If you live in an apartment, you probably don’t have solar power. You obviously don’t own your building’s roof, and since tenants typically pay their own electric bills, property owners wouldn’t get the cost-saving incentive that comes with installing solar panels.
While it’s possible for renters to subscribe to community solar projects to offset their energy use, a startup in Berlin has a different approach. The company, We Do Solar, has a small kit of eight photovoltaic panels that tenants can attach to a balcony to begin powering their devices directly. The founders wanted to “make solar power into something accessible, a product that anyone can use, no matter whether they rent or own their place of residence,” says cofounder and CEO Karolina Attspodina.
The kit, which recently started rolling out in Germany, provides 600 watts of power, the maximum that local regulations allow if solar panels are installed by a consumer. The company didn’t want users to have to hire an electrician or other professionals. The panels are designed to be lightweight and easy to clip onto a balcony railing with a single cable that comes out of the modules to plug into a wall socket. A small inverter converts the power to make it usable in plugs throughout the apartment.
“In an average household, our solution, working at full production capacity, can reduce the electricity bills by up to 25% and save up to 600 kilograms of CO2 per year, which is equivalent to the ‘work’ of a 1,000-square-meter forest,” says Attspodina (that’s nearly 11,000 square feet). An app tracks how much solar power has been produced and also shows consumers their CO2 savings in real time. Any power not used by the apartment flows back into the grid, though later the company plans to offer a battery to store extra power.
As energy prices surged in Europe because of the Russian invasion, We Do Solar, which started selling its panels in February, saw rapid growth. “After the start of the war, we saw our orders increase by 70%,” says Attspodina. “And there was a huge panic among people who were trying to secure grid independence, both because they wanted to cut their dependence on Russian gas and [because they were] worried of the coming cold winter and potentially not having enough energy.” The startup had expected that it might have 3,000 customers within the first year, but it saw nearly that much demand within the first month.
The kit costs 1,299 euros (roughly $1,320) and is also offered as a free rental to electric car owners, who can exchange the carbon credits they earn for using EVs in Germany. The company also plans to work with companies that can buy the panels as a corporate perk for employees. It will later offer a monthly rental option for people who don’t want to commit to buying the panels, though Attspodina says that they’re easy to move. “Since the panels are super lightweight, it is very easy to dismantle them, move between places, and attach them to a new balcony,” she says. Although the company is focused on the European market now, it plans to eventually expand to other parts of the world.
Attspodina recently installed her own kit on her fifth-floor apartment balcony in Berlin. “I have not yet received my new electricity bill, but I can tell you that I have already saved around 35 kilograms of CO2 emissions so far, which gives me a great feeling that I’m doing something to fight climate change,” she says. The need to do more is painfully obvious. “Right now, I am sitting in Berlin with a record temperature of 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), which is totally abnormal.”