Categories
Archive

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

Categories
Archive

Building an Interactive Radio Network for Farmers in Nigeria

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

As solar power technology has improved, new pioneers have emerged to exploit this innovation. Several decades ago, solar power was seen as too expensive for wide-scale roll out in poor countries and communities. But today, an army of solar technology pioneers has fanned out across the world to show the new wave of innovations and how they make solar power affordable.

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 access to domestic electricity, these people need to fall back on expensive, battery-powered devices or use gas generators and lamps: a cost that eats into their income.  

More than 90 percent of Nigeria’s estimated 155 million people (US Census Bureau) live on just US $2 a day. Many of them are small farmers in remote areas. Access to information is very poor, especially critical information that can improve farming methods and boost incomes.

One of the most effective ways to communicate to a large number of people over a large territory is through radio.

A clever use of solar-powered battery radios has enabled the building of a low-cost, two-way communications network for rural farmers. The Smallholders Farmers Rural Radio (http://smallholdersfoundation.org) network broadcasts to 250,000 listeners with 10 hours of daily programming. The communications network reaches 3.5 million farmers in around 5,000 villages in Imo State (www.imostate.gov.ng), southeast Nigeria. The programming tackles issues from sustainable farming practices to HIV/AIDS and how to open a bank account . The clever part is the two-way dialogue between the listeners and the radio station. This is done through mobile radios known as AIR devices. They are small, solar-powered radios that let listeners send voice messages to the radio station. The message is stored on the radio station’s computers and later broadcast during a programme, allowing farmers to share their experiences, ask questions and receive answers in their own language.

The slim, hand-held silver-coloured radios have a small antenna and dials.

The network was created by Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, who won a 2010 Rolex Laureate award (http://young.rolexawards.com/laureates/nnaemeka_ikegwuonu). The awards seek to foster innovation in the next generation. Launched in 2009, it looks for “visionary young men and women at a critical juncture in their careers, enabling them to implement inventive ideas that tackle the world’s most pressing issues in five areas: science and health, applied technology, exploration, the environment and cultural preservation.”  

Ikegwuonu hopes to bring the service to other parts of Nigeria.

His radio studio is the height of simplicity and sophistication: a laptop computer, a microphone, a headset and a small control board to manage the sound levels. The radio signal is broadcast through a 30-metre-high antenna.

Solar power is being creatively used in many countries to tackle energy poverty. This ranges from lamps and lights to cookers to small power packs for electronic devices, all the way to large hardware to power homes and communities.

In India, whole villages are already 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.

A report by the International Finance Corporation called the sub-Saharan solar market the largest in the world – a market of 65 million potential customers, who could access off-grid lighting over the next five years (IFC). The report anticipated high growth rates of 40 to 50 percent for anyone entering the market, with less than one percent of the market currently being served.

With a billion Africans using just four percent of the world’s electricity (The Economist), energy poverty is already harming further economic growth and development gains. As Africa’s population is expected to double to 2 billion by 2050, the gap between people’s needs and the power available will be stark: in Nigeria, out of 79 power stations, only 17 are working (The Economist). It will take innovators like Ikegwuonu to bring hope to this situation and transform lives despite the obstacles.

Published: December 2011

Resources

1) ToughStuff has developed a modular range of affordable solar powered energy solutions to the three main power needs of poor consumers in the developing world – lighting, mobile phones and radios. Website:www.toughstuffonline.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:www.solar-power-answers.co.uk/index.php

3) How We Made It Africa: A website detailing success stories on businesses investing in Africa and how people are making the most of opportunities on the continent. Website:www.howwemadeitinafrica.com

4) Solar Sister: A clever way to sell solar lamps and torches using a network of women. Website: www.solarsister.org

5) D.light Design: Their lights use LEDs (light emitting diodes) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LED_lamp) and are four times brighter than a kerosene lantern according to D.Light Design. Website: www.dlightdesign.com

6) Lighting Africa: Lighting Africa, a joint IFC and World Bank program, is helping develop commercial off-grid lighting markets in Sub-Saharan Africa as part of the World Bank Group’s wider efforts to improve access to energy. Lighting Africa is mobilizing the private sector to build sustainable markets to provide safe, affordable, and modern off-grid lighting to 2.5 million people in Africaby 2012 and to 250 million people by 2030. Website: www.lightingafrica.org

7) A list of Nigerian companies selling solar-powered equipment and devices. Website: http://posharp.com/solar-energy-service-companies-in-nigeria-in-alphabetic-order_renewable.aspx?ptype=solar&btype=service&gtype=country_NG&xtype=ntype

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

Categories
Archive

Brazilian Solar-powered WiFi for Poor Schools

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

There is a pressing need to spread access to the internet to the world’s poor — but also many obstacles. Often it is something as basic as a lack of electricity that brings progress to a halt. But a Brazilian innovator has come up with a solar power supply that is helping to bring internet access to schools serving the poor.

