The sun is pretty damn important, if only because it stops us from not existing. It presides over the solar system; it accounts for 99.8 per cent of its mass; and, for want of a better word, it produces a shit-ton of energy.
The amount of solar energy the sun produces in a single second is equivalent to about 1 trillion one megaton bombs. Around 173,000 terawatts of solar energy are striking the Earth at any given moment. Yet, in 2010, the global capacity of solar energy production stood at just 0.04 terawatts. That seems a bit of a waste – so why aren’t we using more of it?
That’s the question being asked by Solar Fire Concentration Limited (SFCO), a social enterprise based in Finland. It’s a highly international team, whose members range from the designer of an open source tractor, to an engineer visiting energy companies and projects around the world, to the grandson of a solar pioneer. And its rather optimistic mission is to eradicate energy poverty, by making solar thermal energy much more accessible to many people around the world.
To achieve this, it’s set up a crowd funding campaign called “Free the Sun”, which aims to raise at least $60,000 towards the production and free distribution of construction guides for solar technologies. The success of the campaign will allow small scale entrepreneurs, innovators and skilled workers around the world to base their businesses on solar energy.
When people think of using the sun as an energy source they tend to think of solar panels – a clean, cost-effective way to generate renewable energy. This may be a great investment for those who can afford it – but for many people, not only are solar panels too expensive to attain, and too complex to DIY; the energy it generates is in the form of electricity, which is less needed than heat energy.
So SFCO, is instead focusing on “solar concentrators”: a technology which uses mirrors or lenses to concentrate on a large area of sunlight, and direct it towards a specific area (a cooker, for example). Thus, they covert the sun’s energy directly into heat instead of electricity.
On SFCO’s FAQ page the group says that there are a few differences between most solar concentrators and their own model. Instead of solar panels, they use ordinary mirrors – much like the ones stuck to your wardrobe. Their solar concentrators are flexible, durable and simple to build – it doesn’t need computations and it doesn’t need to be bent into mirror-symmetrical curves. SFCO also says they are more scalable: once the core technique is mastered, it is easy to modify the designed to suit local needs.
Here’s a video explaining how the technology works:
With enough funding, GoSol hopes to get this technology in the hands of as many people as possible. The group argues that energy independence and economic and politic independence go hand in hand.
Although this project isn’t committed to reducing greenhouse emissions directly, it would have a positive knock-on effect on the planet. It could also bring energy to the parts of the world those most in need of it, like India, where 70 per cent of the population is rural.
Oh, and the perk of getting involved in this campaign is getting a sample of solar roasted chocolate, and possibly your very own solar concentrator.
The crowd funding campaign launched on the 15 April and will run until the end of May. You can donate here.