Blog of Lorin Symington

Rorisa At the Innovation Hub

Posted Monday 16 November 2015 by Lorin Symington.

While we were at The Innovation Hub in Pretoria, South Africa, we got a chance to talk with some of the students there and we asked them what opportunities they saw with the Sol4.

Presenting Rorisa Mogane, a young entrepreneur, who was so excited by our tech.

Wandie’s Place - Going Solar?

Posted Thursday 12 November 2015 by Lorin Symington.

Recently, we teamed up with restauranteur Wandile Ndala, owner of Wandies Place, the most famous township restaurant in South Africa. Wandies has played host to everyone from the New Zealand All Blacks to Sir Richard Branson and is a regular stop for nearly every tour bus passing through culturally vibrant and historically rich Soweto.

Wandile and his head chef Mpopo inspect the cooking console

The sun broke through the clouds long enough to show Wandile the power of the Sol4. We heated a huge 21L pot of water, cooked steaks and fried Boerewors sausage. ’Gas and electricity are big costs for us, very big.’ Wandile says. ’It is amazing how powerful this thing is.’

Always the entrepreneur, Wandile is always looking to attract more customers; he suspects that adopting solar energy could be a great way to stand out and get even more attention. ’People know us for our food and music but maybe soon they will know us for this’.

"Just set up on the side of the road; people will love it!" - Wandile Ndala

Wandile is well known in his community for his generosity. He hopes to one day see the Sol4 cooking meals for the students at Sizanani Primary School across the road. ’Right now, people are burning paraffin, coal, candles, dirty things but we have so many natural resources that if we can use them properly we will be doing much much better.’

Solar Energy and Food Gardens Are a Natural Fit

Posted Friday 30 October 2015 by Lorin Symington.

Community gardens are dynamic, important spaces that improve food security, increase access to nutritious and sustainably grown foods, and raise awareness about ecological practices.

We spent a great day showing off the Sol4 at Siyakhana starting with hosting a film crew from CCTV Africa doing a piece on renewable energy and entrepreneurialism, followed by a visit from Aaron Langa who runs Forum4Change, a network devoted to improving conditions in South Africa’s informal settlements and finally we baked cookies for and presented the Sol4 to employees and community members of Siyakhana as well as the founder and director of the Wits Siyakhana Initiative Prof. Rudolph.

1kg of spinach or swiss chard for 35 cents!

The Wits Siyakhana Initiative is a 2 hectare garden and eco-center tucked away in a Johannesburg city park. Powered by employees, volunteers, students and sponsors, the garden is one of the foremost permaculture sites in South Africa.

Lorin has baked more in South Africa than in Canada.

Professor Michael Rudolph was eager to witness the Sol4 and discuss the possibilities: "I’m really very excited to see this sustainable solar cooker. It fits in exactly with what we’re trying to do at Siyakhana of promoting innovative and appropriate technology that is suitable for so many people in the wider Johannesburg, in Gauteng, and in South Africa. Very importantly we see this as linking with our approach to training and promoting entrepreneurship, in terms of small scale business, which is absolutely essential in South Africa to create businesses where people can buy in, have the skills in terms of entrepreneurship and small business and really become sustainable and generate their own income rather than waiting for government jobs."

Professor Michael Rudolph addresses Siyakhana

After showing how the machine works, getting participants to wiggle a few mirrors, put their hand (briefly!) in the focal point and eating some delicious chocolate cookies, we opened it up to questions. "How hot does it get?" "Can it cook meat?" "Why are there so many mirrors?" "Can you make it bigger?" "Can you make it smaller?" "Why do you have to bend the mirrors?" "How do we get our hands on one of these?"

At one point, Prof. Rudolph takes over: "It’s not only growing beautiful cabbage or spinach or tomatoes, it’s how to prepare them. And to prepare them here without using electricity or without making a fire. Making bread with spinach inside, to make it more nutritious so it’s not just white bread that’s just filling the tummy, but it’s got nutrition. I’m just throwing out ideas that we can do, when people come to buy spinach or tomatoes we can say ’listen, we’re also making special bread with spinach or with kale. Or kale chips... the queue will be outside the gates! This is what we try to do, we look for new ideas that can help us and then share them with other people. "

After hearing that the Sol4 can power a fruit and vegetable dehydrator, one of the men working at the gardens says "I think we should get one!" And Professor Rudolph quickly replied "Only one?"

