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Global South Eco-cities Show How the Future Can Be

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The world is currently undergoing a high-stress transition on a scale not seen since the great industrial revolution that swept Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today’s urban and industrial transition involves many more people and is taking place on a greater proportion of the planet. With rapid urbanization comes a demand for middle class lifestyles, with their high-energy usage and high consumption of raw materials.

This is stretching the planet’s resources to breaking point. And as many have pointed out, if the world’s population is to continue past today’s 7 billion to reach 9 billion and beyond, new ways of living are urgently required. Radical thinking will be necessary to match the contradictory goals of raising global living standards for the world’s poor with pressured resources and environmental conditions.

But there are innovative projects already under development to build a new generation of 21st-century cities that use less energy while offering their inhabitants a modern, high quality of life. Two examples are in China and the Middle East.

Both projects are seen as a way to earn income and establish viable business models to build the eco-cities of the future. Each project is seeking to develop the expertise and intellectual capacity to build functioning eco-cities elsewhere. In the case of the Masdar City project in the United Arab Emirates, international businesses are being encouraged to set up in Masdar City and to develop technologies that can be sold to other countries and cities – in short, to create a green technology hub akin to California’s hi-technology hub ‘Silicon Valley’. Masdar City is also being built in stages as investors are found to help with funding. Both projects hope to prove there is money to be made in being green and sustainable.

The Tianjin Eco-city (tianjinecocity.gov.sg) project is a joint venture between China and Singapore to build a 30 square kilometre city to house 350,000 residents.

Tianjin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tianjin) is a large industrial city southeast of China’s capital, Beijing. It is a place that wears the effects of its industrial expansion on the outside. Air pollution is significant and the city has a grimy layer of soot on most outdoor infrastructure.

China has received a fair bit of criticism for its polluted cities as the country has rapidly modernized in the past two decades. This sprint to be one of the world’s top economic powers has come at a cost to the environment. In this respect, China is not unusual or alone. Industrialization can be brutal and polluting, as Europe found out during its earlier industrial revolution.

But China is recognizing this can’t go on forever and is already piloting many initiatives to forge a more sustainable future and bring development and high living standards back in line with what the environment can handle.

Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city is the second large-scale collaboration between the Chinese government and Singapore. The first was the Suzhou Industrial Park (http://www.sipac.gov.cn/english/).The Tianjin project came up in 2007 as both countries contemplated the challenges of rapid urbanization and sustainable development.

The project’s vision, according to its website, is to be “a thriving city which is socially harmonious, environmentally-friendly and resource-efficient – a model for sustainable development.”

The philosophy behind the project is to find a way of living that is in harmony, with the environment, society and the economy. It is also about creating something that could be replicated elsewhere and be scaled up to a larger size.

The city is being built 40 kilometres from Tianjin centre and 150 kilometres from Beijing. It is located in the Tianjin Binhai New Area, considered one of the fastest growing places in China.

Construction is well underway and can be followed on the project’s website (http://www.tianjinecocity.gov.sg/gal.htm). It will be completed in 2020.

This year, the commercial street was completed and is ready for residents to move in.

Residents will be encouraged to avoid motorized transport and to either use public transport or people-powered transport such as bicycles and walking.

An eco-valley runs down the centre of the city and is meant to be a place for pedestrians and cyclists to enjoy.

The basic building block of the Eco-city – its version of a city block – is called the Eco Cell. Each Eco Cell measures 400 metres by 400 metres, a comfortable walking distance. Four Eco Cells make a neighbourhood. Several Eco Neighbourhoods make an Eco District and there are four Eco Districts in the Eco-city. It is a structure with two ideas in mind: to keep development always on a walkable, human scale and also to provide a formula for scaling up the size of the Eco-city as the number of residents increases.

It is a logical approach and seeks to address one of the most common problems with conventional cities: sprawling and unmanageable growth that quickly loses sight of human need.

Agreement was also reached on the standards that should be achieved for a wide variety of criteria, from air and water quality to vegetation, green building standards, and how much public space there should be per person.

An ambitious project in the United Arab Emirates is trying to become both the world’s top centre for eco cities and a living research centre for renewable energy. Masdar City (http://www.masdarcity.ae/en/)is planned to be a city for 40,000 people. It is billed as a high-density, pedestrian-friendly development where current and future renewable energy and clean technologies will be “marketed, researched, developed, tested and implemented.”

The city hopes to become home to hundreds of businesses, a research university and technology clusters.

This version of an eco-city is being built in three layers in the desert, 17 kilometres from the Emirati capital Abu Dhabi. The goal is to make a city with zero carbon emissions, powered entirely by renewable energy. It is an ambitious goal but there are examples in the world of cities that use significant renewable energy for their power, such as Reykjavik, Iceland in Northern Europe, which draws much of its energy from renewables and geothermal sources.

