Millions of women and children around the world walk long distances every day to fetch water and firewood. The water is often polluted, and gathering firewood to heat it is time-consuming, dangerous at times, and results in carbon emissions. But this is all changing, thanks to Solvatten (Swedish for “sun water”), an off-grid, portable combined water treatment and water heating system from Sweden. Just eight years after its launch, Solvatten won the prestigious United Nations 2015 Climate Solutions Award. Founders Petra and David Wadström share their findings with us.
Parvati Magazine: What inspired you to create the Solvatten technology, and why is your family committed to the Solvatten mission with such passion?
Petra Wadström: Exploring and finding new solutions are a strong drive I have. My parents are still a great source of inspiration and guiding light. Raoul Tengzelius, my father, was very interested in global and sustainability issues in the 1950s, back when the green movement started. I feel proud to carry this past with me and I hope it can help inspire my grandchildren too. Climate change is terrible and an intergenerational issue. But it’s never too late to start doing the right thing. At no point in time will it be too late to make things better.
Parvati Magazine: Solvatten has a unique legal structure as a registered social enterprise linked with a charitable foundation. Why does this structure work for you?
Petra Wadström: We work in partnership with governments, local organisations and corporations to provide Solvatten to millions of people living off-grid. Since we started in 2007, we have initiated 45 projects reaching over 300,000 people living in over 20 countries where the need is great. In some cases we need to use the charitable foundation as a Special Purpose vehicle.
Parvati Magazine: Solvatten earns Gold Standard Verified Emission Reductions (VERS) and sells them to help keep the price of Solvatten low so even the poorest can afford to have clean, hot water. Can you tell us how that works?
David Wadström: Climate change widens the gap between haves and have-nots, and makes it even harder for those living without basic necessities such as clean water. Solvatten can help vulnerable families in climate-affected regions to adapt and become more resilient with clean energy and clean water technology. Using the Solvatten reduces the need to burn carbon for boiling water clean by about 1.5 tons of CO2 per year. The impact is measured and companies can then buy climate impact from a Solvatten project as it reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The project impact is accredited by Gold Standard, a certification scheme designed for high-quality carbon offset projects.1
Parvati Magazine: What are the greatest challenges you’ve faced in bringing people together to ensure Solvatten technology gets to where it is most needed?
David Wadström: The need for clean water is a billion people problem. Most people living without it simply cannot pay for what it costs to treat water before using it. To make the product available to them will often require some financial support and cost sharing. [This] requires building trusted partnerships with stakeholders that share a purpose and vision of making an impact.
Trust takes time to build and requires a lot of patience, especially when working in fragile countries. We have learned that the aid and development sector is very bureaucratic and cannot handle innovation and new solutions well. The systems put in place by government institutions are in fact built to not be so easily disrupted, be that a good or bad thing. But many years of functioning Solvatten projects, positive results and also local ownership have helped Solvatten overcome a lot of challenges.
Parvati Magazine: What is next in your growth plans?
David Wadström: From the platform we have built we are ready to grow with an ambition to reach one million people in Sub Saharan Africa by 2023. We hope that more forestation agencies and projects will join us and that they see the many benefits of helping people, living in places where forests are lost, to have a better alternative energy source to get clean and hot water at home.
Petra Wadström is the inventor and founder of Solvatten®—a technology that treats and heats water with the use of solar energy. Solvatten is used in over 20 countries reaching 60,000 families. Educated as a biochemical-medical researcher, Petra is an artist and mother of four children, grandmother of six, soon seven grandchildren.
David Wadström, responsible for Communication, Marketing and Fundraising at Solvatten®, is the father of two. David attended the University of Sydney and Uppsala University and worked in media before co-founding Solvatten.
1A carbon offset is a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases made in order to compensate for or to offset an emission made elsewhere. Carbon offsets are measured in tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent (CO2).