Oxfordshire, which works with refugees and immigrants, and her enterprise Jeeva Global’s motive to solving a social issue has made her the recipient of the Vice- Chancellor’s Social Impact Award.

“It was truly humbling to receive the award in recognition of my contribution to society while at Oxford and a decade long demonstration of social development through my personal and professional life.”

The young professional urges other youngsters to stop complaining about things and start finding constructive solutions to problems.

“Whenever I would complain about something not working, or not going the way I wanted it to, my mother would ask – ‘so what are you doing about it?’”

On an endnote, she adds: “There is always a need for development of society and technology is a great enabler. It does not have to be something developed at elite institutions. It is high time we start appreciating our local ingenuity and our capability as Indians.”

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