“Global Innovation Index 2017” rated Ukraine the 50th among 127 countries. It is quite a good result. Ukrainians are creative people. Especially, when it concerns saving money, in particular, payment for utility services which have been lately increasing.
However, some people, for example, like my neighbour, plug their wires into the electric point, which they inventively set in their staircase. That way my neighbour saves money on electricity. Meanwhile, some people use their talent to create an intellectual product of the world level, making up energy-efficient technologies. The former annoy others: the later inspire, give strength and hope for searching own ways, not giving up and hoping that the country, which has such talented people, will reach better living standards.
SolarGaps, smart solar blinds, – a startup of Yevhen Erik, who lives in Kyiv, was born because of the desire to save money. Yevhen, who graduated from the Cybernetics Faculty of the Kyiv Shevchenko National University, moved to the country with his family and started to think how to make his house energy self-sufficient. To use solar energy he needed set solar panels on his roof. However, there wasn’t enough space on it, moreover, such a solution was extremely expensive.
“I was thinking of my own needs then,” Yevhen tells to journalists. “I realised that there were windows which let the most of light in.” It nudged the inventor to create smart blinds which could track the sun. Solar modules were assembled into usual blinds. The modules can work even in conditions of scattered light. Electronics help to determine the best angle for getting the highest amount of light. Controlling the moving of panels is performed with a console or a smartphone app.
Smart blinds not only protect from the sun but also capture the solar energy, they are also able to reverberate heat from outside which enables paying less for air-conditioning and consuming less electricity. Moreover, a conditioner can get energy from blinds.
Outside SolarGaps blinds give 150 watts per 1 square meter while inner blinds give 100 watts. Yevhen Erik states that the blinds set in a three-room apartment with window look to the south are able to produce about 4 kW a month, covering up to 50-70 % of an average consumer needs. An inverter saves energy and directs it into a main. This energy is used for home appliances – computers, household appliances and lighting. According to the inventor, extra energy can be kept and saved and even sold via “the green tariff” implemented by the regional power distribution company.
The key advantage of the technology is its accessibility for residents of multi-apartment buildings who can’t set solar batteries on their roofs. The more sun there is and the higher apartment is situated, the more energy can be produced.
SolarGaps can work at different climate and temperature conditions. According to the inventor, photocells’ service life is 25 years. One more advantage is that blinds are easy to set, and a user after reading the instruction can set them by him or herself in 30 minutes.
In the beginning, Yevhen had no intentions to turn his idea into a business. Nevertheless, in 2016, he established his SolarGaps company and started to implement his idea. He came to the iForum-2016 with his idea where it was appreciated. A Kyiv accelerator IoT Hub and the “Effective Investments” group headed but Ihor Liski, a Ukrainian businessman, invested 1 million dollars into the company, and it started mass production. The company hired an engineer-mechanic and also a programmer Denis Krutko while working with IoT Hub. Then, the company posted its project on Kickstarter where it got 100 000 dollars. Other crowd-funding platform Indiegogo brought more than 40 000 dollars.
Due to funding, Erik could enhance the outside blinds. A motion sensor was added. Improved models were introduced at the Kyiv Mini Maker Fair. 100 000 dollars were also invested by Hax, the biggest hardware accelerator.
Since that, the smart blinds have been transformed many times. It took 18 months to produce a completed product’s version – the prime cost was too high at the beginning. However, the inventor is not complacent. “I think many people need my project. It will help change the energy balance in the world,” Yevhen Erik believes.
As the Kickstarter campaign showed, the SolarGaps target group lives not only in warm regions – the USA, Israel, Spain, India and Nigeria. Northern regions – Canada, Scandinavia etc. – are also very interested in the product.
In the last year, the inventor won a 10-week Global Solutions Program scholarship in the Nasa Ames, a research centre, in California. The team was studying for 3 months. “Nasa saw an opportunity to influence lives of billions of people in the next 10 years via developing our project,” Erik says. “I am very interested in creating sustainable development projects which have a great impact on the energy balance and enhance people’s lives.” The head of SolarGaps believes that investing in energy sources is might be much more important than investing in a car, “When there is no electricity you are like in a cave, you can’t even cook a meal. It also concerns the safety of your place.”
In 2016, SolarGaps integrated with GoogleHome. “We introduced blinds with a voice control. When you can say, “Google, open up the blinds! The world of the future.”
Moreover, SolarGaps became one of the six Ukrainian companies which won 50 thousand euro grant in the first stage of the Horizon 2020 – the EU Research and Innovation programme. This money was spent on the EU certification and lab research – the startup aims at taking on the international market.
The SolarGap team has been based in America recently. They have their temporary office in San-Francisco. The main producing base is situated near Kyiv. Nevertheless, Erik is going to give licence to manufacturers across the world for SolarGaps technology. A pilot project is established in the Czech Republic.
Today, 1 square meter of solar blinds cost approximately 390 dollars. As for industrial orders for department stores and business-centres, the price is going to be about 150 dollars per square meter. In the beginning, SolarGaps was designed only for domestic use. However, it turned out that the project is interesting for business as well. For example, a Kyiv business-centre managed to reduce its conditioning expenses by 70%.
In October, UNIT Investment Summit took place in Kyiv. It gathered investors with more than 300 million dollars. The SolarGaps team won a journey to Vilnius Startup Fair 2019 in a startups competition.
On October 23-24, the first investment forum CUTIS Investment Roadshow, which was held in Canada, saw 20 Ukrainian projects in four key industries – Infrastructure, Natural Resources, Agriculture and Information & Communication Technology. The general sum of investments in these projects, approved by a Canada company Crossways MK Consulting Inc. and the Ukrainian office SP Advisors, is estimated at 1. 5 billion dollars. SolarGaps participated in the Information & Communication Technology section.
In the last year, SolarGaps invited about 1 million dollars of investments and was named TOP-10 Alternative Energy Companies beyond the USA. Erik’s smart blinds became one of the most popular energy startups in the world. It was stated by an American platform CBInsights, which included the company into the Top of “Green Energy” startups.
“Our startup is the combining of all the leading energy-efficient technologies,” the inventor says. The project has an ambitious mission – to save the planet. “Today, more than 50% of the Earth population live in urban areas. We want to let them take “the green energy” just from their windows,” Yevhen Erik says.
The development of alternative energy resources: the sun, water and air – is the key world future energy trend. Solar batteries have been increasingly used lately in Ukraine. Many projects are being also developed. However, solar panels are not used by the majority as our electricity mains are not designed for renewables. According to the Razumkov Centre, Ukrainians can’t give up traditional energy yet.
Text by Hanna Drozd