In Cairo, drinking tap water is considered to be a game with rules similar to Russian roulette — the possibility of dying is high. The concentration of bacteria in the water is astounding and the majority of the population living in Cairo’s slums does not have access to the hot water necessary to cook and bathe.

On average, it takes a mother seven hours to bathe her children. She must retrieve water from a well and carry it in a bucket back to her home before warming it up on the stove before she can give any of her children a bath.

To increase the availability of hot water for people living in Coptic Christian and Muslim communities in Cairo, Solar Cities install environment-friendly solar panels on the rooftops of houses in the city’s poorer neighborhoods.

Solar Cities was started by two science Ph.D. recipients, Dr. TH Culhane and Dr. Sybille Culhane. The pair is currently working on their project, C.3.I.T.I.E.S., which stands for Connecting Community Catalysts Integrating Technologies for Industrial Ecology Solutions.

Dr. TH — Thomas Taha Rassam — Culhane’s project succeeds in generating 200 liters of hot water and 200 liters of cold water for each household every day. More than 30 solar water heaters line housetops in Cairo, providing many families with access to usable and drinkable water.

Situated primarily in the Coptic Christian community of Zabaleen and Darb Al-Ahmar, an Islamic neighborhood, Culhane works not only on providing residents with access to water but also on bringing the two communities closer together.

The idea for Solar Cities came to Culhane after he worked on projects in the Dayak of Boneo and Itza Maya jungle villages in Guatemala, and to gain a better understanding of the struggles of living under these conditions, Culhane and his wife moved into an apartment in Zabaleen.

There, they were able to gather practical knowledge on what issues needed to be resolved, namely finding an environmentally friendly way of gaining access to clean water.

The duo has since worked on increasing solar energy and clean water in Cairo and spreading innovative ideas throughout the Zabaleen and Darb Al-Ahmar communities.

As two science educators, they work to make their projects fun and interactive for all of their colleagues and the people they assist with the belief that creativity can lead to innovation, which in turn will make the world a more environmentally sustainable place.

Julia Hettiger

Sources: Matador Network, Egypt Independent, National Geographic
Photo: Google Images

How Renewable Energy Leads to Opportunities for All
Electricity connects people to opportunities such as the internet. The internet has multiple economic and social benefits and is increasingly the gateway to opportunities such as jobs and education. The number of new users has tripled in the past 10 years, but its adoption has slowed due to the lack of access to electricity.

Access to electricity is expanding in cities where they are adopting smart energy grids and building sensor-driven transport systems. In rural areas, electrification is progressing slowly.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, this is especially true, where the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates almost 1 billion will have electricity by 2040, but 530 million who live in the countryside will not.

There is a huge disparity in living standards and economic opportunities between cities and countryside. The world’s 600 largest cities generated $30 trillion GDP in 2007, more than half the global total. They are predicted to generate $64 trillion GDP (60% of total) in 2025.

There are two approaches to dealing with the disparities between cities and rural areas. The cheapest is what happens if nothing is done to address the problem: people move to cities for better economic opportunities. The second solution is rapidly establishing renewable energy and battery storage in rural areas.

Renewable energy is now more feasible given the advances in technology. They also make better use of scarce resources. The use of advanced batteries in electricity grids improves efficiency and allows energy managers to take electricity to remote and underserved areas.

An example of where this can be deployed is India. India could become one of the most energy-insecure countries with 300 million without electricity. However, given renewable energy technologies, it could expand electricity to about 80 million and 110 million in a small period of time.

China is already using digital technologies for ultra-high-voltage (UHV) transmission systems to transport its energy to parts of the country that use the most energy, but have no energy sources.

A South African company uses a combination of a solar charger and battery storage units in remote areas to allow consumers to be able to power mobile phones, computers, radios and lighting.

It would be great to see the development of large-scale renewable solutions continue. This would lead to the sun becoming the world’s largest source of power by 2050. As a result, those in the developing world would be using carbon-free energy.

Given that the per-watt price of photovoltaic cells dropped by 85% since 2000, the McKinsey Global Institute predicts energy storage production will be valued at $100 billion per year by 2025.

