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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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Indian Solar Power Pack Powers Villages

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Developments in India are showing the way forward for low-cost solar power for the poor. The Duron Solar Home Power System (http://www.duronenergy.com/product_info/) is now enabling the rural poor to generate and store solar electricity. It is powerful enough to charge gadgets and appliances and run LED lights. It allows people to do their household chores into the dark hours and to study or earn extra income.

As the company says, it “allows ample light for cooking, for children to study at night, and for shop owners to stay open later to earn more money.”

The system removes the need for polluting and dangerous kerosene lamps, which are used by an estimated one million families for lighting in India.

Kerosene lamps are a major contributor to indoor air pollution, which itself claims the lives of 1.5 million people each year. Kerosene lamps have also caused countless deaths by suffocation, burns and fatal fires.

The United Nations Environment Program says kerosene fumes are responsible for around 64 percent of deaths for children under the age of five in developing countries.

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). Some 400 million people in India do not have access to electricity, according to the World Bank, and 600,000 villages lack an electrical supply. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has pledged “power for all” by 2012. Without electricity, many development goals remain dreams that will never be achieved.

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.

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

The Duron package comes with a five watt solar panel, a cell phone charger connection, three LED (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LED_lamp) lights, and an AC grid charger. After a day of charging, the Duron can power three hours of bright lighting or 10 hours of dim lighting.

The Duron system sells for about 5,999 rupees, or around US $130, and the typical user to date has been small businesses and schools.

Duron is selling several thousand units a month and the company is currently scaling up its sales efforts.

Duron’s approach is to provide a market solution to the huge problem of providing electricity to India’s rural poor.

The company was launched in 2008 with the goal of providing electricity to those without around the world. It was developed out of the Idea Lab (http://www.idealab.com/), a Pasadena, Californian incubator of technology companies.

Extensive field research was conducted across India to determine what was the best solution and what were the needs of rural dwellers. Duron moved its headquarters to Bangalore, India in 2009 to be closer to its customers and expand sales. The company operates in the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka.

By August 2009, more than 2,100 people had light because of the Duron system. The company calculates this translated into 172,500 hours of light.

One customer, Anil Singh, lives with his family in the unelectrified village of Narainpur. His family used kerosene lamps and was paying US $4 a day for unreliable lighting. But after seeing his neighbour, Santosh Singh, with bright, powerful lights at his home, he was curious as to why. When he found out about Duron’s system, he installed a system to light his front porch and two rooms in his house. His family now enjoys two-and-half hours of reliable light in the evening to do things.

“The Duron has made my life so much easier,” said Anil. “It’s a much cheaper (lighting) option compared to kerosene lamps, and I now have a reliable source of power on a daily basis,” he told the company’s website.

Another innovative start-up with offices in India and Africa, is the d.light company, which also has a new, highly-efficient solar-powered product available. The Kiran LED lamp (http://www.dlightdesign.com/products_kiran_global.php) stays lit for eight hours on a full battery and is four times brighter than a kerosene lamp. It illuminates 360 degrees and produces an even, bright white light.

Published: February 2010

Resources

1) Lighting Africa: this website run by the World Bank is a virtual business community and has forums, market intelligence, access to grants, network and partnership opportunities. Website: http://lightingafrica.org/index.cfm?Page=Home

2) D.light Design is dedicated to bringing modern lighting and power to more than 1.6 billion people globally currently living without electricity. They aim to be the number one player in off-grid lighting and power solutions worldwide. Website: http://www.dlightdesign.com/

3) Solar Power Answers is a one-stop-shop for everything to do with solar power. It has a design manual and guides to the complex world of solar power equipment. Website: http://www.solar-power-answers.co.uk/index.php

4) Sun King solar lantern: The lantern provides 16 hours of light for a day’s charge. Website: http://www.greenlightplanet.com/ourusers.html

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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Indian Solar Economy Brings New Vocation for Women

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

India has started to make significant advances in developing solar power technologies for the poor. There are now whole villages using solar energy and improving their standard of living. Various companies and projects are selling inexpensive solar appliances – from cooking stoves to lanterns and power generators – across the country. This new solar power ‘grid’ is also bringing further economic opportunities: jobs for people to repair and maintain the new equipment.

An interesting initiative is turning the need to repair and maintain solar-powered equipment into a job opportunity for poor women.

