Solution Overview & Team Lead Details

Our Organization

Solar SEED

What is the name of your solution?

Smart Clean Cooking System

Provide a one-line summary of your solution.

Our Smart Clean Cooking System de-risks off-grid energy, making solar electric cooking more accessible for communities at the base-of-the-pyramid.

What specific problem are you solving?

Globally almost 3 billion cook with polluting fuels like kerosene, wood, charcoal, and dung, resulting in significant health problems such as lung cancer, pneumonia, and heart disease.  Additionally, over 700 million households spend ~$2.4 trillion USD annually on such toxic cooking fuels.

Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has the greatest concentration of energy poverty in the world with 633 million lacking access to electricity; 70% of the population, 637 million people, live on less than $2 per day; about 792 million people (80%) cook with dirty fuels contributing to air pollution which accounts for over 700,000 deaths in the region each year.

Malawi is one of the poorest and least electrified countries in Sub-Saharan Africa with >73% of the population living on <$1 a day, and 11% of the population having access to electricity. Only 4% of rural households are connected to the national grid, and 2% have access to electricity via Pico Solar and low-power Home Systems. Ceramic cookstoves and three-stone fires utilizing wood or charcoal are the only cooking options for most rural households.

Most clean cooking solutions available still involve burning biomass fuels, liquefied petroleum gas, ethanol, and biogas that emit toxic fumes and GHGs. Alternatively, solar electric clean cooking technologies come with significant shortcomings that limit uptake in resource-poor communities at the base-of-the-pyramid; primarily high cost and technical complexity.  Typical Solar Home Systems (SHSs), and Off-Grid Systems (OGSs) are reliant on batteries to function. Batteries have the shortest lifespan of any component, create safety issues, are made of toxic materials, and can account for up to 70% of the total system cost, making most solar products small and limited to powering lights and phone charging.  These Tier 1 to Tier 2 systems not only have a short working-life, but cannot scale or increase power capacity, and larger systems are often designed for single applications. Manufacturers like Sunspot and SoULS are producing solar electric clean cooking systems, but these have a high price point (>$900 USD) making them too expensive for low-income populations.

What is your solution?

Our Smart Clean Cooking System reduces cost and technical complexity, delivering end-users a more affordable stepping-stone to energy sufficiency by producing off-grid electricity to power electric pressure cookers (EPCs), or induction cookstoves without relying on batteries. 

Our battery-optional solution establishes a new, powerful first-rung energy system that empowers end-users to achieve their aspirations by supporting their present and future electricity needs according to their personal or situational limitations.  Individual units can deliver up to 750Watts of power, and the system has two modes of operation:  1) Direct-Drive - Delivering usable DC electricity directly to loads from solar photovoltaic panels.  2) Solar Battery Charge Controller - Adding battery storage (LA or LFP) to the same system extends electricity access when sunlight is unavailable, while also having the functionality of reverting to Direct-Drive as a 'system safety net' in case of battery failure.  Our technology turns the most expensive, problematic, and shortest-lived component required by typical off-grid energy systems, into an add-on.


Our innovative system is resilient, flexible, and scalable; add a USB power bank and led lights or rechargeable lanterns for a simple Solar Home System; harness from 10W up to 900W of any type of PV; add an off-grid inverter to the system in either mode of operation to generate electricity for AC loads and appliances. The high-power capacity of our Smart Clean Cooking System can also run many tools and agro-processing equipment, refrigeration, pumping, woodworking, etc. for income generation.

Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?

Our solution will initially be piloted in Lingwinya, TA-Fukamalaza, Malawi, a rural community of 14,000 people located beyond-the-grid 50km from Mzuzu. The villages are difficult to reach and are sometimes unreachable during the rainy season. The majority of residents are small-scale farmers. The area remains under-developed and lacks access to many services like Internet, micro-finance, and public transportation. Cooking is typically done with charcoal cookstoves and three-stone fires.

Additionally, we will train and employ women Solar Entrepreneurs and students from a local vocational school, the Solar Energy and Ecology Institute, to market, install, and repair these Tier 1 to Tier 3+ energy systems for electric cooking, in addition to exploring various productive-uses.

