Meet the Inventor Who’s Taking Solar to the Next Level
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because saving the planet will take a mix of imagination and ingenuity. Antonia Ginsberg-Klemmt is on the case.
By Crystal Rose
When the Green New Deal was introduced in Congress in 2019, many scoffed at the idea that the United States could be weaned from fossil fuels, curb greenhouse emissions and pivot to clean energy. But Antonia “Toni” Ginsberg-Klemmt, who was 19 at the time, cheered. “I am in full support of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s effort to cut carbon emissions. Right now we are dealing with an energy crisis and immediate action needs to be taken,” says Ginsberg-Klemmt, now a senior double-majoring in physics and environmental studies at the New College of Florida.
But her interest in protecting the environment can be traced back much further than the Green New Deal, to her electrical engineer father who’s a fervent proponent of alternative energy. As far back as 1996, before Toni was born, her parents lived on a sailboat fueled by solar panels. “If it weren’t for my dad, I probably would not have gotten into solar energy,” she says. “I was born in Hawaii and literally raised on a boat. We moved off the boat when I turned 6, but I remember the solar panels on the back of the boat and my dad telling me that it was thanks to those panels that we had lights in the cabin or that we could plug in our laptop for playing games.”
In addition to her father’s influence, she has also come of age when her peers, like Greta Thunberg, are mobilizing against climate change and determined to be part of the solution. Her efforts are paying off, and today, Ginsberg-Klemmt is a 2021 OZY Genius Award winner for her patent-pending invention, Gismo Power, a portable solar carport with an integrated electric vehicle (EV) charger.
“It was not really a moment of one catharsis,” says Toni’s father, who helped her with what he calls the “adventure” of Gismo Power. “We had to struggle for quite a while, several designs and ideas we went through.” When asked for the genesis of her invention, Toni explains, “Every time I plugged in my EV Nissan Leaf, I knew that electricity was still coming from FPL [Florida Power and Light]. Back at my house, I knew we were running on sunshine. Why could we not shade my car and create energy from the burning Florida sun at the same time? It’s absolutely not rocket science! Make a carport with lots of solar panels and a charger on the carport so you are using the sun to charge your car while using the carport to cool it!” Besides her father, Ginsberg-Klemmt consulted with several professors at New College who gave her a starting point for an early prototype.
In short, Gismo Power — which Ginsberg-Klemmt originally designed for the New College campus — is a carport that protects your car from the elements while also charging it — plus it’s completely mobile. Most days, it sits in the driveway, shading your car (thereby keeping it cooler) and simultaneously charging an EV. But in case of extreme weather — something the world is becoming all too familiar with — or if you don’t own your own home or live in a community that hasn’t approved solar panels — the Gismo is designed to be easily collapsed, transported and stored. The carport doesn’t come cheap — roughly $12,000 to $15,000 — but energy savings accrue over time and pay off the initial investment within five years.
“Toni is extremely enthusiastic about alternative energy and has leadership qualities in spades,” says Christopher Kotke, an associate professor of mathematics at New College who will mentor the OZY Genius as she works on her project this summer.
Winning the OZY Genius Award brought the spotlight to New College, a small liberal arts school on Florida’s Gulf Coast, with local TV crews from ABC and NBC eager to interview the young inventor. And she handled the attention with remarkable grace. All the more admirable considering that at the age of 7, Ginsberg-Klemmt was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome, a neurological disability characterized by sudden movements and sounds.
She’s thankful that her condition is mild and for the support she’s had to adapt to it, but she also moves through life knowing that she must work “harder than others.” It’s the sort of extra effort that led her to found the rowing team at New College — and to be appointed Florida’s ambassador for the Tourette Association of America, for which she was invited to Washington, D.C., for leadership training and lobbying experience.
This OZY Genius hopes one day to work for a renewable energy company, and she’s particularly interested in researching ocean energy through harnessing the power in currents, waves, tides and pressure differences.
“Gismo Power is the beginning of my career,” says Ginsberg-Klemmt, “but certainly not the end of it.”