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Innovation: Cairo’s Green Technology Pioneers

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

One thing is ubiquitous to every country, community and society: garbage. It’s a social and environmental problem, but far from being mere waste, rubbish has its uses. This by-product of the goods and foods consumed can also be a source of fuel. As such it has many advantages, including providing free fuel to cash-strapped households, independence from unreliable municipal services and a way to dispose of waste.

An enterprising Egyptian man is showing his community how it is possible to lower the cost of gas and hot water while also avoiding the service disruptions common with municipal utilities. In the process, he is pioneering a local green innovation model that can be replicated elsewhere.

Biogas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biogas) generators — which can transform organic household waste into fuel — have been very successful in India and China. It is estimated there are 20 million small-scale urban biogas digesters in China and 2 million in India.

Hanna Fathy’s roof in the Manshiyet Nasser neighbourhood, home to the Coptic Christian Zabaleen community of Cairo – the city’s traditional garbage collectors and recyclers – is now a utility system, providing biogas and hot water.

The area is made of narrow streets and makeshift houses. Residents live cheek-by-jowl in a neighbourhood that is home to tens of thousands of people.

The community was badly hit when the 300,000 pigs the Christian residents have kept for the past 30 years to eat Cairo’s vegetative waste — an effective garbage-disposal system — were slaughtered under government orders to prevent the spread of swine flu (H1N1) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swine_influenza).

One woman told U.S. National Public Radio about the hard life in the neighbourhood: “I’m working all the time. My hands get dirty, there’s no water. The price of food is too high. The gas has gone up to seven pounds (US $1.28) a bottle, so it’s expensive to heat.

“Everything is so expensive, and I have to live like this?” she said.

Fathy plops kitchen scraps, stale tea and tap water into a jug which he pours into a homemade biogas maker on the roof of his house. The stew of waste mixes with water and a small quantity of animal manure used to start the process, and overnight makes biogas, which is then used for cooking. The digester is able to provide an hour’s worth of cooking gas a day in winter months, and two hours in the summer, from around two kilograms of waste. The remaining waste by product becomes liquid organic fertilizer for the garden.

Fathy has been developing the biogas digester with the NGO Solar Cities (http://solarcities.blogspot.com), which provides designs, technical advice and support to Cairo citizens keen to embrace green technologies.

What is interesting is not only the technology but how that technology is being developed. The approach is to innovate and adapt the technology to local resources and skills. This increases the chances of take-up and buy-in.

The designs for the digesters and heaters have evolved through experimentation, brainstorming and availability of local materials.

Each biogas system costs about US $150 for materials, a cost that is being picked up right now by donations. Solar Cities believes there are only eight biogas digesters in Egypt so far, most built in 2009.

Solar Cities’ founder, Thomas Culhane, points out many urban dwellers do not believe they can generate biogas and associate it with rural systems that use animal manure. But the abundance of urban kitchen waste is in fact an excellent source material for biogas.

Culhane believes the biogas digesters are an excellent solution to two problems: the vast quantities of garbage piling up in Cairo, which has had its traditional disposal system disrupted by the slaughter of the pigs, and the city’s emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

Fathy has one goal: to be completely self-sufficient. He has been also prototyping a solar heater on his roof as well as the biogas digester. The solar water heater makes use of items that can be easily found: it recycles black garbage bags, has an aluminium frame and a glass cover. The whole thing rests on a Styrofoam block and uses copper tubes. The water is stored in a bright blue barrel.

Biogas, solar power and other forms of green energy face many obstacles if it is to expand further in Egypt. The average cost of each unit will need to come down to match the income of the users and compete with the government-subsidized energy sector.

Fathy has also found neighbours are skeptical and can’t believe biogas can be made this way.

Another man, Hussain Soliman, had both a solar water heater and biogas digester on the roof of his apartment building before the crumbling building collapsed.

The complete solar water heating system designed by Solar Cities can be assembled for under US $500. It uses two 200-litre recycled industrial shampoo barrels for the holding tank and back-up water supply. The solar panels need to be kept clean from dust every week, but other than that, Culhane insists the heaters require little maintenance.

Now in temporary government housing, Soliman is still enthusiastic about the technology and is re-building a solar heater and biogas digester for his new home.

“I’m planning to collect the organic waste from restaurants in the neighborhood to increase my gas output,” he told IPS News. “I’ll give the restaurants plastic bags and they can separate out the organics, and I’ll collect the bags at the end of each day.”

Published: January 2010

Resources

1) Practical Action has technical drawings and guidelines for making a small biogas digester. Website: http://practicalaction.org/practicalanswers/product_info.php?products_id=42

2)  The Anaerobic Digestion Community: Here is an excellent technical explanation of how a digester works, including a short film. Website: http://www.anaerobic-digestion.com/

3) China boasts a fast-growing biogas economy using farm waste. Here is a full summary of their experience. Website: http://www.i-sis.org.uk/BiogasChina.php.

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. 

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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

© David South Consulting 2022

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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.  

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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

© David South Consulting 2022

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Caribbean Island St. Kitts Goes Green for Tourism

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

Going green may sound like the right thing to do but it can also be associated with being a costly burden and boring. But, as one island nation is proving, being green is a great selling point for attracting tourists and investors – especially in a world where many places are grappling with pollution and resource depletion.

St. Kitts, an island located between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, is part of the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis and has a population of around 35,000 (stkittstourism.kn).

The country shut down its main source of income, the sugar industry, in 2005. Facing dropping profits, it decided the industry was not worth supporting anymore.

