Affordable Solar Thermal Microgenerator Technology for Rural Cogeneration in Southern Africa

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2008 - $47,031

Worldwide 1.6 billion people lack access to electricity or affordable energy solutions. For those living in rural or mountainous locations Diesel generator sets are polluting and require costly fuel; photovoltaic panels have a high up-front cost and high risk of theft. Locally produced solar thermal technology, by lowering costs relative to these alternatives, can facilitate distributed electricity provision and result in increased economic opportunity, extended waking hours for study, time saved from chores, and improved services from the business, heath and education sectors. This directly translates into an overall reduction in poverty, better living conditions at rural institutions, and improved quality of life, while stimulating the local economy and providing jobs. Indirectly, by generating power renewably, the proposed electrification scheme contributes to lowering the risks related to climate change and decreases brushwood collection and land degradation. By using a technology transfer approach and supporting local business development, the Sustainable Vision grantees aim to provide a sustainable, renewable, and affordable energy option for rural locations. Working in conjunction with local partners, including the Government and National University of Lesotho, entrepreneurs and engineers, the team intends to install a pilot system at a rural health care center to serve 50-80 patients/day, arrange technology transfer and training for Lesotho-based partners, and complete a viable business plan for a Solar ORC manufacturing facility within Lesotho to foster ongoing installations at clinics and schools through market-based mechanisms.

Cynthia Lin takes pressure data in a solar ORC test rig.


  • Planet
  • The team has two test sites in place, one in Lesotho at a clinic and the other at Eckerd College. Eleven units have been distributed in the US, Brazil, Mexico, UK, Portugal, Angola, and India. The team won a 100K Energy Prize from Conoco Phillips and $42,500 grant from Constellation Energy.