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Levante’s Origami-Style Solar Panels

Already funded on Kickstarter, this new power source is born from the passion of two lovers of outdoor life

Living life on the road (or at sea) is a choice embraced by many people worldwide. Although such a lifestyle provides freedom and the opportunity for adventure, it can require problem solving—including, for instance, how to maintain a power supply. In 2021, Sara Plaga and Kim-Joar Myklebus both quit their corporate jobs and began to live between a boat and an RV, along with Aurora, their newborn daughter. They quickly discovered that the preexisting solar panels on the market were unsuitable for their needs—so together they created Levante, the first modular origami-style solar panel.

We connected with Plaga and Myklebus via Zoom to learn their story and to dive deeper into the already fully funded Kickstarter campaign, which they launched in June, to bring Levante’s solar panels to life.

“We are on a sailboat along the Spanish coast,” Plaga begins. “We’re taking the boat to Sardinia while coordinating the Kickstarter campaign. We always do such things and find ourselves in these high-adrenaline situations.”

Plaga, who studied Business Management at Bocconi University in Milan, worked in marketing at ZEISS for several years. Myklebus, who was born in Sweden and studied design and engineering at Politecnico in Milan, worked for Dallara in Formula 1 and Formula 3. Their passion for the outdoors and travel took them to the road two years ago. As Plaga recounts, “we decided to do this because we believed in it. We also wanted to put all of our passion into being freer, following our dreams and working from where we wanted. This was the primary goal.”

“We are passionate about RVs and sailing, and in our travels, we often felt the need to have electricity and be unplugged from the grid. Obviously, in settings with little space, like the RV and boat, having so much photovoltaic power [or PV] is always a problem, mainly because of the limited space. We had already installed a PV system on the RV and the boat but noticed several limitations,” Plaga continues.

“PV is a fantastic technology,” Myklebus explains, “but it is not designed for a mobile context. Also, it is a fixed installation, so you have to have one PV panel for the boat and one for the RV, which is bulky and heavy. We saw that folding solar panels are already being used in the aerospace industry, but of course, those are for use in zero gravity and they have very high budgets. We got inspired, we believed in it and we took off.” Their resulting product is a 100% made-in-Italy solar panel that is modular and foldable according to a patented “origami-style structure” that allows it to be reduced in size up to 8 times. When opened, it becomes a rigid item that produces up to 500 watts of energy, the highest on the market for a foldable panel.

“On the market today, there are fixed panels that are more rigid,” Myklebus points out, “or portable panels, but they don’t offer such high power. What we do is produce those two products in one. Ours is a rigid structure—you can even step on it—but it is designed to be moved. You can install it for a whole season on the boat, then take it off and put it under the deck, or take it to an RV and install it on the roof. If the RV doesn’t stay in the sun because you want to be in the shade, thanks to a wire, you can move the panel into sunlight and support it with a special pedestal.”

Plaga and Myklebus tell us that they hope Levante will become “the GoPro of solar panels” thanks to its suite of custom accessories. In fact, micro-inverters, hooks and pedestals are provided, with purchase, to adapt the panels to all kinds of outdoor situations. Remarkably, Plaga and Myklebus were inspired by the modularity of LEGO, and as such the panels can easily be expanded by adding more modules or simply modified using a set differently.

The spirit behind Levante is also environmental, says Plaga: “I can buy one panel if that’s what I need, but I can add more later. You can attach hinges similar to marine hinges, so they are sturdy. I can start with a 300-watt module, then in the future buy more modules and go up to 500 watts or even 700 watts or 1 kilowatt.”

Other companies were involved in the development process, as much for technical advancement as for field testing. Myklebus explains, “The initial idea came from us, and we patented it. But we realized early on that you can’t do it all by yourself, so we partnered with an engineering company in Turin called MAN Evotech to optimize the design at the industrial level and bring the idea to be able to be produced more effectively.”

“Another important aspect at the R&D level,” says Plaga, “is the collaboration with Sailing Uma, a YouTube channel with over 400,000 subscribers. They have been living on a sailboat for 10 years and have a lot of experience in outdoor life. They use a 36-foot electric sailboat and, from the start, they came on board to help us develop every prototype we do, which they also test for us.”

Plaga and Myklebus will travel by boat and RV between the US and Europe in the coming months to show Levante directly to outdoor enthusiasts. The Kickstarter campaign started on 16 June and will run until mid-July. Success was immediate, and they reached the target funding total within an hour. To learn more, visit the official website or the dedicated Kickstarter page.

Images courtesy of Evergreen Design Studio, property of Levante SRL

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