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Solar Bottle Bulbs Light Up Dark Homes

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Finding ways to generate low-cost or free light has captured the imagination of innovators across the global South. The desire for light is strong: Light gives an immediate boost to income-making opportunities and quality of life when the sun goes down or in dark homes with few windows.

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 a source of electricity, it is difficult to use conventional technology to switch the lights on.

While it is possible to run lights using batteries or diesel generators, these are expensive options that are not possible for many poor people. The more of a slim income that is spent on light, heat or cooking fuel, the less there is left for better-quality food, clothing, transport or education and skills development.

Low-cost light is great, but free light is even better – and one Brazilian solution is offering this.

Brazilian innovator and mechanic Alfredo Moser has taken the common plastic water bottle and created a low-cost lighting solution for dark spaces. Often makeshift homes lack decent lighting or a good design that lets the light in during the day. This means it may be a bright, sunny day outside, but inside the home or workplace, it is very dark and reading or working is difficult.

Moser came upon the idea during regular blackouts in his home city of Uberaba (http://www.uberaba.mg.gov.br/portal/principal) in southern Brazil during 2002. During the blackouts, only factories were able to get electricity, leaving the rest of the population in the dark.

The “Moser Light” involves taking plastic bottles, which are usually just thrown away or recycled, and filling them with water and bleach to draw on a basic physical phenomenon: the refraction of sunlight when it passes through a water-based medium.

It is a simple idea: Holes are drilled in the ceiling of a room and the bottles placed in the holes. The liquid-filled bottle amplifies the existing sunlight (or even moonlight) and projects it into the dark room. This turns the plastic bottle into a very bright lightbulb that does not require any electricity.

Moser uses a solution of two capfuls of bleach added to the water to prevent anything growing in the water such as algae because of the exposure to sunlight.

“The cleaner the bottle, the better,” he said.

Polyester resin is used to seal the hole around the plastic bottle and make it watertight from rain.

Moser claims his bottle innovation can produce between 40 and 60 watts of light.

Moser uses recycled plastic bottles, so the carbon footprint is minimal compared to the manufacture of one incandescent bulb, which takes 0.45 kilograms of CO2 (UN). Running a 50 Watt incandescent light bulb for 14 hours a day for a year, around the same light as produced by the bottle bulb, produces a carbon footprint of nearly 200 kilograms of CO2.

“There was one man who installed the lights and within a month he had saved enough to pay for the essential things for his child, who was about to be born. Can you imagine?” Moser told the BBC.

The plan is to try and get as many as a million homes fitted with the lighting system by the end of 2013.

In many poor areas, it is common to live in makeshift or rudimentary dwellings. These are often built to crude designs and, in order to keep costs down and boost security, will have few or no windows. These dwellings will consequently be very dark inside, even on the brightest days. This leaves people having to turn to a source of artificial light if they want to do something indoors like read or work. And this costs money. Be it electricity from a mains, or battery-powered lamps or gas-powered lanterns, the cost will eat into a person’s tight income. This is where Moser’s simple solution saves the day and saves pennies: it is free light once the bottle lamp system is installed.

Placing the bottle lights in the ceiling transforms the ceiling into something akin to the night sky, with many points of light shining down into the room like stars. It also means the occupant of the room does not just have to strain to see with the use of a single light but now has many lights illuminating the room from all angles.

“It’s a divine light,” Moser told the BBC World Service. “God gave the sun to everyone, and light is for everyone. Whoever wants it saves money. You can’t get an electric shock from it, and it doesn’t cost a penny.”

It has not been a road to riches for Moser. He has made some money installing the system in a local supermarket and nearby homes, and he has inspired a charity to install the lighting system and to train people to do the installation and make an income from it.

The MyShelter Foundation in the Philippines was inspired by Moser’s invention and has installed the system in some 140,000 homes there, the BBC reported.

“We want him to know that there are a great number of people who admire what he is doing,” MyShelter Executive Director Illac Angelo Diaz said of Moser.

Using bottle bulbs instead of electricity or generators means families can save US $6 per month, according to Diaz (CNN). The Philippines is reported to have the most expensive electricity in Asia and slum homes usually do not have electricity.

It is estimated 15 other countries also have homes using the Moser system. The MyShelter Foundation believes 1 million homes worldwide have used the Moser system as of 2013.

Liter of Light (http://aliteroflight.org), run by the MyShelter Foundation, offers instructions on how to install the lighting system on its website.

