Much has been made of how European countries are, on the one hand, supporting Ukraine in its fight against the heinous and illegal invasion by Russia, but at the same time remaining heavily dependent on Russian energy sources.
Many countries in the EU – currently experiencing a heatwave – have scrambled to switch to alternatives, such as renewables which are considered one of the key factors of in reaching energy independence from Russia.
So it is a delicious irony that a Ukrainian woman tech entrepreneur has come up with a way to allow ordinary Europeans to fight Russia, by easily installing solar panels on their numerous balconies.
WeDoSolar, launched in February 2022 (the month Russia invaded Ukraine) and says it has so far received “thousand of orders” for its “vertical solar power” panels, which are specifically designed to be mounted, with weatherproof straps, onto to balconies by non-tech-savvy users.
WeDoSolar claims it can reduce a household’s CO2 footprint by up to 600kg and electricity bills by up to 25% per year.
The EU imported approximately 155 billion cubic metres (bcm) of natural gas from Russia in 2021. That amounts to around 40% of the EU's total gas consumption, with dependency rising to 65% in Germany.
In theory, if every balcony in Europe had solar panels such as WeDoSolar's, this it would make getting off Russian oil and gas a real deal easier.
Designed by German engineers and coming insured as part of the offer, the lightweight panels weigh 1 kg each and plug into a standard power socket. This allows the panels to power home appliances via the household's normal gird, says the company.
Users can also track the energy generation of their solar panels and the amount of CO2 saved in an app, which converts the metrics into language such as “60 phone charges” or 600kg of yearly CO2 reduction equaling a “1000m2 forest”.
Focusing on EU markets, the 8-panel set costs €1299 EUR or comes as a free rental model for electric vehicle owners in exchange for CO2 certificates. These are then bundled and sold to oil companies, as oil companies are obliged to buy certificates on a yearly basis from EV owners, at least in Germany.
WeDoSolar also offers employee-benefit programs to large enterprises where the employers get the benefit of CO2 certificates for their companies while the employees can potentially lower electricity bills (assuming the sun is shining).
The startup was founded by Karolina Attspodina, a Ukrainian-born serial entrepreneur and Qian Qin, a hardware engineer, serial entrepreneur, and a former Managing Director of BSH Digital Ventures GmbH. The startup has been backed by Angel backers, but no institutional investors, as yet.
WeDoSolar has competitors in the shape of Yuma, Priwatt and Plugin Energy, however, says the company, it plans to compete by being the EU’s “first balcony solar solution”, easy installation and its live energy generation tracking app.
In a statement Attspodina said: “Solar energy is both free and readily available. Existing solar panel solutions are either intended for industrial use or are too heavy to install without the assistance of a qualified technical team. You also have to wait for the monthly bill to determine the effect. We provide a tool that every person, both owner and tenant, could use at home on a daily basis, to power home appliances. “We want to make sustainable energy accessible, and I see great potential in people taking their energy dependence into their own hands.”
I asked her how the idea came about:
“Myself and my co-Founder were looking for faster ways to reduce CO2 so we can insure a clean future to our kids and grandkids,” said Attspodina.
“While being in Portugal in 2021, I had a few clients in the solar industry which showed how big the market was, but also proved how unskilled the older companies are in marketing solar to the market. I had a clear understanding that solar can be used pretty much on most surfaces and came up with balcony solar, a simple solution which is easy to mount and take with you if you move apartments, for example.”
“I felt like we can serve not only people who own a home but also part of the market who is renting. Right now, energy costs are going up like crazy and they will not stop rising until we will stabilise them and will implement a bunch of ways to generate our own clean energy,” she added.
There is even a B2B angle.
As Attspodina said: “Think of a company offering it to their employees under the employee benefit program… We have a way in Germany at least for now to offer our solar set absolutely for free for all the electro vehicle drivers. There is such a program called THG quota, which means that oil companies are obliged to buy the CO2 certificates from the e-car drivers and we exchange that money quota for our solar set, which is then shipped to our user absolutely for free.”
It certainly seems – as Europe labors under baking, but power-filled sun – that WeDoSolar could kill more birds than one stone: reducing CO2 emissions, and a certain Mr Putin's grip on European energy, and thus his ability to wage war. Let's hope it does.