Open Source Solar Steam Engine

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Steve Nelson's Zenman Energy Open Source Solar Steam Engine

David DiSalvo:

"What makes (Steve) Nelson noteworthy, beyond the solar power technology he’s invented, is that unlike most everyone else trying to score in this market, Nelson’s vision for success includes giving away the technology for others to replicate and improve upon. You might call it “open source solar,” and if it catches on, Nelson will be the guy credited with its success, even though he’ll be none the wealthier for it.

And according to Nelson, that’s just fine with him. He established Zenman Energy as a non-profit corporation fueled by donations instead of investor capital. From a garage operation, he’s now working out of a warehouse where the components of his innovative solar tech are being hatched."

The Solar Steam Engine:

"- Zenman Energy is attempting to create a low cost solar steam engine generator. This generator works by focusing a large surface area of sunlight onto a smaller area. The energy in the sunlight concentrates and produces vast quantities of heat. To increase the amount of energy, we increase the surface area of sunlight. We convert this heat into mechanical energy by boiling water and turning a steam engine. The steam engine will power an electric motor which ties directly into the power grid.

Nelson freely admits, “This is not a new concept.” But the design and implementation of the concept is what makes it significantly different.

- We hope to create a low cost, expandable solution that can create power plants of any size, from a few kilowatts up to many megawatts. Once we have a working prototype our entire focus will be directed at reducing the overall system cost and helping individuals and organizations construct their own. Our first attempt at reducing the expense of the overall system is using less expensive materials in the construction of these plants. Some of the components for these power plants can be purchased locally from hardware stores. Other parts take a considerable amount of research to just find suppliers. Finally some of the components are custom made. We want to simplify this process so anyone in the world can easily get started making either a backyard solar power plant or buy acreage and build much larger power plants. If we mass produce the custom components, and mass purchase other parts we can dramatically reduce the cost and make medium to large scale solar plants achievable by a much larger population. Our end goal is to help make solar power plants that cost less than any other form of electricity generation. Most importantly, we want to help YOU make a solar power plant that can power, not your house, but your entire neighborhood." (


Conducted by David DiSalvo:

"I’m engineering every aspect of this solar power plant design from the perspective of reducing cost. The cost to manufacture it, the cost to install it and the cost to maintain it. It has to scale from small installations to massive utility scale installations.

It may take a few iterations, but I have no doubt in my mind that solar can and will be cheaper than coal. Once solar power is the cheapest form of electricity generation, the game changes.

  • What’s the ideal scenario for your tech succeeding? How much energy and dollars will be saved?

A very long term goal is that enough individuals and businesses build these plants in my lifetime that I can watch a coal power plant turn off because it’s been replaced by solar power.

A medium term goal is I hope to make medium sized power plants (1-5 megawatt size) that will produce enough income to pay for a second solar plant.

A short term goal is to spin a power meter backwards using solar steam at a cost less than anything that has been created to date.

  • Why go non-profit? Do you want to make any money from this?

What’s more important to me than money is to make something that will profoundly benefit my children and their generation. That said, my non-profit needs to collect donations to exist, so yes, money is critical.

But ultimately I plan on creating solar power plants that produce a positive income without donations to create more plants and fund more energy research. As far as money for me personally, a salary is just fine. I don’t need to take dividends on this idea.

  • Is it fair to say that you are effectively “giving the tech away” once it’s up and running?

Yes. I plan to give away the construction plans, videos, pictures, calculations, software for free. On top of that, if I can collect enough donations I want to help others get started by providing grants to build small solar power plants. That’s how this will really take off. I cannot create enough solar power plants to make a difference, but could 10,000 people? How about a million?

Of course the secondary benefit to helping others get started is I expect they will improve the design. This style of “open source” is how much of the software that runs the internet works. I’m mimicking that model as best I can." (

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