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Free construction plans for simple solar-powered heating systems will be handed to businesses in developing countries if a Finnish social business’s crowdfunding campaign succeeds.
Solar Fire Concentration wants to raise US$68,000 to create online manuals that would allow anyone in the world to build a solar concentrator, which focuses light into a beam powerful enough to roast or bake food, among other uses.
“The aim is to spread the solar technology at the entrepreneurial level.”
Urs Riggenbach, GoSol
Its GoSol crowdfunding campaign also aims to launch a forum for collaboration, field test existing designs, provide seed financing for a solar bakery in Haiti and continue work on a solar-powered oven for drying chocolate beans in Mexico.
The company wants to provide the instruction manuals and some technology to entrepreneurs who rely on heat sources — for example small businesses that use fire to make charcoal, pottery and bread. Previous small-scale solar technology projects have mainly targeted households, the company’s creators say, but this has seen limited take-up as the technology is unsuitable for night-time cooking, and more risk-averse families were reluctant to adopt it.
“The aim is to spread the solar technology at the entrepreneurial level,” Urs Riggenbach, the GoSol campaign’s project manager and web developer, tells SciDev.Net.
But, as of today, only five per cent of the funding target had been raised, with 6 weeks left for the campaign.
The Solar Fire team includes engineers from Canada, Finland and the United States. They say businesses would save money by switching to the solar concentrator from conventional heating systems.
Unlike conventional solar concentrators, the new design does not use curved mirrors, which are difficult to obtain in developing countries and need sophisticated maintenance.
Instead, the Solar Fire team’s model uses rows of flat mirrors on a steel frame to focus the sun’s heat. The frame has wheels so it can be easily turned to follow the sun. A lever built into the frame also allows users to change the angle of the mirrors to maximise the heat creation.
But Richard Komp, who works for the American Solar Energy Society and teaches people in developing countries to install solar panels, says firms in the poorest countries may be unable to afford the required materials.
There, mirrors “are the same price as here in the United States, but when you live on US$2 a day, that price is not affordable”, he says.
However, Riggenbach says Solar Fire has already tested the equipment in India and among chocolate producers in Mexico. The company found that mirrors were cheap and widely available in medium-income countries.
Riggenbach calculates that mirrors for a small concentrator would cost just US$12. The frame can also be built from bamboo or wood to reduce costs, with businesses upgrading to metal frames once the technology has helped them generate profits, he says.