Solar Roots

Provide training and equipment for renewable energy sources in low-income communities and developing nations.
Mar 17, 2016

Solar Roots Stove Report March 2016

Solar Roots Operation in Burma
 
First, let me apologize for the lack of photographs in this report – the internet in Burma is too slow for me to upload photos.
I arrived back in Burma, (now often referred to as Myanmar), in January with the aim of advancing our vision for the Solar Roots Renewable Energy Training Center. It has long been a goal of mine to establish a center where I could employ local Burmese people to help me spread the good news of Renewable Energy.
Three years ago I was able to purchase a small piece of land in the village of Nya Yan Chaung, (“Catfish Stream”) which is on the edge of Pyin Oo Lwin, about 2 hours east of Mandalay. Foreigners cannot own land in Burma, so the land is held in the name of a close friend, who is a Burmese citizen. The main goal of my 2016 activities is to build a house on the land, which will initially serve as a Solar Roots headquarters and training workshop. At this juncture, let me state clearly that no Solar Roots funds have been or will be used in the purchase of the land or the building of the house – I am paying for this out of my own pocket.
In past years I have stayed at a local orphanage or in hotels and this lifestyle has become wearisome for me, as well as costly and inconvenient. At least when the house is finished, I will have a place to offer accommodation to visiting consultants, and somewhere to hold trainings and store my tools and materials.
The house building is progressing nicely, with the foundation almost completed and the steel I-beams soon to be installed. Although one of my goals for Solar Roots is to include Natural Building as one of our training options, for my own house I decided to go with modern industrial materials in the interests of fast construction and low future maintenance. One of the key features of the house design is the passive solar heat gain which will be obtained through five large windows in the SE wall. (Pyin Oo Lwin is located at 3,500ft and winters here are quite chilly). The sunlight will come through the windows, be absorbed by dark colored tiles on the concrete floor and re-radiate this heat later in the day, as the outside air temperature decreases.  Other solar features will include a solar hot water heater, similar to the one we installed at St Mathews Orphanage Center in 2013 and a solar electric battery back-up system. Although we are happy to have a new power supply from the local utility, outages and frighteningly low voltages are still commonplace in the new Burma!
But this is only the beginning – we have a larger vision. I hope before I leave in July to secure an adjacent piece of land which will be for the actual Solar Roots Training Center, itself. Unfortunately, land prices have sky-rocketed since I bought my land. The half acre which cost $17,000 in 2013, now costs over $50,000. However, I am determined to have the Center within easy walking distance of my house and we have made friends with neighbors who are willing to sell us some land. All that remains is to arrive at a price that the sellers feel is fair and that I can afford. As before, no Solar Roots funds will be used in the purchase of this land – I will handle that myself.
In building the house, I have been ably assisted by Ms Thida Win, our part-time community liason person. She is great at breaking the ice with neighbors and officials. As her special interests lie in organic agriculture and composting, she can’t wait to get started as soon as the new land is secured.
I hope that you like our vision for the future of Solar Roots in Burma and that you will remain an active supporter in our quest to bring Renewable Energy and green consciousness to this wonderful country.
Mar 11, 2016

