In an attempt to break the high initial cost of solar power for remote regions, an MIT team has developed a small – 1kW – solar concentrating combined heat and power system. It uses the concentrated heat in an Organic rakine cycle, in which a liquid with a low boiling temperature is reused over and over – to turn a turbine salvaged from an old car.
After several years of experimenting in the labs in Masachussetts, this young group finally managed to get some funding from the World Bank, and has been working in Lesotho, South Africa to put a working practical model on the ground.
They estimate that by using locally available materials, and scrap parts as much as possible, they will save half the current cost of photovoltaic panels. As an added bonus, it might even be possible to use some of the waste heat from the engine to cool homes in the village where the system is being installed.
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The MIT project expects to not only provide a working system to a village so far dependent on imported fuel, but also to leave behind some of the knowledge in the form of a curriculum and training manual for the local college. At the end of the project, the local schools will be able to disseminate the plans so that more can be built, and to use the machine as a teaching tool.
Now, this isn’t the sort of thing that you can immediately pull up to your off-grid shack or mansion, no matter what your budget, but maybe soon. So far, four years of research has gone into the project, and the World Bank grant is somewhere around 100 000 dollars! But just think about the long term benefits for a community that never again has to import a drop of sickly black gold!
For more information see http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2006/lesotho.html
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