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All-in-One Solar Kiosk Business Solution for Africa

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Kiosks are ubiquitous throughout commercial areas in the global South. These highly efficient little business outlets enable small-scale entrepreneurs to sell necessary products without the expense of renting and running a shop.

While they are a great solution for entrepreneurs and customers alike, they often lack connection to municipal services such as electricity and water. That means kiosk owners need to use batteries or a generator if they need a refrigerator to cool food and drink – an expensive proposition.

A new product launched this year in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia offers a solution.

Created by a team of German architects, the Solarkiosk (solarkiosk.eu) is an autonomous business unit designed for remote, off-grid areas. With solar panels across the top of the kiosk, it generates its own electricity and is basically a mini solar power plant. Inside, it is just like a conventional kiosk, with display shelves for products and a counter in the front with a flap – which can feature advertising and messages – that can be opened up for business and locked shut when the kiosk is closed.

The kiosk captures solar energy and the electricity generated can be used to run a computer, lights or a refrigerator. That makes the Solarkiosk capable of offering a wide range of services needing electricity, from Internet access to car-battery charging and mobile phone recharging – a now essential service as mobile phone use explodes across Africa.

The first kiosk was prototyped in November 2011 and the makers incorporated their first subsidiary, Solarkiosk Solutions PLC, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in March 2012.

According to Solarkiosk 1.5 billion people worldwide have no regular supply of electricity – 800 million of them in Africa. The makers of Solarkiosk consider this a huge market and hope to make the most of it.

The kiosk comes in a kit form ready for assembly. The kit is designed to be easy to transport and is light enough and compact enough to be transported on the back of a donkey, its makers claim.

Solarkiosk operators receive training in running and managing a kiosk. They learn about solar technology and how to maintain the kiosks and run a sustainable business. Once the operators are trained and up and running, they typically hire others to help with running the kiosk and offer the services at convenient times for the customers. The Solarkiosk then, potentially, becomes an income and employment generator for the local community.

The kiosk is designed to be durable, secure and difficult to tamper with from the outside. The kiosks have been designed to suit many environments and requirements. There is a basic platform that can be added to or expanded depending on local needs and a series of models depending on the customer’s needs. Cleverly, the largest kiosk model is powerful enough to provide electricity to telecom towers. This has proven attractive to mobile telephone companies who can power a telecom tower and make money from running the kiosk as well.

The Solarkiosk is especially useful for countries near the equator where nights are long (12 hours) and the kiosk can help people get light to read, study and work.

Solarkiosk is targeting off-grid customers who are using up to 40 per cent of their household income on electricity substitutes. According to Solarkiosk, people in off-grid households collectively spend more every year (US $30 billion) lighting their homes – using candles for example – than do all the people living in electricity grid connected countries (US $20 billion).

Solar technology is becoming more affordable at the same time as demand in developing countries for electricity and the products powered by electricity is on the rise. Mobile phones are now essential tools for doing business and staying connected – and all of them need to be kept charged up.

Solarkiosk believes it can save the average off-grid household US $10 per month, while each kiosk could supply solar electricity services to between 200 and 5,000 households.

For now, Solarkiosk is available in Ethiopia. It is based in Berlin, Germany and receives money from the German government. The kiosks themselves were designed and built by Graft Architects (http://www.graftlab.com).

Resources

1) How to maintain a solar panel. Website:http://www.ehow.com/how_2005490_maintain-solar-panel.html

2) How to start a kiosk business. Website:http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/63012

3) Kiosk Innova: A Turkish pioneer of hi-tech kiosks for retail services. Website:http://www.kioskinnova.com/english

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Southern Innovator was designed and laid out in Iceland using 100% renewable energy, much of which is from geothermal sources. 

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

© David South Consulting 2021

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Cuba’s Hurricane Recovery Solution

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions (Havana, Cuba), November 2008

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

The frequency of extreme weather in the past decade has been attributed to global warming (http://tinyurl.com/5peel). Many scientists believe the future will bring even more turbulent weather events and disasters. The devastation and hardship brought by natural disasters can eradicate development gains, and destroy livelihoods and health. It is critical countries help people to get back to their normal lives as fast as possible.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (http://www.ipcc.ch) says extreme weather events will become more frequent, more widespread and/or more intense during the 21st century. Extreme weather is already costly for countries in the global South. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) found that the cost of droughts, storm surges, hurricanes and floods reached a record US$210 billion in 2005.

The Caribbean island of Cuba (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuba) was particularly affected in 2008 by extreme weather, as the island was battered by two devastating hurricanes – Ike and Gustav – and a lesser one, Paloma.  It was the only time that three major hurricanes have hit Cuba in the same season, with just a 10 day gap between Gustav and Ike. The hurricanes were described as the “worst ever” storms by Cuban officials

The cost to Cuba has been high: Damages from Ike and Gustav are estimated at more than US$5 billion (http://tinyurl.com/ba7xny).

