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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