ICE Cairo community paves the way for sustainable energy practices

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ICE Cairo community paves the way for sustainable energy practices

 

"Perhaps one of the most pressing issues when it comes to sustainability is energy production. Currently dominated by fossil fuels that are fast diminishing and highly polluting, governments and policy makers around the world have realized that the future of energy definitely lies in renewable resources.

The symptoms of Egypt’s heavy reliance on fossil fuels as its main source of energy are starting to surface and are being felt nation-wide. On the operational level, production is falling short of demand causing long queues at gas stations, power cuts are rampant nationwide in the winter as much as in the summer and fuel shortages — especially in diesel oil — have crippled industrial production.

Moreover, the energy subsidy bill is exacerbating the budget deficit and limiting the state’s resources. As the country moves into a post-revolution economy, decisions must be made on how Egypt will fuel its future: Should the country pour investments into infrastructure that further promotes a fossil fuel-based economy, or is it time for new and innovative energy solutions that are geared toward sustainability?

“It is really simple why you would use renewable energy in Egypt,” says Adam Berry, cofounder of ICE Cairo. “It’s a no-brainer to switch to something that doesn’t require a dependence on a scarce resource such as diesel fuel. You are not going to have any sun shortages in Egypt anytime soon,” he says.

ICE Cairo, which stands for innovation, collaboration and entrepreneurship, is an initiative that aims to provide a space for collaboration in promoting sustainable economic development. The way it works is that a challenge facing a community is identified and then solutions that create green jobs are proposed and pre-incubated.

“The way the process works at ICE Cairo is a need is identified, people who want to solve it get together, experts come in to make a prototype solution, test it, develop it and then build a business model around it,” Berry explains.

Solar solutions

One of the needs that were identified by the ICE community is the demand for sustainable energy solutions in communities that harbor ecotourism in Egypt. Finding diesel fuel in coastal areas like Marsa Allam and the Sinai is becoming extremely difficult and poses a challenge to tourism establishments. Add to that Egypt’s hotel policy that is shifting towards more sustainability by 2015 and an opportunity to promote off-grid renewable energy is born.

“When we were in one of the camps at Marsa Allam recently the diesel generator burnt down. The owner was faced with the choice of [investing] in a new one that costs over LE 60,000 or switch to renewable,” says Berry.

The energy requirements for any tourist camp can be divided into lighting, heating water, cooking and other miscellaneous uses like music and charging phones. The ICE Cairo community gathered experts in the renewable energy field and came up with three prototype products that can help substitute the need for diesel powered generators: a solar lighting unit, a solar water heater and a solar still which purifies water.

“The technology is really simple; for example, the solar lighting unit only needs a panel, a battery and an LED light all of which can be assembled here and would cost less than LE 600 per unit. The solar water heater is an even simpler affair; a box with an input for cold water at the bottom that would run through copper pipes inside the box [exposed to the sun’s heat] and an output of hot water that is connected to a tank at the top, which can also be assembled here and would cost around LE 600,” Berry explains.

For the camp owner, a simple mathematical calculation reveals that investing the LE 60,000 that it costs to buy the new generator in these innovative units instead, would actually be more economical. This is not to mention the priceless value of no longer being at the mercy of diesel fuel’s availability.

The ICE Cairo initiative goes beyond just solving the camp’s energy problems but also aims to create green jobs in the process by involving the surrounding community. “Our aim is to set up a training center in Marsa Allam where the locals would learn how to assemble, install and maintain the units. That way we are creating three green jobs, helping the camps transition to more sustainable practices and stopping the use of very noisy and polluting diesel generators,” says Berry.

The great thing about the ICE Cairo project is that it is ‘open source’ as Berry puts it, which allows for the implementation of the outcomes anywhere else that is off-grid like Marsa Allam, such as the Sinai.

Bio-digesters

Off-grid renewable energy solutions are not just viable for remote areas but can also be utilized in places with poor or lacking infrastructure such as in parts of Egypt’s urban areas and more so in the rural areas. One example of this is the lacking sewage systems in most of Egypt’s rural areas where bottomless septic tanks are dug into the ground adjacent to homes and which have to be manually emptied out. Often the sewage will leak into the ground water.

