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Solar cooking in Haiti

December 2, 2011

I’m thinking about how best introduce Solar Fire technologies to Haiti and have been researching the realities on the ground. My focus has come to rest on developing a sustainable, open source business model that I believe will set Haiti on Solar Fire.

The core of the idea is that I believe it is possible to establish an organization in Haiti and profitably cook for Haitians cheaper than they can cook for themselves. USAID research indicates that it costs roughly $.50 in charcoal to cook 1kg of rice and .5kg of beans with traditional methods. FAO reports that on a good day in 2011 1kg rice costs anywhere between $1 and $3. Call it $2/meal + $.50 to cook it. Why not head to the corner and get it hassle free and hot and ready for $2.30? (Recall that approximately 2 million people die every year from Indoor Air Pollution)

Why not indeed. All sorts of reasons, maybe. Cultural resistance or operational insecurity are my two biggest worries now. Otherwise, everything seems to check out…

I’ve cross referenced Port Au Prince’s solar data against performance we’ve measured in other places and it comes out ahead, so I’m confident I can use the data as a baseline. I’ve calculated the amount of rice a Phaeton can make per day as 25kg and at $.3 net per kg, each array earns $7.5/day. We project a Phaeton’s cost be $500, and we will thusly see hardware payback after 67 days of operation.

Clearly there are operating costs but I’ve done some growth charts where I’ve run salary numbers, construction costs, tenancy costs and more and it looks like if scaling the operation weren’t going to be a problem, we’d be able to double the number of arrays (and thereby the number of people with access to this service) every 6 months.

But it is Haiti… and scaling will be a problem. I’ve been reading a lot of aid worker / adventurer accounts of Haiti and one message rings clear: things don’t happen as fast. Or smoothly.

But that is OK. The business model is transparent and open source and it is our hope that it won’t be long until people and other organizations pick up on how efficient solar thermal is and start using Solar Fire themselves.

Check out this great article for impressions of Haiti from an energy conscious perspecitve.

Sipple, an agronomist who recently took a post as the director of International Lifeline Fund’s Haiti program, is working to wean the country off a more lethal addiction: wood and charcoal, which supply the majority of Haiti’s energy needs. The main source of revenue in the countryside is cutting trees for firewood and charcoal production—part of a hugely inefficient wood habit that consumes trees much more quickly than they can regenerate. This dependency has cost the country its forests, sapped its fertility, and set the stage for an increasing series of natural disasters.

Lying on the ground in the shade of a tent, propped up on a blanket to support her aching hips, Norisse Dousinette describes her country’s transformation. “Now the land is cursed,” she says. Dousinette says she was born in the countryside, sometime between 102 and 108 years ago—many older Haitians don’t know their exact birth year. There wasn’t much work then, but her family grew beans, corn, peanuts, and maize. Then, as the trees disappeared, the best soils were washed away.

Imported LP Gas isn’t all that cheap… $.27 compared to charcoal at $.50 per meal. This is USAID’s chosen path. It is a clean and easy solution, but fundamentally unsustainable as Haiti has no native fossil fuels. They are spending millions and have a 5 year plan. A variety of sustainable biomass alternatives to wood exist including briquettes made from various fast growing grasses, but my feeling is that it is unnecessary industry. I see solar concentrators like free money falling from the sky.

I’m fleshing this idea out more and more each day but so far all my research, data collection and calculations are indicative of 6 month operational doubling time which is bananas. b-a-n-a-n-a-s.

10000 20000 40000 80000 160000 320000 640000 1280000 2560000 5120000

The power of exponential growth.

I’m getting a video put together to illustrate the idea (a la RSAnimate) as the centerpiece of an online fundraising campaign. In any event, we’ve plans to go to start the Solar Fire in Haiti in February 2012. Stay tuned.

Now I’ve just got to learn Creole…

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