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Battery Business Brings Tanzanians Cheap Electricity

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Access to electricity is critical for making substantial development gains. With steady supplies of electricity, it is possible to read and study at night, to run modern appliances, to better use the latest information technologies and to work using time- and labour-saving devices. A home with electricity literally switches the light on modern life and gives a family huge advantages compared to those without electricity.

But there are two potential obstacles to providing electricity for the poor: one is just getting access to a steady supply; the other is paying for it.

In Africa, much of the population suffers from an electricity famine. The situation is worse than on any other continent: the proportion of people in Africa still without electricity is higher – and the rate of urban electrification is lower – than anywhere else. Four out of five rural residents in Africa live without electricity. The rate of rural electrification is also lower than on any other continent and the proportion of Africans who depend on inefficient traditional energy sources is higher than elsewhere (Desertec-Africa).

EGG-energy (http://egg-energy.com) is a Tanzanian company using an innovative business model to bring affordable electricity to rural communities.

Its co-founder, Jamie Yang, said Tanzania has a huge potential market for offgrid energy services. About 85 per cent of the population lacks access to electricity, a figure that rises to 98 per cent of the rural population.

EGG-energy says it is “dedicated to helping low-income consumers in sub-Saharan Africa gain access to clean, affordable energy, using a unique strategy based around portable rechargeable batteries.” The company has eight full-time staff based in their Makumbusho office, 6 kilometres north of Dar es Salaam, the capital.

It calls its system the “portable grid,” and it works like this: customers have a power system installed in their home that runs on brick-sized, re-chargeable batteries. The batteries are re-charged at a central charging station using power from the Tanzanian power grid, and sent to local distribution centres where customers can pick them up. Customers rent the batteries for a subscription fee, and they last about five nights in a home. When the battery is empty, the customer returns it, swaps for a fresh battery and pays a small swapping fee.

It is a brilliant solution to the problem of getting power from the main Tanzanian power grid to people’s homes. According to EGG-energy, most Tanzanians live within 5 kilometres from a power grid line. Yet the majority of the population lack access to electricity.

“After researching the energy situation in Tanzania and other countries with similar electricity access problems, it became clear that one of the primary problems was a lack of last-mile distribution,” explained Yang. “The only way to get power from the source into homes and businesses were power lines, and for the vast majority of rural Tanzanians, this was very much out of reach.

We saw situations in which power lines would pass right over large populations that were still using kerosene for lighting. We also saw that distributed generation like solar was finding only very limited markets because there was no share or sell power from that source without an affordable way to distribute the electricity.”

While EGG-energy is based in Tanzania, it hopes hope to expand across the developing world.

In order to develop an effective distribution network, EGG-energy partners with local store owners and delivery businesses to help with distributing the batteries. The batteries are based on those used in the airline industry and are light enough to be held in one hand.

Yang believes marketing is critical to the success of the technology.

“Don’t underestimate the cost of sales, marketing, and distribution,” he said.

“Many companies focus on the technology and in lowering the cost of the technology, while not paying enough attention to the gaps in the distribution channels.

“We have a sales team that communicates what we do through a variety of methods, including door-to-door sales, road shows and village meetings. We also make contact with the local political leaders and offer referral awards to our existing customers. Potential customers come to our charging stations to purchase the system and to connect to EGG.”

When a customer signs up with EGG-energy, a technician is dispatched to their home to make sure the electricity system is sound and effective. The company also sells energy-efficient lights, radios and mobile phone chargers to complement the electricity system. It’s a wise business model, since having a steady and reliable supply of electricity is a great motivator for customers to purchase other electric-powered appliances.

“We have technicians that have received vocational training through the Tanzanian system and technicians that we train ourselves,” Yang said. “We have very standardized electricity installations that are easy to teach, and have more experienced technicians that we rely on for troubleshooting and support.”

EGG-energy also makes the claim it can reduce a household’s energy expenses by 50 per cent as they make the switch from traditional batteries for radios and kerosene lamps for light.

EGG-energy calls itself a “for-profit company with a social mission.” It sees the provision of affordable electricity and energy as a spur for small entrepreneurs to build their businesses, boost educational opportunities through longer study time, and help with connecting families with the outside world.

It uses regular feedback with customers to make sure their service is actually cheaper than other options – a good habit for any business looking to build a lasting customer relationship.

“One of the key deficiencies in the energy supply chain is customer support,” said Yang. “We have seen multiple solar installations given by NGOs to community organizations that are no longer functioning because the user doesn’t have someone reliable to call or hasn’t allotted a budget to maintain the system.

“Customer support is a key component of last mile distribution, and something that EGG-energy is focusing on as an energy services company with a local, physical presence.”

