Recently I’ve written about developing self sufficiency and resiliency in our Indian communities (here, here, here and here.) Resiliency is the ability of our communities to produce their own food, water, shelter, energy and security if and when they are disconnected from the global trade network. Sadly, if you look at some of our communities, they are already more or less disconnected from the global trade network either by design (highly rural reservations) or because of economic imperialism (outright stolen land and resources.)
To remedy this we need to start a economy based on development work. Given the rural, disconnected nature of many of our communities, we will need a sustainable platform on which to build this economy. In another article I have proposed the Helios Solar Fire solar concentrator as a low-tech source of thermal energy in sun soaked Indian Country. They are currently updating their website, but here are some of the specs for this open source piece of equipment.
The Helios solar array is a village scale or small commercial scale solar concentrator. It can be built from common steel beams, mirrors, glue, nuts and bolts and the cost depends on where it is built and how the materials are gathered.
- 3000 watts
- can heat an oven 60x60x60 cm to 300°C in 15 min
- cook bread, meat, coffee, ceramic…
- Construction Guide pdf, current version
- Construction guide pdf, previous version
- Image gallery
A renewable source of thermal energy such as this open source machine is a great platform for building a development economy. What do I mean by a development economy? I am talking about more than just static jobs. Most people talk about bringing in a certain number of jobs to kick start an economy. As great as that is, its unsustainable. Economies are dynamic and ever changing. Today’s 300 jobs building widgets (or dealing cards at a casino) will be 300 folks on unemployment when the economy moves on to something else. A development economy, on the other hand, is ever changing. It adapts and can grow in any direction. How would the Helios do this?
First, it replaces an import with local production. Deployed correctly, it can provide radiant heating with solar heated water. This replaces fossil fuel imports to heat homes. The economic activity here is the design, construction and installation of heating systems using hot water heated by the solar concentrator. As an added bonus, once these are installed they should require very little in the form of month to month expenses (as opposed to installing a new gas fired furnace, which requires you import and pay for gas.) This means more heat for less money in Indian Country. We are not stopping there. This is an open source design. So in deploying the Helios we need to include as many people as possible and stoke innovation. I’ll get to how we do exactly that in just a moment. For now, assume we have a number of people working on design, construction and installation of solar concentrators (the energy source) and the accompanying heating system (putting the energy to work.) These people are collaborating to tweak the design. Some are working on the nuts and bolts of fabrication and assembly. Some are working on hot water storage (to mitigate cloudy days when the Helios can’t heat water.) Some are working on retro-fitting homes to run on the new source of heat. Some are working on making the whole heat conversion process more efficient. In all these processes we are developing skills. We are developing the metal workers who are assembling the machine. We are developing installation skills in retro-fitting homes. Perhaps we even start working on electronics and programming so that the system stores the optimal amount of heat during sunny days and dispenses heat at an efficient rate on cloudy days. This is but one path of development that we may take from the Helios, but there are many others we may take as we find more uses.
How do we create an environment that leads to more innovation and rapid development? We don’t do it by starting a proprietary system that keeps industrial secrets. We do it by making this an open process. This design is open source, so whatever we do ought to be open source as well. The point here is to create a network of builders and designers and to copy and deploy successful innovations across the network as quickly as possible. So in an ideal world, a designer develops a new application for the thermal energy produced and it is immediately shared and deployed across the country, increasing our efficiency and productivity.
Here’s how I plan to get started: (this is a work in progress and will be fleshed out more later)
- Build the small scale demonstration model
- Once a small model is operable, start a Kickstater campaign to build the larger model with an accompanying heating system for a home. (I have a location and home in mind for this.)
- Start a second Kickstarter Campaign to build another one in a second Native community. This time recruit a team of locals to learn the process.
- Develop the skills of the team to the point where some people can stay in their community spreading the technology while others move on to other communities.
- Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat.
Even if this particular design doesn’t work out, there are a number of developing open source technologies that we can get started on. Stay tuned.