The S.T.E.V.E.N. Foundation Newsletter 1994

Solar Technology and Energy for Vital Economic Needs

S.T.E.V.E.N. Foundation,
Ithaca, New York, USA
Tel/Fax (607) 257 7109 

Winter of 1994, normally a quiet season, was unusually busy for S.T.E.V.E.N. Foundation. The reason: the Feburary 1994 "Real Goods News," catalog/ newsletter of Real Goods, a sales organization for alternate energy products, carried in its "readers' forum" a letter from Martin Adams. Adams lives and works in Cyprus, but visited S.T.E.V.E.N. while in Ithaca NY during the summer of 1993 when he Foundation and toured our backyard installations. He wrote to advocate the S.T.E.V.E.N. technologies as really "good news" in the sense of an appropriately simple and low-cost alternative to expensive photo-voltaic solar energy systems. He cited our address/telephone, and suggested that contributions would help the philanthropic work of S.T.E.V.E.N Foundation.

The result: since February, a continuous stream of postcards, letters, phone calls, even a few faxes expressing interest in the work of S.T.E.V.E.N. Foundation. Overall, well over 100 inquiries for basic information. All received a copy of our 1991 prospectus, slightly updated: many went on to request a video or manuals on specific technologies. In return, the S.T.E.V.E.N. Foundation has been generously supported with donations. Some correspondents shared with us the idea of other alternate technologies they are using (straw-bale houses, ...) and others put us in touch with other like-minded organizations. Thus, while our outdoors was sleeping this winter under an unusally heavy blanket of snow, our communications facilities were humming indoors.

A second result, because of many people's desire to see the technologies on video, is a new 1994 edition of the "S.T.E.V.E.N. Technologies" video, incorporating the older 1986 and "87 material with newer 1991 footage on the actual building and operation of collectors and pumps, also showing some of our work abroad in Mexico and Peru. Helpful criticisms of this video, and the many advances in technology, are leading us to plan for a completely new S.T.E.V.E.N. video in the future.

We thank all those who heard about us through "Real Goods" and expressed interest, especially those who gave financial support. In a sense, you are the "good news" for S.T.E.V.E.N. Foundation.


During the end of April and beginning of May I was in Cuzco, Peru. I worked with a longtime friend of the S.T.E.V.E.N. Foundation, Julia Carrera, to implement some of S.T.E.V.E.N.'s technologies for use with her work in the Cuzco area.

We first got to know Julia, a native of Lima, Peru, as a graduate student in Rural Sociology at Cornell University. Since then she has spent several years working with a rural indigenous community about 50 km. from the city of Cuzco. Julia has always been interested in using the S.T.E.V.E.N. technologies in trying to improve the living standards for the people she knows in the Wamanchacona community. For several years we had talked about a visit of one of us from the less-than-permanent S.T.E.V.E.N. "core team" in order to build several of the prototypes. This year, as part of a stay in Chile where I was studying, I found time for the promised visit.

At 13 degrees south latitude, about 12000 feet of altitude, and with a long dry season from late April to October, the Cuzco region is an ideal place for implementing solar energy. A local Peruvian firm, Kuti, makes solar hot water heaters, which we saw installed at a major NGO, and many Peruvian Universities have done extensive research in solar technology.

Our aim was to add to this trend and focus our efforts for households with fewer resources. We installed the S.T.E.V.E.N. solar oven at the house of the Guzman family just south of Cuzco, as a showcase for the possibilities of solar energy. The solar hot water will provide showers at a fraction of the cost of the electric heaters which few Peruvian families can afford, while we hope that the solar oven can provide additional income for the Guzman's small grocery store in the form of bread to sell. In addition we hope that the solar oven will reduce the consumption of firewood for the Guzman family. In Cuzco I worked most days of the two weeks with Ronald Hernandez, a carpenter who works with Julia on carpentry skills education in the Wamanchacona community. Due to his skill the prototypes we produced of the S.T.E.V.E.N. technologies were some of the most elegant and convenient to use yet. I am sure that Ronald and Julia will continue to add improvements of their own. The end of the rainy season (In which there may still be half days of good strong sun) was unusually slow in coming this year, and we had to wait until the 7th of May for a really good demonstration day in which to prove the worth of the technology to the Guzmans. However, when that Saturday came, we were ready and eager: we managed to bake a Bundt cake, which we enjoyed with lunch, and heat about 70 liters of water to a comfortable 40 deg. C. (105 F) during the course of the afternoon. I think that the performance surpassed evereyone's expectations. I came away very impressed with how much punch the sun can pack so near to the equator.