Masdar City is designed by world-famous British architect Norman Foster (fosterandpartners.com) and will be 6.5 square kilometres in size.

The design is highly innovative. The city will be erected on 6 metre high stilts to increase air circulation and reduce the heat coming from the desert floor. The city will be built on three levels or decks, to make a complete separation between transport and residential and public spaces.

The lowest deck will have a transportation system based on Personal Rapid Transport Pods. These look like insect eyes and are automated, controlled by touch screens, using magnetic sensors for propulsion. On top of this transport network will be the pedestrian streets, with businesses, shops and homes. No vehicles will be allowed there, and people will only be able to use bicycles or Segway (segway.com) people movers to get around. An overhead light railway system will run through the city centre, all the way to Abu Dhabi City.

“By layering the city, we can make the transport system super-efficient and the street level a much better experience,” Gerard Evenden, senior partner at Foster + Partners, told The Sunday Times. “There will be no car pollution, it will be safer and have more open spaces. Nobody has attempted anything like this.”

Masdar City is being built in stages as funding comes, with the goal of completion by 2016. It hopes to achieve its aspiration to be the most technologically advanced and environmentally friendly city in the world. As for water supplies in the desert, there is a plan: dew collected in the night and morning and a solar-powered desalination plant turning salt water into drinking water.

Electricity will come from a variety of sources. Solar panels will be on every roof and double as shade on alleyways. Non-organic waste will be recycled, while organic waste will be turned into fuel for power plants. Dirty water will be cleaned and then used to irrigate green spaces. Because of the design, the planners hope the city will just use a quarter of the energy of a conventional city.

To keep the city smart and the project on top of developments in renewable energy, the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (http://www.masdar.ac.ae/) will specialize in renewable energy technology.

The cost for the city was pegged at US $22 billion in 2009.

The chief executive of Masdar – Abu Dhabi’s renewable-energy company – is Sultan Al Jaber. He sees the city as a beacon to show the way for the rest of the Emirate to convert from a highly inefficient consumer of energy to a pioneer in green technology.

“The problem with the renewable-energy industry is that it is too fragmented,” he told The Sunday Times. “This is where the idea for Masdar City came from. We said, ‘Let’s bring it all together within the same boundaries, like the Silicon Valley model (in California, USA).’”

The project needs to gather much of its funding as it progresses. The United Nations’ Clean Development Mechanism (http://cdm.unfccc.int/) is helping with financing. Companies can earn carbon credits if they help fund a low-carbon scheme in the global South. The sultan is ambitious and sees this as a “blueprint for the cities of the future.” It has been able to bring on board General Electric (GE) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to sponsor the university.

It is possible to visit Masdar City and take a tour (http://www.masdarcity.ae/en/105/visit-masdar-city/) and it is also possible to view online what has been built so far (http://www.masdarcity.ae/en/32/built-environment/).

Resources

1) Center for Innovation, Testing and Evaluation (CITE): Located in Texas, USA, CITE is a fully functioning city with no residents to test new technologies before they are rolled out in real cities. Website: http://www.pegasusglobalholdings.com/test-center.html

2) Digital Cities of the Future: In Digital Cities, people will arrive just in time for their public transportation as exact information is provided to their device. The Citizen-Centric Cities (CCC) is a new paradigm, allowing governments and municipalities to introduce new policies. Website: http://eit.ictlabs.eu/action-lines/digital-cities-of-the-future/

3) Eco-city Administrative Committee: Website: http://www.eco-city.gov.cn/

4) Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city, Investment and Development Co., Ltd. Website: tianjineco-city.com

5) ‘The Future Build’ initiative, a new green building materials portal from Masdar City. Website: thefuturebuild.com

6) UNHABITAT: The United Nations Human Settlements Programme is the UN agency mandated to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all. Website: http://www.unhabitat.org

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Solar Powered Village Kick-Starts Development Goals

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

More than 1.7 billion people around the world have no domestic electricity supply, of whom more than 500 million live in sub-Saharan Africa (World Bank). Without electricity, many development goals remain dreams that will never be achieved.

But in a first for India, a village is now entirely powered by solar energy, kick-starting its development and reversing the decline common to many villages.

Rampura village in the state of Uttar Pradesh (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uttar_Pradesh) had previously been without electricity. But its move to solar power has boosted school performance, brought new economic opportunities for women, and even made the buffalo produce more milk! By getting up early, the buffalo can be fed more before day breaks.

