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Alice Min Soo Chun
CO-FOUNDER & CHIEF PRODUCT OFFICER
Alice Min Soo Chun is an Inventor, Social Entrepreneur, and CEO of Solight Design. Fueled by her passion for helping the underserved, Alice has invented products that address global crises. Her first invention, the SolarPuff, has impacted over 1 million people living in underserved regions worldwide.

 

In the decades leading up to the first Earth Day in 1970, our gas guzzling mammoth automobiles, oil, and production industries spewed out smoke and debris with no conscience of consequence. We were oblivious to the sinister threats that pollution would have on our health. In 1962, Rachel Carson’s New York Times bestseller Silent Spring raised awareness and concern for the environment and the inextricable links between pollution and public health.

In 2006, Alice rushed off to the ER for the third time in two months, as her 2 year old son’s lips were turning blue. Another asthma attack where his little lungs were gasping for air. There’s nothing more terrifying than seeing your child struggling to breathe. Heart pounding, calling 911, “Dear God please help my baby breathe. Please don’t let him die…” Then realizing we were not alone… “why is this happening…why are so many kids in the ER with the same problem?”

Research revealed that the number of children in NYC with asthma has been increasing 10 fold. In a dataset of nearly eight million children, ages 5-20, researchers concluded that exposure to pollution increased asthma diagnosis, hospitalization, and emergency department visits; and children 11 years and younger were found to be the most susceptible. In addition, the study found that pollution, even at low concentrations, can greatly impact at-risk populations, leaving children who are the most vulnerable at the highest risk of developing asthma and other health issues. 

Across the globe there is another deadly fossil fuel; Kerosene. After the Haiti earthquake, Alice’s studio at Columbia University decided to pivot and create an innovation lab to help Haiti. That’s when we realized, an estimated 2.6 billion people live without access to electricity and use kerosene to light their nights. 2 million children die annually due to the toxic air from this deadly fuel. In addition, the number of fires in India caused by kerosene is well over 30,000 per year, in South Africa it’s over 200,000 per year

Everywhere you look, it is clear that air pollution is having a detrimental effect, not only on our environment, but also on our children’s health and wellbeing. That’s why we decided to focus on solar energy as a solution to our addiction to fossil fuels. 

 

How did Earth Day Start?

Earth Day Founder, Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin, was a long time advocate for the mitigation of our deteriorating environment. In January 1969, inspired by the student anti-war movement, Senator Nelson wanted to infuse the energy of student anti-war protests with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution. 


Nelson recruited Denis Hayes, a young activist, who organized campus teach-ins and helped create a broad network of student organizers. The students chose April 22 as Earth Day, a weekday falling between Spring Break and Final Exams, to maximize the greatest student participation. 


At that time, Earth Day inspired 20 million Americans —10% of the total population of the United States — to take to the streets, parks and auditoriums to demonstrate against the impacts of 150 years of industrial development which had left a growing legacy of serious human health impacts. 


Today, Senator Nelson’s legacy lives on as we continue to celebrate Earth Day each year. At Solight, we are committed to spreading awareness of the detrimental effects of pollution on the health and wellbeing of the global population. In addition, our solar lights are designed with sustainability and clean energy in mind.

We believe in that dream of seeing a world where all children no longer need help to breathe; a mission to help mitigate climate change  through the mighty power of the sun. Our products put that power in your hands but also do much more than that, it is about our own power to build a better world. 


Nelson’s dream and our dream thrive strong to protect and care for the place we call home. 

Each of us has the power to make it better, it’s you, it me, it’s all of us. Each small step we take together is equivalent to moving mountains, but only together can we make that journey before we may see the mountain below us. 


The Power of the Sun

While studying Kerosene lanterns at the research lab at Columbia University, Alice knew she had to find a sustainable, simple solution to help these families around the world. After her son Quinn was diagnosed with Asthma, Alice studied solar light as an option for clean energy and when she began to invent the Solar Puff, a small solar panel was a natural choice for an energy source. 