Our plug-and-play solution targets multiple SDGs and has numerous benefits for end-users and the environment:  1) Energy Efficiency and Conservation:  Our solution cultivates energy-positive habits - the efficient, effective use of solar energy when it's available.  Harnessing solar energy without batteries may lead to end-users adding a smaller battery to extend electricity availability.  2) Electronic-Waste Reduction:  Our scalable, battery-optional solution grows with end-users energy needs extending system working- and service-life.  Our systems use very few proprietary parts and the circuitry is designed for disassembly to facilitate repair, repurposing, and recycling.  We are presently exploring making the controller enclosure out of recycled plastic.  3) Economic Development:  Our technology empowers small-scale farmers and Micro, Small to Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) for local economic growth while up-skilling and employing men and women throughout the supply chain - distribution, sales, installation, repair, and reclamation. 4) Save Time, Money, and Trees: Collecting solid fuels like wood can occupy up to 5 hours of daily life, usually for women; the cost of traditional dirty cooking fuels like charcoal can account for up to 76% of daily incomes in SSA; deforestation is approaching 14m hectares annually across the African continent.  5) Health and Gender Equity:  Clean cooking reduces the health issues caused by indoor air pollution, and has a particular impact on improving the quality of life for women, as well as increasing opportunities for women entrepreneurs.

How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

In 2021 David Gibbs, the founder of Solar SEED, spent two months in Malawi to do market research, customer discovery, and work with the staff and students at the Solar Energy & Ecology Institute located in Chiziya, Nkhata Bay District. He has been a part of SEEI since its inception in 2014, assisting with teacher training, curriculum development, and programming.

Working with Sangwani Nthali, SEEI Principal and an Instructor, they conducted interviews and surveys with community members, farmers, fishermen, and business owners in order to better understand their energy needs and applications. They also visited villages in Lingwinya and met with the women aged 23 to 55 who were trained at SEEI to become Solar Entrepreneurs, distributing PAYG Solar Home Systems, and installing off-grid systems for schools and health clinics.

The typical 'one pot' cooking style of most households will facilitate the transition to utilizing EPCs or induction cookstoves compared to cultural cooking norms found in other countries or regions.  Even the most simplistic EPCs have a particular advantage of being able to 'set-it and forget-it', allowing other daily tasks to be completed while food is being cooked.

It is not wholly accurate to state that "poverty" is the main challenge of energy access. In Malawi, food is abundant and, rural communities are for the most part self-sustaining.  Additionally, despite facing financial poverty, consumers find ways to purchase equipment and appliances. The act of buying or being offered expensive equipment even though they do not have the electrical capacity or access to run yet might seem contradictory. However, these objects could be interpreted as, what I called, “aspirational purchases." They represent the desire to achieve a future with energy. Here, consumers have hope that one day they will have sufficient electrical power to use these appliances. More research revealed that this phenomenon is found in communities across the Global South.

Furthermore, our technology can be a tool to provide the aspirational energy that empowers communities to realize a better tomorrow, and, therefore, fuel their hopes.

Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?

Rapidly decarbonize heating and cooking systems in existing homes while improving efficiency.

Where our solution team is headquartered or located:

New York City, NY, USA

Our solution's stage of development:


Why are you applying to Solve?

Our primary objective is to secure the support and resources to further develop our business and pilot our Smart Clean Cooking System. Our project scope is to test the feasibility and functionality of our technology and incorporate remote monitoring and flat-rate monthly PAYG financing in real-world settings to better understand the challenges and needs of communities in remote and resource-poor environments regarding energy accessibility and reliability, while observing the potential benefit(s) to drive productive-use activities. There is also the opportunity to more accurately monitor cooking habits and measure emissions reductions, allowing us to harness carbon credits to further reduce the cost of our Smart Clean Cooking Systems.

This research will provide the knowledge necessary to improve our products and services; incorporating the most appropriate features, functionalities, business, and distribution models, as well as new applications, and accessories to meet and exceed customer expectations and anticipate future growth and energy needs.

In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

Financial (e.g. improving accounting practices, pitching to investors)

Who is the Team Lead for your solution?

R. David Gibbs

More About Your Solution

What makes your solution innovative?

Our patent-pending technology essentially transforms the Off-Grid System landscape, introducing a highly-powerful first-rung system in the Energy Ladder that dramatically lowers cost and complexity; is uniquely resilient, scalable, and flexible, while generating electricity when it can most effectively be utilized to transition communities out of poverty.