Being able to see at night unleashes a vast range of possibilities, but for the very poor, lighting is often the most expensive household expense, soaking up 10 to 15 percent of income.

There’s a direct link between lighting and economic development. Each 1 per cent increase in available power will increase GDP by an estimated 2 to 3 per cent.

In India, 600,000 villages still lack electricity. Despite the country’s impressive economic gains – growth of over 9 percent per year for the last three years, although that rate is now slowing – the levels of poverty in the country’s villages have driven millions to flee to the sprawling slum zones of India’s cities.

Rampura was set up with solar power by a project of Development Alternatives (http://www.devalt.org/), a New Delhi-based NGO working on promoting “sustainable national development”. Using US $1,406,000 from Norwegian solar power company Scatec Solar (http://www.scatecsolar.no/), it installed 60 solar panels to power 24 batteries. The village’s 69 houses are directly connected to the solar plant.

According to Greenpeace (http://www.greenpeace.org/international/), India could generate 10 percent of its electricity from solar power by 2030.

Manoj Mahata, the project’s programme director, said half of India’s 600,000 villages without electricity can now have the option of solar power.

A steady electricity supply means children are extending their study time past daylight hours. Nine-year-old Aja told the Sunday Times: “I like watching television and the light at night means I can read.”

For women, the light brought by electricity means they can take on new business opportunities to boost income. “I want to start a sewing business with other women to make tablecloths and blouses,” said mother of three Gita Dave.

“Even the buffalo are producing more milk because people can feed before dawn,” said Ghanshyam Singh Yadav, president of Rampura’s energy committee.

“This is not rocket science. This is simple,” says Katja Nordgaard, director for off-grid projects at Scatec.

“The model is relatively cheap, and it is easy to operate and maintain. It can be built in three to four weeks, and can easily be scaled up if the demand for electricity increases.

“People in India are already paying when they need to charge cell phones, and for the kerosene they use in their lamps. The willingness to pay for energy is relatively high here, especially when that energy is reliable.”

In Bangladesh, more than 230,000 households are now using solar power systems thanks to the government’s Infrastructure Development Company Ltd. (IDCOL), giving rise to opportunities for a whole new generation of entrepreneurs to make use of this new power supply for the poor. IDCOL is run by the Ministry of Finance, and is on course to install 1 million Solar Household Systems (SHS) using solar panels by 2012. The Bangladeshi government is hoping to bring electricity to all its citizens by 2020 – meaning this is now a prime time for entrepreneurs specializing in providing energy efficient products to the poor.

Another initiative to boost development in India’s rural villages is the concept of the Model Village India (www.modelvillageindia.org.in), previously profiled by Development Challenges (November 2008).

Resources

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All-in-One Solar Kiosk Business Solution for Africa

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Kiosks are ubiquitous throughout commercial areas in the global South. These highly efficient little business outlets enable small-scale entrepreneurs to sell necessary products without the expense of renting and running a shop.

While they are a great solution for entrepreneurs and customers alike, they often lack connection to municipal services such as electricity and water. That means kiosk owners need to use batteries or a generator if they need a refrigerator to cool food and drink – an expensive proposition.

A new product launched this year in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia offers a solution.

Created by a team of German architects, the Solarkiosk (solarkiosk.eu) is an autonomous business unit designed for remote, off-grid areas. With solar panels across the top of the kiosk, it generates its own electricity and is basically a mini solar power plant. Inside, it is just like a conventional kiosk, with display shelves for products and a counter in the front with a flap – which can feature advertising and messages – that can be opened up for business and locked shut when the kiosk is closed.

The kiosk captures solar energy and the electricity generated can be used to run a computer, lights or a refrigerator. That makes the Solarkiosk capable of offering a wide range of services needing electricity, from Internet access to car-battery charging and mobile phone recharging – a now essential service as mobile phone use explodes across Africa.

The first kiosk was prototyped in November 2011 and the makers incorporated their first subsidiary, Solarkiosk Solutions PLC, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in March 2012.

According to Solarkiosk 1.5 billion people worldwide have no regular supply of electricity – 800 million of them in Africa. The makers of Solarkiosk consider this a huge market and hope to make the most of it.

The kiosk comes in a kit form ready for assembly. The kit is designed to be easy to transport and is light enough and compact enough to be transported on the back of a donkey, its makers claim.

Solarkiosk operators receive training in running and managing a kiosk. They learn about solar technology and how to maintain the kiosks and run a sustainable business. Once the operators are trained and up and running, they typically hire others to help with running the kiosk and offer the services at convenient times for the customers. The Solarkiosk then, potentially, becomes an income and employment generator for the local community.