“This poses a serious health [risk],” says Berry. “If you look at a place like Abu Sir in Sakkara there is a very high incidence of pathogenic infection it is ridiculous. [Residents] there spend most of their income on [medical expenses].”

Furthermore, while residents of urban areas may have access to natural gas or readily available butane cylinders, rural inhabitants rarely enjoy these luxuries and sometimes resort to using firewood for cooking.

However, with a simple bio-digester these problems can be averted altogether. A bio-digester is a device that can be produced by local labor and with locally sourced materials and with it the waste can instead be treated and used to produce biogas.

“A bio-digester scheme would excel in this ruler setting. If the sewage no longer becomes a problem and is a solution that produces biogas, then you have a product that just keeps on giving,” says Berry.

The bio-digester scheme is being developed by ICE Cairo in collaboration with the Crown Field University, Mercy Corps and the German development organization, GIZ. It is a microfinance based scheme with the aim of having its cost below the threshold of what residents pay to clean their septic tanks.

“Right now we’re at the stage where we’re prototyping and testing. Once that is done and we understand the parameters of how much it costs to make it, what the outputs and inputs are and the actual specifications, then we can start modeling how best to have it made by communities and how to maintain it and develop a whole business ecosystem.”

Berry explains that perhaps the biggest challenge they face in implementing this project is the social aspect. While the bio-digester seems to be a fairly logical solution, it does necessitate that its users have to deal with animal or human waste.

“Socially there is nothing wrong with a solar light system and you’re not going to face any resistance. Biogas however uses sewage and waste which can be human waste or animal waste and in Egypt that’s a bit harder to sell,” he says.

Berry however says that there is a way around this which is simply creating a job to maintain the bio-digester. He asserts that if residents don’t have to do anything around it and it is below the paying threshold then it is fine.

“With this scheme you’re again creating three green jobs to manufacture, install and maintain the unit, and if you are aware of the fact that most of Egypt doesn’t have sewage treatment then it’s a potential market,” he says.

At first glance one might be inclined to think that the proposed solutions would not go as far as to solving our energy problems. However, it is with small grass root initiatives like this that ideas become valid businesses; and with the right policy and vision these businesses could become the mainstreamPerhaps one of the most pressing issues when it comes to sustainability is energy production. Currently dominated by fossil fuels that are fast diminishing and highly polluting, governments and policy makers around the world have realized that the future of energy definitely lies in renewable resources.

The symptoms of Egypt’s heavy reliance on fossil fuels as its main source of energy are starting to surface and are being felt nation-wide. On the operational level, production is falling short of demand causing long queues at gas stations, power cuts are rampant nationwide in the winter as much as in the summer and fuel shortages — especially in diesel oil — have crippled industrial production.

Moreover, the energy subsidy bill is exacerbating the budget deficit and limiting the state’s resources. As the country moves into a post-revolution economy, decisions must be made on how Egypt will fuel its future: Should the country pour investments into infrastructure that further promotes a fossil fuel-based economy, or is it time for new and innovative energy solutions that are geared toward sustainability?

“It is really simple why you would use renewable energy in Egypt,” says Adam Berry, cofounder of ICE Cairo. “It’s a no-brainer to switch to something that doesn’t require a dependence on a scarce resource such as diesel fuel. You are not going to have any sun shortages in Egypt anytime soon,” he says.

ICE Cairo, which stands for innovation, collaboration and entrepreneurship, is an initiative that aims to provide a space for collaboration in promoting sustainable economic development. The way it works is that a challenge facing a community is identified and then solutions that create green jobs are proposed and pre-incubated.

“The way the process works at ICE Cairo is a need is identified, people who want to solve it get together, experts come in to make a prototype solution, test it, develop it and then build a business model around it,” Berry explains.

Solar solutions

One of the needs that were identified by the ICE community is the demand for sustainable energy solutions in communities that harbor ecotourism in Egypt. Finding diesel fuel in coastal areas like Marsa Allam and the Sinai is becoming extremely difficult and poses a challenge to tourism establishments. Add to that Egypt’s hotel policy that is shifting towards more sustainability by 2015 and an opportunity to promote off-grid renewable energy is born.

“When we were in one of the camps at Marsa Allam recently the diesel generator burnt down. The owner was faced with the choice of [investing] in a new one that costs over LE 60,000 or switch to renewable,” says Berry.