Resources

1) D-Lab: MIT: Development through Dialogue, Design and Dissemination: D-Lab is building a global network of innovators to design and disseminate technologies that meaningfully improve the lives of people living in poverty. The program’s mission is pursued through interdisciplinary courses, technology development, and community initiatives, all of which emphasize experiential learning, real-world projects, community-led development, and scalability. Website: http://d-lab.mit.edu/

2) d.light Solar: d.light is a for-profit social enterprise whose purpose is to create new freedoms for customers without access to reliable power so they can enjoy a brighter future. d.light design manufacture and distribute solar light and power products throughout the developing world. Website: http://www.dlightdesign.com/

3) Liter of Light:  It brings the eco-friendly bottle light to communities living without electricity. Website: http://aliteroflight.org

4) Solar Sister: Solar Sister eradicates energy poverty by empowering women with economic opportunity.  They combine the breakthrough potential of solar technology with a deliberately woman-centered direct sales network to bring light, hope and opportunity to even the most remote communities in rural Africa. Website: http://www.solarsister.org/

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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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Energy-Efficient Wooden Houses are also Earthquake Safe

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

In Argentina, an innovative housing project has married good design with energy efficiency, earthquake resilience and the use of local materials and labour. As energy resources continue to be stretched around the global South, innovative building designs will be critical to the creation of sustainable housing for the future.

The happy mix of efficient modern design with affordable local materials and labour can be seen in three row houses designed and built by Buenos Aires-based Estudio BaBO (estudiobabo.com.ar) in the El Once neighbourhood in Villa La Angostura, Patagonia, southern Argentina.

The wooden houses are built in a Norwegian style. Estudio BaBO, founded in 2007, discovered that the Scandinavian nation’s housing traditions were well suited to the particular needs of the region and the local government.

The local government imposed a number of planning guidelines and restrictions that needed to be met to receive planning permission. This included creating row houses which must be made of wood – a plentiful local resource. They also had to be earthquake-safe since the region is seismically active and be able to withstand the heavy rains common to the region.

Looking around for the right guidance to tackle this brief, Estudio BaBO discovered SINTEF – Norway’s leading disseminator of research-based knowledge to the construction industry (http://www.sintef.no/home/Building-and-Infrastructure/). The Nordic nation has many wooden homes and also has similar environmental conditions and challenges to Patagonia – though its precipitation tends to fall as rain, rather than snow.

The black-painted homes look typically Norwegian, with a tasteful and clean design that does not clash with the forested surroundings. An air chamber has been created inside the homes’ walls allowing for constant ventilation of the wood, which prevents the wood from rotting and extends the life of the house. With the high rainfall of the region, wood is at risk of rotting if allowed to become damp. The air cavity also insulates the house, providing significant energy savings while keeping the interior warm and comfortable.

Adding to the energy efficiency of the design, the windows are double glazed and heat is also circulated through the floor – an efficient way to heat a home because heat rises.

To keep costs down and the project simple, the palette used for the homes is simple but attractive: black, white, wood and metal. The local wood is cypress and is painted black. The interior walls are all white and the floors are made from black granite on the ground floor and cypress wood parquet on the upper floor. The rest of the woodwork in the house is also made of cypress.

Using locally sourced materials also helps to keep costs down.

The project was initially conceived in 2009 and the houses were built in 2010-2011. While wood is plentiful in Patagonia, traditionally the use of wood in construction was rudimentary and local labour skill levels were low. This meant the design had to be simple and easy to build.

“Despite the profusion of wood as a material in the south of Argentina, the lack of specialized knowledge and of a specialized industry narrow its uses to isolated structural elements and interior and exterior finishes,” said one of the architects, Marit Haugen Stabell.

The three units of two-storey row houses each come with a living room, dining room, kitchen, toilet, two bedrooms and a laundry room. Each home also has an outdoor patio. The homes are designed to receive maximum natural light. Deploying this energy efficient design is considered unusual for Argentina and Estudio BaBO has set a new standard for sustainable housing in the country.

It looks like the CLF Houses could inspire others to look again at wood as a building material.

Resources

1) A story on how researchers are perfecting wooden home designs to withstand heavy earthquakes. Website:http://inhabitat.com/wooden-house-can-withstand-severe-earthquakes/

2) A website packed with photographs of wooden and other houses for inspiration and lesson learning. Website:http://www.trendir.com/house-design/wood_homes/

3) A step by step slideshow on how a Norwegian wooden house was re-built. Website:http://www.dwell.com/articles/norwegian-wood.html

4) Inspirational wooden home decorating ideas from across Scandinavia. Website:http://myscandinavianhome.blogspot.cz/

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Radical Drone Solution To Woeful Infrastructure In Poor Countries

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013

Drones – unpiloted aircraft, formally called Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) or Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) – have long been used for military purposes. The U.S. military claims to have 7,500 drones – a massive growth from just 50 a decade ago – and has used them for surveillance and combat in conflicts from Afghanistan to Iraq.

Drones can cost anywhere between a few thousand and millions of dollars depending on their size and sophistication. Some weigh as little as half a kilogram, and the largest can reach 18,000 kilograms (19 tons).

It is estimated 40 countries around the world are working on drones in one capacity or another.

