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Okapi is a variable speed fan control system for Solar Collector Air Heaters. It is robust, serviceable, smart and Patent Pending.

Why pledge for Okapi?

  • You want the potential to reduce heating bills by hundreds of dollars each year
  • You would like to use free solar energy to put heat into your home
  • You want a secondary heating system that has zero carbon dioxide emissions
  • You have a solar space heater or you are planning to make or purchase one

If you like this project, you can pledge as little as $1. If you know someone who might be interested in this project, then please share the project link with them.

What is Okapi?

Okapi is an electronic control system that drives a variable speed fan and blows the heat out of your solar collector air heater where you need it most:  at floor level.

Okapi monitors and predicts heating and cooling trends inside your solar collector. The fan speed is controlled precisely so that heat transfer is always maximized.

Okapi comes equipped with connecting wires, low voltage AC adapter, sensors and a variable speed 100cfm fan. Just connect the 92mm fan to the desired outlet on your solar collector, position and attach the sensors and control unit and plug in the wires.  

Okapi is fully automatic. No user intervention or programming is required, just plug it in and let it do the work.

Okapi is serviceable, not disposable. If it detects hardware errors, it will indicate exactly what the problem is. The sensors it uses are very low cost and are easy to replace. 

Okapi 2 is designed to control two side-by-side solar collector air heaters, or one very large collector. It uses 5 sensors and continuously drives the two included fans to maximize heat output.

Okapi 2.i controls two solar collectors entirely independently and includes all sensors, fans and connecting wires. Okapi 2.i offers a substantial cost saving versus purchasing two Okapi single heater control units.

Okapi printed circuit board
Okapi printed circuit board

Okapi is incredible. The fans will run whenever a temperature rise is detected. As the heat can be output at floor level, a positive feedback loop can occur where heated air is drawn back into your solar collector, heated further, then blown back out near the floor. It can even operate in some cloudy conditions and is designed specifically to continue working and providing as much heat as possible when shadows pass over your solar collector.

Okapi with variable speed fan and sensors
Okapi with variable speed fan and sensors

Who are the customers?

Anyone who has built their own Solar Collector Air Heater or is planning to build one before winter.

Do you know someone like this? Can you please tell them about Okapi and share this project link with them?

Are you a manufacturer of closed-loop solar collector air heaters? Our patent-pending Okapi system has the potential to make your solar collector air heaters into market leaders. Okapi can deliver heat at the floor level, which, in its own right is an incredible USP.

Why Okapi?

Solar collector air heating systems are an emerging market. They usually have very simple control systems (if any) that work in tandem with convection. Usually a collector of this type would be mounted vertically on a sun facing wall of a building, meaning that any heating from the unit would be high up and potentially closer to a ceiling than a floor. These units also only switch on at very high temperatures then switch off when all the heat has been blown out. All the usable heat can be blown out when a cloud passes over, for example.

In developing Okapi we wanted to ensure that all the above issues could be dealt with properly. Okapi controllers can pull the air through a solar collector and deliver it to floor level. They look for cooling and warming trends and act on them intelligently. Okapi is programmed to preserve heat inside the collector while skimming as much transferable heat as possible. Okapi understands how to slow the fan when clouds or shadows pass. As further clouds pass, it builds up an understanding of how to best make the fan perform. Similarly, when clouds begin to go away, Okapi readjusts fan performance appropriately. Okapi can also start to work at "low" temperatures (it will switch on when convection of around 90°F is detected) then continue to operate providing the air at the outlet is warmer than the temperature in the room. In other words, once it is switched on it will only switch off when there is no heat rise, meaning it can output warmer air just one or two degrees above the actual temperature of the room. The advantage here is that you get as much heat out of the collector as is physically possible, while keeping the air moving in order to transfer that heat to objects in your home.

Okapi air flow diagram
Okapi air flow diagram

What is a Solar Collector air heater?

Did you know that you can potentially save hundreds of dollars each year by offsetting your heating bill with low cost heat generated from solar energy?

Did you know that you can use a Solar Collector to convert light energy radiated from the sun into heat to boost warmth in your home, garage, cottage or shed?

Solar air heating systems are an emerging market. These heaters have an extremely low running cost and can even be powered by solar electricity to give the incredible benefit of a free running cost. There are some manufacturers who are already providing prefabricated units for sale, as well as many do-it-yourself craftspeople who have made their own collectors. Search YouTube and Google for more details.

