Harvesting Solar Energy using an Umbrella

Harvesting Solar Energy using an Umbrella

The conventional use of an umbrella is to keep away the sun and rain. But this is not your ordinary umbrella, it is inverted, huge, catches rainwater and purifies it and transforms sunlight into energy.

India receives high levels of rainfall throughout the year most of it is wasted. Monsoon or rainy season sweeps the country beginning in late May and last up to September. South India normally receives more rainfall.

The location in the global map exposes the country to adequate sunshine. Summer or pre-monsoon is felt in the months of April to July and the temperature ranges around 32–40 °C.

The hottest month in the western and southern regions is April while it is May in the northern region. The abundance of Sunlight can be harvested to provide sustainable energy to multiple needs.

Samit Choksi along with his wife Priya Vakil developed an innovative solution that combines both solar energy and rainfall harvesting in one device. The couple combined their creative juices and constructed a unique engineering product that cleanses water simultaneously generating energy.


The Inventors

ThinkPhi is a start-up company that started operations in 2015. The founders spent time overseas studying and working. They were exposed to state-of-the-art breakthroughs tied-up around sustainable design.

Samit Choksi devoted a lot of time working on software in the development industry. Priya Vakil finished her education in sustainable design and architecture. They decided to come back to India to merge their passions and to build something from existing products that would be disruptive.

There is a massive herd of solar providers in India. According to Choksi, "If you approach a company to sell solar, you will see at least 13 competitive quotes in front of you. It tells you the state of the industry and how innovation is non-existent. For India to be known as a cleantech innovator, we need to support companies.”

ThinkPhi wants to take the initiative along this path by launching more products around energy saving devices. A good design and smart technology will be integrated to conventional products to produce an original device.


The Product

The upturned canopy gear known as ‘Ulta Chaata’ in local circles is an all-in-one mechanism. It can collect and purify 85,000 liters of rainwater and a capacity to produce 1.5 KW of solar energy during dry days.

According to ThinkPhi it is the first plug and play system in the world for clean water and transformed energy. It is driven by a central disc called the ‘phi-box,’ it runs on a smart algorithm to deliver solar-powered lighting at the same time provide quality drinking water via a built-in filter.

Made out of refined stainless-steel, the inverted umbrellas come in different forms and adjustable height structure. It weighs at least 100 kg, the smallest version, model 1080, measures 4m x 4m inclusive of solar modules. The price starts at Rs 1 lakh or $1,500 (USD) with a 15-year warranty. It may seem expensive, but the amount of clean water and transformed energy will guarantee that users will get a quick return on their investment.


"Designed to be (ideally) used in clusters controlled by one phi box, its sensors collect data from the environment and alert the building warden or customer via an app in case of any system maintenance," says Choksi. "It also calculates the quantum of resources collected and measures water purity. Additionally, users can also register complaints or get help in case they run into any technical issues," he added. 


The newest version, model 1080XL, can generate over 40KW of solar power and filter over 1 million liters of rainwater. This is sufficient to supply the energy needs of large infrastructure projects. The retail price is Rs 1.2 lakh or $1,800 (USD) a piece and can go up to Rs 80 lakh or $120,000 depending on the client’s needs.

These devices have a plethora of applications that include powering electronic vehicles, supply potable water to schools and commercial establishments, and double up as a cost-effective shade that is ideal in railway platforms, bus stops, and toll plazas.


The Market

ThinkPhi sold over 200 units and right on track to hit their target of 500 by year’s end. The company’s product can be seen in over 60 spots spread across the county that include campuses around Bombay, Pune and Bangalore and railway stations. To date, their key clients are Godrej Interio, a major furniture manufacturer, and real estate developer, Rustomjee.

Like any other business venture, ThinkPhi has humps and bumps to overcome. Funding is one of their biggest obstacles, you need the capital to build and sell. During their initial year they have to bootstrap to get their feet off the ground since funding came after a year.

Attaining success in its start-up year, the company was able to attract new investors to continue its sales push.

"The challenges today are to create more versions and refine the product and focus on building a brand which will allow us to launch new products," says Choksi. 

Aside from supporting clean-tech, their product also focus on air quality and environment conservation. Businesses have to be innovative to provide solutions using smart technology to build a sustainable future.

Next on their radar is the manufacture of smart bins that tackle home waste. Perhaps, another success story for the dynamic duo.