Blog of Urs Riggenbach

Happy New Year!

Posted Wednesday 6 January 2016 by Urs Riggenbach.

Early Adopter Participates in Startup Program

Posted Wednesday 9 December 2015 by Urs Riggenbach.

Our early adopter Moutasem Hassan took part in the cewas Middle East startup course in Palestine. Moutasem (front-right) wants to take technology to Palestine and this week-long course helps social entrepreneurs like him refine their business ideas and build a solid strategy to move forward. Stay tuned!

Early Adopter Moutasem Hassan at CEWAS Middle-East Startup Event. and SunFire Solutions on CCTV’s "Africa LIVE"

Posted Monday 2 November 2015 by Urs Riggenbach.

We blogged earlier on our solar showcase at Siyakhana where we hosted a film crew from CCTV Africa doing a piece on renewable energy and entrepreneurialism. Watch the movie below and see our Sol4 model in action!

Connecting Builders: Switzerland meets Togo

Posted Thursday 27 August 2015 by Urs Riggenbach.

Recently we connected the two early adopters Kurt Baumann, who built a Sol4 with his school-class in Switzerland and Boris Awume from Togo, whom we portrayed earlier. Boris currently works in Switzerland but he’s going to start building in Togo at the beginning of September. We used the opportunity to get the two early adopters together.

Early adopter Kurt Baumann, handicraft teacher, explaining Boris Awume from Togo his next steps.

After some coffee we dove right in: Kurt took us to the school building where he now stores the Sol4 during the summer holidays. Kurt suspended the whole mirror-rows straight from the sealing: "That way they take up less space and we keep them out of reach from our students."

When not in use, Kurt disassembles the Sol4 and suspends the whole mirror-rows to savely store them.
Boris taking a pic of a mirror row to send to his prep-team in Togo.

We took one mirror row out into the sunlight to have a closer look at the individual pieces Boris will need to fabricate in Togo. These are notably all straight and simple metal pieces that only need cutting and welding. They also looked at the upward reflector and the custom tools we outline in our construction guides:

Kurt and Boris examining the upward reflector.
Kurt explaining the handling of the curstom mirror calibration tools.

I really liked the fact that we built our own tools to complete the machine. These tools are quick to build and effective for the job, and I felt revived in the age-old art of toolmaking.

Kurt Baumann, Teacher at Schulzentrum Kreuzfeld 4, Langenthal, Switzerland

Early adopters Boris Awume from Togo, Kurt Baumann, handicraft teacher and Urs Riggenbach from the team.

Stay tuned for the next update from our early adopters! Want to get involved? Check out how to join our early adopter team here:

Boris Awume, Entrepreneur from Togo

Posted Friday 7 August 2015 by Urs Riggenbach.

Boris Awume is our most recent early adopter. He is an entrepreneurially-minded Togolese working in Switzerland but excited to make new things possible in his homecountry. Starting at the end of this month, Boris and his team are going to build the Sol4 model to test it’s merits in Lomé, Togo.

Boris Awume testing out the reflecting of sunlight with a mirror.

Last week I met Boris personally when he came to visit me on my farm to have a first-hand look at some of the Sol4 components.

My aim has always been to enable income-generating activities. In the villages there is not much to do apart from agriculture. Though work is hard and we’re growing a lot of foods like yam, cassava, maize, rice, and cafe and cacao, we’re not able to afford much and develop our communities well. When I found out about I immediately though, here I can drive a lot of new activity.

Boris Awume, Togo

A few years back Boris invested in a small transportation business. "After the colonialists left they had first built and then again destroyed parts of a railway system. The bad transportation infrastructure is not only affecting our country but making it difficult for things to get to land-locked neighbors like Burkina Faso. As an entrepreneur I try to both improve my country and create new business opportunities."

Boris left his country during political unrest and found refuge in Switzerland. He currently works and pursues an education in the IT sector. Last week Boris came to visit me at my farm not far from where he lives, and I got to show him some parts of the Sol4 design he’s planning to build in Togo.

I’m not going there to ’try something’, I’m going there to see what’s possible.

Boris Awume, Togo

Two days after our meeting I heard back from Boris that his local partner in Lomé already scouted all the materials needed and that the cost expectations for the mirrors are even lower than those we experienced in Haiti.

As early adopter Boris has access to the construction guides that include the expected budget for different countries, material list and the fabrication steps. Especially the material list helps Boris and his local partner now to get materials organized and line everything up before Boris gets to Lomé at the end of the month. Stay tuned.

Engineering Students Complete Solar Concentrator in Pakistan

Posted Friday 31 July 2015 by Urs Riggenbach.

