Blog of Lorin Symington

USTP’s Innovation Summit 2019 in the Philippines

Posted Tuesday 2 April 2019 by Lorin Symington.

Last week I was honoured to be invited as a speaker to the 2nd Innovation Summit 2019 hosted by The University of Science and Technology of the Southern Philippines (USTP) who’s now our partner. The two day event was filled with sessions from industry, government and academe. I spoke on the subject of Solar Thermal Energy for Agrofood Processing in the Face of Climate Change.

A few highlights from the event were the ‘fireside chat’ with Diosdado P. Banatao, a prominent Filipino businessman now based in Silicone Valley and Chairman of PhilDev, a session by Avril de Torres from the Centre for Ecology, Energy and Development, the signing ceremony for the Memorandum of Agreement between GoSol, CarbonCycle and USTP, and the pitching competition where USTP students competed to give their tech startups a head start in the business world.

The Philippines as a country recognises that they are particularly vulnerable to climate change, and the city of Cagayan de Oro as well as USTP are positioning themselves to innovate solutions to the challenge. The economy of the Philippines is also weighted towards food processing, so there was quite a lot of interest in my talk, as I presented how solar thermal can help companies improve their bottom line and get in front of government policies regarding emissions and energy use.

I met a number of student innovators who were presenting their final projects, many of them in mechanical food processing and I exchanged contact info with a few of them because we’ll need passionate young engineers and scientists in the coming years. A shout out to the teams responsible for the coconut weaver, spray dehydrator, rice husk powered dehydrator, floating river hydro pump and these guys, demonstrating that the answer to the age old question ‘how many engineers does it take to change a lightbulb?’ is, in fact, two. :P

It’s always a pleasure to meet and learn from other people involved in the fight against climate change, as well as thought leaders in any field. I’m grateful to USTP for the experience and am looking forward to our collaboration.


"I want to be one of the youths who are job creators"

Posted Thursday 21 March 2019 by Lorin Symington.

Meet Angella, one of the young women at SmartUp Factory Tororo who participated in our solar entrepreneurship education training. Angella was one of the most enthusiastic bakers in the group, always with a big smile on her face.

She participated regularly in the roundtable discussions about how to organize the solar baking business that would emerge as a result of this training. Youth unemployment in Uganda is around 80% and Angella and the others are keen to earn an income.

Introducing Angella:


GoSol.solar starting in the Philippines

Posted Tuesday 19 March 2019 by Lorin Symington.

I’m extremely excited to be travelling to the Philippines to work with our new client and partner, CarbonCycle. I’ve never been anywhere in Asia and to be able to travel to such a tropical paradise and leave behind the -15C depths of Canadian winter makes this trip extra special.

I’ve rented a motorbike and I managed to get in a little beach time shortly after my arrival:

The people of the Philippines have been very welcoming so far, and everyone seems to be smiling. I’m starting to pick up the occasional word in Tagalog and Bisaya but fortunately most people speak at least some English.

Back in the workshop, we’re already hard at work fabricating the SOL5’s in on the outskirts of Cagayan de Oro in Mindanao Province:

From left to right, yours truly, Lucio, Albert, Marvin and Willy.

In the next few days I’m going to visit the end user communities and cooperatives to meet the teams and take some measurements to fine tune our solutions.


"I’m enjoying being in business and I believe I’ll prosper"

Posted Monday 4 March 2019 by Lorin Symington.

Meet Janet from SmartUp Factory Gulu Hub in Uganda. Janet was one of the most energetic participants of our solar entrepreneurship education package, always asking questions and clarifying, volunteering and speaking up.

She took special interest in book keeping and went on to become the groups accountant because before the 2 week training was over, they were already selling goods, buying ingredients and handling money.


GoSol Solar Training Highlights

Posted Tuesday 12 February 2019 by Lorin Symington.

We’re happy to share with you this video which shows some great moments from the Solar Entrepreneurship Training we conducted in Uganda with Plan International (Uganda) and SmartUp Factory Uganda.

During this course we taught these young Ugandans about solar science, baking, design thinking, entrepreneurship skills and how to install and maintain the SOL5 solar concentrator.

This program is particularly powerful because it comes with everything needed for the participants to learn new skills and have a green job at the end of it. Most of the participants have never run a business before, and now they are gaining real world experience as well as real income.

