Italian tech start-up Levante designs origami-inspired solar panel

The portable panel’s foldable structure was inspired by satellite solar panels and becomes “more than eight times smaller when closed”.

Milan-based tech start-up Levante is launching a Kickstarter campaign for its foldable origami-inspired solar panels, designed to be lighter, more powerful and more compact than any other portable panel on the market.

Company designers and founders Sara Plaga and Kim-Joar Myklebust are both business and life partners who spend a lot of time in the outdoors, sailing or travelling the world in their campervan, but say they have continuously struggled to “access clean energy”. Solar panels from other suppliers “just couldn’t accommodate [their] energy requirements”, meaning they would often run out of energy, and had little space to install more “heavy, bulky” panels, says Myklebust.

As a design engineer, he says was aware that satellite solar panels utilise an “origami folding concept”, starting as a “very compact structure” and unfolding into “a much larger surface area”. This concept formed the basis of their new portable solar panel design.

Plaga and Myklebust started on a conceptual prototype in their garage, which they showed to marine experts and youtubers Dan Deckert and Kika Mevs, who have previously collaborated with other manufacturers in the marine industry to develop products. Deckert and Mevs then came onboard “to co-develop and test” all of Levante’s working prototypes on their sailing boat, with an electric motor, “in real-world conditions”, says Plaga.

In a move to make the panels produce more power per square foot, Levante opted to use monocrystalline silicon (single crystal silicone) rather than polycrystalline. Myklebust says that its origami shape makes it “compact, foldable and more than eight times smaller when closed”.

One of Levante’s biggest challenges was designing the panel’s folding technique and modularity to be “as simple as possible” to make it “more robust and reliable”, according to Myklebust.

If users do not require as much energy, the design allows them to “detach” modules from the panel, which “avoids the hassle of buying multiple panels for different uses”, he explains. The Levante panels were also designed to be waterproof and have been tested to resist wind up to 30 knots.

Levante’s largest solar panel can produce up to 500 watts of power, which is “the highest output available on the market”, Plaga claims. She explains that the solar panels are also “40% more compact and 20% lighter” than other similar products, “offering the highest power-to-weight ratio currently available”.

The start-up is working with Torino-based engineering firm Man Evotech “to industrialise the solar panels”, as well as “an established Italian manufacturer” for production, Plaga adds.

The Levante solar panel Kickstarter campaign will go live on 13 June 2023.

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