Published: April 2012

Resources

1) ANSOLE (the African Network for Solar Energy) is a research-oriented network of 200 scientists from 22 African and 10 non-African countries. It believes, according to Mammo Muchie, founding editor of the African Journal of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Development, “solar power will become the major renewable energy source on the continent only by organized research, training, design, and engineering.” Website: ansole.org

2) The Kenya-based non-governmental organization (NGO) Access: energy is tackling the problem of 84 per cent of Kenyans – 32 million people – lacking access to electricity at home. It is doing this by teaching people how to make and assemble wind turbines out of scrap metal and car parts and other materials found within communities. Their turbine design is called the Night Heron Turbine. Website: http://access-collective.com/energy/

4) TANESCO: Tanzania Electric Supply Company: Website: http://www.tanesco.co.tz

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.  

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

© David South Consulting 2022

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

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Old Boats Become New Furniture In Senegal

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013

Every country has its fair share of waste and the remnants of past economic activity. Old cars nobody wants, discarded tins of food, old plastic bags, spare copper wire, cast-off clothing – all can have a new life in the right hands.

An intriguing twist on recycling is happening in the West African nation of Senegal. The country has a strong fishing tradition, and plenty of boats are used to haul in the catch every day. These boats are elaborately decorated and dazzle the eye when lined up on the beach awaiting the next journey to sea. But what to do with the boats when they have completed their service?

One ingenious social enterprise is turning the weatherbeaten but colorful boats into highly prized pieces of furniture that sell in the boutiques of Europe. The enterprise Artlantique (slogan “Made in Africa”) (http://artlantique.com) gathered together local craft folk, both masters and young apprentices, to tackle the challenge of re-shaping old fishing boats into furniture.

Artlantique’s founder, Spanish designer Ramon Llonch, then sends the furniture back to his shop in Barcelona, Spain where it is in turn distributed to shops around the world. Llonch ploughs Artlantique’s profits back in to expanding the business and hopes to hire more skilled craft folk in Senegal.

The idea is to create a “contemporary, modern design, which is above all 100 per cent African, as much in the material as in the making.”

Each unique piece of furniture is a riot of color, with planks of wood harvested from the boats creating an original and eye-pleasing pattern. The furniture has the weathered look expected of wood battered by years of exposure to salty sea water, and is streaked and branded with colorful patterns from its previous life as a fishing boat. The furniture items include cabinets, tables, benches, work tables, chairs, picture frames, coffee tables and even a fusball game table for lovers of soccer (football).

The catalogue that accompanies the website shows the families of the fisher folk, their boats, the workshop where the furniture is made, and the finished product. As the catalogue says, the boats “are stylish and elegant, their sides covered by many layers of paint, faded, and affected by rust from the salt and sea air, giving the wood a rich texture of different tones. Attracted by their beauty, and their history, we wondered whether after all the sea faring they had undergone, the wood would still be in good enough condition to begin a new life, to be ‘reincarnated’ into furniture.”

Negotiations are made with the fisher folk to acquire boats when they look like they have reached the end of their work life. The purchased boat is taken to a beach-side workshop and the craft folk discuss what to do with it. Young apprentices work alongside skilled craft folk, gaining the skills to make a high-quality wooden product capable of being exported.

The craft folk draw on their years of experience to add value to the final product. “Their contribution is essential as they suggest which type of furniture would be the most suitable to make,” Artlantique’s website explains. “They discuss their past and that of their forefathers: their cultural heritage, how to take full advantage of the wood, according to the size of the boat, and its color combinations.”

The furniture made from the boat wood has a high value because each piece is unique and can not be replicated. The raw “Samba” wood comes from an African tropical tree (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triplochiton_scleroxylon) and remains untreated by chemicals. It is seasoned naturally by the sea from its years of service as a fishing boat.

“This wood … has certain limitations, not only because it has a shape but also because it’s very damaged by the salt, the sea, the sun and the lime. But these artisans are very talented,” Llonch told CNN.

“Their creativity is not academic, they are like this by nature because [for them] recycling and reusing is not a fashion, it’s not a trend.”

Artlantique-branded furniture is now on sale in boutiques in Barcelona, Spain, Paris, France and Rome, Italy.

In Brazil, artist Sérgio Dido (http://www.artinsurf.com/art-dido.php), who lives in the dynamic beach resort town of Buzios (http://www.lonelyplanet.com/brazil/the-southeast/buzios), also salvages wood from fishing boats to create art with a surfing theme. The work is featured in the Art in Surf shop (http://www.artinsurf.com/index.php).

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

Published: July 2014

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.  

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