But what would be the replacement source of income and employment? St. Kitts has turned to tourism for the answer. While many other Caribbean islands have long drawn on tourism – along with banking and finance, in some cases – in order to diversify economies away from dependence on agriculture, St. Kitts had not developed this sector. As a latecomer, St. Kitts needed to think about how it could do things differently and stand out from the crowd.

St. Kitts decided to become a regional champion for green tourism and green energy, and to lure tourists to the island by championing its green credentials.

The launch in 2013 of a Euro 1.8 million (US $2.48 million) one-megawatt solar energy farm nearby the Robert L. Bradshaw International Airport (http://www.stkittstourism.kn/explore-st-kitts-getting-here-airport.php) – enough to power a few hundred houses – showed St. Kitts was getting serious about going green (http://www.cuopm.com/?m=201302&paged=13).

Joining the new solar farm, an all-green resort is hoping to further boost St. Kitts’ green credentials. The ambitious Kittitian Hill (kittitianhill.com) resort stretches across 162 hectares and includes four hotels, an organic farm and multiple restaurants. In the pipeline is a plan to open film production and editing facilities to lure movie-makers looking for a green film-making studio.

Kittitian Hill is the brainchild of property developer Val Kempadoo (http://www.linkedin.com/pub/valmiki-kempadoo/8/53a/339), who is trying to set a precedent for sustainable resorts in the Caribbean. It is being developed with a mix of foreign experts and local contractors.

The resort boasts organic food fresh from tropical farms and an on-site tropical forest, described as an “edible landscape” offering a bounty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Around the resort, “Pick Me” signs encourage visitors to pick ripe fruit and sit down and make a meal of it.

The grounds include rare and heirloom fruit trees, and the resort hopes to create a reserve to protect endangered species. To spread the green message, the plants and seeds are shared locally with farmers and others. It is part of a strategy to encourage farmers to produce organic food, avoiding pesticides and chemicals, and to farm animals ethically.

The resort’s green ethos even extends to its 18-hole golf course. Golf courses are notorious water-wasters, but this one has a smart water management system, using organic crops and fruit trees to help keep the soil moist, interweaving a farm throughout the golf course. Caddies will guide golfers to the ripest fruits while they putt their way around the course.

“My vision is to bring together community and culture, along with mindful conservation of natural resources,” said Kempadoo. “This means we can offer our guests an unforgettable experience, while bringing lasting, life-changing benefits to the local people and economy.”

As an added sweetener to get investment coming in, St. Kitts and Nevis offers citizenship to investors in the country. In return, investors can travel visa-free to 120 countries – something that has appealed to investors from around the global South.

“It is important for St. Kitts to be selective and careful about development and focus on high-end rather than high-volume tourism,” Kempadoo told Monocle magazine. “The best asset of this island is its natural beauty, and we want to preserve it.”

Published: June 2014

Resources

1) The International Ecotourism Society: The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting ecotourism. Website: https://www.ecotourism.org/what-is-ecotourism

2) Top Five Eco Resorts of Mexico: Website: http://www.ecotourismtrips.org/topics/show/3809

3) 3 Rivers Dominica Eco Lodge: “An award-winning range of comfortable and charming self-contained cottages, nature, adventure and community-based ecotourism activities, restaurant, rivers and relaxation”. Website: http://www.3riversdominica.com/

4) Jungle Bay Resort and Spa: Award-winning Jungle Bay was built and is operated in alignment with international Geotourism and Ecotourism guidelines. As an alternative to traditional Caribbean tourism, the focus is on enjoyable nature-based activities and wellness of guests with quality service, guided by the principles as set by both National Geographic’s Center for Sustainable Destinations and The International Ecotourism Society (TIES). Website: junglebaydominica.com

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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This work is licensed under a
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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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E-Books

MOST READ! Southern Innovator Issue 1: Mobile Phones and Information Technology: http://www.scribd.com/doc/57980406/Southern-Innovator-Magazine-Issue-1

Southern Innovator Issue 2: Youth and Entrepreneurship: http://www.scribd.com/doc/86451057/Southern-Innovator-Magazine-Issue-2

Southern Innovator Issue 3: Agribusiness and Food Security: http://www.scribd.com/doc/105746025/Southern-Innovator-Magazine-Issue-3

Southern Innovator Issue 4: Cities and Urbanization:  http://www.scribd.com/doc/128283953/Southern-Innovator-Magazine-Issue-4

NEW! Southern Innovator Issue 5: Waste and Recycling: http://www.scribd.com/doc/207579744/Southern-Innovator-Magazine-Issue-5-Waste-and-Recycling

AWARD-WINNING! GOSH e-Health Project Launch Brochure and Screen Grabs: http://www.scribd.com/doc/20857167/GOSH-e-Health-Project-Launch-Brochure-and-Screen-Grabs

Environmental Public Awareness Handbook: Case Studies and Lessons Learned in Mongolia: http://www.scribd.com/doc/28633063/Environmental-Public-Awareness-Handbook-Case-Studies-and-Lessons-Learned-in-Mongolia-Part-One

In their own words: Selected writings by journalists on Mongolia, 1997-1999: http://www.scribd.com/doc/24832935/In-their-own-words-Selected-writings-by-journalists-on-Mongolia-1997-1999

Mongolian Rock and Pop Book: http://www.scribd.com/doc/23917535/Mongolian-Rock-and-Pop-Book

Mongolian Green Book: http://www.scribd.com/doc/20889227/Mongolian-Green-Book

Mongolia Update 1998 Book: http://www.scribd.com/doc/20864541/Mongolia-Update-1998-Book

Human Development Report Mongolia 1997: http://www.scribd.com/doc/20793173/Human-Development-Report-Mongolia-1997

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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

© David South Consulting 2022