Paula Acevedo

Sources: Stanford Social innovation Review, United Nations
Photo: Pixabay

The Little Sun Charge, a solar­-powered phone charger, is finding success on Kickstarter. The project was launched as a part of the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative (SE4All), originated by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, which aims to ensure global access to modern energy services by 2030.

The Little Sun Charge is powered entirely by solar power and charges phones in less than five hours. Other conventional solar-powered phone chargers require between eight and twenty hours to charge a phone. The device is barely larger than a smartphone and uses a USB port, so it can power other electronic devices as well.

While marketed on Kickstarter for travelers, hikers, campers and freelancers, Little Sun Charge has particular relevance for those who live off-grid. With this device, phone ownership is a greater possibility, as those individuals could have a means to power their phone. Currently, 1.1 billion people live without access to electricity.

The project was initiated by Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson and Danish entrepreneur and engineer Frederic Ottesen.

The Kickstarter project has a fundraising goal of 50,000 Euros by the end of September; it is currently at 40,000 Euros and is expected to meet its goal. Proceeds from the project go towards support solar power initiatives in Africa and the SE4All Initiative.

Little Sun Charge is the second Little Sun project; the first was an LED lamp. 200,000 of these Little Sun LED lamps have been distributed in Europe, Canada, Australia, Japan and the United states in addition to 10 African countries, including Zimbabwe, Ghana, Senegal, Ethiopia and Kenya.

Both devices aim to support sustainable energy initiatives in Africa, especially solar entrepreneurship.

The charger is expected to be released in March 2016 at a retail price of 120 Euros. ­

– Priscilla McCelvey

Sources: Climate Action Programme, Wired,
Photo: api.ning

In 2008, solar panels were considered to be an enviable luxury. Beginning in 2013, the prices thereof began to lower, and this year the cost of solar technology is at a record low and can actually save thousands of dollars per year on electric bills.

There are still a lot of factors to consider where the installation of solar panels are concerned: how much sunlight hits the roof, the local weather, or if there are any businesses nearby where someone could be hired to install them.

Since so many people have asked Google about solar energy, engineer Carl Elkin came up with the initial idea that has since become Project Sunroof. This online tool takes the data from Google Maps and gives all the necessary information including how much money could be saved by installing solar panels.

In the next few months, the project goal is to expand to more cities, more countries and eventually become accessible worldwide. “Elkin writes that Project Sunroof is part of Google’s wider vision of accelerating the wide-scale adaption of zero-carbon energy.”

Solar panels, also called photovoltaic panels, turn energy from the sun into electricity. That energy is then synchronized to become compatible with the power grid in the home. This process actually saves energy that was formerly reliant on carbon energy and replaces it with something that is actually better for the environment.

A popular myth is that solar energy is unreliable, so people will avoid considering the technology until it improves. In actuality, solar panels generally come with a manufacturer’s warranty of 25 years and also requires little to no maintenance during its lifetime. There are few existing electronics to date with 25-year warranties.

So, with all of the existing benefits of solar energy to the environment and to the people who utilize it, the solar subscription service Bright has decided to bring those benefits to developing countries starting with Mexico.

“Working with local partners, Bright provides the software, financing, and maintenance. Using its software, it monitors installations and deploys partners to fix any errors.” These initiatives make energy more affordable and therefore, more accessible and enjoyable.

Project Loon gives the developing world access to the internet, and Project Sunroof combined with the initiatives of services such as Bright gives the necessary energy for not only the maintaining of devices that connect to the internet but also for everyday activities.

So, not only can the developing world be provided with water mills and food, but can even (for example) be helped with alternative methods of storing them and keeping them fresh for longer periods of time.

Anna Brailow

Sources: Voice of America, IFL Science, RE-volv, Bright
Photo: CS Monitor

The cost of energy is on the rise, especially in the hot summer weather. Solar panels are the equipment of the future for providing energy. Bright, a solar panel installation and distribution startup, has raised $4 million to provide free installation for solar energy in the developing world.

Last year, Bright began installing solar panels in Mexico. Specifically in Mexico, energy is expensive and involves a complicated process. According to the Mexican Federal Electric Commission, energy can cost upwards of $4,000 MXD ($240 USD) in the hot summer months.

