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Back in 2019, Krystal Persaud and her husband were living in a 400-something-square-foot apartment on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. While the space was small, it had one seriously redeeming quality: really big windows. The natural light was ideal for keeping houseplants happy, but Persaud, who was working as a toy designer at the time, wanted to get more out of her space. She wanted energy. “I had a big aha moment,” says Persaud. “You think that a solar panel has to be outside on a roof at a perfect angle to work. It’s really just not true at all.” After some serious tinkering, she designed a 13-by-10-inch solar panel that can hang in a window via a suction cup hook and, after 10 hours of sunlight, can power up any USB-connected device.
While there were other portable solar panels on the market at the time Persaud launched her company, Grouphug, most of them are made for camping—and look like it. Persaud guesses that Grouphug’s solar charger likely only saves you $5 to $10 on your utility bill, but she sees it more as an introduction to renewable energy. The panel makes it possible for renters, apartment dwellers, and really anyone on a budget to harness the sun’s power. “It’s a baby step into solar that people can adopt in minutes,” says Persaud.
When Persaud and her husband moved from the Lower East Side to a railroad-style rental in Brooklyn, she began experimenting with even larger panels. The venture was once again sparked by a personal need: There were zero places to plug in a TV or a charger in the middle of the apartment, so she leaned a 3-by-4-foot panel in a window that could juice up a portable battery that could then power a fan or a laptop. “I was doing a ton of little experiments like that just to see how much power you could get from a window,” she says.
So far, Grouphug hasn’t released any XL versions—first, Persaud hopes to replenish its currently out-of-stock inventory within the next three months. In the meantime, she’s focused on Wildgrid, a platform she cofounded that primarily serves as an educational resource on energy efficiency, electrification, and renewable energy. There are also rebate calculators, product recommendations, and a directory of experts and contractors on the website. “We’re really just trying to show energy efficiency in a new light…that it can be fun and sexy and easy,” says Persaud.
If you’re hoping to secure a portable solar panel ASAP, Persaud notes she’s also a big fan of BioLite, a company aiming to provide 20 million people with access to clean energy by 2025. And while Goal Zero’s panels are similarly designed for off-the-grid living, Persaud has used its batteries for many of her makeshift apartment setups.
Hopefully the next time someone tells you it looks like you got some sun, they’re talking about your fully charged phone battery.
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