Alternative Energy

Published on January 5th, 2010 | by Jennifer Lance


Cairo Slums Benefit From Homemade, Recycled Green Technology

Alternative energy and green living are often criticized as being only accessible to well-off individuals in developed nations. Out of necessity, poor Egyptians have become a “model of clean energy living”.  Thanks to Solar CITIES (Connecting Community Catalysts and Integrating Technologies for Industrial Ecology Systems), co-founded by UCLA PhD candidate T.H. Culhane, impoverished residents of Cairo are building and living with green technology made from recycled materials. 

Photo by mshammaCairo slums benefit from homemade, recycled green technology

Cairo slums benefit from homemade, recycled green technology

Solar CITIES empowers local residents of differing faiths.  Specifically, the group works with:

the urban poor in Medieval Cairo’s Darb El Ahmar Slum, made up of Muslim craftpeople, and the Coptic Christian Garbage Recycling population of Manshiyat Nasser’s Muqattam Hills known as the Zabaleen. We conduct training workshops in the creation and installation of solar hot water systems using local and recycled materials and labor, and are exploring applications in biogas, wind power, aquaculture, hydroponic rooftop gardening, photovoltaic and concentrated solar thermal electricity generation and other forms of self-provisioning for the poor.

This unique approach to building clean, green technology from the waste that already exists in poor communities is empowering poor Egyptians.  Two successful projects Solar CITIES helps citizens build are solar hot water heaters and biogas digesters, all from recycled materials.  The biogas digesters take kitchen waste and turn it into cooking fuel.  Truthout explains:

The project leverages local experience and innovation to develop cheap and robust clean energy technologies adapted to the rigorous operating environment of Cairo’s poorest neighbourhoods…Using recycled materials, Culhane’s team was able to put together a solar water heating system for under 500 dollars. The system’s solar panels are built from scrap aluminum, glass, old copper pipes and styrofoam insulation. It uses two recycled 200-litre shampoo barrels as tanks, one for storing the water heated by the panels and the other as a backup water supply.

Such innovation is needed to solve our current climate crisis.  Mauro Cherubini explains one of Culhane’s ideas:

Thomas mentioned the fact that to build the heat collector he was using PVC bottles that he had to sew and glue together. These bottles are thought with a single purpose in mind: carry a liquid. What if we think about a second use for each of our packaging. He was thinking about a Cola bottle that could be used to build a heat collector once the cola was drunk. Instead of sewing and gluing the bottle itself was ready to be connected to other bottles without any extra effort. This might not make a lot of sense in our culture but in developing countries it would make the difference between a pile of junk and technologically advanced materials to build collectors.

Green technology should not be reserved for those that can afford to buy a finished product, but local innovation can make the difference on a global scale. Not only do such inventions curb greenhouse gas emissions, they create self-sufficiency and a standard of living for the world’s impoverished populations. Hussein Soliman, an Egyptian who has built a solar hot water heater and biogas digester on his apartment roof in “one of the poorest and most populous neighborhoods of Cairo” proudly states, “My garbage man kisses me because I have the cleanest garbage on the block.”

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