Going from designing toys to designing solar panels might seem like a pretty big leap, but once you see the innovative solar panels produced by Grouphug Tech, it’s easy to picture. Founded by Krystal Persaud, Grouphug Tech is an offshoot of the Grouphug Collective that she created in 2014. This collective of self-described “feisty” designers produced an annual exhibition during NYC Design Week, showcasing critical social issues such as gun violence, renewable energy and nutrition.
Persaud is a graduate of Georgia Tech School of Industrial Design and was working as Senior Director of Product Design at littleBits in New York City. In that position, she led the design team that developed the Droid Inventor Kit, which was named #1 Science Toy in 2017 and won a Toy of the Year Award. Persaud is also passionate about creating a sustainable lifestyle, and did as much as possible to make this true for herself. She carried reusable tote bags, used stainless steel water bottles, and composted as much of her food waste as possible. But living in a very small (300 sq. feet) apartment in New York City, there was no effective way she could incorporate renewable energy into her living space. Obviously she couldn’t install solar panels on a roof, since she didn’t really have one! Individual solar panels were available for camping purposes, but those designs were not something she would be willing to use in her personal living space.
Persaud admits that her first prototype was “hacked together” on her living room floor. It didn’t look the way she wanted but it did actually charge her phone. She made 10 different prototypes and signed up for holiday gift fairs. When she was first asked if the panels were for sale, she said no, they were just prototypes. But she changed her mind and the 10 prototypes all sold quickly. Persaud knew her idea was a solid one.
The Window Solar Charger hangs in any window. With a bamboo frame and built-in rechargeable battery, it is an eco-friendly, technological variation on a stained glass or crystal window decoration. It takes 8-10 hours of direct sun to fully charge the battery, but it can also charge during partial sunlight and cloudy conditions. The full battery can charge an iPhone 1-2 times and an Android phone 1-1.5 times. Grouphug Tech also creates custom solar panels for businesses and they can be designed in the shape of mascots, business logos, etc.
Persaud’s background in toy design really did play into her design of solar panels. While a solar panel is obviously not a toy, Persaud has clearly demonstrated that they can be whimsical and appealing to look at, while still operating as a technical device. This is best demonstrated by the giant cat-shaped solar panel Grouphug created for the New York Hall of Science.
Burning fossil fuel for electricity is one of the largest contributors to global warming, but less than 15% of electricity produced in the United States is from renewable sources. Persaud is convinced that traditional photovoltaic designs are not human-centered, noting that the basic designs of solar panels has not changed in 60 years. Millions of apartment dwellers are unable to take advantage of solar energy because they can’t make use of the traditional panels. Simply using a small solar panel to charge an iPhone or other device may not seem like much of a contribution to renewable energy, but Persaud says it is a step in the right direction and can enable apartment dwellers to contribute in some way to promoting renewable energy. Persaud is well aware that old habits can be hard to break, so she strives to make small changes that are user friendly and the designs appealing. To that end, her company is working on other designs and ideas to continue their mission of promoting renewable energy use.