Ypsi-based company creates innovative solar solutions during pandemic

This story is part of a series about Washtenaw County businesses' response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Support for this series is provided by Ann Arbor SPARK

Ypsilanti-based Sesame Solar landed a good contract just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, so its owners weren't as worried as many other entrepreneurs were last year. But the pandemic did prompt the company to design two innovative new solar-powered solutions that may serve important future needs.

For nearly four years, Sesame Solar has been manufacturing mobile, self-contained solar power generators called nanogrids, designed to be deployed by a single person in under 15 minutes. The nanogrids' solar panels are built around, and then fold out from, a dual-axle trailer or shipping container. Inside the trailer or shipping container, the nanogrids can house and power a variety of needs ranging from a medical office to a natural disaster recovery center.

"It could be simple mobile office needs. Or maybe there are people who have been displaced by a wildfire or a hurricane, and they need power for their electronic devices and emergency equipment," says Namit Jhanwar, Sesame Solar co-founder.

"All that's needed is for someone to know how to open it, turn it on, and 'open sesame,'" he adds. "Like magic, there's renewable solar power, or refrigeration and clean water, or the ability to communicate in a crisis."

With clients located both nationally and abroad, Jhanwar says it was "only natural" that Sesame Solar staff decided to examine how their products could help mitigate the impact of a pandemic. Some of the needs they identified were sobering. At the height of COVID-19-related deaths, they designed a mobile, solar-powered morgue, aiming to alleviate the overwhelm at traditional morgues. The energy-independent morgue was designed to handle general refrigeration needs, clean water generation and filtration, and human remains transportation.

The company also created a solar-powered, mobile, drive-up, COVID-19 "vaccination solution" that could be used in parking lots, as well as rural and other hard-to-reach areas. Jhanwar explains that while there was interest in that design, the company didn't land a contract due to the speed at which the pandemic was spreading. The vaccination stations were needed almost overnight and the company was unable to handle such a tight turnaround. 

Still, the Sesame Solar team feels they are ahead of the game: Jhanwar says they might still end up selling a solar-powered vaccination station in Africa, because the design works for other types of vaccination needs.

"We're proud of what we've done in the last year," he says. "We didn't get as many customers as we wanted, but we've laid some good groundwork for a busy future."  

Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at jaishreeedit@gmail.com.

Photo courtesy of Sesame Solar.