This is a cost that most individuals cannot afford. There is a program in Mexico that subsidizes the energy costs for the poorest citizens, but it does not cover everyone.

This is where Jonah Greenberger, former Chevron executive and founder of Bright, saw the potential for solar panels.

Greenberger explains: “Solar is the path forward. Specifically, it’s a solution that doesn’t need to be centrally controlled and distributed (i.e. it can sit on roofs instead of in one large location in the desert), which means we can be independent from a totally government controlled situation.”

Bright will install solar panels for free and then provide a subscription service, a system which is similar to cable television in the United States.

Bright is able to have private investors cover the initial cost, and, over time, the private investors are paid back by the individuals paying for the subscription. The funding comes from a number of firms and investors including First Round Capital, Felicis Ventures, Max Levchin, Patrick Collison and several YC partners.

With the funding, Greenberger plans to hire and grow the team “so that we can tackle one of the largest and most significant challenges of out lifetime–delivering clean energy to a planet of over 7 billion people.”

To avoid higher costs, Bright does not build its own solar panels. Instead, Bright hires Mexican contractors to install ready made solar panels. This tactic decreases the cost to private investors, which eventually decreases the cost to individuals in the program. It also creates jobs to local contractors.

Although Bright is only active in Mexico now, they hope to take the same model to other countries where is believes it can do better than the government energy programs.

Bright is also working on improving their financial and solar software that would allow startup partners to sell, approve, install and verify installations. This would make Bright solar equipment available to more parts of the world.

Bright is paving the way for a more affordable and cleaner way to provide energy to the world. With this program, not only will people have access to affordable energy, but pollution will also decrease in the developing world.

Kerri Szulak

Sources: Founder World, TechCrunch
Photo: TechCrunch

In 2013, Gregor Schaper, a German entrepreneur, installed a series of circular solar panels in a town just outside of Mexico City. This is the home of Schaper’s Solar Reflector.

The Solar Reflector is comprised of solar panels that follow the course of the sun throughout the day to maximize absorption while focusing its light on one point throughout the year. This is similar to when a kid tries to use a magnifying glass to start a fire. The heat is collected as the Solar Reflector follows the sun and is then projected onto one specific spot in a kitchen.

This specific spot can reach up to 1000° Celsius, making it useful for baking, cooking and frying. The temperature is kept consistent with an integrated stone core in the kitchen. The Solar Reflector itself is made up of steel sections with highly reflective aluminum, cut into a 170-square-foot disks.

Trinysol, the company Schaper founded, manufactures the panels and cost about $4,000 to built. Despite the cost, once the Solar Reflector is built, it is free to operate and produces no greenhouse gas emissions. On average, each reflector saves 16 gallons of gas each month.

For small to medium sized businesses, this technology could be game changing. For small restaurants, bakeries and tortillerias, it could save money when the price of fossil fuels is high, creatubg jobs all the while. In addition, since the Solar Reflector projects the light right into their kitchen, it saves people from from going outside and braving the heat during the exceptionally hot summer days.

“Tortillería La Fe” in El Sauz near Mexico City was one of the first small businesses to use Schaper’s Solar Reflector. According to Schaper, the shop used to spend over $1,000 a month on gas in order to cook tortillas but now gets it for free with the Solar Reflector. The initial cost of the Solar Reflector is significant but the outcome is worthwhile.

Hannah Resnick

Sources: Empowering People, Future Challenges, Inhabit, Venture Beat
Photo: Inhabitat

Eden Full was 19-years-old when she dropped out of Princeton University to turn her high school science project into a global technology innovation. She created the SunSaluter, a solar panel rotator designed to collect energy and produce four liters of clean drinking water at the same time.

The SunSaluter is a low-cost solar panel placed on a single axis that rotates towards the sun. The solar panel is mounted on a rotating frame, with a weight suspended from one end, and a specially designed water clock suspended on the other. As the sun rises, the water clock is heated, which forces the water to empty through a purifier and into a container. This process produces four liters of clean drinking water each day.

The rotation is a passive movement that increases the efficiency of the solar panels by 30 percent. The SunSaluter is built using low-tech tools and materials, making it a perfect fit for the developing world.