 The energy requirements for any tourist camp can be divided into lighting, heating water, cooking and other miscellaneous uses like music and charging phones. The ICE Cairo community gathered experts in the renewable energy field and came up with three prototype products that can help substitute the need for diesel powered generators: a solar lighting unit, a solar water heater and a solar still which purifies water.

“The technology is really simple; for example, the solar lighting unit only needs a panel, a battery and an LED light all of which can be assembled here and would cost less than LE 600 per unit. The solar water heater is an even simpler affair; a box with an input for cold water at the bottom that would run through copper pipes inside the box [exposed to the sun’s heat] and an output of hot water that is connected to a tank at the top, which can also be assembled here and would cost around LE 600,” Berry explains.

For the camp owner, a simple mathematical calculation reveals that investing the LE 60,000 that it costs to buy the new generator in these innovative units instead, would actually be more economical. This is not to mention the priceless value of no longer being at the mercy of diesel fuel’s availability.

The ICE Cairo initiative goes beyond just solving the camp’s energy problems but also aims to create green jobs in the process by involving the surrounding community. “Our aim is to set up a training center in Marsa Allam where the locals would learn how to assemble, install and maintain the units. That way we are creating three green jobs, helping the camps transition to more sustainable practices and stopping the use of very noisy and polluting diesel generators,” says Berry.

The great thing about the ICE Cairo project is that it is ‘open source’ as Berry puts it, which allows for the implementation of the outcomes anywhere else that is off-grid like Marsa Allam, such as the Sinai.

Bio-digesters

Off-grid renewable energy solutions are not just viable for remote areas but can also be utilized in places with poor or lacking infrastructure such as in parts of Egypt’s urban areas and more so in the rural areas. One example of this is the lacking sewage systems in most of Egypt’s rural areas where bottomless septic tanks are dug into the ground adjacent to homes and which have to be manually emptied out. Often the sewage will leak into the ground water.

“This poses a serious health [risk],” says Berry. “If you look at a place like Abu Sir in Sakkara there is a very high incidence of pathogenic infection it is ridiculous. [Residents] there spend most of their income on [medical expenses].”

Furthermore, while residents of urban areas may have access to natural gas or readily available butane cylinders, rural inhabitants rarely enjoy these luxuries and sometimes resort to using firewood for cooking.

However, with a simple bio-digester these problems can be averted altogether. A bio-digester is a device that can be produced by local labor and with locally sourced materials and with it the waste can instead be treated and used to produce biogas.

“A bio-digester scheme would excel in this ruler setting. If the sewage no longer becomes a problem and is a solution that produces biogas, then you have a product that just keeps on giving,” says Berry.

The bio-digester scheme is being developed by ICE Cairo in collaboration with the Crown Field University, Mercy Corps and the German development organization, GIZ. It is a microfinance based scheme with the aim of having its cost below the threshold of what residents pay to clean their septic tanks.

“Right now we’re at the stage where we’re prototyping and testing. Once that is done and we understand the parameters of how much it costs to make it, what the outputs and inputs are and the actual specifications, then we can start modeling how best to have it made by communities and how to maintain it and develop a whole business ecosystem.”

Berry explains that perhaps the biggest challenge they face in implementing this project is the social aspect. While the bio-digester seems to be a fairly logical solution, it does necessitate that its users have to deal with animal or human waste.

“Socially there is nothing wrong with a solar light system and you’re not going to face any resistance. Biogas however uses sewage and waste which can be human waste or animal waste and in Egypt that’s a bit harder to sell,” he says.

Berry however says that there is a way around this which is simply creating a job to maintain the bio-digester. He asserts that if residents don’t have to do anything around it and it is below the paying threshold then it is fine.

“With this scheme you’re again creating three green jobs to manufacture, install and maintain the unit, and if you are aware of the fact that most of Egypt doesn’t have sewage treatment then it’s a potential market,” he says.

At first glance one might be inclined to think that the proposed solutions would not go as far as to solving our energy problems. However, it is with small grass root initiatives like this that ideas become valid businesses; and with the right policy and vision these businesses could become the mainstream"

Article by Amr Aref on Buisness Today  published on the 24th of March 2013. Read more on Ice Cairo here