Focus: The SolarFire Pathway

The SolarFire pathway is highlighted. Click to enlarge.

While the initial framework was very open-ended and allowed for multiple renewable ressources to be harnessed, I have now decided to focus on the SolarFire method. This doesen’t mean that I won’t be able to build any of the other framework modules.

Building the steam engine myself is outside the scope of this project. It can be shipped-in from North India, manufactured by TinyTech in Rajkot. Beginning February 2012 we plan to start with the construction of the solar concentrator, and then later connect the steam-engine and generator in mid-March.

The project will be completed by the beginning of April, and I hope to return to Switzerland on April 20th.

Beginning January 2012, prior to construction, I will be travelling to Rajkot, India, where I will visit an existing solar-concentrator in action. It was built by Eerik Wissenz in collaboration with TinyTech India. A lot of the learning there will be crucial for the build-project at MUA. I’m looking forward to that time.

Only after the site-assessment in Nepal will I be able to decide which modules of the framework to build. There is always my backup plan of building a simple Solar PV System, a methane generator, or any other pathway outlined by the framework.

Fundraising: Letter of Appeal

Dear Visitor,

I am writing to ask for support. I have come up with my senior project and am very excited to make it a reality.

SolarFire: Open Source Solar Concentrator

My senior project is about the construction of electricity generating technologies at the Maya Universe Academy (MUA) in Nepal. The project utilizes a modular framework for electricity production that can be adapted to site specific needs. Upon my arrival at MUA, I will assess the site in detail, and decide which resources to harness, and hence which modules to build. This, however, is not just about bringing money to a community and establishing infrastructure. The aim of the project is to make public all building plans and documentation so that other communities can adopt and adapt this work.

This approach is part of a bigger movement. As early as the 1980′s, software engineers (“hackers”) were collaborating on software via internet. Instead of working against each other, patenting innovations and developing proprietary technologies, they came up with a legal license that would protect their innovations from privatization. The license distributed with a software gave each user the right to modify and redistribute the software under the same terms. The software tools they developed are now powering 60% of all websites, and include tools such as Firefox. This approach is called “open source” collaboration. While this type of information sharing has been overlooked outside of the software community, there are numerous opportunities for wider dissemination. I grew up using open source software and wondered how it could exist in a world of proprietary software corporations. I saw this approach to legally protected collaboration as something that we should apply to all kinds of knowledge.

In 2001, hackers created Wikipedia, applying the same principles to the collaboration used on opensource software to media content and texts. Their vision too is “a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.” Wikipedia single-handedly brought us one big step closer.

I spent time investigating this trend, realized that since this type of open collaboration already happens with something as complicated as software, it should be possible to apply it to education, medicine and other technologies. Thanks to my teacher’s encouragement, I developed an independent study toward the end of my sophomore year that looked at how the opensource approach can be applied to these fields. Being a student of ecology and economics, I was also investigating how symbiotic relationships can overcome the parasitic relationships in today’s economy. I developed an economic model that explained the incentives for such collaborations.

In a subsequent independent study I found that my two great interests of local economies and global collaboration are mutually beneficial. An example of this is a (human ecological) farmer who needs electricity on his farm. He does his research, and develops a technology that can be locally assembled and maintained. Now this farmer grows food and does not want to develop a global business supplying his technologies to markets kept hungry. He sees that he has gotten all benefit out of this technology, and sees no harm in other people doing the same. So he puts it online. He protects it from being privatized using an opensource license that ensures that his innovation will remain in the public domain forever. Perhaps an NGO picks up on his plans and develops them further. Since any modification to an opensource plan has to be released under the same licence, any improvements on his plan will remain public. As more and more people join in using the plan, some will choose to contribute to its development, just like there are some people that make Wikipedia work, and many who use it. This seems like an efficient way to deal with innovation in the 21st century. We need people pioneering in this manner, because once a good plan is out, it takes on an evolution of its own.

As you can see, the most recent development in the opensource movement focuses on hardware technology. As these plans are developed further by multiple parties through global collaboration, their local assembly is greatly encouraged. It is often at the core of opensource technologies to be built and maintained locally. They are often designed by the people who will use them, rather than corporations that want to maintain a monopoly on the market. Ultimately, corporate economic interests interfere with peoples’ ability to become stewards of their own technologies.

Project Budget

Luckily, I do not have to start from scratch with my project in Nepal. I can already build upon plans developed by (Eerik Wissenz) and (Marcin Jakubowski and his team), the former focuses on solar, the latter project is developing 50 technologies that support our current lifestyle, such as tractors, brick-presses, and batteries. I visited them this spring and helped develop their tractor. I recommend you watching their two minute video on

Project Timeline

Currently I am attending a semester long course in sustainable design/build with Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Vermont. The course has provided me with critical practical skill in welding, construction and woodworking that support my upcoming senior project.

I hope you share my passion for my senior project. You can find out more about the framework, time-line and budget at the project site (still in development). I would love to hear what you think about this, and if you would support me!

