- A local startup is developing solar PV window blinds, which it hopes will be on sale by the end of this year.
- The blinds can be attached to a curtain rail and have a motor that helps tilt the slats so that they can draw energy from the sun.
- They can power items such as cellphones, laptops, and security systems.
- Installation should, in theory, be cheap and easy.
- For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.
The founder of a local engineering startup, Lisa von Benecke of LC Dynamics, hopes to soon offer South Africans a new approach to coping a bit better with unending electricity problems: solar panels built into window blinds.
LC Dynamics, established last year, manufacturers mobile Venetian window blinds with solar PV cells built in their slats. Their mechanisms have motors tilt the slats to track the sun. They have lithium-ion battery packs, a built-in LED light, and multiple DC outputs for charging devices.
These can also be used to power other solar window blinds and can be connected to a grid-tied or off-grid battery or inverter system.
The blinds can power cellphones, laptops, LED lighting for about four hours, security systems, and some appliances if they are plugged in directly from the devices.
The startup recently scooped the best female entrepreneur title in the third edition of Total Energies' Startupper of the Year Challenge, where it won R250,000. They will also receive mentorship and developmental support from the Gordon Institute of Business Science (Gibs).
By December, the startup plans to have on sale the mobile solar panel blinds at an affordable price point, possibly starting at R5,000.
"We're set to launch before the end of this year; we are still testing before we put the final product into the market," Von Benecke said.
Speaking to Business Insider South Africa, Von Benecke said the blinds were the answer for people living in sectional title properties and renters who may not be able to commit to traditional solar solutions for reasons such as space constraints and ownership.
"It's for tenants who quite often can't install anything permanent, and when they move out, even if there was something installed, it's a loss for them because they have to move without it," she said.
"Our solar blind is mobile; you can attach it to a curtain rail or you can screw it into a wall so you take it with you when you leave. Additionally, there is this high upfront cost that comes with installing solar on your roof; despite the issues of sometimes not having access to the roof if you're in an apartment building, there is also this cost of sending someone on your roof and building the frame from those big solar panels," said Von Benecke.
The costs to install solar panels are steep and can start from R10,000, and if the roof is faulty, that may need attention before you can consider installing the panels, she said.
The devices are made from salvaged solar cells, an approach that is more environmentally sustainable as it reduces solar waste.
"I thought about this idea to salvage solar cells to build different products because most of them are still highly functional. So, you are reducing production costs, but you're also reducing electronic waste, and you're creating a product that's much needed," Von Benecke said.
The company got a kickstart from the Department of Science & Technology's Technology Innovation Agency (Tia), which awarded the company financial support to the tune of R200,000.
"They gave me the funding to develop the prototype, and they're giving me technical assistance… which is helping me develop the market product," Von Benecke said.
The company is currently running a survey on its website to determine what different consumers may need the devices for and help it set prices.