21 May 2018
Haifa, Israel
Renewable energy and energy efficiency

During the summer, scorching heat grips Israel and other parts of the Middle East, with an average temperature of 27-32 degrees. People walk the arid city streets while the sun glints from pavements and cars. There aren’t many trees in big cities and neighborhoods, so people have to deal with the constant exposure to sunlight. Two engineers and inventors want to change that by stretching a thin canopy between buildings to cast shade on the streets below. Their invention also does something else: it creates electricity and hot water, a two-for-one solution that will help make more cities green.

Create your own microclimate while producing renewable energy | The Switchers

Imagine roaming the streets on a hot day, protected by the sun in a street-level microclimate induced by thin sheets of plastic stretched between buildings. That plastic is made from recycled plastic bottles, and also produces electricity and hot water.

It does so by concentrating sunlight through a Fresnel lens and is typically used in a lighthouse, onto a pipe covered in photovoltaic cells, or small solar panels.

“Using our technology, you can reduce the number of PV cells you need by a factor of 10,” says engineering consultant Mike Sassoon, who co-founded Living Solar with Yakir Tadmor. “This lowers the cost of this entire operation, since the major cost [is] those PV cells. People need hot water the same as they need electricity.”

This solution allows a change from the typical solar panel arrangement in Israel, where solar panels link to a PV cell farm way out in the desert. Living Solar hopes to bring the entire solar energy process closer to home.

“The idea is that when electricity and hot water are produced very close to the point of use, and you get shade as well, the whole package looks a lot more attractive than the conventional approach, and is also suitable for the Middle East with its dense housing,” says Tadmor.

This lightweight canopy would be large enough to cover the roof of an entire apartment building, so three- or four-stories tall, or 40-meters long by 20 meters wide, which would then extend out over the street. Sunlight would pass through in the form of long wavelength light, which is spread and easy on the eyes.

The birth of Living Solar:

Tadmor and Sassoon met at a college of engineering in Karmiel in northern Israel, where Tadmor has studied mechanical engineering for the past few years. During his internship, he worked with Sassoon, who’s been an energy consultant for over 30 years.

“I never thought I’d become an entrepreneur,” says Tadmor. “But I grew up in Haifa, Israel, which is considered a ‘green city’. There were a lot of trees and greenery everywhere, and a lot of green technology. Growing up, I saw it all around me, so it was natural for me to be interested in helping the planet.”

Living Solar is still in its early years; the two are working on developing a prototype which they can use to secure further funding.

“We’re building a proof of concept to show how much electricity and water you can get,” says Sassoon. “We also want to provide information on how much it will cost. After we develop a prototype, we’ll move onto a pilot project.”

The pilot project will be to create a small piece of this fabric, one that’s 5×5 or 10×10 meters, to test out the concept.

“Once we get to that stage, we’ll be in a position to grow commercially,” says Sassoon. “We’ll be an alternative to the companies that build huge solar farms in the desert. That type of infrastructure is expensive and uses much land. Instead, we’d use the real estate that’s right here on the streets, up on the roof. It will feel just like sitting under a tree.”

Create your own microclimate while producing renewable energy | The Switchers

The environmental benefits of Living Solar:

It takes five plastic coke bottles to make one square meter of the plastic fabric, which means Living Solar needs a lot of bottles to make their dream project come true. Currently, only 20% of Israel’s household trash is recycled.

“Most of the trash in Israel ends up in landfills,” says Tadmor. “So creating a sorting system and taking plastic from it will have a huge impact on ground pollution.”

Right now in Israel, collection bins sit on street corners. The country has been stepping up its efforts to convince more people to recycle. From 2015-2016, Jerusalem saw a 10% rise in the amount of recycled material.

Nehama Ronen, Chairwoman of ELA Recycling, the Beverage Containers Collective Corporation, told the Jerusalem Post it really starts with education. “We let young children bring their bottles and cans to school, and we collect them and give them the money from the deposit. Children are now able to educate their parents and bring their stuff at home to cages. According to research, we found that in houses where the children learn about recycling in school, the parents also feel more responsible to recycle.”

Living Solar would then buy plastic from companies like ELA Recycling which set up and manage those collection bins.

Living Solar’s hope for the future:

So far, Tadmor and Sassoon remain hopeful that their concept will turn into reality. One day, they want to rent out their equipment or sell the electricity they gather.

The initiative was recently picked to be amongst the six winners of The SwitchersFund grant worth of €15,000. The prize, which is a partnership between the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and The SwitchersFund, celebrates green and social entrepreneurship around the Mediterranean region.

“Since we are both engineers, we have a good grasp of what’s doable,” says Sassoon. “My guess is that within a year we’ll have a proof of concept up and running. It will hopefully be enough to convince potential backers. People don’t put money into green energy without seeing it working.”

 

 

Photos: Courtesy of Living Solar.

Kristin Hanes is a journalist who has a passion for the environment, sustainability, and science. She loves telling stories about people who are making a real difference in the world.Kristin Hanes
Create your own microclimate while producing renewable energy | The Switchers
Living Solar Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency
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