BY KERRY ANDERSON
Cyclone Yasi’s destructive path in 2011 provided an opportunity for Trent Small, an enterprising Townsville businessman, to put his creative thinking and practical skills into action. Solar Relief, is being hailed as an important tool for disaster relief and is set to go world-wide with the assistance of investors.
In February 2011, when tropical Cyclone Yasi wreaked its devastation across the south pacific and made landfall in Townsville Queensland, Trent Small and his family were one of thousands affected by power outages for a number of days.
‘We were all rushing out to get ice and generators to try and save our food,’ recalls Trent. ‘At the same time I kept looking at my neighbour’s roof full of solar panels. It seemed crazy that no-one could access the power they were generating.’
With this challenge in mind, Trent set about solving a problem that has taken him in a life changing direction.
Having been through what he calls the ‘school of hard knocks’ Trent was well prepared for such a challenge. ‘When I left school I started a traineeship with a steel company but I always wanted to start my own business so I also did some Law and Economics at University.’ By age 21 he was self-employed and hasn’t looked back.
When Cyclone Yasi hit, Trent was proprietor of an established business, Absolute Building Supplies, that helped immensely in his new quest to create a portable solar power solution.
Because of the Federal Government’s existing solar scheme, he already had a good understanding of solar technology. ‘I’d already looked into it and educated myself,’ explains Trent who went on to sell a half dozen of the grid systems before deciding that it didn’t meet his vision for a sustainable future. ‘There were too many people and over-inflated prices with a smash and grab mentality,’ he shrugs. ‘I chose to walk away.’
Trent’s vision was now clearly focused on a portable solar product that could be quickly deployed anywhere in the world at times of natural disaster and crisis.
Almost every week since Yasi Trent continues to see instances where his portable solar power pack could make a difference. At the time of our interview world news was reporting on a power outage at a Uganda Hospital. ‘There were three deaths in three hours,’ recalls Trent. ‘This could be totally preventable.’
A crucial aspect of being portable was the storage of power. He believed the answer was to develop a diverse product that could be charged in a number of different ways using solar and alternators off a car or generator, as well as be used as a UPS unit and off mains power. Even wind power was thrown into the mix.
In true Australian style he started experimenting with a battery box in an eskie, before progressing to custom manufacturing moulds with input provided by the Australian Defence Force and Emergency Services.
The non-reflective solar panels weigh four kilograms and fold down to 580x580 millimetres. The total weight of a patented PPS (portable power supply) unit starts at 40 kilograms.
Up until this point Trent has invested his own time and money into the product development while his original business, Absolute Building Supplies, is developing a complimentary product; fully recycled, lego style building materials to provide quick and ready shelter following a disaster.
Once Solar Relief hit the point of commercialisation and ticked all the stringent safety regulation standards, it became a separate company and is currently taking pre-orders. Trent is also seeking investors and talking with potential partners such as the United Nations and Rotary International that can help take the product where it is most needed around the world.
Not only is he passionate about disaster relief, he has a vision for a clean sustainable future for third world countries.
‘I’ve got a product which I now believe is part of the solution to solve world energy poverty,’ he explains. ‘There’s over 2.6 billion who don’t have access to reliable electricity and another 1.3 billion people who don’t have any access to electricity. We can take solar relief anywhere in the world and put down on the ground in a helicopter in any disaster area.’
Powering communication, lighting and medical devices in a disaster area can clearly save lives. Not only that, poverty can be alleviated. Trent explains how he and some colleagues recently delivered three PPS units to schools and villages in remote Fiji devastated by cyclone Winston
‘Without power the school couldn’t even print out exams for the kids to do,’ Trent says incredulously. ‘Our Facebook site lights up every day with hits from all around the world, people are crying out for this product.’
Trent is understandably satisfied with his efforts and now wants to get it out to the world.
‘We’ve created something that can really solve a global issue.’