Not only does the SunSaluter produce more energy that most solar panels because of it’s rotation, it also saves time and energy for those who use it, who otherwise would spend time collecting wood or spending money on gas and electricity. It provides families with electricity and clean water, providing them with resources they did not previously have access.

In 2012, Full installed the first SunSaluters in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. In an interview with Triple Pundit, she explains the value of the simplicity of the SunSaltuer. “A lot of the people, mostly women, who gather the water and who would be maintaining these devices, have never gone to school. So it’s very important to actually go out into the field to figure out what kind of technology is needed to match that lifestyle.”

However, the SunSaluter is still a work in progress. Full is working on a business strategy to fund the production, as well as to maximize the efficiency of the product itself. Full is bright and determined, and is pushing for success of the SunSaluter.

Hannah Resnick

Sources: Business Insider, Clean Technica, SunSaluter, Triple Pundit
Photo: Flickr

solar_lampsRoughly 25 percent of people in India do not have access to any electricity. For this reason, fossil fuels such as kerosene are often relied upon for lighting and other purposes. Kerosene lamps are expensive however and pose many threats to health and safety. Many dangerous particles are emitted when kerosene burns and prolonged exposure can cause multitudes of lung diseases such as tuberculosis, asthma and various cancers.

Known as indoor air pollution, these dangers are fully realized when paired with the fact that an estimated 1 in 3 Indian households use kerosene as their primary light source. Because women and children in India spend most of the time at home, they are the most at risk of exposure and adverse health conditions.

While full power grid integration would be the most desirable option for many villages, temporary solar energy units, such as solar lamps, can provide a steady and temporary solution to a monumental issue.

Ajaita Shah and her company “Frontier Markets” are working to help provide rural northwestern India with solar powered devices. Her inspiration for these efforts was the tragic experience of witnessing a young girl burning to death by a kerosene lamp.

Frontier Markets estimates that approximately half of their customers have absolutely no electrical access and the rest have only intermittent access. To date, Frontier Markets has sold over 85,000 solar energy products, and 225 retail outlets have been set up to offer after-sale service assistance.

Green Planet is another manufacturer of solar energy products and has distributed many of its units to Africa and Asia. There are multiple units that cost between US$11-40. The company started in 2009 and by 2012 had sold over 600,000 lamps in India. Depending on the model, lamps are between 4.5-6 inches in diameter and provide 24-30 hours of light on a full charge. There are plans to introduce models that double as phone chargers as well.

In India alone, the sales network has expanded from 600 in 2011 to more than 6,000 currently in five Indian states. The sales network is responsible for the sale of 40,000 lamps per month.

In regards to reaching even the most rural families, Radhika Thakkar, Vice President of global business development states, “Rather than selling our products through small retail shops that represent hundreds of products and lack the time to educate the consumer, our sales channel proactively gets the lamps into the hands of the families that need them.”

– Frasier Petersen

Sources: National Geographic, Lights for Life, CNN, NIH, The Guardian
Photo: CNN

In the developing world, when reliable power sources are not available, the poor may use relatively archaic, expensive and dangerous methods of cooking and illuminating their homes, like burning coal or kerosene. According to the World Health Organization, these practices kill up to 2 million people per year. Providing basic energy services to the poor is both a developmental and public health goal. It is also a huge, untapped market that requires a creative combination of financial innovation, social enterprise and old-fashioned legwork in the form of solar energy.

In India, up to 400 million people lack access to reliable electricity. Selling solar energy in India would help alleviate this problem but would be a huge leap forward in terms of economic development. In 2009, then-prime minister Manmohan Singh proposed a plan to increase Indian solar energy capacity to 20 gigawatts by 2020, where almost none had existed before.

While the plan was somewhat overly ambitious, it brought attention to the idea that international support is necessary to help develop the energy sector in low-income countries. The idea is that already-developed nations had the advantage of polluting, using coal and oil during their growth, and should now subsidize the clean energy projects of the developing world to help them keep pace with clean energy requirements, such as those set forth in the Kyoto Protocol.