Solar Roots Report for March 2016

Solar Roots Operation in Burma
I arrived back in Burma, (now often referred to as Myanmar), in January with the aim of advancing our vision for the Solar Roots Renewable Energy Training Center. It has long been a goal of mine to establish a center where I could employ local Burmese people to help me spread the good news of Renewable Energy.
Three years ago I was able to purchase a small piece of land in the village of Nya Yan Chaung, (“Catfish Stream”) which is on the edge of Pyin Oo Lwin, about 2 hours east of Mandalay. Foreigners cannot own land in Burma, so the land is held in the name of a close friend, who is a Burmese citizen. The main goal of my 2016 activities is to build a house on the land, which will initially serve as a Solar Roots headquarters and training workshop. At this juncture, let me state clearly that no Solar Roots funds have been or will be used in the purchase of the land or the building of the house – I am paying for this out of my own pocket.
In past years I have stayed at a local orphanage or in hotels and this lifestyle has become wearisome for me, as well as costly and inconvenient. At least when the house is finished, I will have a place to offer accommodation to visiting consultants, and somewhere to hold trainings and store my tools and materials.
The house building is progressing nicely, with the foundation almost completed and the steel I-beams soon to be installed. Although one of my goals for Solar Roots is to include Natural Building as one of our training options, for my own house I decided to go with modern industrial materials in the interests of fast construction and low future maintenance. One of the key features of the house design is the passive solar heat gain which will be obtained through five large windows in the SE wall. (Pyin Oo Lwin is located at 3,500ft and winters here are quite chilly). The sunlight will come through the windows, be absorbed by dark colored tiles on the concrete floor and re-radiate this heat later in the day, as the outside air temperature decreases.  Other solar features will include a solar hot water heater, similar to the one we installed at St Mathews Orphanage Center in 2013 and a solar electric battery back-up system. Although we are happy to have a new power supply from the local utility, outages and frighteningly low voltages are still commonplace in the new Burma!
But this is only the beginning – we have a larger vision. I hope before I leave in July to secure an adjacent piece of land which will be for the actual Solar Roots Training Center, itself. Unfortunately, land prices have sky-rocketed since I bought my land. The half acre which cost $17,000 in 2013, now costs over $50,000. However, I am determined to have the Center within easy walking distance of my house and we have made friends with neighbors who are willing to sell us some land. All that remains is to arrive at a price that the sellers feel is fair and that I can afford. As before, no Solar Roots funds will be used in the purchase of this land – I will handle that myself.
In building the house, I have been ably assisted by Ms Thida Win, our part-time community liason person. She is great at breaking the ice with neighbors and officials. As her special interests lie in organic agriculture and composting, she can’t wait to get started as soon as the new land is secured.
I hope that you like our vision for the future of Solar Roots in Burma and that you will remain an active supporter in our quest to bring Renewable Energy and green consciousness to this wonderful country.
Dec 23, 2015

Aprovecho Research Center

Back in 2010 I was working in Madagascar, showing villagers how to use inexpensive solar ovens and in order to learn about what they cooked and how they cooked it, I spent lots of time with the ladies of the village, in their kitchens. Everyone cooked on open, 3-stone fires that produced huge amounts of acrid smoke. I was appalled as most of the kitchens were inside the house, usually with only one tiny window for ventilation. What is worse is that the mother usually had at least two infants or small children with her in this harmful environment. Right there and then I decided to learn about improved cook stoves and I started a search for oganizations that could help me learn about this very important subject.

As I live in California, I was delighted to find the Aprovecho Research Center in Cottage Grove, Oregon, just a few hours up the highway. Aprovecho has been working for over 30 years to design and test new improved cook stoves. They have sent many missions to developing countries to work in the field, because a new cook stove must be tailored to local conditions. Many other stove programs in the past have failed because the stove was a "one size fits all" type and the stove practioners were not sensitive to local cultural practices. The good folks at Aprovecho are very keenly aware that the cultural aspects of technology transfer are at least as important as the technology itself. No human activity takes place in a vacuum, least of all, the ever-important job of cooking food for the family! In addition, Aprovecho has lead the field in developing small-scale, portable testing equipment that can determine whether a new stove really does reduce emmissions and fuel usage. Unfortunately, far too many stove developers still claim that their stove saves "50% of the wood and only puts out half the smoke". But, that's 50% of what? You will only really know if you put your stove "under the hood" of a testing device like Aprovecho's and have the emissions and efficiency rigorously measured.

Funding for an NGO like Aprovecho is always precarious, so Director, Dean Still decided to go into the production of efficient stoves as a way of raising money to support the research center. They now have a line of 5 different stoves, including a gasifier and several rocket stoves. This business is now quite successful and at a certain proportion of Aprovecho's funding is guaranteed. Aprovecho offers any serious stove developer the opportunity to stay and use the materials and testing facilities for a s long as they need. I stayed for 2 weeks in 2010 and built my first full size rocket stove there. I can honestly say that I would not be able design my own stoves and train others to build stoves without the invaluable help of the Aprovecho Research Center.

"Stove Camp" is an annual event, held at Aprovecho each July, where "stovers", like myself, get together to solve problems and  exchange new ideas. I went to my first Stove Camp in 2010 and now it's a regular date on my calender. Stove practitioners come from all over the world to attend Stove Camp and this year we had participants from Burma, Nepal, France and India. It's a wonderful opportunity learn more and share the hard-won experience from the field.

Please check out the Aprovecho website at: http://www.aprovecho.org/lab/index.php.

Another year is drawing to a close and we look forward to 2016, which will be full of challenges and rewards, as always. We are grateful for your on-going support and we wish you well for 2016.

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