Many initiatives are trying to bring inexpensive access to the internet to rural and remote regions around the world. Schools in poor areas are receiving laptop computers through schemes like the One Laptop Per Child project, but it is common that schools do not have a steady electricity supply to power the computers or the internet connection. One of the most successful ways of rapidly expanding access is to offer wireless (WiFi) internet so that anyone can use the Web, no matter what device they have, whether a laptop computer, a personal computer or a mobile phone. The signals use radio waves, and are an excellent solution for multiple users.

Brazilian professor Marcelo Zuffo, Interactive Electronics Coordinator at the University of Sao Paulo, has invented a cheap solar-powered WiFi access point for the poor. Designed to be used by schools without a steady source of electricity, it doesn’t need outside electricity supply, and is not difficult to assemble. It is being tested on lampposts around the Sao Paolo campus.

The device uses something called a ‘mesh’ strategy. By acting as a group, several units are able to expand the area covered by WiFi in a honeycomb pattern. The signal is relayed back and forth between the units, significantly increasing the area covered that can access the Web. “In such a strategy,” said Zuffo,”you can cover large rural areas, parks, low income neighbourhoods, by just dropping our equipment in roofs, trees or on to existing lamp posts.”

Zuffo was inspired to develop the solar-powered WiFi boxes after the university tried to bring laptop computers to a Sao Paulo school, and found they didn’t have a steady electricity supply.

“We came up with the idea of taking energy that is most plentiful and cheap, i.e. the sun,” he told the BBC. “We have a solar panel, a cheap motorcycle battery and a circuit that is responsible for energy management. We can have up to two days of full internet coverage and our goal is to increase that to 10 days – so that in the rainy season and the winter, you can have the internet for free.

“The natural plan is to miniaturize the system so that we can save on costs. So by the end you can imagine these WiFi solar mesh devices being the size of a cellphone or playing card.”

The low cost, solar-powered access point is ready as soon as it is unpacked and needs neither maintenance nor a power socket to get going.

“It is a completely autonomous WiFi hotspot, it doesn’t need any internet or energy connection,” said Zuffo.

“Everything comes from the sun and we have plenty of that in Brazil,” he said.

The volunteer organization Green WiFi initiative is also developing solar powered technologies to bring ubiquitous internet access to the world’s poor.

Zufo’s message for other scientists and inventors is this: “Innovation, invention is all about transforming people’s lives. We need methods and equipment which are cheap enough so that they are accessible to virtually every one, suitable for small scale applications, and compatible with man’s need for creativity.”

The issue of inequality in access to the internet has stark consequences for global economic development. Already, according to the World Information Society Report 2007, “Europe has achieved the largest overall gain in digital opportunity over the last two years, followed by the Americas… Asia and Africa have witnessed smaller gains in digital opportunity. The implications for the digital divide are clear: digital opportunity is becoming more sharply divided by region, not less.”

Published: November 2008

Resources

  • Wireless Networking in the Developing World: A Practical Guide to Planning and Building Low-cost Telecommunications Infrastructure. Website:
  • World Information Society Report 2007: A progress report on pledges to bring digital opportunity to all. Website:
  • The Wireless Geographic Logging Engine: This is a website with maps tracking the presence of WiFi access around the globe. So far it maps over 10 million separate WiFi networks. Entrepreneurs only have to log into the website to start searching for wireless networks near them.
  • iTrike: The world’s first solar powered wireless internet rickshaw.
  • The KyaTera lab where the technology was developed. Website: http://kyatera.incubadora.fapesp.br/portal/research/laboratories/interactive-electronic-media

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

Categories
Archive

Solar Power Bringing Light and Opportunity to the Poor

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Meeting the South’s energy needs will be crucial to achieving radical improvements in quality of life and human development. It is estimated that 1.7 billion people around the world lack electricity (World Bank), of whom more than 500 million live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Africa’s greater global engagement and economic growth in the past few years has started to draw attention back to the continent’s dearth of reliable power sources and inadequate power infrastructure. With demand for electricity growing fast, it is people running small enterprises and organizations – especially in rural areas – who often get cut out.