International backing (in the form of foreign aid) would thus be a huge boom to India to escape what has been a developmental catch-22 for some of the poorest countries: assuaging accusations that it is not doing enough to curb emissions, while still providing critical infrastructure and basic energy services to its poorest citizens.

The first draft of the aforementioned solar energy plan involved a $20 billion subsidy by the Indian government, which Prime Minister Singh envisioned would be at least partially financed by international donors. Leena Srivastava of the New Delhi-based TERI energy research institute pointed out that the “Indian government expects international financing as well as technology at an affordable cost.”

International financing is relatively cut-and-dry; funding solar energy projects in India and elsewhere might take the form of traditional developmental aid. The U.S. might pursue such a strategy with the Electrify Africa Act of 2015, which is currently being discussed in the House. This plan directs the president to develop a strategy to increase the energy capacity of sub-Saharan Africa in order to drive economic growth and lift people out of poverty.

So, if aid is one pathway to providing basic energy needs to relieve poverty, what would a commercial solution look like? The answer might just be businesses like Ajaita Shah’s Frontier Markets. Frontier Markets, established in 2011, aims to sell solar energy products to rural, impoverished Indians who lack basic power services; it has moved about 20,000 solar units since its inception. The challenge is providing solar panels and lighting systems at price points that the poor can afford, as well as convincing them of the usefulness of clean energy and the health risks of traditional forms of energy. Shah points out that many other poverty reduction efforts are not possible without basic energy services, saying that “you cannot study at night without a light, you cannot run a shop without power, you cannot run a clinic with power [and] you cannot use innovative tools.”

The market potential for selling to those at the base of the economic pyramid is substantial, and so are its challenges. Bringing solar power to the estimated 114 million poorest customers in India is no easy task, and requires some socially conscious business practices. Traditionally, selling to the rural poor involved employing itinerant salespeople, which Shah argues isn’t sustainable or scalable. Rather, Shah distributes products to local retailers on credit and also employs microfinance techniques to make her products affordable for her customers.

If broad international poverty reduction efforts and socially conscious businesses such as Shah’s can find a way to reach the poorest in the developing world, they might turn them into the next largest emerging market for clean energy products.

Derek Marion

Sources: The Guardian 1, Frontier Markets, The Guardian 2, Ogunte
Photo: Freedom

After the devastating earthquakes in Nepal this past April, the co-founder of SunFarmer, Jason Gray, stepped into action. SunFarmer is a nonprofit organization that provides “robust solar energy” to communities removed from a major energy grid. They make solar energy systems called solar lanterns, to help individuals use sunlight as a key resource for renewable energy.

Gray believes that solar energy is leapfrogging the electrical grid in developing countries, just like the mobile phone leapfrogged the landline. SunFarmer offers affordable, risk-free energy for education, health and water projects. Their disaster relief in Nepal is focused on electricity generation systems for hospitals and relief centers.

In Nepal, an individual solar lantern can provide energy for a household, or better yet, three lanterns can power an entire hospital. These solar lanterns provide stable, constant energy to the hospitals, even though dramatic weather changes.

After the earthquakes, disaster relief came quickly to Nepal and medical supplies were donated, however, they could not be used until there was power, which is exactly what SunFarmer supplied. These renewable energy lanterns were essential in the disaster relief, as they supplied stability and reliability when it was most needed.

SunFarmer is focusing its attention on hospitals and water projects. When the earthquakes hit, they immediately mobilized 1,300 solar lanterns, 90 portable chargers and 2 water purification systems. In the following weeks, they raised approximately $3 million to allocate to Nepal for relief, mainly focused on providing water and electricity, but also helped import goods.

Back in 2009, Gray launched the first large-scale solar power project in Canada that proved to be successful, which showed him the possibilities for their use in developing countries. Gray is looking to expand his business to other developing areas, in hopes of helping before any disaster hits. Specifically, he is looking at rural agricultural areas that are stuck in the poverty cycle because they lack a reliable energy source needed for irrigation.

SunFarmer’s long-term goal is to power 4,000 hospitals, schools and water projects, impacting 7 million people, by 2020. They hope to make energy an affordable resource for people in developing countries.

– Hannah Resnick

Sources: CBC News, The Globe and Mail
Photo: Else Canada