Between 2001 and 2005, Cuba experienced seven major hurricanes. Half a million houses were damaged, and 90,000 destroyed. In the 2008 storms, 619,981 homes were damaged and 70,409 destroyed, with 468,995 homes losing their roof tiles.

But Cuba has developed a pioneering way to quickly rebuild after disasters on a tight budget and using local resources. By using so-called ecomaterials – construction materials that are ecologically and economically viable – the Cuban approach erects sturdy homes, rather than just temporary shelters.

It is a common experience after a disaster in a developing country for all the resources to be spent on imported emergency shelter – tents, shacks, plastic sheeting – that then become permanent and inadequate homes. These makeshift dwellings provide poor security and shelter from the elements. For Cuba, the enormous scale of the repair and reconstruction job is especially difficult because of the fuel shortages and building supply restrictions brought on by the United States’ embargo on the country (http://tinyurl.com/4alwrb). In turn, Cubans are adaptable and creative with their solutions.

The Cuban approach builds permanent homes that can be expanded, teaches homebuilding skills and creates permanent employment in manufacturing building materials.

By developing technologies to manufacture building materials – bricks, concrete blocks, cement, roofing tiles, bamboo furniture – on site using local resources, the approach lets homeless people themselves rebuild sturdy, high-quality homes, rather than waiting for outside building crews to come and do it, or being dependent on expensive, imported building materials. By doing this, jobs are created and wealth and gets the community back on its feet after the disaster.

“This is all about going back to the roots: wood, concrete and bricks,” said the passionate brains behind this approach, Fernando Martirena, a professor at CIDEM  — the Centre for Research and Development of Structures and Materials — at the Universidad Central de Las Villas, in Santa Clara , Cuba (www.ecosur.org).

“The so-called free market has demonstrated it can not tackle this problem of the urgent housing crisis in the world.”

At the heart of the Cuban approach are easy-to-use machines that produce the building materials. They range from hand-cranked presses that make mud and clay bricks, to vibrating presses for concrete brick making.

Training the homeless population to do the building themselves allows reconstruction work to begin straight away, rather than waiting for professional building crews to arrive on the scene. It is also psychologically more empowering for the people to be active participants in the rebuilding of their lives. The pride the people have in their new homes is visible.

And quality has been critical for the programme so it can become sustainable and long-lasting:

“The driving force for this project is need,” Martirena said. “If we want to obtain sustainability, we must go beyond need. After disaster, need is the driving force. But after two years, when most things have been completed, it must be a business. Good, beautiful, cheap. Normally, this technology is cheaper than industrial technology.”

To stay prepared for future natural disasters that destroy or damage homes, the Cubans have established strategic reserves of micro-concrete roofing tiles. The lightweight but strong tiles can be used to quickly erect a small module home, and then the home can be expanded and built on as resources and time allow.

Martirena, a former UNHABITAT award-winner, believes this approach to building materials brings prosperity back to rural areas and helps stem the flood of people to cities and urban sprawl seen across the global South.

“You have to go back to the origin of the problem: people are looking for money and better jobs. It is not because they like the cities; they hate the cities!”

“Bamboo harvesting (for furniture making) can bring people three times more income than they would make in the cities. They are really making money.”

For Cuba, this has been a journey from a highly centralised and fuel-dependent approach to house building, to a decentralised, low-fuel approach. From 1959, the year of the revolution, until 1988, Cuba built housing using a centralised factory method to make building materials. Prefabricated houses were erected across the country. The materials were delivered by road and rail, all fuelled by cheap oil from the former Soviet Union.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, oil became scarce and the transport network the building industry depended on fell apart. This time was called the “special period.”

Apart from natural disasters, Cuba’s housing stock has suffered under the US embargo. The country’s housing began to decay as repairs were not happening and new houses were not being built. When people did want to do the repairs themselves, the lack of building supplies made it difficult for them to do so. Cuba realized it had to do things differently: the solutions had to be local, energy-efficient, and easy to use.

CIDEM oversees workshops, training and building teams across the country. It tests new materials and designs in its labs before they are deployed as building solutions. The ecomaterials are chosen for low energy use and the ability to recycle waste. Being inexpensive, they offer a sustainable solution for the poor.

In the community of Jatibonico, single mothers make up 40 percent of those who have benefited from the building projects. One woman proudly showed off the home she had built in the Spanish style, complete with Greco-roman columns on the porch. It has a clean, modern bathroom with shower and toilet.

Martirena is currently working on a book of case studies about CIDEM’s projects helping Cubans cope with reduced oil dependency.

