Problem and potential
MENA has the highest levels of solar irradiance in the world and the region’s energy consumption is expected to continue growing at a fast pace over the next decades. Vast areas have excellent suitability for solar PV deployment and theoretically developing only less than 1% of this area could create almost 470 gigawatts (GW) of additional power-generation capacity (as reported by IRENA renewable energy market analyses report 2016). Recently, several MENA states have introduced feed-in tariff policies and other incentives in a bid to encourage the residential and commercial sectors not only to reduce their dependence on the grid, but also to feed energy into the grid.
Currently, domestic PV technology is limited to rooftops and spaces where no access is normally required for other purposes. Vast area of sunny pedestrian walkways/yards spans cities, towns, and villages across MENA region. To turn these spaces to potential sources of power, it becomes clear that a new type of solar technology is required as traditional solar panels are not walkable.
Furthermore, in MENA, rooftops are mostly flat. In several overcrowded cities and towns across the region (e.g. in poor areas of Egypt), many homeowners are discouraged from installing the slanting and unwalkable rooftop solar panels as they render rooftops (and backyards) useless for other purposes.
PVTopia proposes a framework to realize a locally designed and researched walkable PV tile concept as a successful business. This way, PVTopia takes domestic PV installations in the region to a new territory allowing deployment of solar systems to sunny pedestrian spaces of university campuses, schools, outdoor shopping malls, pedestrian squares, etc.
Walkable solar tiles provide MENA homeowners an alternative that enables them use PV technology while being able to use their rooftops and backyards for other purposes. This encourages more customers to reduce their carbon footprint as well as helping them go off-grid, reduce their dependence on local utility (reduced bills), or sell electricity to the utility.
It is estimated that one square meter of PVTopia tiles would spare the environment each year nearly the CO2 emissions of an average car travelling 1000 miles!
Regional and global competition:
Indirect competition arises from players in the traditional PV installations market. However, PVTopia will be the first to introduce walkable PV tiles specifically-tailored to MENA region; accessing market territories in which traditional solar PV panels are not attractive or impractical (e.g. residential flat rooftops, walkable pedestrian spaces). This gives PVTopia a competitive advantage. Further advantage stems from the innovative, economic, and sturdy PV tile design featuring an innovative cooling mechanism tailored to the hot MENA climate. This is a serious challenge that cannot be met by any other available product in the global market.
There are a few players on the global scene in the walkable PV floor sector. 'Colas' and 'Solar Roadways' develop different versions of PV roads for vehicles, albeit still in testing phases. Inspection of their products along with our calculations and case-studies cast real doubts on the viability of such products given the high cost of a PV tile design that can withstand the weight of rolling vehicles and trucks for a long lifetime. Much criticism to this class of products in the technical community echos our concerns.
On the other hand, companies such as 'Onyx' and 'Platio' focus on (the technically viable) pedestrian PV floor. However, their products cannot perform in hot climates and thus marketed primarily in Europe. Additionally, their adoption of tempered glass screens increases cost and reduces reliability due to, in part, low withstand capacity of bending loads and wear of excess anti-slip layers with time. In comparison, PVTopia use of epoxy-based surface screens leads to cheaper, sturdier, and longer-life tiles with inherently-improved heat management and anti-slip aspects.
Target market/audience in MENA:
- Residential sector: home owners and individual users.
- Commercial sector which includes: Schools, sports clubs, universities and shopping malls.
The team plans to adopt multiple business models structure base on targeted market segment. Subscription business model which can be tailored to average-income residential consumer segment will offer them a financially viable, practical, and attractive solar solution. A manufacturer business model will target commercial and high-income residential consumers.
PVTopia targets to employ both B2B and B2C commercial transactions for commercial users and residential users respectively with a focus on installations in Egypt and Qatar as a starting point to enter solar energy market, the plan is to further expand tiles installations a cross MENA region
Such model includes several funding sources including personal investments from the founders, seeking investments through various projects funds as well as angel investors and building partnerships to sustain growth and kick start PVTopia as an independent business.
Furthermore, the implementation of PVTopia will contribute to addressing the pressing issue of providing accessibility to energy especially in underprivileged spots and poorer districts across the MENA region, as well as in refugee camps.
As the cofounder of a number of start-up companies, Mr Rashad has developed leadership, business management, and market planning. Mr Abdelkader, on the other hand, has actively contributed to managing several technical organizations and organizing conferences. The experience and professional network he has developed across these organizations is very beneficial for project exposure. Furthermore, Dr Gowaid’s academic background augments the technical strength available to the team as well as the ability to professionally disseminate results and interact actively with academic circles, industry, and relevant research institutions. Ms Azza and Ms Hend will fuel the team with their abundance of creativity, activity, and fresh ideas. Their strong achievements being young innovators showcase best how far ahead they can benefit the team on several fronts.
There is natural synergy between team members having all studied at Alexandria University. Importantly, Dr Gowaid and Mr Rashad have been working closely for 4 years. Both have known Ms Azza as a talented and promising student for over 2 years. Also, Ms Azza, Ms Hend and Mr Abdelkader have worked closely as part of the Egyptian Engineering Day (EED) 2015 organizing team.
$100k funding have been secured in 2018. IP protected. Several partnerships set-up including a large Egyptian construction company for market entry by Q4 2019 in North Coast Egypt. Tests have been conducted on earlier prototypes. A 5-kW proof of concept is installed and due to start operation in March 2019. Full certification of the product is underway. A further $150k is required at this stage.