Our new solar entrepreneurs are battling climate change as well as providing an income for themselves while minimizing the environmental impact of doing business. In many African nations, charcoal and firewood are the primary source of thermal energy for small businesses, and our solution allows micro and small businesses to save money while allowing the forests to grow in peace.

We ran two groups of twelve students through the training program; 12 students in Tororo and 12 students in Gulu are now able to build their entrepreneurship skills and increase awareness of sustainable energy.


7 Sustainable Development Goals made real for Eva Nangira, a young solar entrepreneur in Uganda

Posted Thursday 20 December 2018 by Lorin Symington.

We’d like to introduce you to Eva Nangira, one of the youth mentors at the SmartUp Factory Tororo Hub. Eva is a very attentive student and really grasps the significance of our SOL5 oven. In this short video, she describes the impact that the SOL5 oven is having on her life.

Eva focuses on the impact that this business will have on her and the other young women being trained. Women in Uganda face serious challenges when they enter the workforce and it is our hope that along with SmartUp Factory and Plan International, we can empower many more women to become sustainable self employed.

It’s very clear that when you want to do things, you have positivity and an entrepreneurial mindset, the access to energy, to a clean and powerful energy source, is really key. We are so grateful because thanks to entrepreneurs like Eva and all the groups from Kenya and Tanzania, we are proving that there is an appropriate clean energy solution for all these people that are not in developed economies. It is more or less expected that developing countries will develop and grow like Western countries have, but here at GoSol.solar we believe that solutions must be adapted to their reality, and their reality is: tons of sun that they can harvest to be free from fossil fuels and reduce deforestation.

SOL5 replaces fire wood, charcoal, LPG and poor electric grids to power activities during all the sunny season. During the rainy season, the entrepreneurs have to use a mix which is fine because they made savings the rest of the year and they can afford it.

 

The Sustainable Development Goals

Solar thermal energy is accessible for all and once widely implemented, will have dramatic and far reaching effects on our world. The Sustainable Development Goals have been established by the UN for the 2030 Agenda. The 17 SDG’s are the pillars of a new society, based on sustainable development for all.

Our Concentrated Solar Power solution is directly impacting 7 of these goals and affects some others.

Goal 1 End Poverty ​Universal access to solar thermal energy will create new economic opportunities for millions of people in food processing. Energy plays a key role in breaking the poverty trap; when people use clean solar energy that is locally built they can process food and create products with added value.

Goal 5 ​Gender Equality ​By empowering women and girls with access to free, clean solar energy, they have more time to go to school and engage in meaningful income generating activities instead of chopping wood. They’ll also benefit from better health due to reduced exposure to toxic smoke.

Goal 7 Affordable and Clean Energy ​Solar energy is one of the cleanest and most cost effective sources of energy. GoSol solar thermal technology has a return on investment of 18 months.

Goal 8 Decent Work and Economic Growth ​GoSol technology promotes decent work conditions due to the elimination of harmful pollution from burning biomass and enhances economic growth by balancing fossil fuel driven trade deficits while reducing the wasted labour represented by biomass collection and burning.

Goal 10 Reduce Inequalities ​Sunshine is distributed more equally than many other sources of energy. By enhancing distributed access to clean, free solar energy at all levels of society from smallholder farmers to industry, GoSol technology is reducing the inequalities inherent in centralized energy systems.

Goal 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities ​Cities and communities are only as sustainable as the energy upon which they are based. By enhancing access to renewable and clean solar thermal energy, GoSol technology is ensuring communities can thrive long term.

Goal 13 Climate Action ​Solar thermal technology reduces deforestation, particulate pollution and the emission of greenhouse gases. GoSol’s solar thermal technology can be implemented globally to make an impact within the 12 years limit set by the most recent IPCC report.

Recently the International Panel on Climate Change has called for sweeping changes to society in order to minimize the damage of climate change and GoSol technology can play a big role in that.

Our budding entrepreneurs in Uganda have a lot to say and we’ll be sharing more of their stories and perspectives in the coming weeks, stay tuned.


Uganda: Follow-Up and Follow-Through

Posted Friday 26 October 2018 by Lorin Symington.

I’m following up & following through with our young solar powered entrepreneurs at the SmartUp Factory Tororo Hub. I’ve been receiving small reports and hearing from Plan Uganda and SmartUp staff that our trainees have been baking, making sales and getting paid! They’ve even taken to social media bragging about their new jobs. I was really excited to get back and see how they’ve been moving along.