With the building of these showcase prototypes done, Julia and Ronald hope to make these two technologies available to those in the Cuzco area who want to purchase materials and build themselves an oven or water heater. Another goal is to install a large hot water heater at the elementary school in Wamanchacona, to provide hot water for the children, and use the oven for cooking meals for the students. These are both parts of Julia's long-term goal of working with teachers and others to improve the nutrition, hygiene, and learning of children in Wamanchacona. I was excited to contribute my part to this effort.
-- Steven Vanek


Here's the currently available documentation on the various S.T.E.V.E.N. energy technologies. Manuals include:

Videos: in addition to the overall "S.T.E.V.E.N. Technologies" video, we have others specific to the solar box oven, the hydraulic pump, and the "ten-dollar pump." Copies of these can be made upon request.

Two of our devices are not available through manuals. On the refrigerator, see the "new developments" section elsewhere in this newsletter. For the solar collector tracker, we prefer to build and supply the delicate sensor mechanism at moderate cost, leaving it to the user to build the hydraulic crutch cylinder (see the prospectus).

If possible, we ask that requests for manuals or videos be supported by a tax-deductible contribution, of any amount, to the S.T.E.V.E.N. Foundation. If not possible... then you are the ones to whom our work is directed first of all!


A few years ago when the STEVEN Foundation was involved with building handpumps in Mexico, a number of volunteers stayed in a modern Spanish-style house in Ciudad Guzman, Jalisco. The kitchen in the house had an unusual sink with two basins side by side: the one on the right had a spigot for cold water coming in, but no drain, and the one on the left had a drain but no spigot (See fig.1). The first time I used it to wash dishes I was puzzled by the arrangement, but our hosts were even more puzzled to find that I had filled the right sink with suds and dirty dishes. As it turned out, the system worked the other way around -- the right sink was meant to hold clean water only, which you then scooped into the left sink to add soap, dishes, or vegetables. The result was an ingenious water-saving system: all the water run out of the tap had to then deliberately be moved to where it could be used, so there was no possibility of fresh water simply running unused down the drain, as often happens here in the U.S., for instance when we are waiting for the hot water to warm up.

I've been thinking about household water conservation on and off since then, and recently I took on one of the biggest consumers of water in the typical U.S. household, the toilet. First, I reduced the amount of water per flush by filling in part of the reservoir with a glass jar full of water. Then I took the old ceramic cover off the top of the tank and replaced it with a piece of plywood cut to the same length and width, but with a hole drilled through so that the top of a 2-liter soda bottle could fit into it as a funnel. Now we capture grey water from washing dishes, from showering and from laundry in a mop bucket. If we don't use it to water plants, we keep the bucket in the bathtub until we flush the toilet, and then pour it down the funnel as the reservoir refills, cutting down on the amount of fresh water that flows into the tank each time.

This approach calls for a lot of lugging and pouring, so the next step is to build a second reservoir on top of the first, with some type of filling hole on top and a float activated valve on the bottom. The bottom reservoir will be piped so that as long as the top reservoir has water it will replenish from there, and only when the grey-water is exhausted, draw from the city water main. We might still have to fill the top reservoir by hand (it's a rented apartment and we're probably not welcome to add new grey-water plumbing in the house!), but at least we can automate the cycle after flushing.

Newsletter readers are of course welcome to try out any of these three designs, and perhaps by next summer I will have news about the last one. We are also interested in hearing about your water-saving innovations, either for industrialized or developing countries.
-- Francis Vanek

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