Here is an interesting idea from a German startup: buy its solar panel and battery for charging your mobile gadgets, and the solar energy produced gets converted into credits for buying sustainable goods at a discount.
The German company, Changers, announced Tuesday that it’s raised $1.5 million in Series A from BFB Frühphasenfonds Brandenburg (a government-backed fund for early-stage companies), Heliocentris Energy Solutions and private investors.
Changers, founded in 2011, sells a kit of a 4-watt solar panel and a 16 watt-hour battery and charger. The charger keeps track of the amount of energy produced and the related carbon footprint savings, said Daniela Schiffer, co-founder of the startup. Under sunny conditions, each charger takes about five hours to fill up. It’s got enough juice to charge one to two smart phones, or 20% to 40% of a tablet’s battery.
You can upload those data to Changers’ website to redeem credits that will then allow you to buy goods and services from Changers’ network of merchants at a discount. Each credit equals one watt-hour.
Schiffer said each solar kit owner typically get 10-20% discount from the merchants, which include Coffee Circle, DHL, Holstee (posters and stationeries) and nextbike (bike rental).
Changers look for merchants who offer organic or fair trade products or promote sharing of resources, such as bike rental and car sharing, Schiffer said. Or other low-carbon products such as DHL’s carbon-neutral shipping service, GoGreen.
Changers makes money not just from selling the solar kits but also from charging the merchants a fee for each sales transaction, Schiffer said.
The idea of using rewards or even competition to nudge people to conserve energy or embrace clean energy isn’t new, but its use is certain growing. While the concept can draw an enthusiastic crowd at the beginning, the challenge has always been to create long-term behavioral change, without need for rewards down the road.
Changers is marrying portable clean energy generation with companies that target consumers who care about using sustainable products, which are growing their presence and making their way from high-end stores to the mass market.