Students invent affordable water heater

July 22, 2008 1:26:44 PM PDT
A group of UC Berkeley students will be competing in a national inventor's competition this fall with their ultra-affordable solar water heater - even if they lose, they may have already won. Their invention may end up improving the lives of millions of people all over developing countries.

A mechanical engineering dream team came up with this developing countries wonder - in response from a challenge from their professor; Ashok Gadgil said build an advanced, affordable solar water heater.

"We need a design that's appropriate for their climate and their economic conditions and the amount of hot water they use, which is much less than the amount of hot water we use," said Gadgil.

And when you take a bladder, piping, and a metal container, and some other secret ingredients, and put it all together and install it on rooftops in Xela, Guatemala - you get an advanced, affordable, life altering, solar water heater.

"A family spends about $3 a month in electricity, so solar will offset a big amount of that expense," said Ernesto Rodriguez, MBA student.

It's a money saver alright, and of course people like that, but the business and marketing team attached to this mechanical engineering project found something else about the folks in Guatemala that surprised them.

"A lot of people who were interested in this product were interested primarily in the fact that it helped the environment," said Adam Langton, Goldman School of Public Policy.

They also found out that 70 percent of the people surveyed said they would gladly buy one for $100. The solar water heaters are currently on the rooftops of ten homes. Students are working out the kinks.

"How are we going to retain that heat overnight given the variability of the weather of the rainy season versus the dry season," said Sara Beaini, Ph.D. student, engineering.

The students have also located groups interested in mass producing the water heaters locally, meaning much needed jobs. Who knows where this might be headed.

"We might migrate to other countries and open up - so it's very interesting," said Merwan Benhabib, Ph.D. student, engineering.

By now you've probably noticed the diversity in this group. One student said that helped drive this project.

"Working with so many different people we've been able to be exposed to so many things, that we otherwise would not have been able to be exposed to like if we were in other settings," said Kenneth Armijo, Ph.D. student, engineering.

The students are grateful to all those groups that provided funding for their research and development.

Down in one town in Guatemala, they're grateful to these students. The collegiate invention competition takes place at Baylor University in October.


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