Power to the People. No, Seriously!
Let’s say you want to help bring electricity to a remote African village that desperately needs it…how would you do it? With other infrastructure lacking and the sun beating down overhead, solar power would seem to be an obvious answer. There’s just one hitch: solar power generating equipment is costly.
MIT grad student Matthew Orosz was doing a Peace Corps stint in the African village of Lesotho when he saw something that gave him an idea. Villagers were using very simple parabolic troughs made from reflective material to collect the sun’s energy to bake bread. What if, he thought, these simple solar collectors were to be connected to equally simple power generators? Small generators could provide needed power to villagers without having to introduce a lot of expensive equipment and infrastructure. With that in mind, Orosz has designed a personal solar generator that can easily be assembled in a back yard using auto parts and plumbing supplies.
According to MIT Technology Review, this Rube Goldberg contraption produces 1 kilowatt of power and 10 kilowatts of heat for less than half the cost of a 1-kilowatt system using standard solar technology. The system’s inventor is now hard at work on a plan to make these simplified solar generators available through a special World Bank financing program. Villagers who once had to do without may soon be able to share a generator to power their community center and serve as a battery recharge station.