A Solar Collector Air Heater Installation
A Solar Collector Air Heater Installation

** Please note:  we do not currently manufacture solar collector panels for sale, we only manufacture the control units.

Watch this video to see a demonstration of Okapi:

Who are we?

Greenhill EnviroTechnologies Inc. designs and develops electronic control systems for green technologies. It is a federally incorporated business based in Nova Scotia, Canada. The Okapi line will be the first products manufactured by Greenhill EnviroTechnologies Inc.

Julian Jameson, CEO of Greenhill EnviroTechnologies Inc. is the visionary who has designed, developed and refined the Okapi system since its humble beginnings over two years ago. Prior to moving to Canada in 2004, Julian lived in England where he designed, programmed and managed the development of computer and video games. The most notable title he is responsible for is probably "Cannon Fodder", one of many titles he produced when he worked at Sensible Software (and afterwards at Codemasters). More recently, Julian (or "Jools", as he used to be known) has shifted his abilities to designing electronic systems that utilize programmable microcontrollers.

What do we need the money for?

To Kickstart our business by funding the manufacture of the initial run of units and covering some initial business costs.

Why Kickstarter?

Good timing! Kickstarter launched in Canada at around the same time that we were planning to bring Okapi to market. 

If this Kickstarter campaign is successful it will really help our company become established and allow us to hire staff based on demand for the product line. Your pledge could help provide employment opportunities in North America. 

Are we ready for production?

Yes. We have a workshop, the tools, the team and a plan that will allow us to manufacture Okapi based on the level of demand that this campaign could generate. 

Okapi itself is ready. Final testing and tweaking was completed months ago.

Currently, our team can easily manufacture at least 50 units each month. The manufacturing process has been documented, refined and edited and made as clear as possible, to allow for a smooth transition to greater production quantities. We have written manuals, parts lists, fabrication instructions and testing and troubleshooting guides. Our component supplier is second to none for component availability and delivery.

Okapi has been tested on five different designs of solar collectors, each a different shape and size and each with a unique design of collector elements (including a "pop can" style heater). It is a very versatile product that has successfully driven various solar collectors throughout all the weather conditions that eastern Canada can experience. Each prototype Okapi unit has been run through numerous activities, all of which have been data-logged. The data logs have proved to be invaluable in refining the product and demonstrating potential cost savings.

A durability test subjected to the first development prototype included it being deliberately broken, fixed, broken and fixed again. As a working programmable-development unit, it spent time lying open on the floor, being trod on by dogs, accidentally kicked, taken apart, rebuilt, modified and generally treated very badly. And it still works perfectly!

Okapi, Okapi 2.i and Okapi 2
Okapi, Okapi 2.i and Okapi 2

The pledges

Many of the pledges enable you to purchase the Okapi systems.

However, for those who currently have no need for an Okapi system but want to support us, there are many pledge options designed just for you.

Meredith Williams, co-founder of Greenhill EnviroTechnologies Inc. is also a part-time visual artist and has painted a number of oil paintings for this campaign. Prints of these paintings are offered in some pledges, while the actual original paintings are individually offered in another pledge. We really wanted to give you something unique and colorful in return for a pledge of this nature and this is our way of doing just that!

Kickstarter waterrnark will be optional on prints and is not present on the original painting
Kickstarter waterrnark will be optional on prints and is not present on the original painting

Unpacking Okapi:

An illustration of the Okapi systems with all included items

Features and Benefits of Okapi

Benefits

  • Utilizes green, renewable energy that can offset the cost of fossil and other combustible fuels
  • Regarding heating cost savings, Okapi can potentially "pay for itself" in a very short period of time
  • Heat loss inside solar collector units is minimized, while heat transfer from solar collector to household air is maximized
  • Heat can be provided in hazy and some cloudy conditions
  • Heat output can be delivered at floor level
  • Lower running cost due to variable fan speed
  • When connected to a battery and solar panel (these are not included), running costs are free
  • When connected to a battery and solar panel, heat can be provided where there is no power
  • Fan does not repeatedly switch on and off during cloudy conditions
  • Okapi is completely automatic, no user programming or intervention required
  • Manage two solar collectors with a single control unit (Okapi 2 models)
  • Okapi is versatile and can control the airflow through pretty much any closed-loop solar collector. Also, it doesn't really matter where the inlets and outlets are (although ideally the outlet would be near a floor and the inlet duct would be in the same room somewhere above the outlet)