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, and 400 million in India (World Bank). Some 600,000 Indian villages lack an electrical supply. India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has pledged “power for all” by 2012. An ambitious goal, and one that acknowledges that without electricity, many development goals remain dreams that will never be achieved.

Being able to see at night, for example, unleashes a vast range of possibilities – such as being able to work or study later – but for the very poor, lighting is often the most expensive household expense, soaking up 10 to 15 percent of income.

The power of the sun can help transform this situation. According to Greenpeace (http://www.greenpeace.org/international), India could generate 10 percent of its electricity from solar power by 2030.

In the Indian State of Rajasthan, more than 30,000 homes in 800 villages have turned to solar power for lighting and cooking needs. It is this increasing solar power grid that the Barefoot College (http://www.barefootcollege.org) based in Tilonia – where it was founded over 30 years ago – has turned to as a new economic opportunity. The College is training women to be solar engineers, developing both useful skills and a new income source. So far, Barefoot College itself has solar electrified some 350 villages across India and dozens more in sub-Saharan Africa and even war-torn Afghanistan.

The College prides itself on stripping out academic jargon while inspiring confidence in students’ innate talents and skills so they can take on new vocations.

The solar engineers – many of whom are illiterate – are taught by their peers. Given a box of tools and hardware, the students undertake practical projects to learn-by-doing how the solar devices work and can be repaired. They are introduced to technical terms and concepts and learn how to wire circuits and do daily repairs.

“It is only, we have found, an illiterate woman who is a teacher who can actually train an illiterate women who is a trainer,” the college’s founder, Bunker Roy, told the BBC. “They have the patience, tolerance and improvisation.”

Roy says the training teaches more knowledge of the technical aspects of solar power than a typical student would glean from an undergraduate university degree.

The Barefoot College takes its inspiration from former Indian leader Mahatma Ghandi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohandas_Karamchand_Gandhi), who felt the wisdom, knowledge and skills already existing in rural villages should be the basis for any development. He also believed deploying sophisticated technology in poor communities should be done on their terms to avoid exploitation.

The College is a passionate believer in the inherent skills and abilities of the poor to improve their conditions. It eschews formal qualifications, believing these can be as much a hindrance as a help, trapping people in rigid methodologies.

The Barefoot College has been working on solar electrification in poor and rural villages since 1989. It has used similar techniques to train teachers and teach medical skills.

The course has successfully attracted sponsored students from as far away as Africa. Sarka Mussara, a 56-year-old widowed grandmother from the West African nation of Mauritania, had never attended school or even left her village before coming to India on a UN sponsorship.

“We started little by little learning the solar energy system,” she told PBS. “Day by day and little by little we were able to put things together.”

The solar engineers become highly skilled and can even fabricate complex components like a charge controller (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charge_controller) when they are back in the village.

One of the additional benefits of training skilled solar engineers is the more confident role these women play in their communities when they return. They often take the lead on other projects in the village.

The College also picks the tough cases: only villages that are inaccessible, remote or non-electrified get help.

Its approach is to have a meeting to introduce the benefits of solar lighting to the community. If the community wants it, then a village committee is formed. Any household that wants solar power has to pay a small fee, no matter how poor. This is to ensure they feel a sense of ownership of the new technology.

Some members of the community are then selected to be trained as “Barefoot Solar Engineers,” or BSEs. They will install, repair and maintain the solar lighting units for at least five years. A workshop is set up to carry out repairs fully equipped with tools and replacement parts. The solar engineers attend a six-month course at the College, leading to work for at least five years.

The Barefoot College encourages middle-aged women and widows and single mothers to become engineers. Experience has shown them to be the most reliable and less prone to moving to the city after training.

Published: May 2010

Resources

1) D.light Design is dedicated to bringing modern lighting and power to more than 1.6 billion people globally currently living without electricity. They aim to be the number one player in off-grid lighting and power solutions worldwide. Website: http://www.dlightdesign.com

2) Solar Power Answers is a one-stop-shop for everything to do with solar power. It has a design manual and guides to the complex world of solar power equipment. Website: http://www.solar-power-answers.co.uk/index.php

3) Sun King solar lantern: The lantern provides 16 hours of light for a day’s charge. Website: http://www.greenlightplanet.com/ourusers.html

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