Predicting the Next Billion Solar Concentrators

Posted Thursday 11 August 2016 by Urs Riggenbach.

Solar concentration is going to change the world, period. There, we said it. And we want to make it very clear: Solar concentration will play a key role in providing energy access to the poor, reversing deforestation, and mitigating climate change. It will also play a key role in cross-cutting issues of gender equality, economic re-localization and resilience. Why are we saying this now? Because it is bound to happen, and a prediction can only be made before the fact.

What is solar concentration?

A GoSol.org solar concentrator bundles sunrays using mirrors to a focal point.

A solar concentrator is a machine that concentrates the energy of the sun. The concentrated solar energy is most often used directly as heat, or converted into other energy forms such as motion or electricity.

Solar concentrators have the potential to be powerful, cost-efficient and multi-use. As the technology makes direct use of free and abundant solar energy, it could rapidly spread cheap, renewable and sustainable energy access at a global scale.

The right kind of solar?

There are many solar concentrating systems out there, but GoSol’s suite of solar concentrators is unique in its price point, short payback period and high power output. In short, GoSol’s tech is a solution that bridges the gap between "not-powerful-enough" solar cookers and "too-large-to-be-feasible" industrial solar concentration fields in terms of small scale commercial processes. Until now the spectrum in between has largely been overlooked and to date no solution exists to power small-scale commercial activities so common across the developing world.

Charcoal baking oven in Kenya: Many commercial activities are run on charcoal.

Enter GoSol.org’s solar concentrator that provides energy at the small-scale commercial level at which today most of the world’s firewood and charcoal fuel is burned. No kidding: Just like two thirds of today’s food is still produced by family farmers and not industrial agriculture [1], it is thousands of millions of small entrepreneurs in the developing world that undertake much of today’s economic activity and share a significant proportion of global fuel consumption.

Because energy poverty strikes the small entrepreneurs the strongest, these entrepreneurs are not only limited in their productivity, but forced to use low quality energy sources that are more polluting, deforesting and greenhouse-gas-intensive as alternatives. Sustainable alternatives, such as photovoltaics, are still too expensive for most entrepreneurs that cannot cope with a 15 to 25 years payback time. In the developing world, energy poverty is the difference between using firewood or charcoal as opposed to using propane or coal; it’s not a choice between sustainable or not, but a choice between multiple unsustainable options.

To halt greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation, it is thus not only on industry to switch to cleantech, as millions of small entrepreneurs need to switch at the same time to renewable energy.

To have maximum impact on livelihoods and the climate, the right kind of solar should provide a viable solution to these entrepreneurs that pays back quickly and acts as a true upgrade to their current energy consumption habits. It has to be producible locally, maintainable locally, and make best use of locally available materials. It has to be scalable to suit different temperatures and power outputs, and adaptable to different use cases ranging from baking to roasting, cooking, pasteurizing, and so on. It is not an easy task but at GoSol we believe to be on the right track toward this game-changing solution.

How and Why to Spread a Billion Solar Concentrators ?

Local construction with artisans in Kenya.

We’re faced with several anthropogenic feedback loops that could cause total disaster if left unchecked. Conversely, a feedback loop of local solar development and innovation has the potential to scale faster than the problems we face and faster than any industrial solution. Though industrial renewable projects, when actually renewable, are good too, they are too capital intensive to scale globally in a short period of time.

One single GoSol SOL4 model replaces as much as 9 tonnes of wood per year. In many areas this can make the difference between the regeneration of the ecosphere or continued deforestation and eventual desertification.

One billion SOL4 solar concentrators would displace an amount of energy equivalent to all biomass burning today, radically reducing deforestation and pollution. One billion SOL4 solar concentrators would produce about 2,000 gigawatts which is roughly 4 times as much as all the nuclear energy being produced today.

OK, so who’s going to do this?

This energy transition is going to be a big win for all of us and making it happen will require a coming together of many stakeholders from diverse positions. This is why we’ve been bringing together diverse partners that can create the ecosystem needed to accomplish our vision.

At GoSol.org our mission is to eradicate energy poverty and minimize the damage of climate change by breaking down the barriers to solar energy access. We see it essential to bring our technology to its world changing potential in order to have true, rapid and holistic impact.

To get an idea of how we’re progressing, read more about our educational philosophy in our SolBook post, and watch the video of our Kenya project in cooperation with World Vision / Weconomy here .

Footnotes

[1UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Hilal Elve: "70% of the world’s food production is provided by family farmers"

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