SMILE – Low-Cost Solar Technology for the Developing World

Heliac crowdfunding new solar energy collector for three billion people without access to power.

Henrik Pranov has a long term goal to make solar energy cheaper than fossil fuels. His problem statement is that three billion people in the world have no access to electricity, and their only option is to burn fires. The fires cause health problems, burning deaths, greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation. Further, a typical family in a developing country might spend a third of their income just on fuel for heating.

Along with his team at Heliac Henrik has developed SMILE, a low cost solar heating method and are currently running a Kickstarter campaign. The thin plastic foil has micro mirrors embedded in its surface to focus sunlight onto an object.

The campaign page explains that the solar redesign occurred to get away from the heavy, expensive and brittle glass used on most solar collectors. Micro mirrors embedded in the plastic film can increase efficiency by as much as fifty percent, allowing for lower mirror tilt angles.

Packaging technology and nanotechnology are both being leveraged to produce the foil cheaply and efficiently. Heliac is made up of seven employees from the optics, polymer processing and nanotechnology fields, all working to advance the state of Concentrated Solar Power. The company has intellectual property rights to this specific application of Fresnel lenses and specific film manufacturing methods.

The concept of light deflection from this foil was first demonstrated in April 2014 and development has continued for the last year. Foil and do-it-yourself instructions will ship to Kickstarter backers around December 2015.

SMILE is an impressive product and idealistic venture. It’s great to see technology driven by altruistic and sustainable motives. My broad definition of engineering is making the world a better place, and a successful product launch will go a long way toward that goal.