The kiosk is designed to be durable, secure and difficult to tamper with from the outside. The kiosks have been designed to suit many environments and requirements. There is a basic platform that can be added to or expanded depending on local needs and a series of models depending on the customer’s needs. Cleverly, the largest kiosk model is powerful enough to provide electricity to telecom towers. This has proven attractive to mobile telephone companies who can power a telecom tower and make money from running the kiosk as well.

The Solarkiosk is especially useful for countries near the equator where nights are long (12 hours) and the kiosk can help people get light to read, study and work.

Solarkiosk is targeting off-grid customers who are using up to 40 per cent of their household income on electricity substitutes. According to Solarkiosk, people in off-grid households collectively spend more every year (US $30 billion) lighting their homes – using candles for example – than do all the people living in electricity grid connected countries (US $20 billion).

Solar technology is becoming more affordable at the same time as demand in developing countries for electricity and the products powered by electricity is on the rise. Mobile phones are now essential tools for doing business and staying connected – and all of them need to be kept charged up.

Solarkiosk believes it can save the average off-grid household US $10 per month, while each kiosk could supply solar electricity services to between 200 and 5,000 households.

For now, Solarkiosk is available in Ethiopia. It is based in Berlin, Germany and receives money from the German government. The kiosks themselves were designed and built by Graft Architects (http://www.graftlab.com).

Resources

1) How to maintain a solar panel. Website:http://www.ehow.com/how_2005490_maintain-solar-panel.html

2) How to start a kiosk business. Website:http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/63012

3) Kiosk Innova: A Turkish pioneer of hi-tech kiosks for retail services. Website:http://www.kioskinnova.com/english

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This work is licensed under a
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Southern Innovator was designed and laid out in Iceland using 100% renewable energy, much of which is from geothermal sources. 

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Ethiopia and Djibouti Join Push to Tap Geothermal Sources for Green Energy

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

Ethiopia and Djibouti are the latest global South countries to make a significant commitment to developing geothermal energy – a green energy source that draws on the heat below the earth’s surface (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geothermal_energy) – to meet future development goals.

Ambitiously, Ethiopia also hopes to build Africa’s largest geothermal power plant.

It joins Kenya, which in 2012, announced projects to expand its geothermal capacity further. Currently, Kenya is Africa’s largest geothermal producer and has geothermal resources concentrated near a giant volcanic crater in the Great Rift Valley with 14 fields reaching from Lake Magadi to Lake Turkana. There are also low temperature fields in Homa Hills and Massa Mukwe (http://www.gdc.co.ke/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=191&Itemid=163). Around 1,400 steam holes are being drilled.

Cooperating with Reykjavik Geothermal (rg.is), a US-Icelandic private developer, Ethiopia will spend US $4 billion to build a 1,000 megawatt geothermal plant at Corbetti (http://www.volcano.si.edu/volcano.cfm?vn=221290). It is expected to be ready in eight to 10 years. The country wants to be carbon neutral by 2025.

Drilling will need to go down as deep as 3 kilometers to tap the source. This is expensive and a technological challenge, thus the need for international expertise. The country hopes to develop this source of energy and then export electricity to neighboring African countries.

Another plant, Aluto Langano 7, is being built 201 kilometers south of Addis Ababa, the capital, by a partnership between the Japanese government, Ethiopia and the World Bank.

Ethiopia has enormous potential for geothermal energy, according to a paper in the journal Geothermics: “Ethiopia holds an enormous capacity to generate geothermal energy in the volcano-tectonically active zones of the East African Rift System (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0375650513000023).”

At present, 70 per cent of people in sub-Saharan Africa, some 600 million, are without a domestic electricity supply (USAID). Electricity and other sources of energy are required if living standards are to be raised for millions of the world’s poor. The danger of this, however, is to the planet if the energy comes from polluting sources.

In March 2013 the World Bank announced a significant push to increase development of geothermal resources around the world, and in particular in energy-hungry, fast-developing countries.

“Geothermal energy could be a triple win for developing countries: clean, reliable, locally produced power,” the bank says. “And once it is up and running, it is cheap and virtually endless.”

The bank joined forces with Iceland to make a pledge to secure US $500 million in financing to get geothermal projects up and running. The announcement was made at the Iceland Geothermal Conference (http://geothermalconference.is/) in Reykjavík, the Icelandic capital.

Few countries have such easy access to geothermal energy as Iceland, with its plentiful volcanoes, geysers and hot springs bursting through the surface. But it is there, under the ground, and through the Global Geothermal Development Plan (GGDP), it is hoped this plentiful energy source will become the norm for countries around the world.

