South African startup hoping to launch solar panel window blinds soon

29-year-old electrical maintenance technician Lisa von Benecke hopes to launch her solar-powered blinds in South Africa this year.

Von Benecke recently told Rapport she got the idea for the blinds while frustrated with load-shedding and her landlord’s reluctance to install backup power.

The blinds offer a solution for people living in sectional titles or renters who cannot install elaborate solar power systems due to space constraints and ownership restrictions.

The Durban resident developed her first prototype of the device in her stepfather’s garage.

Since then, she founded a cleantech company called LC Dynamics, has been nominated for various prestigious innovation awards, and participated in several competitions for government-supported innovation awards.

Her first breakthrough came with the awarding of R200,000 in funding from the Department of Science and Technology’s Technical Innovation Agency.

This allowed for the technical development of the product in collaboration with the Tshwane University of Technology’s laboratory at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

Von Benecke recently showcased her device at a stall at the African Energy Indaba

The device features the same basic design and appearance as regular Venetian blinds, but each slat is a solar panel made from salvaged solar cells.

Cables connect the slats to each other, and a control unit with a battery is at the top.

Ideally, the blinds should be placed in north-facing windows for maximum exposure to the sun.

Like regular Venetian blinds, they can be custom-made to suit various window sizes.

An optional feature is a motorised component that can turn the solar panel automatically for optimal solar production as the sun’s position in the sky changes during the day.

The blinds provide enough power for smartphones, laptops, powerbanks, lightbulbs, and UPSs for Wi-Fi routers or security systems.

Basic design of the top section of the blinds, with batteries and motors for automatic rotation

Von Benecke’s blinds ended in the top three products in an innovation competition by Unisa, where she is currently studying towards a degree in electronic engineering.

LC Dynamics also ranked in the top three most promising companies in a Total Energy competition for environmentally-friendly products in 2022, which netted Von Benecke a further R250,000 in funding.

The company aims to begin commercial production of the blinds by the end of 2024.

According to a News24 report, it previously planned to launch the blinds by the end of 2022, with prices starting at R5,000.

Von Benecke joins the ranks of several South African engineers who are innovating in solar technologies.

Among the major developments is the invention of groundbreaking thin-film solar modules by university professor Vivian Alberts.

The technology has been patented in over 100 countries by the Photovoltaic Technology Intellectual Property (PTiP), co-founded by Alberts to commercialise the modules.

The thin-film modules are made from basic raw materials converted through 15 production processes and include a homogeneous semiconductor alloy made up of five chemical elements.

Because the active materials in the thin-film module are just 2 microns thick, compared to first-generation silicon-based modules with a 300-micron thickness, they are significantly cheaper to produce.

This makes the cost of producing the solar modules significantly cheaper.

Afriforum is currently in a court battle with the University of Johannesburg (UJ) for allegedly hijacking the patents and illegally transferring the intellectual property to a private company.

Bosch previously lost a legal fight against PTiP in Europe after it infringed on the company’s patent.

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South African startup hoping to launch solar panel window blinds soon