From void into vision, from vision to mind, from mind into speech, from speech to the tribe, from the tribe into din.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Solar as a Cottage Industry

Richard Komp ( has been building solar cottage industries in Nicaragua, Niger, Peru, Mali, Rwanda, Pakistan, Mexico, Haiti, India, and Mexico for the last few decades. He teaches people how to build small solar electric systems using factory second photovoltaic cells and assembling them into collector arrays themselves.

Here's a video of his 2009 Pakistan project

One of his latest projects is in Colombia ( PDF alert) at the Universitaria de Investigacion y Desarillo (UDi) in Bucaramanga and uses solar to make more solar: solar cookers are used to encapsulate solar electric panels using ethylene-vinyl-acetate (EVA) instead of silicone. The EVA cures at a temperature near the boiling point of water and the students built two solar cookers big enough to fit 65 watt PV modules. 24 students in one week made six 65 watt PV modules and about 8 solar cell phone chargers, besides studying the design of several different PV systems. One of the solar cookers ended up in a restaurant on the beach while the second was used for making PV modules. "There is about $90 worth of materials in each big cooker," writes Komp.

Komp also gave lectures on solar thermal systems, including solar air conditioning, relevant as the UDi is designing a zero energy addition to their campus, a building where all the electricity, hot water, and air conditioning will be 100% solar powered.

"We designed a lithium bromide absorption air conditioner that ran from heat from an array of 150 evacuated solar water heater tubes. The only electricity the air conditioner will need is to run the pumps and fans since the heat furnishes all the energy needed to produce the chilled water, which will be stored in large insulated tanks for use when cooling is need[ed] at night or cloudy days. All the hot water needed (and then some) will be from the waste heat from the air conditioner system. ($100,000+ in costs)"

Part 1 of Richard Komp's 10 part introduction to photovoltaics series. - reports on Richard Komp's various international projects

Richard is not the only person taking factory seconds to the developing world to make local solar devices locally. Here's a BBC story ( on making solar cell phone and battery chargers in Kenya through Mark Kragh and KnowYourPlanet (

Richard is also not the only person using solar to make more solar as this article about an industrial solar furnace for PV manufacture points out

Some 30 or more years ago, Solarex talked about building a solar breeder facility where the solar panels on the roof would provide the power to make the solar panels inside the factory. Unfortunately, Solarex never completed its project and no longer exists.

There are other cottage industries that can be built around solar besides solar electricity. Solar ovens have been used in African refugee camps for years now, supported by such institutions as German CARE ( and the Jewish World Service (

Here's a video on a solar cooker workshop held in Nyala, Sudan under the auspices of the Darfur Peace and Development Organization.

This video from German CARE is especially close to my heart because it shows a woman in one of the 3 international displaced person camps they run in Easten Chad using a solar oven and a "haybox" or retained heat cooker to prepare a meal.

The haybox is simply an insulated box into which you place a hot pot. The heat has nowhere to go but into the food. You can also use a stone as a heat reservoir: heat the stone, place it in the box with a pot of food, cook. It's an old, old technique updated with solar. I love these ancient solutions to common problems.

In Tanzania, Robert Lange has been working with the Maasai people adapting an efficient cookstove to their local needs ( They have established a small factory to produce them using local materials.

"Lange reports that, 'Our particulate and CO monitors show that the stoves cut indoor smoke by 90 percent. They also reduce the amount of wood use by 60 percent, thereby saving 12 to 15 hours a week of wood-gathering for the woman of each household.'

“'We are finding that householders are willing to pay for stoves if they know they will really save time and eliminate the smoke compromising their children’s health. Maasai typically have little cash but they have goats and cows. If they are able to see value in the stoves, they are ready to sell "a goat and a half" to purchase one. Referring to Lange as "Babu”, they affectionately call the stoves “Jiko ya babu” (Grandpa’s stove).'

"'The numbers also show the potential in business stimulation. The final cost for a stove is about $55. Of this, $10.40 goes to the local brick maker; cement and other building materials cost $8.50 at the local supplier; steel for custom parts is purchased for $12 from the Arusha steel merchants; transport of bricks and labor required to form the steel parts come to about $9.00. And the women’s team that makes the stoves in the homes, building them, maintaining them, and training the householder how to uses them, earns $14 per stove to be divided among team members.'"

Animation of stove design

This 5 gallon solar shower design is also ripe for a locally produced solar cottage industry

One of the best introductions to the variety of solar solutions being implemented around the world is The Renewable Revolution by Sajed Kamal. Sajed is another person who has been doing solar internationally for a number of decades. He lives in an apartment house in the Fenway neighborhood of Boston and practices what he preaches:

"It inspires me to look at the 46W stand-alone PV system we installed in our home in 1986. Sitting on the south-facing window sill of our fifth floor condominium unit in the Fenway, with the battery box placed inside and under the window, it has been supplying electricity for a room with two 15W fluorescent lights, a table lamp, a small table fan and a record player diligently and reliably, around the year, for over 20 years! All I had to do was to replace the set of two interconnected 6V, deep-cycle batteries twice. The room is also equipped with a variety of solar cookers - both home-made and factory-made - well-used over the years. The PV system also has the capacity to power our 'Tulsa Hybrid' solar cooker that can cook three ways, day and night, year-round: by direct sunlight, being plugged into the regular household current (110VAC), or by solar electricity from the PV system (12VDC converted to 110VAC through an inverter). Last but not least, the battery in our digital camera too, gets recharged by the PV system."

I know Richard Komp, Robert Lange, and Sajed Kamal personally and thus can say that their work is a labor of love, lasting over many years and now decades. Richard and Robert are always looking beyond their own pockets for support in what they do. You can contact them at their respective websites if you care to contribute.