Our unprecedented Smart Clean Cooking System leverages the low cost of PV, and the solar wealth found in Sub-Saharan Africa (and the Global South) to optimize energy production for Electric Clean Cooking and income generation.  Locals can easily be trained to install and repair these simple Tier 1 through Tier 3+ systems (1500W model under development), that have the capacity to power productive-use applications, such as food dehydration, fruit juicing, cassava grinding, rice hulling, maze shelling, water pumping, refrigeration, haircutting, sewing, etc., in addition to electric cooking.

What are your impact goals for the next year and the next five years, and how will you achieve them?

Operational and Sales KPIs:  Number of acquired customers/end-users >250 by Q1 2023; Number of local organizations engaged to be >1,000 by 2026, Number of yearly new customers >750 by 2026, Total number of end-users >30,000 by 2027, Customers coming from our high priority markets (Africa and Asia): around 80%. We will use some financial KPIs also, such as Growth in Revenue which we aim at being > $2.6m, and Net Profit Margin > $734k, by 2027.

Short-Term KPIs (2 yrs):  

  • 300-500 households, 200-300 MSMEs, and SSPs delivered electricity

  • 5,000-8,000 employment opportunities created

  • Increase in local economic activities by 20%/day

Long-Term KPIs: 

  • 19.6m Tonnes of CO2 emissions reduced annually

  • Increased economic independence for women:+ 29%

  • 500-750lbs. of electronic and plastic waste diverted from local solid waste streams annually.

  • When consumers purchase a battery after using the entry-level, battery-less system (days), and capacity of the battery purchased ($)

We are exploring partnerships with manufacturers of agro-processing and electric clean cooking equipment and Last Mile Distributors (LMDs) to expand their product offerings, e.g. packaged systems, and harness their existing relationships and sales channels.

How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?

We have identified a few KPIs for the assessment of our System's performance, including:

Short Term KPIs:

  • # of households, MSMEs and SSPs delivered electricity - SDG 7, 8, 10
  • # employment opportunities created - SDG 1, 5, 8, 10
  • $ increase in income - SDG 1, 5, 8
  • time savings - SDG 5, 10
  • Est. lbs. of CO2 emissions reduced (/yr). = $ - SDG 13
  • Est. system ROI - SDG 7

Long-Term KPIs: 

  • lbs. of CO2 emissions reduced (/yr) - SDG 13
  • $ savings and/or disposable income - SDG 1
  • Increased economic independence for women / # new women-owned SMEs - SDG 1, 5, 8
  • lbs. of electronic (and plastic) waste diverted from local solid waste streams (/yr) - SDG 3, 12, 14, 15
  • Time of battery purchase after using the entry-level, battery-less system & capacity of battery purchased ($)  - SDG 12, 14, 15
  • System ROI - SDG 7

What is your theory of change?

We will evaluate and monitor the project via stakeholder and end-user interviews, as well as include continuous system performance monitoring (remote and data recording) to see the amount of energy used, and most importantly the time-of-day the energy is consumed, providing us site- or user-specific load signatures. 

This information will be the basis for evidencing if and how our System modifies end-users’ behavior towards adopting more ‘energy-positive habits’, utilizing solar energy most effectively and efficiently - when it’s available. Additionally, this project will validate the technology’s affordability, scalability, portability, ability to significantly reduce Off-Grid System risk and complexity, improve safety, security and resiliency, and extend OGS service- and working-life, thereby mitigating solar electronic waste (estimated at 5000tons annually in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2025).

Describe the core technology that powers your solution.

Our core technology, the Smart Controller, simply aligns with the relationship between sunlight and the daily physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle, known as Circadian Rhythms. 

These natural processes affect almost all living things - animals, plants, and microbes.  Circadian Rhythms can refer to any process that originates within an organism (i.e., endogenous), and responds to the outside environment, primarily light and dark, as well as other factors. Your brain receives signals from your surroundings and reacts - activating certain hormones, altering your body temperature, and regulating your metabolism.

One simple example of a light-related Circadian Rhythm is sleeping at night and being awake during the day.  We are becoming more aware of the impacts of blue-light from LED computer screens, smartphones, and TVs, on our sleeping patterns.  Furthermore, research is evidencing that these changes may contribute to health issues like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new technology

How do you know that this technology works?

