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Sonnenrepublik’s Oliver Lang: Cable-free…and fun!

Sonnenrepublik’s Oliver Lang: Cable-free…and fun!
Photo: © Sonnenrepublik

It’s total nonsense to suggest that digitalisation saves resources. It’s a real climate killer! Enter Oliver Lang: Short hair, big goals. He had a vision in 2013 when he founded the Sonnenrepublik, the world’s first company for solar chargers with a modular design that enable you to charge anything from your smartphone to your tablet - without electricity. Since then he has been working day in and day out on the energy revolution in Berlin, bringing innovations to the market again and again and tinkering with ecological world peace. How do you develop a company like Sonnenrepublik? And what do small devices change overall? 
 

Interview Jens Thomas 

 

CCB Magazin: Hello Oliver, you are Sonnenrepublik and have managed to position a whole assortment of products on the market that are solar powered and function completely free of electricity – and they’re climate-friendly, look chic and fit in a bag. Doesn’t your clientele break disappear in winter? 

Oliver Lang: (laughs) No, the sun shines every now and then, even in winter, and our products even work with less sunlight - although the charging times in summer are of course shorter. At Christmas time, our products are also good gifts, for example for a holiday in the sun.

CCB Magazin: Your first product was a 4×4 cm small solar module that could be assembled like a puzzle. It was the world’s smallest solar charger for USB devices. Meanwhile you have developed a lot of other solar modules. How do all the devices work? 

Oliver Lang: They all work similarly - without electricity from the socket. Wing12, for example, is a high-quality solar charger for tablets. The Wing12 is available with ecological outer material made of Portuguese natural cork or in the particularly resistant Cordura variant. It charges a smartphone at full sun power in about two hours and a tablet in about three hours. The MP18 all-rounder power bank supplies USB devices and even notebooks - and is correspondingly more expensive. The Base9 solar charger, on the other hand, is the rather robust companion for all outdoor activities such as cycling, camping, hiking and much more. You see, there’s something for everyone!

Right from the start, my goal was to build a meaningful company and make a contribution to climate protection. That’s why I founded Sonnenrepublik

CCB Magazin: How did you get the idea for Sonnenrepublik; what was the driving force behind it all?

Oliver Lang: I had developed my own solar modules many years before the company was founded. My colleague at the time, Andreas Guba, encouraged me at the beginning of 2012 to combine our ideas in a joint company. Technically, I had already sketched out everything. And at some point the first prototypes were created. Right from the start, my goal was to build a meaningful company and make a contribution to climate protection. 

Photo: © Sonnenrepublik

CCB Magazin: The economist Tilman Santarius has shown in his analyses that digitalisation, contrary to the belief that it saves resources, is a true climate killer: the computing power per kilowatt hour has doubled every 1.5 years. At the same time, the power requirements of processors, monitors and data centres have risen - consuming an enormous amount of power. According to Santarius, the omnipresence of our smartphone also contributes to the increased power consumption. Is Sonnenrepublik solving exactly this problem? 

Oliver Lang: At least we are going in this direction. But of course we only solve a fraction of the problem - at least a beginning. And the problem is not only the increased power consumption due to digitalisation. It is also virtually unsustainable, because there are hardly any standards in the field of technology. That is why we need two key innovations: Technology itself must become more climate-friendly and our private use must be more resource-efficient. At Sonnenrepublik, we are combining both. 

CCB Magazin: You started out in 2013 with a crowd investment on the Innovestment platform and took full risks. At the beginning of 2016 you founded Sonnenrepublik. What happened? And how did you develop Sonnenrepublik over the years?

Oliver Lang: Our first product developments proved to be too underpowered for smartphones, which are rapidly becoming more energy-hungry. We therefore had to switch to much larger solar chargers. It takes a lot of stamina, a clear goal and of course a clear target group. More and more people are looking for environmentally friendly and fair products – and that plays into our hands perfectly. Over the years, we’ve developed a solid customer base. It all started with crowd investing, which was a very good opportunity to test our product. If the investment had gone wrong, we wouldn’t have pursued our business model any further. 

Photo: © Sonnenrepublik

CCB Magazin: One trend in recent years has been for creative companies to increasingly focus on environmental and social problems - a new study by the state-owned development bank KfW and also one by sociologist Matthias Euteneuer demonstrated this clearly. What would have to change in the future to help environmentally or socially responsible companies like yours enjoy a higher profile? 

Oliver Lang: Social entrepreneurship only makes sense if all those involved mutually treat each other fairly - otherwise one or the other social entrepreneur will end up losing out and the others will fade away. In our industry, for example, there are a wide range of low-cost providers from China who often sell directly on eBay or Amazon. Since we primarily manufacture our products in Germany, including workshops for the disabled, which we see as our contribution to social entrepreneurship, we are significantly more expensive than our competitors. That’s why we avoid such platforms as far as possible, where price becomes a top priority and everything else is irrelevant.

CCB Magazin: Do you have any concrete suggestions on how to change that? 

Oliver Lang: You would have to encourage these platforms to think in a more social, sustainable way and also strongly regulate trade in cheap foreign products. In addition, there are some large retailers in the “eco sector” whose excessive trade margins make production in Germany almost impossible, i.e. almost counterproductive to sustainable or social economies. Solutions are needed for this. 
 

The problem at present is not only the increased electricity consumption due to digitalisation. It is also virtually unsustainable because there are hardly any standards in the field of technology. This is where we need to start; technology must become more climate-friendly and our personal use must be more resource-efficient. 

CCB Magazin: Oliver, do you have any other thoughts? 

Oliver Lang: Let’s go solar! 

CCB Magazin: Very good! And best of luck!  

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