The World Bank believes at least 40 countries can get into geothermal on a significant scale with the correct investment. Many developing world regions are rich in geothermal resources, including East Africa, Southeast Asia, Central America, and the Andean region.

Just 11 gigawatts of geothermal capacity is currently being tapped in the world. Nuclear power, for example, generates 370 gigawatts a year (2012) (EIA). What has held back many countries has been the high upfront costs involved in getting projects going. A site must be found, drilled and tested to see if it is viable.

The GGDP plan is to raise US $500 million from donors and others to fund geothermal exploration and development. The GGDP will identify promising sites and then acquire funding to pay for drilling to identify commercially viable projects.

The World Bank has increased financing for geothermal development from US $73 million in 2007 to US $336 million in 2012. It comprises 10 per cent of the Bank’s renewable energy lending.

The Icelandic International Development Agency (iceida.is) signed a partnership in September 2013 with the government of Ethiopia to undergo geothermal surface exploration and to build Ethiopia’s capacity to develop this energy source. The World Bank estimates that Ethiopia has the potential to generate 5,000 megawatts (MW) of energy from geothermal sources.

The Geological Survey of Ethiopia (GSE) and the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCO) will undertake exploration at sites in Tendaho Alalobeda and Aluto Langano.

It fits in with a wider push by Ethiopia to develop its renewable energy resources. The country is also increasing investment in hydro-electric power.

The Ethiopia project is part of the wider World Bank-Iceland compact to develop global geothermal energy capacity. It is the second such arrangement, with the first already underway in Rwanda.

Djibouti is also moving into geothermal, with a new agreement with the World Bank to develop a site at Lake Assal. The World Bank will provide US $6 million to evaluate its commercial potential. Djibouti tried to develop its geothermal resources privately but was not successful.

Overall, geothermal power has the potential to help reduce Djibouti’s electricity production costs by 70 per cent, boost access to electricity for the population and alleviate the country’s energy dependency. The country hopes to have 100 per cent green energy by 2020.

Joining forces on helping boost geothermal in Africa is USAID’s Power Africa fund, which is providing US $7 billion in financial support and loan guarantees for energy projects.

Apart from generating electricity, what else can this powerful resource do? Countries such as Iceland now use hot geothermal water to heat homes and provide domestic hot water. Iceland also has an extensive network of swimming pools and spas in each town. The Blue Lagoon (bluelagoon.com) is a good example of how geothermal power generation can have lots of side benefits. The giant, steamy blue-colored lagoon is the consequence of an accident in 1976 at the nearby geothermal power plant; it’s now a spa and one of the country’s main tourist attractions.

The geothermal-heated pools and spas play a key role in keeping the cold north Atlantic country healthy – Iceland ranked number one on the UNDP human development index in 2007 – and provide a recreational source even in the depths of winter.

Resources

1) Iceland Review: A great way to learn about life on an island powered by geothermal energy. Website: icelandreview.com

2) Nordic Development Fund: The Nordic Development Fund (NDF) is the joint development finance institution of the five Nordic countries. The objective of NDF’s operations is to facilitate climate change investments in low-income countries. Website: ndf.fi

3) Icelandic International Development Agency (ICEIDA): The Icelandic International Development Agency (ICEIDA) is an autonomous agency under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and is responsible for the implementation of official Icelandic bilateral development cooperation.  It follows the Icelandic government’s Act on Development Cooperation No 121/2008, which is in keeping with the UN Millennium Development Goals and other international commitments, such as the Monterrey Consensus on Financing for Development and the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness. Website: iceida.is

4) Geothermal Exploration Project, NDF: The main objective of the Geothermal Exploration Project is to assist countries in East Africa to enhance geothermal knowledge and capacity in order to enable further actions on geothermal energy development in the respective countries. The project could extend to 13 countries in the East Africa Rift Valley: Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, DR Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. Website: http://www.iceida.is/iceida-projects/nr/1488

5) Power Africa: Power Africa – an initiative to double the number of people with access to power in sub-Saharan Africa. Power Africa will achieve this goal by unlocking the substantial wind, solar, hydropower, natural gas, and geothermal resources in the region to enhance energy security, decrease poverty, and advance economic growth. Website: http://www.usaid.gov/powerafrica

6) Geological Survey of Ethiopia: The GSE has been generating , collecting  and managing geoinformation of the country for the last 4 decades. Website: http://www.gse.gov.et/index.php

7) Home geothermal: A feature from Popular Mechanics on how geothermal can work in the home. Website: http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/energy/hydropowergeothermal/4331401

Like geothermal energy? Then we think you will like our Southern Innovator Magazine. Designed and laid out in Iceland using 100% renewable energy (much of which is geothermal). 


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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021