This tumblr is to document my attempts at bootstrapping a consumer solar appliance kit business. Specifically, Bootstrap Solar aims to take advantage of low-cost high-efficiency solar and battery technologies combined with modern manufacturing technologies to offer affordable-yet-practical products to help people incorporate green energy into their lives.
Historically, starting a hardware business was challenging and quite capital intensive. But times are a changin’, or maybe I’m just crazy. Either way, here’s why I think it’s possible:
- The World is Flat - I have access to the same suppliers of components as the Big Boys. You won’t believe how cheap solar panels and batteries are when you go straight to the source.
- Open Source - Open Source hardware (and software) solve many of the technical problems without having a big engineering or R&D department.
- 3D Printing - Prototyping physical things has become much easier, thanks to 3D printing services that can quickly and cheaply “print” 3 dimensional objects based on a file uploaded over the web.
- Low overhead - A one-person business obviously has far lower overhead than a BigCorp, which means I can cut margins, and sustain a business off of lower volume.
- The Interwebs - Solves all other problems. Obvs.
I believe in solar power because that’s what I use to power my own home. And unlike what most people believe, it didn’t cost much (under $1000). Okay, so I don’t have a flat screen TV, or air conditioning, or a washer and dryer. But it powers everything I need to be happy, and if I can do it, so can you. I also believe that the market is at, or rapidly approaching, a point where solar suddenly becomes viable and desirable. The following factors are converging:
- Cost of solar panels, particularly monocrystalline photovoltaic cells (the most efficient type of PV cells currently being mass produced), has come down drastically to around $2/Watt.
- Cost of high-density Lithium Ion Polymer batteries are also coming down. Solar power needs to be coupled with batteries, because you might want the power when the sun isn’t shining, but not when it is.
- Efficiency of electronic devices is improving. For instance, 10 years ago, keeping a cell phone charged all day probably wouldn’t have gotten you much. But today, keeping a smart phone charged all day means you can browse the web, watch movies, listen to music, check email, and even fling angry birds, all day long. Now, that’s compelling. Similarly, while running a laptop off of solar panels isn’t entirely practical (in terms of space and cost), running an ebook reader, iPad, or netbook off of solar is practical.
- Small, efficient electronic devices like cell phones are now ubiquitous throughout the world, including in developing countries. Solar can bring power to places where there’s no existing power infrastructure.
- What’s up with the weather these days? Climate change doesn’t seem to be going away. One of these days, people will start to do something about it, and going solar is something people can do as individuals.