When I arrived I was pleased to see the SOL5 in it’s new home, a fenced enclosure, looking shiny and well calibrated. That was one of the challenges the trainees were to face after I left. The SOL5 is located in a semi public place, near a main road and next to a youth center, where many young folks hang out, play football etc, so it was important to protect it. When I asked Augustin, one of the trainees and a senior mentor at Hub, how did the moving go he said “Very well, though it was a bit tricky… before they finished the fence, we carried the whole thing over, no dismantling!”

The SmartUp members were excited to hear about the Gulu training, I passed along greetings from their friends in Gulu and then we got down to business: I asked them to report their successes, challenges, lessons learned and plans for the future. As for successes, their accounting books show that they’ve all earned money and grown their stock of inventory since I left! I call that an unmitigated success.


Challenges & Solutions

At first, it seemed that other than the weather, things had been going very smoothly… too smoothly, I thought to myself. Once I got the students to open up about the challenges they had faced, the challenges just kept emerging:

Challenge #1: It’s still the rainy season up until November, so they are reporting that they haven’t been able to meet all the demand for their products, and they have had some products bake incompletely, resulting in losses.
Solution #1: Partner with a local baker and rent time in their oven or save up for a charcoal oven to be used during the rainy seasons.

Challenge #2: At first, clients complained about the quality of icing decoration.
Solution #2: The students did research about how to make better icing, and I bought them an icing dispenser with different shaped nozzles for flowers and ribbons etc.

Challenge #3: George, the Marketing Director, did a survey to find out how people viewed their products and found that their initial branding contained too much information so people didn’t bother to read it. Their packaging is also hard to find sometimes in Tororo and expensive.
Solution #3: They are redesigning their branding and moving to smaller, cheaper stickers. During my time in Kampala I will try to locate a reliable supplier of packaging materials (I hear this is also desired by Gulu Hub)

Challenge #4: The bread molds and cupcake molds that we had fabricated in Kenya are not the same size as the ones used here in Uganda, so this is an obstacle for pricing their goods and selling to shops who are accustomed to certain products.
Solution #4: Save for new molds built locally, to local specifications.

Challenge #5: There is need for a bread slicer. While bread is the least profitable of the items they prepare, it is still something that is good for earning since the demand is always high. Bread sold in the shops always comes pre-sliced.
Solution #5: Plan Uganda and GoSol are investigating bread slicing machines. Should they prove very expensive I have in mind a relatively cheap manual design I might have fabricated for the students.

Challenge #6: Shops have complained that the bread goes mouldy after a week.
Solution #6: Use preservatives. I’m not very happy about this solution… I normally try to avoid preservatives, but here in Uganda, essentially all packaged food has preservatives in it. I tried to make the case for selling bread for immediate consumption, and the students countered that they can’t plan for such at the moment because they can’t produce in cloudy weather. Perhaps when they have saved up for and bought a charcoal oven, they can get contracts with schools and other institutions to provide fresh bread daily. For now, they can sell to shops, and the shops demand preservatives.

Challenge #7: This was the big one. It’s rainy season and that means unpredictable weather. One of the girls nearly left the business after she had baked for 2 hours each day, earning a small but important amount of money, but then on Friday she tried to bake, the clouds came and ruined the bake and the loss of those ingredients cancelled out her earnings for the week. She was making the case that the individual baker should not have to pay for losses, that the business should pay for the loss. Immediately the group began arguing. It’s clear that they had had these discussions before.
Solution #7: The production manager is responsible for making decisions about whether to bake or not. If a baker proposes to bake, and the production manager agrees but it goes from blue skies to clouds while the bread is still proving, the business takes the loss. If a baker proposes to bake and the production manager says no, but the baker proceeds to bake anyway, the baker is individually responsible and the losses come out of his or her wages. This solution seemed to satisfy everyone.

As you can see, the students solved some challenges themselves, demonstrating dynamic thinking and real entrepreneurial motivation. Other problems they need some help with, but considering their business is getting started during the worst time of year, weather wise, I think they are doing marvellously well. In fact, December-January is going to be a big season for them as they are the sunniest months of the year, and with the holidays, marriages and graduations going on, our entrepreneurs are confident that they’re going to be pulling in piles of cash. By then, they’ll have these small challenges solved and be ready for the peak season.

My next stop is Kampala, the capital, where I’ll meet visit the original SmartUp Hub, explore solutions to these challenges for our pioneering solar bakers and explore options for fabricating the SOL5 locally because already demand is growing strong.


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