Features

  • Can control up to two solar collector units (Okapi 2 models)
  • Drives a low-voltage variable speed fan
  • Fans consume very low amounts of power (up to 9w per fan when running at full speed)
  • Deterministic control system that constantly evaluates how the heater is performing, has an understanding of how clouds and shadows can affect heater performance and how best to control the heater in variable weather conditions
  • Variable fan speed to output maximum airflow and heat, while using as little power as possible
  • State-of-the-art microcontroller system with multiple sensors, monitors the attached solar collector. Microcontroller runs at 4 million instructions per second.
  • Built-in safety features including a fuse and regulated power. Different levels of voltage are mechanically isolated.
  • Okapi can be powered by a solar panel and battery (neither of which are included) or a low wattage AC adapter (included)
  • Automatic troubleshooting:  if hardware issues are detected, a warning will indicate the problem and also shut down that area of the circuit; if two solar collectors are used and a hardware issue is detected in an area relating to one of the heaters, that heater will shut down and the other will continue to operate  (Okapi 2 models)

How Okapi was conceived

We have all heard about the mythical "pop can heater" and, back in 2011, we wanted to discover for ourselves if these units could actually heat a home.

The first prototype was very basic. We constructed a small, indoor, pop can style heater (it was designed to sit inside a window frame). We added a simple electronic circuit to detect warming and control a fan to force air through the inlet at the top of the unit and back out of an outlet near the bottom.

Internal solar collector prototype 1
Internal solar collector prototype 1

For ease of expandable prototyping, a large breadboard and power supply board were simply taped onto the back of the solar collector. A display and wireless transmitter, for remote datalogging, were added. We wanted proof!

Internal prototypes 1 and 2
Internal prototypes 1 and 2

The first prototype appeared to work. So, after some time googling in the lab, we produced a larger indoor (window box) collector with a more refined control system.

External prototype 1
External prototype 1

Then we constructed a large, modular, external collector. However, the control system was designed to control a modified AC vent fan that would normally be installed in a bathroom. This unit also operated on the principal that blowing the hot air out at floor level causes more efficient heating, as well as a positive feedback loop where heated air could re-enter the heater for further heating.

Variable fan speed controllers. Basic then advanced.
Variable fan speed controllers. Basic then advanced.

The next stage was to enhance the system by programming it to operate variable speed fans instead of fixed speed fans.

We also significantly altered the design of the collector prototypes. The pop can heater elements were replaced with collector elements that had far more surface area available for contact with direct sunlight. A giant leap in product capability was also made when the basic microcontroller prototypes (inset left) were replaced with final prototypes (inset right), that were purpose designed, programmed and built.

Why is it so important to deliver hot air for heating at the floor level?

We revisited our old physics books and put this informational video together to show why:

It sounds so simple!

That's the general idea, to make a product that makes sense and is intuitive to install and use. The design and programming involved is extensive. To give you an idea of the inner workings of the Okapi system, the patent application is thorough, very technical and 40 pages long. All the complexities are buried deep inside Okapi to ensure it is as simple as possible to understand and use.

Although we have tried to simplify the details, there is a lot of technical information regarding how Okapi works and what it actually does. If you have any questions, please submit them using the button below and we will try to address the answers directly to you, as well as update the FAQ. 

Thank you for taking the time to read through this project description. Please spread the word and share our links and videos.  This is a very worthwhile project.

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

We want to live up to our objectives of delivering high quality, serviceable products. However, if we spend large amounts of our time ensuring that the products meet our standards then do we have the time to handle all the other aspects of our business? If we have to quickly expand to meet demand then will we have time to find the right-fit team members who can provide the quality we insist upon? If we do run into issues with quality, the serviceability of the product will hopefully provide a solution. The fans, sensors, connecting cables, power supply, fuses and Microcontroller units are all easily replaceable.

Successfully reaching out to our demographic could be a challenge. Even if this Kickstarter campaign is successful, we will still need help identifying who our potential customers are and where they are located.

If you know someone, who knows someone who has made their own Solar Collector or Solar Air Heater, can you please tell them about our project and products? There's a chance you could make them very happy!

FAQ

  • Absolutely.

    Providing you can place Okapi's convection sensor inside (or in a vent) near the top of your collector, you would then have the option to install ducting (rigid or flexible) from your collector to any colder air source.

    Okapi will work with almost all designs, shapes and sizes (within feasible limitations) of closed-loop solar collector air heaters, so is very versatile.

