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Solar Fire in India!! Solar Steam engine!

February 14, 2012

A number of months ago I posted about Eerik Wissenz from collaborating with V K Desai of Tinytech in India. They first built a 10sqM concentrator, then a 32sqM version and Mr. Desaiji has now completed a 90sqM concentrator, pushing Solar Fire technologies into the industrial realm.

Huge and beautiful, this machine will cook for thousands of people per day or run machinery for local industry.

I am captivated by the possibilities for this machine in Haiti. While institutional cooking is very exciting, I think this thing powering a rubble crusher in Port au Prince or in one of the nearby rubble fields could be tremendously empowering. Right now, the removal of rubble is very industrial, with dump trucks running huge bins of rubble to the outskirts where huge machines break them down. See this PBS story.

Rubble crushing is one thing, but this concentrator further lowers the cost of high quality solar thermal energy, something that I believe will be essential to the sustainable development of Haiti.

Mr Desai of Tinytech expounds on his system in a post at HEDON.


Symington Solar Fire goes to Haiti

January 31, 2012

On the eve of my departure to Haiti, I though’t I’d write a precis of this solar cooking project detailing history, context, resources, ideas, strategies and the tremendous potential of Solar Fire technologies. Here it is.

Context: We live in a rapidly globalizing world dependent on fossil fuels, where 10% of the population use 70% of the resources. We passed the 7 billion population mark not long ago and population growth continues to rise exponentially. Jeffrey Sachs, Economist, Professor, Director of the Earth Institute just released a powerful op-ed piece in support of UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s declaration that sustainable development is at the top of the agenda for 2012.

Sachs and Moon echo the core message of visionary Bill Gates’ TED talk. To my ears, that talk is aimed directly at me, though Gates makes no mention of solar cooking, it meets his criteria. In the talk he says ‘If you want to do something for the poor people of the world, lower the cost of energy’.  Energy makes the world go ’round, after all. He goes on to provide an equation as a guideline… PxSxExC=C02 which demonstrates that it is not enough to simply lower the cost of energy if that energy is coming from dirty sources… you’ve got to lower the cost of energy while virtually eliminating carbon emissions. Well Mr. Gates, I believe my family and I have done that.

History: Visiting India in the late 80’s my father Tracy Symington was vexed by the extreme energy poverty that he witnessed. In a country where more than enough sunlight falls to power all of modern industrial civilization, people were burning dung and twigs to cook their meals. He challenged my grandfather Fraser Symington to design a machine that would allow people in developing countries around the world to harness the power of the sun. Together, we have created ASTRA the Agency For Solar Technology Research & Application, a Canadian not-for-profit corporation and after 20 years of independent R&D we have come up with the most cost effective, user friendly, accessible and versatile solar cooking technology in the world today:

Retail material cost: $364, peak output 2000W for the rock bottom price of $.055/W. The machine will last 30 years and pays off its carbon debt in around 4 months.

If you want to do something for the poor people of the world, lower the cost of energy. Aye Aye, capitan. What better place to do that than Haiti? The poorest nation in the western hemisphere, has been devastated even further by the 2010 earthquake. 80% of the population survives on less than 2$ per day and many families pay 25% of their daily income to buy fuel to cook. Charcoal: scourge of the forests, lung defiler, filthy and inefficient. Indoor Air Pollution is responsible for the deaths of 2 million people each year worldwide, and is the second greatest killer of children under five. 90% of Haitians use charcoal to cook and the result is

Haiti has about 15 years of trees left. They have no native fossil fuels. They have no money to buy such from abroad. Solar energy is the only way that they will have enough energy to create wealth and prosperity at the grassroots level. It is a universally accessible resource that is abundant and free. All people need is a way to harness it. I intend to provide them with a method for doing so.

I don’t know who, how, what or where, but I know that the opportunity to successfully implement and massively expand the use of solar cooking exists in Haiti and it is my goal to find the best way to do so. I have a lot of ideas and strategies, some of which have been detailed in previous posts, but I am not settling on a path until I have spent time on the ground, familiarizing myself with the country and getting to know her people and their ways. Whether through government, NGOs, philanthropy or private enterprise, I intend to share my knowledge of this technology and create an open-source business model that will free billions from toil and the grinding struggle of energy poverty.

I am leaving my home with no clear path, just a goal and a very limited amount of personal resources, but I know the strength of this idea, the value of this energy and I’ve no doubt that a way will present itself.

Next time I write, I will be in Port Au Prince.

Peace, Love, Hope


Cooking with charcoal

January 10, 2012

Credit: Erin Patrick + Women’s Refugee Commission

This is what we’re up against. 80% of Haiti’s population cooks with charcoal and it is an expensive and dirty daily grind.

I’ve booked my ticket to Port Au Prince for February 1st 2012 and have been devouring documentaries and aid worker blogs and news articles, trying to get a handle on what is going on.

I’ve softened my approach in that I’m trying to remain as flexible as I can, going in with few to no fixed plans and plan to float-like-a-butterfly-sting-like-a-bee by assessing the situation and determining where and how the potential of Solar Fire technologies would be best demonstrated.

I’m taking some Creole lessons @ Haiti Hub so that I’ll be able to communicate once I’ve got boots on the ground… watching documentaries has illustrated that even being fluent in French might not help as much as I had thought…

Got a logo made, revamping the ASTRA website and soon to commence working through my ‘To Contact’ list that I’ve compiled over the past year to see if I can eet up with some solid folks doing good work and get myself oriented.

3 weeks till go time.

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…

November 22, 2011

 Solar Cooking for 100,000

This huge solar array in Shirdi, India is made up of Scheffler reflectors. Solar Fire technologies are cheaper, simpler and more optically efficient than Scheffler concentrators.

That is all. 😛

Sunlight, Sand and Tech Savvy

July 14, 2011

Check out this amazing video of a solar powered sand sculpture 3D printer

In a world increasingly concerned with questions of energy production and raw material shortages, this project explores the potential of desert manufacturing, where energy and material occur in abundance. Solar-sintering aims to raise questions about the future of manufacturing and triggers dreams of the full utilisation of the production potential of the world’s most efficient energy resource – the sun. Whilst not providing definitive answers, this experiment aims to provide a point of departure for fresh thinking.- Markus Kayser’s Solar Sinter Project 

Speaking of fresh thinking, I think this concept has amazing potential. Scale it up and you can ‘print’ houses. Same programming and circuitry, but a solar concentrator 10 times as big on a frame bigger than the house you’re trying to build. Add a feeder tube to blow sand at an appropriate rate and *insert old school printer noise* you might be able to print a beautiful glass house every day!

Solar Fire and Open Source Ecology

May 13, 2011

This is an update about Eerik Wissenz and Solar Fire’s P32 concentrator. Back in February I reposted a video by Eerik showing their 32 square meter concentrator powering a steam engine.

Now, Eerik has teamed up with Open Source Ecology. As OSE founder Marcin Jakubowski says in his blog post:

 Solar Fire is now officially adopted as the OSE pathway to the Solar Concentrator – one of the 50 technologies of the Global Village Construction Set (GVCS). Eerik is now the Project Leader for the OSE Solar Concentrator development.

This is great news because the GVCS is just going to explode in popularity of the next few years.

Here’s Marcin talking at TED

I can’t wait to see how this goes!

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