Here's how "solar concentrators" could provide renewable cooking technologies for the developing world

Let's get cooking: the technology at work. Image:

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.


Wild boar are moving back to Genoa, and not everyone is pleased

A wild boar, c1933. Image: Getty.

Crossing the Ponte Gerolamo Serra in the Italian city of Genoa, I spotted a small crowd clustered by the river wall. I approached, intrigued, and peered over the wall to discover the subject of their delight: a sounder of eight wild boars – the adults sheltering from the heat in the undergrowth, while the juveniles foraged among the foliage that grows in the river bed during the dry summer months.

In any other city, such a sight might have been surprising. But in Italy, and particularly in the region of Liguria, where Genoa is located, the population of wild boars has been increasing at such a rapid rate that these incidents are now common. Across the country, it’s estimated that the population has risen from 600,000 to 1m over the past decade.

But while wild boars may look comically out of place trotting about the city, it’s actually a natural result of the way people have migrated – and the wars they have fought – over the course of recent history.

Making a comeback

A species native to Europe, the wild boar (or “cinghiale”, in Italian) largely disappeared from its historical territories during the 18th and 19th centuries. Their decline was widely attributed to the combined effects of habitat change, competition for space and resources and, of course, hunting.

Wild boars were a prized quarry, revered for their ferocity – and the danger involved in pursuing them. According to local folklore from the region of Liguria, the last truly wild boar was hunted and killed in 1814, in the province of Savona.

After an absence of more than a century, wild boar began to return to Liguria, and to the neighbouring region of Piedmont. A further influx occurred during World War I, when it’s believed that military activities in the south-east of France forced parts of the population back into Italy over the Alps.

Although hunting fraternities were quick to augment this fledgling population with wild boars transported from elsewhere, the return of the species was primarily due to natural causes. From the 1950s onwards, traditional agricultural practices were abandoned as more and more people moved from rural towns into the cities. This meant that large areas of formerly cultivated terraces and pastures were rapidly overgrown, fast becoming dense secondary woodlands.

A city gone wild

This spontaneous “rewilding” has become a controversial issue in the region. Many conservationists and environmental organisations consider the region’s return to a “wild state” a success. But others believe that the encroaching wilderness signals a loss of traditional woodland knowledge and a reduction of biodiversity, associated with the pastures and meadows.

The province of Genoa is among the areas most densely populated by wild boar in Italy, with an estimated 25 boar per 10km². Rewilding processes have brought woodlands to the city limits, blurring the boundary between rural and urban areas. The species has expanded beyond the hinterlands, colonising highly urbanised, densely populated city spaces in Genoa, drawn by the abundance of food waste created by humans.

In 2009, the infamous boar Pierino made his home at Righi, on the outskirts of Genoa, where he was routinely fed with focaccia by enthusiasts. Today, a family of wild boar call the Albergo dei Poveri – a historical hostel for the Genoese poor in the city centre – their home.

But while their antics are often recorded and shared with glee on social media, the threats posed by the presence of wild animals has become a preoccupation for the city’s municipal administration.

Boorish behaviour

Wild boar have been involved in a number of traffic accidents, and have proven to be particularly dangerous when with their young, attacking dogs and even people. The city council in Genoa has put forward many proposals to reduce the number of animals in the city, ranging from forced removals, to sterilisation, increased attention to waste disposal and approved hunts. About 90 wild boar were reportedly culled in 2018.

Needless to say, each of these measures has been hotly debated. Animal advocacy groups staunchly oppose the proposals, and sometimes obstruct the authorities’ attempts to take action, often sending patrols to care for the animals, and even give them names. But other residents are displeased with the animals’ presence in the city, and have consulted with the council on how to address the problems that they cause.

And so Genoa continues to grapple with thorny issues surrounding the presence of wild boar in the city, with the city authorities seeking to resolve a polemical issue that embroils the lives of animals and humans alike. So far, a collective, coherent and communally agreeable strategy has proven evasive; one that considers the need for public safety, hygiene and health with the ethical responsibilities towards to wild boar themselves.

Meanwhile, the animals themselves continue to lounge and forage beneath the Ponte Gerolamo Serra and elsewhere, bringing a little of the wilderness into the city.

The Conversation

Robert Hearn, Assistant Professor in Human Geography, University of Nottingham.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.