Nuclear-Free Future

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Window Rock
1 December 2006

Heike Hoedt and Wolfgang Scheffler

You’ve heard it before: ‘It is better to light a candle than to complain in the dark.’ Our 2006 Nuclear-Free Future Solutions Award recipients have optimized that saying: ‘It is better to turn on a solar oven than to get smoke in your eyes.’

He was always a fiddler, doer, optimizer. Born in 1956 in Innsbruck, Austria, Wolfgang Scheffler grew up surrounded by craftsmen who worked with their hands. In 1983 when Wolfgang turned in his Cologne university dissertation on magnetic superconductors – he was awarded the degree of summa cum laude – it appeared as if he had taken the first step towards launching a cozy academic career. But Scheffler never entertained ivory tower ambitions. Out there in the real world were simply far too many practical problems a physicist wearing a tool belt might solve. For instance, the hunger girdle that wraps much of the globe is characterized by more than inadequate nutrition: the largest portion broils under the sun. What to do…?

Eons of thoughts later (during the mid-eighties Wolfgang learned much in California – at the time, the cutting-edge place to be when it came to photovoltaic concentrators), Scheffler built in 1986 at a mission station in North Kenya his first functioning ‘parabolic fix focus reflector.’ Wolfgang’s solar device would soon gain entry into the world’s green energy reference books with a far less cumbersome name: the ‘Scheffler-reflector.’ The North Kenya model is still at work today.

“It is better to turn on a solar oven than to get smoke in your eyes.”

The idea behind the reflector appears simple enough: a mirror concentrates re-directed sunrays to the cook site of a kitchen or cantine. Mechanically imitating the heliotropic worship of a sunflower, the 8m2 reflector model delivers an average cooking power of 2.6 kW – which is enough to feed roughly 50 people. Today, replacing the need for wood fuel at cook sites (and thereby acting as a valuable hedge against deforestation and desertification), there are nearly 1000 Scheffler-reflectors working in 21 developing nations.

Heike Hoedt, Scheffler’s domestic partner and work colleague, has her own specialty: the transfer of knowledge. Her website explains in detail the technical aspects of the reflector. Heike also helps plan and organize solar technology seminars across India, Africa and Latin America. Currently she is instructing rural people in Afghanistan how to install and maintain their Scheffler-reflectors. Parallel to these undertakings, Heike is perfecting a few solar patents of her own.

The activities of Wolfgang Scheffler and Heike Hoedt are largely made possible by generous donations from Theo Straub’s non-profit organization, Solare Brücke (‘Solar Bridges’). The project’s most ambitious installation to date is located at the Yoga Center at Abu Road, Rajastan (India). There, 84 Scheffler-reflectors, divided into 6 modules of 14 mirrors each, provide enough energy to cater the meals of 18,000 visitors. That spares over 100 gallons of diesel a day.

Thanks in part to its continuous evolution of design, the Scheffler-reflector has outlived the various solar vogues that spike the last 25 years. Today’s popular 10m2 model might be just the medicine the First World needs to ease its growing gashouse emission pains. Like Ed Grothus tells us: “The sun is the only good nuclear reactor around. The site is ideal at a distance of ninety-three million miles, the power output is essentially infinite, and the distribution is everywhere. We’ll survive on this planet… if we learn to live with the output of that power supply.”

The Scheffler-reflector. One more intelligent solution along the long path towards installing the nuclear-free future.

–Craig Reishus