CIDEM collaborates with universities around the world and has 19 workshops employing over 200 people in Cuba, and 15 in other countries in Latin America and Africa. It works with the Ecosur initiative and all the machines and advice on how to use them is available from the Ecosur website (www.ecosur.org).

Resources

  • “How Cuba Survived Peak Oil” is an award-winning film on how Cuba transitioned from a highly mechanized, industrial agricultural system to one using organic methods of farming and local, urban gardens. It is an unusual look into the Cuban culture during this economic crisis, which they call “The Special Period.” Website:http://www.powerofcommunity.org/cm/index.php
  • Global Greenhouse Warming is a website that tracks extreme weather events around the world: drought, flooding, severe storms, severe winter, tropical cyclone, wildfires, and extreme heat waves.Website:http://www.global-greenhouse-warming.com/extreme-weather.html
  • Cuba Hurricanes: Real-time reports of current hurricane threats to Cuba provided by an office in Old Havana. Also information on hurricanes of historical significance to Cuba. Website: http://www.cubahurricanes.org/
  • Gerd Niemoeller has developed flat pack, cardboard homes that can be deployed quickly after a disaster and can become permanent homes. Website: http://tinyurl.com/6t6jtf and the company website: http://www.wall.de/en/home
  • CIDEM and Ecosur specialise in building low-cost community housing using eco-materials. They have projects around the world and are based in Cuba. Website: http://www.ecosur.org

Sponsored by BSHF. BSHF is now called World Habitat and it aims to seek out and share the best solutions to housing problems from around the world.

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© David South Consulting 2021

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DIY Solution Charges Mobile Phones With Batteries

There are now more than 3.5 billion mobile phones in use around the world. In the past five years, their use and distribution has exploded across the global South, including in once hard-to-reach places in Africa. In fact, Africa is the world’s fastest growing mobile phone market. Over the past five years the continent’s mobile phone usage has increased at an annual rate of 65 percent – twice the rate of Asia.

The world’s poor are creative users of mobile phones, adapting these powerful tools to help with business, saving and spending money, and communicating with the outside world. As powerful as mobile phones are, they need electricity to stay functioning. And it is the struggle to find a steady supply of electricity that vexes many in the South.

There are wind-up mobile phone chargers, solar powered chargers (http://tinyurl.com/bg3wac), and mobile phone chargers you wave about. But most of these devices are, to someone who is poor and living in the South, expensive and hard to find. So what to do when it is not possible to buy a solar powered mobile phone charger?

Necessity is the mother of much invention. And one inventing mother is Mrs. Muyonjo, a housewife in a remote village of Ivukula in Iganga district, Eastern Uganda. She used to ride her bicycle for 20 miles in order to get to the nearest small town with an electricity charger for her mobile phone battery.

If that wasn’t a struggle enough, she was one day deceived by a vendor running a village battery charger.

“I will never give my telephone to the village battery chargers again,” she told the Women of Uganda Network (www.wougnet.org). “I gave them my new phone for charging, and they changed my battery and instead returned to me an old battery whose battery life can only last for one day.”

Ripped off by the vendor and unable to find the money or time to charge the battery daily, she decided to find an alternative charging solution.

“I looked at what was readily available to me and came up with my own charger. I devised this method to enable me to charge my battery every day. It works perfectly.”

A simple solution that shows there is no need to be a prisoner of technology, just its adaptor.

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

Published: February 2009

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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Google Books: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=mLKXBgAAQBAJ&dq=development+challenges+february+2009&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/DavidSouth1/development-challengessouthsouthsolutionsfebruary2009issue

Southern Innovator Issue 1: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Q1O54YSE2BgC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 2: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ty0N969dcssC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 3: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=AQNt4YmhZagC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 4: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=9T_n2tA7l4EC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 5: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=6ILdAgAAQBAJ&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

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Two-stroke Engine Pollution Solution

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

Cities across the South choke on the pollution made by the small two-stroke engines (http://www.howstuffworks.com/two-stroke.htm) powering motor scooters, motorcycles, auto rickshaws, tuk-tuks and other vehicles. People choose these vehicles to get around because they are cheap, powerful and easy to fix. But the environment – and human health – suffers as a result. And as cities balloon and populations grow, the number of journeys and two-stroke engines grows with it.

In large cities across Asia, 1 million three-wheeled auto-rickshaws form an important means of daily transportation, and a source of income for their drivers. And the Asian Development Bank estimates there are over 100 million vehicles using two-stroke engines in Southeast Asia. But these vehicles cause serious air pollution and emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), which contributes to global warming.

Because two-stroke engines burn an oil-gasoline mixture, they also emit more smoke, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and particulate matter than the gas-only, four-stroke engines found in newer vehicles.