More about our demo at Siyakhana with this vblog.

Baking in Johannesburg

Posted Monday 19 October 2015 by Lorin Symington.

After completing the Sol4, I started to test the oven we’ve built at SunFire Solutions. First thing in the morning I decided to bake scones. Did you know that tea time is something serious in South Africa? People love scones! And here is a first batch of 24 baked in 25 mins during a cloudy day using only solar energy!

Then, the muffins... I love muffins. With this small oven, I could have baked more than 300 that day but I stopped after 36... in one batch!

The next day, Phina joined and we baked cornmeal infused raisin bran muffins, chickpea coriander bread and delicious simple white bread.

Phina was really impressed and she loved the crusty golden bread.

Last Friday, the Greenside Primary School invited and Sunfire Solutions to demonstrate the power of the sun by baking hundreds upon hundreds of cookies with the Sol4 baking oven.

Greenside Primary School is a multicultural school in the heart of the beautiful Greenside neighbourhood in Johannesburg. They strive to integrate academic, cultural and sporting activities in order to promote spiritual, emotional and social development within their learners.

I spoke to the grades 5, 6 and 7 about renewable energy, energy poverty, climate change. All together about 300 students were there. Every session went over the allotted time because the students questions were never ending and everyone wanted to touch the fire from the sun.

GPS principal Dave Osburn is convinced the students will remember this day for the rest of their lives and hopes that and Sunfire Solutions will be able to come back every year to bake more delicious cookies and teach students about viable alternatives to fossil fuels! We hope so as well!

Inspiring Innovation in Pretoria

Posted Monday 12 October 2015 by Lorin Symington.

The Sol4 is done, and the oven won’t be far behind! Excited to get out and show off, we presented the solar concentrator to the students of the Innovation Hub in Pretoria, in the Gauteng region. It is a thriving education center offering students the opportunity to learn about every aspect of entrepreneurialism.

The completed Sol4 demonstrated at Pretoria's Innovation Hub, Johannesburg, South Africa.

We cooked South African boerewors, a dish close to everyone’s heart here. The students were awed by how quickly the boerewors got sizzling; they said the Sol4 was much faster than their electric hotplates at home. Traditionally, if you wanted to cook boerewors you would have a braai and build a bed of burning coals, but since ‘everything is going green’ as one student said, why not have a green braai?

Ideas poured out from these creative minds … So, what could you guys do with a Sol4?
- Low carbon brick making
- Dehydrating peaches from the Western Cape
- Green events catering
- Baking
- Building and selling the Sol4 in the townships... The list goes on...

Baking? Yes, baking. We already have done it in Haiti a few months ago and we’ll soon share more about solar baked bread. Stay tuned!

A crowd of students surrounding Crosby and the newly built Sol4.
The builders of the Sol4 and enthusiastic students from the Innovation Hub. in the Johannesburg Workshop

Posted Monday 5 October 2015 by Lorin Symington.

Johannesburg is a great place to build. South Africa is the industrial heart of Southern Africa and JHB is where the action is. In the industrial districts it seems every 5th shop is either a laser cutting shop, an engineering firm, a metal supply or a paint store. Throw in the occasional glass shop, custom steel fabrication workshop or oven/catering supply store and we’re more than all set.

Painting the solar concentrator.
Crosby and Zander, SunFire Solutions’team, are really excited to see technology in action. They have mostly been working with parabolic solar cookers which are prefabricated, flat packed and shipped. They work well enough but have a number of drawbacks that SunFire Solutions thinks are overcome by our design.

We’ve set up our workshop at Zander van Manen’s place. He’s managing director of SunFire Solutions. There’s a garage where we can lock up our tools at night and behind it a covered concrete slab where we’ll be fabricating. Between Zander’s tools, Crosby’s and the local Builders Warehouse we have everything we need for an efficient build.

Zander van Manen is quite a guy. Degree in environmental management, years of doing Environmental Impact Assessments on gold mining sites in Mozambique, years of working with an ecological pest solutions company (where he got to apply the many years of hawking and owling knowledge he has amassed since his first owl at age 8).