The engineering students at Air University completed their final project of a hybrid solar-biomass system. Their model used our Sol4 solar concentrator in combination with a biogas digester. We congratulate the students for their graduation and hope they keep pursuing the advent of renewable energies in Pakistan.

For this article the student team of Bilal Gondal, Muhammad Hassaan and Zia Bakht Butt shared with me their project report, including notes on the energy situation in Pakistan, their experience with, and the future of renewable energies. Bilal about the construction:

Your design is easy to understand and straight-forward to build. We achieved the advertised temperatures in the first try with none of the complications experienced by other students that used a different solar concentrator design.
Final moves during construction of the solar concentrator.
Solar Concentrator before mirror calibration
Solar Concentrator achieving focus point

For the students the project was an initial success. Both the solar concentrator and their biogas system managed to produce the estimated amount of energy. The students are excited about proving the baseline viability of their hybrid system.

I am sticking to the solar/ hybrid system, as it is the technology of the future. What needs to be done is to use this concept to produce energy from the small to the mega level. Industries like textiles and beverages can benefit greatly from solar/ hybrid thermal energy.
Biogas digester producing methane to heat steam boiler at night or during cloudy wheather
Solar concentrator to heat steam boiler directly during sun hours
Pakistan’s Energy Scenario [1]
- Pakistan is an oil importing country.
- Majority of Pakistan’s power generation is from furnace oil, diesel and natural gas fuels.
- Because of fast growing economy and population growth demand for energy is rapidly increasing.
- Pakistan lies in an area of one of the highest solar insulation in the world.
- The average solar radiation is 5.5 KW/ and there are more than 300 clear sunny days in a year.
- The solar potential is estimated well over 100,000 MW.

Energy Outlook in Pakistan
"Recently the idea of converting coal products into gas gained political traction in our country. Technically in this process the hard-to-reach underground coal reserves are slowly burnt with little oxygen to gradually turn the coal into flammable gas. The largest coal reserves of Pakistan exist in Thar. Now the government has resorted to produce electricity with this method.

It is hard to believe that in 2001 our country had 4,000 megawatts of excess power in our electricity grid. Today the total power supply in Pakistan has risen to 16000MW, but with population and the economy’s growth we are now facing a shortage of 4000MW resulting in power-cuts and austerity measures. This is a sad state of affairs as Pakistan has an enormous renewable energy potential, especially for solar (see box). [2]"

Solar energy is at the moment the only renewable energy source that can compete with fossil fuels and it is clean, safe and cheap energy available all over the world.

We congratulate the team to a successful build and are looking forward to see what projects the newly graduated engineering students will undertake in the future.

Solar Energy for Palestine

Posted Saturday 25 July 2015 by Urs Riggenbach.

After studying abroad and working in the solar industry in the US, Moutasem Hassan is ready to return to his conflict-ridden home country and promote solar energy for a more independent Palestine.

Moutasem is a Palestinian citizen. At age 17, he got a scholarship to attend the United World College, in India. There, among 200 students from 68 nations, Moutasem started to look for solutions that could make a difference in Palestine.

Moutasem continued his studies at the College of the Atlantic in the US and graduated as a Human Ecologist. After two years of work in the solar industry, Moutasem is ready to return home with his bold mission.

Ongoing conflict in Palestine and the Arab Spring in the surrounding countries have been a very challenging dilemma for all citizens including my family and me. Poverty and fear were the main two themes of my childhood, and are part of the Palestinian reality. I was for long time, until I left, in a broken system. I lived through the days where my father spent all his money for my brothers’ and sisters’ tuition, while the government could not pay their employees a dime.

Moutasem explains that Israel only allows few hours of electricity per day into the Gaza Strip. The high taxes the Israeli govt. puts on all imported goods constantly drive up the cost of living. Access to power and energy is a financial burden for every Palestinian citizen. These problems get even worse in refugee camps and rural areas.

The main fuel for cooking and baking is liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) that needs to be imported. Still one third of all bakeries run on wood that is slowly running out as desertification proceeds and the remaining 2% forest cover is dwindling [3] [4] [5].

It will not be an easy road to establish solar thermal energy in Palestine and my path will be filled with obstacles, but I am determined to drive this change so desperately needed by Palestine’s people.

Moutasem is motivated by the fact that solar energy not only creates jobs and reduces fossil fuel dependence, it also reduces the greenhouse gas emissions and could pose a way out of poverty. “I’m especially excited about this technology because it can be built locally, so it will not be limited by the harsh import duties imposed on us by Israel.”

As an early adopter of technology, Moutasem gets access to all construction plans and detail he needs to build his first machine in-country and demonstrate it to potential clients. This is Moutasem’s next step.

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