Why can't solar panels be easier, better and - well, prettier? A Swedish start-up, named an EIT Awards finalist by KIC Innoenergy, is developing new panels with the homeowner in mind.
Erik Hindrikes and Viktor Ã–lén met each other on their first day at university in Sweden. At the time there was little to suggest they might one day be business partners. But in the summer of 2010, during a university reunion weekend, Hindrikes recalls his friend saying to him: "I want to start a business. How about it?"
Ã–lén's idea was to design a solar thermal system that eliminated the drawbacks of existing systems and maximised the advantages. By the end of that year, he came back to Hindrikes with a product design and a business plan. "In all the time I'd known him, I didn't know he was the inventor he is," Hindrikes says of Ã–lén, who had gained an MSc in electrical engineering before going on to work as a systems engineer at OrbiTec and then a site manager for defence and security company SAAB Security.
Within a few months their new company, HelioCaminus, was up and running, with Ã–lén working on product development and Hindrikes on sales and marketing. HelioCaminus, which in Latin means 'sun furnace', is developing a new solar thermal collector that will predominantly be used for heating tap water and will be sold to homeowners, building associations and property managers. Some of the new product's main advantages, according to the entrepreneurs, will be its higher efficiency, the ease of installation because of its modular design, and its aesthetic appeal thanks to the way it can be integrated into a roof's architecture.
When they started out, the entrepreneurs focused on efficiency and how many kilowatts of energy you can get out of the system, Hindrikes recalls. "But the people we met didn't have so many questions about how efficient it would be, but more questions about how it'll look," he said, adding that potential customers didn't want something that "looks like a scientific experiment" on the roof. As a result, the duo put a lot of thought into the style and look of their product, EOS. It has elliptical topsides that emulate roof tiles; the colour can be matched to the roof; and the length and width of the installation can be customised to fit. "We have secured European design protection for the appearance and design of our collector, and have a patent pending for our technology," Hindrikes notes.
During a meeting earlier this year, HelioCaminus secured a pilot installation with a Swedish property manager. The company was interested in having a greener profile and not having to remodel or reinforce roofs in order to install the system, Hindrikes explains. According to the schedule, the solar thermal collector will be installed in Spring 2012 at a pre-school in the Stockholm area. If that's a success, HelioCaminus expects the commercial version of EOS to hit the market in late 2012. The company will then be on the way to achieving its vision of "a solar collector on every roof".
Read more about this finalist: The Finalists - Just the Facts