At its most basic level, solar energy is energy from the sun that is converted into thermal or electrical energy. Solar is the most abundant source of energy on the planet, and yet, only 2% of global electricity came from solar in the year 2019. This number is higher in the US, reaching about 12%. 

Despite the widespread availability of sun energy around the world, why are so few people tapping into this powerful resource?

Much of this has to do with a centuries-long reliance on fossil fuels and high costs of entry. Fossil fuel companies lobby millions of dollars each year to create incentives for governments to continue to rely on their energy. This means further degradation of our planet and potential misinformation about the benefits of solar. Many people do not realize how powerful solar energy can be, and see it as an alternative that would create frequent blackouts. Common questions include “what happens when the sun sets?” or “what if we have a lot of cloudy days?” and while these are valid questions, most adequate solar setups are connected to large reserves of power which can store excess electricity on sunny days for the nighttime or cloudy days. 

Another barrier to solar electricity is the high cost of entry. Solar panels, like all infrastructure, are an expensive upfront investment and without government investment or subsidization, can prove to be too expensive for a family to install right away. While at-home solar panels can be a significant investment upfront, they will guarantee savings on electricity bills for years to come, considering that once you install them, they provide electricity essentially free of cost. 

So what can you do to tap into the power of the sun?

The most obvious solution is to invest in solar panels for your home, switching your family off-grid and spreading the word to neighbors and friends about the changes you are making. 

While this is an amazing solution, many people cannot make this step instantly. Instead, we recommend starting small and growing your solar setup throughout the years. One great first step is the purchase of a Solight solar lantern. Our Solar Puffs and Helixes can light up a room and are the perfect mood lighting in the evening. Using a solar lantern instead of traditional lighting in the home can even save you up to $30 per person, per month. 

Moving from there, charging your phone using the Solar Qwnn will allow you to save significant energy. 13 megatons of energy are used every year to charge cell phones globally. This is the equivalent of the current annual emissions of 1.1 million cars. By switching to powering your phone with a solar charger, you can help reduce this number and shift to an off-grid lifestyle. 

While our Solar Qwnn can only charge USB devices, larger solar chargers can even be used to plug in your computer or other small appliances. These can be a great step up and allow you to rely even less on the electricity from outlets. Additionally, larger solar chargers allow you to go off-grid, perfect for camping and road trips. 

Finally, starting small by connecting one or two solar panels to your home is a great way to begin to make the complete switch to solar. From there, households can use the savings on their electricity bill to save for even more solar panels, growing your solar setup until you can completely unplug from the grid. 


This Earth Day, the Solight Design team is taking the time to think about how we can tap into green energy in our everyday lives and encourage those around us to do the same. We hope your Earth Day is full of reflection, education, and action and that you can all find inspiration in the power of the sun. 


With Love and Light,

The Solight Design Team

1 comment

  • Laura Chinn-Smoot

    We took the plunge and got solar panels for our house back in 2003. We are still attached to the grid and use the utility company as our battery. Any excess energy we produce goes to our neighbors. It was initially expensive, but we were lucky to tag onto a state rebate and tax break and paid about half the cost at the time. (We need to get the gov. on board for more incentives.) We did it for environmental reasons and it has turned into a financially great choice, as we only pay a $10 administrative fee each month. (Up from the initial $4.50 at the beginning.) Some months we’ve had a negative bill. As mentioned, we are still on the city grid as there were no long lasting batteries in 2003 when we got the panels. So if there is a blackout, we have a blackout. However, we have been a customer of SoLight since they started and we have almost all of the models. During a blackout we put the Qwnn lights in the rooms we use the most and the twilights in the others. We love your lanterns so much, we keep a stash on hand for gifts (well received). I use your lanterns at night when walking the dog. Cars stop for me when they see the red light. We use them for camping. I tell people about these lanterns and how they are being used in disaster areas around the world. Thank you for suggesting that people can start small. Thank you to SoLight for helping people and the Earth! Happy Earth Day!!

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