World Volunteer Web Home  
Volunteerism worldwide: News, views & resources
  Home   About us   Contact us   Contribute   Search   Sitemap 
Rolling out the solar barrels in Kyrgyzstan
13 January 2010

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan: UNV Kyrgyzstan brought together seven volunteers from the Peace Corps and three from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to learn about solar barrel heaters and how to construct them.

The technical skills were provided by the Ecological Movement BIOM at a two day workshop held over 21-22 August 2009. In this joint project, participants learned about the value of solar heaters in rural areas as cheap, clean providers of hot water for domestic use. Each volunteer constructed a solar barrel heater to be taken back to the villages in which they work and used to teach others to build their own solar heaters locally.

Solar barrel heaters are ideal for heating water for domestic purposes such as for showers, doing laundry or washing dishes and floors, particularly in rural areas where access to other power sources may be limited. They are easy to use, year-round, and can be constructed at home from materials readily available in the markets of Kyrgyzstan.

Materials cost about 1500 som (about US$ 33), but this can be reduced by using 'scrap' materials from around the home (like a broken mirror and an old oil barrel). The costs in terms of money and damage to the environment which can be saved by using solar heaters instead of electricity, gas, coal or firewood, fulfill the aims of the UNV programme in Kyrgyzstan by promoting socio-economic development, energy saving and protecting the environment.

Solar barrel heaters essentially consist of a black-painted barrel in an insulated box, with glass panels to allow sunlight in and reflectors to concentrate light upon the barrel and conserve heat by preventing its escape.

During the day, heat in the form of sunlight enters through the glass and is trapped inside, heating the enclosed barrel just like the interior of a greenhouse. At night lids are closed over the glass panels, and the reflective lining returns heat escaping from the surface of the barrel in the same way as the walls of a Thermos flask.

The effectiveness of this design allows water to be heated up to 70ºC, sufficient for most household uses, and kept warm for many hours. This efficiency stems from several improvements to the design: painting the barrel black, maximizing the amount of insulation, enclosing the barrel with transparent walls, and adding extra reflective surfaces.

Solar heaters are cheap and easy to construct, and can often be built largely using materials already available around the home. Volunteers at the workshop were able to build 10 solar barrels in 1.5 days.

Construction takes place in three stages:

Stage One- The Barrel

A barrel is painted black and laid horizontally. Two holes are cut in the front end, one near the top and one at the bottom. Through the upper hole a pipe is passed that will bring cold water down to the bottom of the barrel. A funnel is mounted on the outer end of this pipe so that water can easily be added. A faucet is attached to the outside of the lower hole, with a length of hose extending from it inside.

The open end of the hose is attached to a float, such as an empty plastic bottle, which will keep it near the surface of the water, where the hottest water will collect. A third hole is cut near the top at the other end of the barrel with a pipe to allow air or excess water to escape.

Stage Two- The Box

A wooden box is constructed to house the barrel, with a top and front of clear glass or plastic that can be covered with wooden lids. The box is lined with thick insulating foam and then with reflective film. Holes are cut to fit the pipes.

Stage Three- Assembly

The solar heater is carefully put together, making sure that everything is correctly connected. It is now ready to be moved into a sunny position and used.

Distribution and Use

The volunteers returned from the workshop to the villages they serve eager to share the knowledge they gained, though aware of the hard work involved in making solar heaters available:

Alex, Peace Corps volunteer in Issyk-Kul oblast: “We just installed it recently and my family is very excited to use [it] for laundry in particular. However, it requires a lot of effort to find resources to replicate it at my site.”

Nick, Peace Corps volunteer in Naryn oblast: “The Solar Project is a great idea for many reasons. Aside from the obvious reason - to provide hot water for cleaning and bathing- it could be a great way for local families to save on fuel costs in an environmentally friendly way... I plan to help make available to them [people in my community] the materials and know how in order to create their own water heaters. Word spreads quickly in my village and if the Unit works right it could be a matter of months before the entire village is using the heaters.”

Annie, Peace Corps volunteer in Talas oblast: “I am really excited about possibly doing a training in Talas on Solar Water Heaters in the spring. My village seems very interested and I think with time to find all the materials it could go well.”

A woman from Maman village, near Karakol comments on the solar heater she now has, thanks to the JICA volunteer working there: “The solar system is very useful and our family are all happy about it. Especially, it is now much easier for me to wash dishes with warm water and my children use warm water to wash their hands and faces. The autumn season has come in our village, but if it is a sunny day, the solar system heats up water in the tank and I mix with cold water to adjust the temperature.”

Solar barrel heaters have proven themselves easy to construct and use. Nick, a Peace Corps volunteer in Naryn, believes that “this is definitely a project that Peace Corps should invest more time and effort into”.