Eden Full, Roseicollis Technologies
Eden Full doesn’t consider herself an innovator, at least not yet. This twenty-year-old Princeton student from Calgary has been receiving a significant amount of attention lately over her invention, the SunSaluter. With nothing more than twenty dollars of hardware, Eden managed to create a device that can increase the efficiency of a solar PV panel by a remarkable forty percent.
After a pilot project in central Kenya, where she deployed two devices that are providing electricity to two villages of 500 people, she’s looking to launch projects this summer in both Peru and India.
“I like to think I aspire to be an innovator,” Eden tells me, “but innovators actually have to execute what they plan to do. If I follow through, that will be really meaningful.” She goes on to explain that many technologies come and go, and it is persistence that leads to true innovation. “If it’s truly beneficial and sustainable, you have to keep pushing.”
The SunSaluter started out as a childhood project. “I was really into solar. I started out building solar cars, looking into different ways of optimizing solar electricity,” says Eden. One of her projects involved analyzing whether solar panels arranged like the leaves and branches of a tree would increase efficiency. She came to the conclusion that “you’re getting a lot of voltage up, but not a lot of current. Over time, you’re not getting a lot of electricity out, you have to face your solar panels toward the sun.” It was around this time that Eden started looking into tracking – that is, how to engineer solar panels to automatically follow the sun – and the SunSaluter was born.
To ensure that her invention would make an impact, Eden started up Roseicollis Technologies, based out of Calgary. Eden explains, “I realized that if I really wanted to make any tangible impact, it would have to be a company, and I’ll have to work on it full time.”
When I ask why Roseicollis Technologies is focusing specifically on developing countries, Eden answers quickly: “That’s where the tech is needed the most, and it’s the easiest way to implement the technology. We have a whole new generation of people who are starting to use electricity, and I think we should promote the use of electricity in a sustainable manner. If the technology is there, there’s no reason for them to increase their carbon footprint.”
“I think people who don’t have a lot of electricity, and are barely starting to explore what electricity means to them, that need for electricity is going to grow. If you look at the trend for how mobiles phones have really expanded in the developing world, or online banking for example, a lot of those people skipped over that phase of using land lines, and I think that’s what we can do with solar and clean tech as well. As solar gets cheaper and cheaper, this becomes more of a realistic option. People in developing countries are going to be the next big customers of energy.”
Of course, Canada surely needs to find ways to decrease its own carbon footprint, but Eden suggests that it’s harder to bring ideas to fruition in our country. “There are a ton of new ideas that are popping up every day, and the problem that I’ve run into is that the existing industry is so risk averse,” she explains, noting that most companies are focused on short term returns. “When thinking about clean tech, you have to think about long term returns.”
In contrast to such large corporations, it seems to be this willingness to invest herself in a plan, think long term, and focus on creativity and persistence that has taken Eden this far. She admits that most of her creativity and ambition comes from her parents. They gave her the freedom to choose what she wanted to do, and the resources to follow through, something many young people lack. Eden also looks up to Bill Drayton, the founder of Ashoka, an organization that promotes social entrepreneurship. “In this day and age,” Eden says, “there’s a huge distinction between entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship, but anything that provides economic value should have a positive social impact.”
“Ashoka gave me the awareness that the kind of technologies I’m developing should help people, and that should be a natural choice.” She goes on to tell me about Fabio Rosa, a social entrepreneur from Brazil who made a successful push for rural electrification in Palmeras, Brazil. “If someone in the middle of nowhere can figure that out, I should be able to do something to.”
Her efforts seem to be paying off. Over the last few years, Eden has won funding from, among others, the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge, the EcoLiving Awards, and the GLOBE 2012 Next Gen Entrepreneur award. She is currently taking time off her studies as part of a $100,000 Thiel Fellowship. Eden is using her funding to iterate on the SunSaluter design and make plans for further deployments. While she spends about half her time these days in San Francisco, taking advantage of California’s significant solar industry, Eden maintains an extremely close connection to her hometown of Calgary.
“Calgary was a great city to grow up in, they invited me to speak at the Global Clean Energy Congress in November. It’s inspiring to know that people are starting to care about what clean energy means.”
“Over the next 20, 50, 100 years there’s going to be an evolution toward using clean technology. Wind and hydro are prominent in Canada now, and solar is moving that way too. I think provinces have to set an example for each other, and just because Alberta has been slower at getting started doesn’t mean it always has to be that way,” says Eden. She explains that more and more small tech firms are opening in Calgary, and she’s hoping to see that trend continue; organizations like Innovate Calgary are helping to promote innovation and entrepreneurship in the city. “Every major Canadian city is working through the same thing,” she says.
As we finish our conversation, I ask if she hopes that her invention, or future work, will make a difference at home. “Calgary means a lot to me,” she says emphatically. “It’s the place I grew up in, everything I know I learned by being in Calgary, so I’d like to be one of those people who contributes to a greener economy in our province.” If the past few years have been any indication, there is little doubt that Eden will find a way to contribute to a low-carbon future for Calgary and Canada. That’s something we can all take hope in.