Much of his workshop skills come from bush mechanicking broken down mining equipment in Mozambique (he has an unbelievable story about an excavator breaking down during a river crossing in Moz and being the guy under the half-submerged hood while the rest of the team stood crocodile guard with spears and torches, calling out to him whenever they saw a shadow swimming his way). Now he’s settled in with SunFire Solutions bringing a wide array of solar energy solutions to people in the country.

Sol4 parts ready for assembly.

The past week has been a blur of fabrication, filming and discussion on the state of solar thermal. We’re documenting all the steps of the construction, mixing in the occasional story or piece of solar thermal wisdom gleaned from years of field experience. This documentation will be put online on the GoSol Hub, where builders, users and supporters of our #FreeTheSun campaign get early access and tech support.

It is very rare that I meet someone in my field as conversant on solar thermal / empowering people / preservation of ecological balance and I tell you it has been grand! Crosby in particular has been in the solar cooking field for many years and has a breadth of knowledge on technologies, groups and people working in the field that I could listen to him talk for ages. We have to cut conversations short because we’re all really excited to get this Sol4 on the road and start demonstrating the power of the sun!

Next week we set up the Sol4 and oven and get demonstrating! It is widely reported that one of the biggest impediments to small scale solar thermal adoption is lack of awareness of these solutions. We hope to make a dent in that by making as big a splash as we can! Wish us luck and fortitude.

Note: We’re building a Sol4 with upward reflector and a baking oven. Want to build one too? Get early access by supporting our #FreeTheSun campaign and signing up as a builder!

Starting in South Africa with SunFire Solutions

Posted Sunday 27 September 2015 by Lorin Symington.

Thanks to the ongoing success of our #FreeTheSun campaign and the determination of SunFire Solutions, we’re finally on the ground in RSA. We’ll be building one of GoSol’s Sol4 solar concentrators in Johannesburg in the coming weeks.

Crosby Menzies of SunFire Solutions during the construction of the first Sol4 in South Africa.
Small solar cookers: Suitable for domestic cooking, but much less so for large institutions.
Lorin Symington during construction.

SunFire Solutions has been marketing solar cookers for 12 years now and they often work with schools and institutions who cook for hundreds or even thousands of students.

As student of permaculture, Crosby had toured South African Visiting Schools, many of which have feeding schemes and he noticed the rural schools using firewood to cook student’s daily meals. Crosby had seen some ‘bright shiny dishes’ cooking in Zambia and figured they would be applicable in RSA. After contacting GIZ, a German development agency, he was put in touch with some of RSA’s “top sales and marketing consultants” who told him “it’s impossible to manage and run a sustainable company specialized in Solar Cookers”. Shortly afterwards, the 10 years GIZ project closed down stating that “the technology and people were not ready”. This greatly inspired Crosby to found and run SunFire Solutions which has gone on to achieve the “impossible” on a daily basis for 12 consecutive years. SunFire Solutions is now established as the longest running and most successful solar cooker company in southern Africa.

Their best selling solar cookers are in the 1-2 square meter range which is suitable for domestic cooking, but much less so for large institutions.

While searching for a solution to offer institutions, Crosby found GoSol and knew immediately that we have the right technology and has been after us ever since. Not only does the Sol4 have the advantage of being scalable (Sol2-Sol6 square meters), the user can stand in the shade while solar boiling, frying, baking or roasting.

South Africa is an exciting place to be working on solar thermal. Besides having world class incoming solar radiation, the electrical infrastructure is weak in South Africa, meaning electricity is expensive and somewhat unpredictable with rolling blackouts and brownouts when you get further from Johannesburg. That fact, along with the social angle that ‘poor people cook by burning wood’ has made solar cooking an attractive option for a growing number South Africans.

Ever since 2010, electricity prices have increased substantially. The government has been working to expand rural electrification, but even once connected, rural households watch how much cooking with electricity costs them and they reluctantly go back to cooking with wood. GDP per capita is approximately $6,000, and electricity prices vary widely by region, but taking an average price per kWh at 1ZAR ($.08USD) if we adjust for income levels it would be as if electricity cost .80USD per kWh.

With 25% unemployment, and very little cash flowing in the countryside, you can see why cooking with solar is such an attractive option and why SunFire Solutions is growing so rapidly.

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