Transforming urban world with green public lighting
EnGoPlanet, a Serbian-American firm headquartered in New York, was recently selected to launch the first street lighting project with pioneering technology that combines kinetic and solar energy. The City of Las Vegas, Nevada, accepted a test installation. Potentially, the solution can be applied on a much greater scale, Petar Mirović, the company’s Chief Executive Officer, said in an interview for Balkan Green Energy News.
Formerly called Volta Group, the startup registered its EnGoPlanet trademark and filed for three patents. Its head earned a bachelor’s degree in economics at the Faculty of Financial Management and Insurance in Belgrade. After graduation he moved to the United States of America to pursue his MBA degree at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota. Mirović worked as the operations manager at an international steel trading company in New York. After three years he decided to form a clean tech startup with main focus on development of innovative smart off-the-grid solutions.
EnGoPlanet harvests energy from pedestrians’ footsteps via kinetic energy pads. When someone steps on it, energy is created and stored in the battery. The solution is equipped with smart sensors. USB ports and wireless charging pad incorporated into the pole are additional features.
The company has telecommunication giant AT&T and United States–based utility Alliance Energy among its clients. Choosing the startup concept and to rely on own resources meant EnGoPlanet needed to make a breakthrough with just a handful of employees and to devise an efficient system of communication between the units in Serbia and New York.
How was EnGoPlanet established?
It happened in 2013, a couple of years after devastating hurricane Sandy hit New York City. At that time, half of Manhattan was without power for almost 10 days. I was there and I was stunned by the fact that one of the wealthiest cities in the world didn’t have a proper alternative to provide energy for basic needs. People didn’t have a way to charge their phones and communicate with their loved ones. It was terrible. Free, clean energy is all around us but we do not have proper infrastructure to harvest, store and distribute it. One of our first products was Portable EnGoPlanet unit.
Picture 1: Portable EnGoPlanet – a portable solar charging station and lighting system
What is your capacity for development and innovation?
We have the most creative and capable team in our industry. We spend a lot of effort and money in research and development before we create the final product. We are constantly trying to improve our technology. Even though we know that perfection is the enemy of getting things done, we are trying to spend enough time improving our products so that we can deliver the highest quality.
Free, clean energy is all around us but we do not have proper infrastructure to harvest, store and distribute it.
How was the initial project at the university implemented?
Our very first installation was for EnGoPlanet City station at Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri. We used this installation as a pilot project where we tested all components. This was valuable because it helped us to identify all errors in our system and resolve them. We tested this technology in all weather conditions and we were happy that it worked perfectly even in situations of severe winter.
What stage did you reach in the financing cycle and what are the immediate plans in that area?
We still didn’t conduct any financing rounds and the investment in development comes from own funds. The university did help, by purchasing our first units, so we were able to create other products. We were approached by angel investors, but we wanted to make sure first we have a strong proof of concept and customers. With the installation in plan for Las Vegas, we may soon start the first funding round.
Mirović: When we work we feel like we are in one office even though half of our staff is here in New York and the other half is in Belgrade.
Where do you get components and what is the production process like?
We source our components and equipment from all over the world. We are trying to use the latest technology from the United States to China. The assembly facility is in Stara Pazova, near Belgrade in Serbia. Many parts come from local producers, we get solar cells from SunPower from the U. S. and the kinetic pads are purchased in London.
What are the terms with the local authority for the project in Las Vegas? How big is the endeavour?
The project will start with the test installation of four EnGoPlanet Street Light units at Boulder Plaza. The local authority wants to use this pilot project to test all vital components with the main focus on the battery due to the extreme high temperatures in Las Vegas. If everything goes well they will consider installing our units in the entire Downtown. They are planning huge renovations in this part of the city that is in very bad shape and completely different than the part where hotels and casinos are.
In addition to street lighting project we just received a purchase order from the City of Las Vegas for EnGoPlanet City Station that will be installed in front of the biggest shopping mall in Vegas.
Picture 2: EnGoPlanet Street Light
What was the advantage of registering the company in New York?
Our main goal is to become a globally recognized company that produces high quality off-the-grid products. Strategic decision to move our headquarters to New York and to keep all our development and production in Serbia was a good decision. As a startup you have to be close to the action. Having daily presence in the world’s capital of business and finance helped us to establish valuable relationships with many companies, investors and potential clients from all over the world. In the era of Skype, WhatsApp and other valuable communication tools the world became a much smaller and accessible place. When we work we feel like we are in one office even though half of our staff is here in New York and the other half is in Belgrade. News that from June we will have a direct flight between the two cities will further enhance our business organization.
If everything goes well, authorities in Las Vegas will consider installing EnGoPlanet’s units in the entire Downtown.
Where do you find inspiration for the business strategy?
We want to make a difference on this planet and to leave a trace for future generations. Profit for any company is of course a very important component, but knowing that each installation that we have will help this planet to lower its carbon emissions and also provide useful features to ordinary people inspires and motivates us much more to stay on this track.
How do you predict the further development of the sector on the world level? Will clean solutions prevail and how much more space is there to improve efficiency?
There are currently 304 million streetlights in the world. This number will grow to 352 million by 2025. The public outdoor lighting market is currently undergoing a period of change where legacy streetlights are being replaced with new and more efficient LED or solid-state lighting technology. Taking this new technology a step further, these LED streetlights are also being networked together with solar energy and sensors, to become more environmentally friendly and smart. More efficient and environmentally friendly streetlights will transform cities and municipalities across the globe over the next decade. It will offer longer lifetimes, lower energy consumption, and reduced maintenance costs than legacy streetlight technologies.
We absolutely believe that clean energy sources must prevail because we do not have another option. Last year was the warmest in history. We have to think not only about today and ourselves, but about our future and our children and grandchildren.