Bright spark

Faithless percussionist Sudha Kheterpal wants to shake up the world to create clean energy for people without access to electricity.

From the Series

Sudha Kheterpal wants to bring clean energy to under-resourced communities by harnessing the power of music. No stranger to music herself, Kheterpal was the percussionist of British band Faithless in the 1990s. 

“Working as a professional percussionist for over 20 years, I've often wondered whether the huge amounts of energy created from performing on some of the world’s largest stages, could be harnessed and used,” says the British-Indian musician, who has also played with The Spice Girls, Dido and Talvin Singh.  

After some initial research into harvesting kinetic energy, she began the process of creating SPARK, a prototype percussion shaker that converts the energy from playing it into electricity.

She teamed up with a group of London-based designers and engineers, including Engineers Without Borders, to realise her socially minded project.

They created a musical shaker whose simple back-and-forth motion moves a magnet through the centre of a solenoid (a coil of copper wire). The movement induces a current that powers a rechargeable battery, allowing the energy to be stored. This electricity can then be used to power a lamp or charge a mobile phone through the device’s in-built USB port. 

The team tested the product in Kenya, where three-quarters of its population is without access to electricity. What became apparent was that the lamp attachment became a resourceful tool, providing an efficient and portable light source and replacing dangerous kerosene lamps.

“Everyday I walk home from school in the dark,” says primary school student Lucy Wambui. “I like this shaker because it makes me feel safe.”

Kheterpal’s Kickstarter campaign, called #ShakeYourPower, successfully raised £50 000 on 10 July. She plans to use the funding for the next three phases of the project: turning the prototype into the finished product, manufacturing and distribution, and developing and testing the educational assembly kits.

She has recruited the support of fellow musicians Faithless lead singer Maxi Jazz, Spice Girl Melanie C and superstar DJ Maya Jane Coles.

The project’s aim is to distribute 1 000 readymade SPARKs before rolling out the educational assembly kits to participating schools, where the students will be responsible for putting their own unit together.

“It is the learning and the technology together that is going to make the biggest impact,” Kheterpal believes.