Military drones come with ominous-sounding names such as Predator, Fire Scout, Global Hawk and Hunter. But many pioneers and innovators are setting out to prove drones can be a technology of peace and development and not just of fear and war.

YouTube provides many examples of drones being tested out as a delivery method. SF Express (http://www.sf-express.com/cn/en/product_service/product_intro/airline_delivery.html), a courier service in Dongguang, China has tried delivering parcels by drone. It is using a drone with eight rotor blades, called an octocopter (http://www.steadidrone.eu/octocopter-ei8ht/).

In Shanghai, the InCake bakery has used drones to deliver cakes (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXwgwSkujOY). The service was brought to a halt after complaints from citizens, worried the drone would crash into someone.

The American pizza chain Domino’s has been testing drones for delivering pizza in the United Kingdom (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZDXuGQRpvs4). A British company has used drones to deliver sushi to restaurant tables in London (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WV0yQYXLU34).

These may prove to be novelty experiments – or the early days of a revolution. Time will tell.

But serious thinking about drones is taking place in the area of development.

One pioneering company thinks it has a solution for two big problems common to many developing countries: the chaos, congestion and crowding that clog urban areas; and the poor or non-existent infrastructure in rural areas. Both problems make it expensive and time-consuming to move goods around.

A billion people in the world do not have access to all-weather roads, says the World Bank. Some roads are being upgraded in parts of sub-Saharan Africa but many are in worse shape than they were decades ago. Modern infrastructure is expensive to build, and the funds to do it often must be borrowed.

A startup called Matternet thinks it has the solution to getting around this problem in Africa, and in rapidly growing cities of the global South. It believes drones can come to the rescue where infrastructure is poor or non-existent, and save valuable wealth that can be diverted to real improvements in human development, or used to reduce congestion in crowded urban areas.

The Matternet (http://matternet.us/) is billed as “the next paradigm for transportation.” Matternet is offering a system and a concept for deploying drones as a scalable solution to overcome the problem of poor transportation networks in developing countries.

The artist’s vision on Matternet’s website shows drones buzzing their way through an urban high-rise landscape as they go about their business.

The Matternet drone design has two wings with three fans in each wing to allow it to take off and land vertically as well as flying in a straight line. There is a 10 litre space for packages and a rechargeable battery at the bottom of the drone. The drones can fly at 40 kilometres an hour, at an altitude of up to 121 metres and are guided by GPS (Global Positioning System) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Positioning_System).

The drone moves in and out of a ground-station landing pod, where it is recharged, picks up new packages to deliver, and connects electronically to receive instructions. An entry and exit slot sits on top of the pod while there is a place at ground level for people to pop in packages for delivery.

Each vehicle costs US $1,000 and can last 10 years, the makers claim. Matternet believes the drones could transport 2 kilograms over 10 kilometres for just 24 US cents a trip.

Matternet’s Andreas Raptopoulos (https://www.solveforx.com/moonshots/physical-transport) hopes to push Africa away from simply upgrading its infrastructure along the lines of what is already in existence in developed countries. It is estimated it will take Africa another 50 years to have an infrastructure equal to North America. But why wait so long? Why not, he argues, just use drones or UAVs to knit a transport infrastructure criss-crossing the continent delivering goods and services to people?

Radical drone advocates like Matternet are very ambitious. They believe drones are to infrastructure what mobile phones have been to telecommunications: an advanced, 21st-century technology that enables countries to leapfrog ahead of old-school 20th century infrastructure and connect people up for much less cost and effort.

Imagine a city in the global South 15 years from now: canyons of high-rise buildings stretch from the central business district out to the suburbs where apartment towers replace office buildings. And whooshing through these canyons will be the drones carrying everything from takeaway food to medical supplies to the latest fashion items.

Anywhere in Africa can currently contact Matternet to arrange a trial of the technology (http://matternet.us/get-matternet/). The concept had field trials in the Dominican Republic and Haiti in the Caribbean. A large field test trial is being arranged for Lesotho, where the drones will help with delivering supplies to clinics serving patients with HIV/AIDS. The 47 clinics are spread out over a 138 square kilometre area and will be served by 50 ground stations and 150 drones at a cost of US $900,000. In comparison, building 2 kilometres of a single lane road would cost US $1 million.

Matternet is based in Palo Alto, California and founded by partners Andreas Raptopoulos, Paola Santana, Dimitar Pachlov and Darlene Damm.

It was conceived at the Singularity University (http://singularityu.org/) whose mission is to educate, inspire and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges.

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

Published: October 2013

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

Other stories from Development Challenges, South-South Solutions:

African Digital Laser Breakthrough Promises Future Innovation

China Looking to Lead on Robot Innovation

Digital Mapping to put Slums on the Map

New Weapon Against Crime in the South

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