The first successful field-test of the core Smart Controller technology proof-of-concept was in Dominica after Hurricane Maria. We successfully ran a 60W (45qt) DC refrigerator-freezer and charged phones with a 100W solar panel with and without a battery.  A later model powered a repeater and access point within a WiFi mesh network for telecommunications in the Kalinago Territory as well as at the Princess Margaret Hospital blood lab to power a medical refrigerator and has been proven effective in making electricity accessible to those who are in dire need.  In July another Solar SEED was field-tested in a remote village in Malaysian Borneo and was used to charge mobile phones, WiFi Hotspots, LED lanterns, and other small devices as well as power a WiFi router to provide a localized wireless network all without battery storage (youtube).

The field-tests generated the expected positive results: confirmed basic dual functionality, and received initial user feedback on potential applications and improvements which led us to conduct further pilots. 

During the last year we have engaged with several technical partners, and potential end-users keen to conduct pilots and adopt our solution within their environment and we presently have over ten letters of commitment and interest for pilot projects across the globe. 

The value proposition to end-users lies in the ability to offer: 

• Reduced system weight and cost of installation by up to 70%.

• Reduced system set-up time by 60%

• Improved safety, minimal maintenance 

• Reduced risk by simplifying technology, and providing a safety-net against battery failure

• Scale-up by stacking or adding battery storage or more solar panels at any time

Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Ancestral Technology & Practices
  • Internet of Things

Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?

  • 1. No Poverty
  • 3. Good Health and Well-being
  • 5. Gender Equality
  • 7. Affordable and Clean Energy
  • 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • 10. Reduced Inequalities
  • 12. Responsible Consumption and Production
  • 13. Climate Action
  • 15. Life on Land

In which countries do you currently operate?

  • Malawi

In which countries will you be operating within the next year?

  • Kenya
  • Malawi
  • Uganda
Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?

For-profit, including B-Corp or similar models

How many people work on your solution team?


How long have you been working on your solution?


What is your approach to incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusivity into your work?

Solar SEED is a minority-founded, owned, and led social enterprise.  2 of our 6 team members are women.

The principles of human-centered design with cross-disciplinary, inclusive, and participatory research are fundamental to our mission. 

Your Business Model & Funding

What is your business model?

We have identified two main areas that are struggling to find effective clean cooking solutions: International Development and Humanitarian Activities (sub-sectors include: Disaster Response and Refugee Camps). We will initially sell our Systems to specific B2B customers - for-profits, nonprofits, and NGOs involved in rural and international development, disaster relief, and humanitarian response.

We are also exploring selling white-labeled, IoT-enabled Systems (or Smart Controllers) to Last Mile Distributors (LMDs), so they can easily integrate our technology into their product offerings and PAYG platform(s).

Broader consumer market opportunities exist within the marine, recreational vehicle, mobile home, disaster camper, and tiny-house sectors, as well as expeditionary applications, such as military and field research. We plan to address the commercial sector through solar distributors, wholesalers, and retailers.

Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?

Organizations (B2B)

What is your plan for becoming financially sustainable?

We will begin by piloting Smart Clean Cooking Systems with a select few end-users in rural Malawi to get user feedback and better understand market needs while generating an initial buzz via positive and impactful outcomes. 

Transitioning these pilots to indirect sales utilizing PAYG financing of the systems will allow us to test our business model and generate positive cash flow. The Solar Energy & Ecology Institute will manage customer engagement and support. Once a significant customer base is achieved in Malawi, we will expand into other countries and regions, while establishing partnerships with farmer and fishing cooperatives and other rural development organizations. Additionally, pilot projects and demonstration activities will be exploited to potential partners as references and contact.

We will also engage LMDs, NGOs, and Nonprofit organizations in Malawi, and countries with more mature solar markets, such as Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda, where we have begun to build partnerships to harness the existing channels and relationships of these established firms and organizations.  We will also connect with manufacturers of high-efficiency appliances, agro-processing equipment, water pumps, and e-mobility products serving underdeveloped economies.

Share some examples of how your plan to achieve financial sustainability has been successful so far.

Since 2019 Solar SEED has received grants and awards totaling around $280K USD, including the American-Made Solar Challenge (, a Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, and winning the UNOPS Global Innovation Challenge (

We have secured pilot partnerships with UNOPS offices in Kenya, World Central Kitchen ( in Guatemala, in Uganda, HEFT Energy in Nigeria, in India, in Somaliland, and 

Solution Team

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