In the Philippines, auto rickshaw drivers are pioneering specially adapted two-stroke engines that reduce particulate emissions by 70 percent and carbon dioxide emissions by 76 percent.

Tim Bauer, the 31-year-old American mechanical engineer who developed the technology, said auto rickshaws “play an essential role in the social and economic fabric. But their impact on public health is disastrous.”

Motorized tricycles produce an astonishing amount of pollution: each one is equivalent to 50 cars. In Bangkok, Thailand, two-stroke engines contribute 47 percent of pollution particulates in the air.

The World Health Organization (www.who.org) ranks urban outdoor air pollution as the 13th greatest contributor to disease burden and death worldwide. It has been estimated that the air pollution leads to the deaths of more than half a million people a year. About two-thirds of the residents of Delhi and Calcutta suffer from respiratory symptoms such as common cold and dry and wet cough, much of this caused by two-stroke engine emissions.

Two-stroke engines are highly inefficient users of fuel: up to 40 percent of the fuel and oil goes out of the exhaust pipe unburned. This exhaust is packed with oxides of carbon, nitrogen, sulphur, hydrocarbons and fine dust – all toxic contributors to air pollution.

But the attraction of these engines remains strong. “They are powerful, simple, reliable and robust,” said Bauer, “and spare parts are easy to find. They also have a long lifetime.”

Bauer faced some strict constraints in developing the technology.

“It had to substantially reduce emissions without impairing the engine’s performance. It had to be installed without machining the engine crankcase, and with only a basic tool set. Of course, it also had to be affordable for Filipino drivers.”

Using off-the-shelf components, Bauer developed a kit that turns two-stroke engines into fuel-injection machines. This adjustment reduced particulate emissions by 70 percent and carbon dioxide emissions by 76 percent. He now sells the kits through Envirofit, a non-profit organization (http://www.envirofit.org/). It has been pilot tested at two Filipino holiday resorts, Vigan and Puerto Princesa.

Auto-rickshaw drivers tend to be poor and earn on average US $3 to US $4 a day. The cost of fitting vehicles with Bauer’s new technology is met by microcredit.

“Drivers earn money daily, so it’s easy for them to pay back their loan, and 90 percent of them do it in less than a year,” he said. Over 260 taxi drivers have already installed the new kit.

“These drivers are at the base of the economic pyramid and these tricycles are a testament to their ingenuity and work ethic. At the end of the day, we can improve their lives with a cylinder head, a few brackets and, of course, hard work.”

Bauer pioneered his solution while working on fuel injection in snowmobiles at the Engines and Energy Conservation Lab at Colorado State University. He started to market the solution in Asia in 2004. Bauer has won a Rolex Award for Enterprise to pay for the distribution of the kits throughout Asia.

There is, of course, another solution: an outright ban or measures to push the vehicles off the road. In the Philippines’ San Fernando City, economic incentives were what drove the transition from two-stroke to four-stroke (less polluting) tricycles. In 2001, three-quarters of the city’s 1,600 registered tricycles ran on two-stroke engines. But after a city council mandate to totally phase out the vehicles by 2004, and offers of interest-free loans for down-payments on four-stroke models, more than 400 four-stroke tricycles had replaced the older two-stroke models.

When Bangkok toughened up vehicle inspections and emissions standards in 2000, two-wheelers made up over 96 percent of the city’s traffic. But by March 2004, they made up only 40 percent, according to Supat Wangwongwatana, deputy director general of Thailand’s Pollution Control Department.

Resources

  • Tukshop is a website selling auto rickshaws and tuk-tuks.  Website:http://www.tukshop.biz/
  • A wide range of auto rickshaws for sale.  Website: http://www.auto-rickshaw.com/ 
  • The Hybrid Tuk Tuk Battle is a competition to come up with less polluting auto rickshaws, clean up the air in Asian cities, and improve the economic conditions for auto rickshaw drivers. 
    Website:http://hybridtuktuk.com/
  • The Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities promotes and demonstrates innovative ways to improve the air quality of Asian cities through partnerships and sharing experiences. It is run by the Asian Development Bank together with the World Bank and the US Agency for International Development. 
    Website: http://www.cleanairnet.org/
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A new book launched in April 2019 by journalist Beth Gardiner (@Gardiner_Beth), “Choked: The Age of Air Pollution and the Fight for a Cleaner Future” (Granta) (University of Chicago Press), explores today’s global air pollution crisis in the world’s cities. Gardiner is an environmental journalist who writes for The New York Times, The Guardian and other publications (bethgardiner.com).  

Called “One of the Guardian’s Best Books of 2019“. The UK cover for Choked: The Age of Air Pollution and the Fight for a Cleaner Future (Granta, 2019).