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Urs Riggenbach
College of the Atlantic ’12
OpenPower Nepal

Manjil Rana’s Maya

PRESS: TANAHU, Dec 25: Manjil Rana, 23, was an undergraduate student of Human Ecology at the College of the Atlantic in Maine, USA until November 2010.

Educated in St Xavier’s School in Kathmandu and then in Mahindra United World College in Maharastra, India, Rana left his life and studies in the States to start Maya Universe Academy (MUA), a free school in his village in Udhin Dhunga of Tahanu District.

He started the school with a tent pitched on approximately 15 ropanis of his ancestral land.

The three bamboo walled classrooms, a stone walled library and vast playground makes up MUA now, has now become an exemplary school of sorts in the entire country.

Initiated from this academic session with one classroom, the students at MUA study for free and are also provided with all educational goods too.

The school stands apart from the rest of the school in Nepal not just in terms of its management and teaching methods but also in terms of the uniform the students wear. The boys wear grey daura surwal and Dhaka topi while the girls wear cholo and skirt to school every day.

“English is the means of communication in the school,” informed Rana, who returned to his village and started the school when his foreign friends who had come to visit his village requested to contribute in the educational sector.

“Since we have to speak in English at school, it has helped my command over the language,” shared Krishna Rana, a student at MUA, “the books in the library are in English too so it helps us a lot.”

Another unique aspect of this school is, in place of a fee, the parents of the students contribute their time for two days a month in maintaining and taking care of the cows, pigs and chicken farm along with the vegetable garden in the school.

“Instead of charging the parents for the education we ask them to contribute their time to the school which could be anything from taking care of the farm, vegetable garden or building stone walls for the school,” said Subash Rana, the administrator of the MUA.

“There are approximately 2 or 3 parents helping out at the school daily. And we have devised a time table for the parents after consulting with them to come and work as per their timings and incase they can’t come on the allotted day, they have to work an extra day in the next month as fine,” informed Subash.

“Working in the school for two days a month is not a huge price to pay to educate my children in an English medium school for free,” said Prem Bahadur Nepal, a parent who thinks the two days are an investment towards the better future of his children.

The money generated from the farms and vegetable garden is put back into the system to develop the school, said Subash. Come February one of Rana’s friends Urs Riggenba from Switzerland is installing a solar set in the village to generate income for the school.

Though MUA was started with a though of limiting 12 students per class, it was compelled to open up its classroom to students from the other government school who showed interest in studying there. Currently, MUA has 45 students in grade one, the only grade, who study under the three straw-thatched-roofed bamboo huts.

“We have plans to add grades every year but each student who wishes to study in our school has to start from grade one,” said Rana.

However, despite wanting to run a free school, MUA wasn’t allowed to be registered because it was a free school, therefore it had to charge the students Rs 1 per month and to finally get it registered at the District Education Office, Tanahu.

The school doesn’t have set subjects like in other schools. It has classes on arts, yoga, social studies, general knowledge and music. “Along with classroom teaching we also invite guest speakers to give practical knowledge to the students,” said Rana.

He further informed that some of the students are also given computer typing classes.

“I was unemployed and wanted to utilize my time free time in the afternoon, so I decided to teach at the school since it was a good initiative,” shared Rukmani Khanal, a graduate from Tanahu and a teacher at MUA.

Like Khanal, Tilu Dura and Nikki Acchami have also been teaching Nepali, Mathematics and English at the school for the past eight months for free. “Manjil has given his word to pay us as per the schools capabilities after a year,” said Khanal. The school also has four foreign teachers.

Volunteers from Korea, America, Holland, Australia, Slovenia and Lithuania have helped in teaching the kids. “I feel I have learnt much more than I taught the kids in a month,” said Urta Kairyte, a volunteer from Lithuania at the school.

Apart from the compulsory subjects the volunteers have to teach any other subject for a minimum of a month to six months after paying a fee of $2-300 to the school. “We use the fee collected from the volunteers and the support from the donors to develop the school,” said Rana.

Awarded special recognition for his contribution towards the educational sector at such a young age, Color Nepal, an NGO that works in the education on Dec 14 and also appointed Rana the youth advisor by the American Embassy in Nepal.

“The only other school of this kind exists in Brazil,” claimed Rana.

By  SAMUNDRA POUDEL of Republica

Renewable Energy Initiative

During the planning process

As enthusiasm for Open Power Nepal grows, Maya Universe Academy continues to garner local and international support for its renewable energy initiative.  Most recently, College of the Atlantic, an alternative liberal arts college located in Bar Harbor, ME, USA recognized our mayan volunteer, Urs Riggenbach, and academy founder, Manjil Rana, in a press article outlining their current and former students’ progress.

The full press release titled “Student Creates Innovative Power for School in Nepal” can be found on the College of the Atlantic website.


College of the Atlantic student Urs Riggenbach is traveling halfway around the globe to create innovative, economical electricity for a new elementary school in Nepal. Through his project, OpenPower Nepal, he will design and build a power system at the Maya Universe Academy that can be maintained locally.