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

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

A reliable power supply helps people to work longer, important for small businesses, and this increases the amount of wealth that can be created. Lit streets are safer at night, and lure people outside to do business and seek entertainment. It makes it easier for students to study into the night, and in consequence improve their grades.

To take up this challenge, entrepreneurs are using different approaches across the South, to make solar power affordable and able to reach millions of poor people.

Marrying new lighting technology such as compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) and light emitting diodes (LEDs) with solar power generation, opens up the possibility to bring clean, portable, durable, low cost, high quality lighting to Africa’s poor. These new lighting systems also come with huge health and safety benefits, compared to gas alternatives.

In Kenya, more than 80 percent of people lack access to the national grid and depend primarily on fossil fuels for their lighting needs, leading to respiratory diseases and environmental hazards associated with indoor air pollution.

Kenyan solar entrepreneur Charles Rioba of Kodesha Mwangaza – Rent a Light is impressed by the interest in solar power solutions. An expert in renewable technologies with 15 years’ experience teaching in universities, he “realized that to reach the lower end of the market, one had to design an affordable solution.”

“The biggest challenges faced are still affordability, and very little disposable income from the potential end users,” he said. “We are currently discussing with a number of micro institutions who have expressed interest on coming on board on rolling out the project.”

Rioba’s business provides rental solar-charged Powerpacks designed to make electricity affordable for the majority of urban poor, rural households and slum dwellers. The rental system allows the consumer to rent a fully charged Powerpack from designated distributors in the neighbourhood, without having to invest in an off-grid power source, such as a solar panel. The project will set up 100 distribution agents and 10 service centers for the Powerpacks to reach approximately 8,000 households within 18 months. In addition the Powerpack will be used for mobile charging and powering radios, and hopes to create a new market concept for portable electrical energy distribution among the poor in Kenya.

“My model targets to reach the lower end of the market,” Rioba said. “We are doing this by using existing businesses and groupings without creating new ones. We are also sourcing directly from the suppliers and we are working our project on numbers. In this way the margins are very low but aimed at achieving high usage hence return on investment.”

Rioba has just been awarded funding by the World Bank’s Lighting Africa initiative, which aims to provide up to 250 million people in sub-Saharan Africa with access to non-fossil fuel based, low cost, safe, and reliable lighting products and associated basic energy services by the year 2030. It uses equipment that can weather long-term use in remote and difficult areas, trains people to service the equipment, and comes up with commercially viable business models to make all of this affordable to the rural poor.

Rioba says that “for solar to be more attractive in Africa, there are a number of challenges. On the technology side, to make products which are both durable and affordable to the masses. Such new products such as LED lighting may ultimately reduce the size of the solar system and hence the cost.”

In Laos, the rental mode is also proving effective. Only 48 percent of the country’s 5.7 million people have access to electricity, and most turn to firewood and kerosene for light and energy. Over 74 percent of people live on less than US $2 a day and could not afford to buy a solar-power system outright.

The company Sunlabob rents solar-powered lanterns for prices beginning at 35,000 kip (US $3.80) per month, lower than the 36,000 to 60,000 kip (US $4.00 to US $6.60) per months households typically pay for kerosene fuel. After 10 hours’ use, the lanterns are recharged for a small fee from the village’s central solar-power collection facility. All fees go towards maintaining the central solar recharging station. The equipment is rented to a village-appointed Village Energy Committee, which sub-leases it to households at prices it sets. Rent covers all costs, including replacements and operational servicing costs. In the event of breakdowns, rent payments are suspended until repairs are made.

Sunlabob has installed over 5,600 solar power systems since 2000 in over 450 villages and is also working in Cambodia and Indonesia.

“Sunlabob really works well with local people,” says Bouathep Malaykham, head of the Lao Government Rural Electrification Program. “Because they are a private company they can make things happen quickly.”

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

The Executive Director of IDCOL, Ehsanl Haque, told a recent press conference: “SHS system, containing photo voltaic panels, battery, charge controller, solar lamp and switch, is a convenient mode for supply of power for small electrical loads such as lights, radio, cassette players and black and white TV.”

It doesn’t provide electricity 24 hours a day, but Haque says even with a few hours of electricity available each day, the rural economy is being transformed. “Now they are using SHS for income-generating activities and working hours have been increased for small businessmen, weavers, tailors, hairdressers, and makers of handicraft items.”

Among the many benefits of the electricity has been the ability to listen to radio and watch TV: an activity women reported made them feel safer at night.

Published: September 2008

Resources

  • 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
  • D.light Design is dedicated to bringing modern lighting and power to over 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/
  • 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

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