Solar Pocket Factory: Microsolar Revolution In The Making

What happened was, Alex Hornstein and Shawn Frayne determined that microsolar panels – the little PV modules that might charge a smartphone or an iPad, or power a light in a rural village, or run a little radio – are generally crap. As designer/inventors with a crazy love for clean energy, they found this worse than appalling. It was unacceptable.

And so there you have the creation story behind the Solar Pocket Factory, a scheme to bring to market an automated machine that can churn out a reliable, long-lasting microsolar panel every 15 seconds, and do it anywhere in the world where there’s a market for the products, which, if the product is as good as expected, will be everywhere.

Solar Pocket Factory, Kickstarter

Alex Hornstein, left, and Shawn Frayne. (image via Solar Pocket Factory/Kickstarter)

The duo has turned to Kickstarter to fund the project. Some Kickstarter projects you know don’t have a chance. Some you know will hit their goal and go shooting past it. The Solar Pocket Factory is one of the latter – last night, just a week into the month-long fundraising period, the project was nearing the $30,000 mark, its $50,000 target well within sight.

It probably won’t be a bad thing if they take in more than $50,000. They have much to do.

“We’re trying to do something pretty ambitious: disrupt the billion dollar microsolar industry from a couple of tiny workshops,” they write on Kickstarter.

“It’s not going to be easy.  Along the way, there’ll be breakthroughs, explosions, moments of strife, hope, bizarre discoveries, hard work, tales of social injustice, good people and an awful lot of solar panels…. We don’t know how this will all turn out, but we’re making two promises to our backers:  we’re gonna do everything possible, and then some, to make solar pocket factories real, and we’re going to be brutally honest in our writing.”

As the guys note in their video, they aren’t working in some fancy MIT lab (not now, anyway; they both did go to school there). But it’s pretty clear that despite the spartan setup, they’re the real thing. Popular Mechanics, in writing about their Kickstarter project, noted that Frayne was a winner of one of the magazine’s PM Breakthrough awards in 2007 for an alternative micro wind-power device called the Windbelt.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.