    The advantage of its counter-conductive operation is pushing the heated air out at floor level (just like regular forced air heaters). Where that air originates is really up to you (i.e. your preference and collector design).

    Last updated:
  • Okapi runs at 12VDC, provided by the included AC adapter. You can also power Okapi with a 12v battery and solar panel (centre positive 2.1mm jack connected to a battery wire is required). Solar panel, battery and connecting wire are not currently included with Okapi.

    Okapi comes equipped with 1A, 103 CFM variable speed fan(s). When Okapi is running the fan at full speed the entire system only consumes around 10 watts of power (around 20 watts for Okapi 2 and 2.i, as they drive two fans).

    Last updated:
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  • Pledge $5 or more
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    5 backers

    Thank you, every little bit helps! Receive access to updates on our exciting product line and help support a very worthwhile project!

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    5 backers

    Our visual artist is creating a limited run of promotional oil paintings for this project. If you support us with a pledge of $15, you will receive a numbered 5x7 print, selected by yourself, from this limited run of original artwork. Each print will be signed on the back by the artist with "Thank you Kickstarter!" and should be delivered in time for the holidays.

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    8 backers

    Our visual artist is creating a limited run of promotional oil paintings for this project. If you support us with a pledge of $30, you will receive not two but THREE! numbered 5x7 prints, selected by yourself, from this limited run of original artwork.

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    2 backers Limited (3 left of 5)

    EARLY BIRD! You will receive an "Okapi 1" Solar Collector fan control system. Includes control system for one fan, AC adapter (100-240v 50/60Hz 2 prong NEMA), connecting wires and sensors, one 92mm (3 5/8") variable speed fan with finger guard. Get it before winter gets to you!

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    0 backers Limited (50 left of 50)

    You will receive an "Okapi 1" Solar Collector fan control system. Includes AC adapter, connecting wires and sensors, one 92mm variable speed fan and finger guard. Get it before winter gets to you!

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  • Pledge $240 or more
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    0 backers

    You will receive an "Okapi 1" Solar Collector fan control system. Includes AC adapter, connecting wires and sensors, one 92mm variable speed fan and finger guard. Delivery in 2014.

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  • Pledge $250 or more
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    0 backers Limited (5 left of 5)

    Our visual artist is creating a limited run of promotional oil paintings for this project. If you support us with a pledge of $250 or more, you will receive one of the original pieces of artwork. They are oil on watercolor paper and sizes vary. You will be able to pick from the series (of 7 original pieces total) on a first come first served basis. This is a very special "thank you" reward for those who want to support us but currently have no need for the Okapi product. Artwork should be delivered in time for the holidays.

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  • Pledge $339 or more
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    1 backer

    You will receive an "Okapi 2" Solar Collector fan control system. Includes AC adapter, connecting wires and sensors, TWO 92mm variable speed fans and finger guards. Okapi 2 can control two side-by-side collectors and uses ALL sensors to determine the ideal output from the fans. Massive saving compared to buying two Okapi 1. Get it before winter gets to you!

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    6 backers

    You will receive an "Okapi 2.i" Solar Collector fan control system. Includes AC adapter, connecting wires and sensors, TWO 92mm variable speed fans and finger guards. Okapi 2.i can independently control two solar collectors. Massive saving compared to buying two Okapi 1. Get it before winter gets to you!

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    We believe that this is a very worthwhile project. If you would like to help by donating (but either prefer to remain anonymous or wish to have your name credited in project related material) then please feel free to pledge $500 CAD or more using this pledge. Your donation will help us reach our goal, your generosity will be massively appreciated and never forgotten.

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  • Pledge $2,500 or more
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    0 backers

    This pledge is exclusively aimed at companies that manufacture closed-loop solar collector air heaters. If your company wants to upgrade or add a control system to your line of CSA or UL approved solar collectors, then this is your opportunity to be the first to market with our Okapi product line. For this pledge, we will work with your company to pair up our control system with your line of solar collectors. For the pledge amount of $2,500 CAD, you will receive one development Okapi unit equipped with datalogging and troubleshooting capabilities, as well as unlimited consultation for a period of one month. This development Okapi system will have extensive data logging capabilities. Therefore, any important findings such as running time, cost to run, heat rise and output values, measure of efficiency, cost savings etc. can be reported in your marketing materials. If you want the benefits that Okapi can provide (such as blowing heat out at floor level and intelligent operation based on monitored weather trends) associated with your product then pledge now, before your competitors gain this edge over your company.

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Funding period

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