As a child, Vinisha Umashankar, a Class 10 student, used to walk with her mother and a bag full of washed and dried clothes to get them ironed from a couple who ran a mobile ironing cart in her street in Tiruvannamalai town in northern Tamil Nadu. She saw how her clothes were ironed with charcoal-filled cast-iron boxes by the couple, sweating as they worked in the heat. She returned, not just with her ironed clothes, but with an intent to make their lives better and the world around her cleaner.
Years later, as she grew up, Vinisha Umashankar, now 15 years old, found her answers in sunlight. A solar powered ironing cart, which would replace the conventional charcoal ironing box, would power a steam ironing box to do its job. Her innovation brought her laurels from around the world, including the prestigious Children’s Climate Prize in November 2021. The prize given by the Sweden-based Children’s Climate Foundation is one of the most significant climate-related awards for young innovators.
On Tuesday, Ms. Umashankar, one of the finalists for the Earthshot Prize, was asked by Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, to speak her mind on clean energy at a meeting that discussed clean technology and innovation as part of the 26th U.N. Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, the U.K. Among her audience were world leaders, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, U.S. President Joe Biden, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “Young people have every reason to be angry and frustrated at leaders who have made empty promises and failed to deliver. None of what we discuss today is practical for me. We need actions rather than promises to live in a habitable world,” she said at the meeting on Tuesday. Her speech received a standing ovation.
Her parents, S. Umashankar, a business consultant, and U. Sangeetha, a school teacher, watched their only child’s speech on the world stage at close quarters as they travelled with her to Glasgow. “She (Vinisha) is class topper and her time management between studies and extracurricular activities is excellent. Her mother teaches science in our school,” S. Prathiba Shyam, principal, S.K.P. Vanitha International School, Tiruvannamalai, told The Hindu .
Ms. Umashankar’s mobile ironing cart has solar panels with a roof connected to a 100 Ah battery. A 12 volt 100 Ah battery needs about 1,200 watts of power to be fully charged. The solar panels produce 250 watts of power per hour. It takes five hours of bright sunshine to fully charge the battery, which in turn powers the steam ironing box for six hours.