Solar CITIES Water Heaters, Biogas Digesters Help Cairo Poor; Face Uphill Struggle for Adoption

Andrew Burger

Solar panels and bio-gas units made primarily from recycled materials and installed on building roofs in one of the poorest and most populous neighborhoods of Cairo are helping residents cut their energy bills, greenhouse gas emissions and waste, according to a report by IPS's Cam McGrath. One family man told McGrath that two solar panels and a biogas unit on his roof has lowered his monthly utility bill by almost 50%.

This and similar development projects led by Thomas Culhane's Solar CITIES (Connecting Community and Integrating Technologies for Industrial Ecosystems) are also unleashing innovation, creating employment and increasing self-reliance by tapping into local populations, helping them develop new skills and making use of affordable, primarily local , recycled materials and often simple but effective tools and technology.

"There is no 'one size fits all' in development and part of the problem is precisely that so-called 'experts' come in and try to promote products and designs that are inappropriate for the local community," Culhane is quoted as

Solar CITIES has built 35 solar water heaters in Egypt since 2007 and installed them on rooftops in underdeveloped areas of Cairo that frequently suffer from power and water cuts. Eight biogas digesters have been built so far. They convert organic garbage into cooking gas.

Competing Against Heavily Subsidized Gas & Electricity

Though cheap over the long run, one of the problems facing greater adopption of these alternative technologies and systems is getting enough money to pay for a solar water heater or biogas digester.

"It's hard to convince people here to invest in clean energy," one resident told McGrath. "As a household why should they invest up to 1,000 Egyptian pounds (182 dollars) in bio-gas when it costs just six or seven for a butagas cylinder, which lasts two weeks and is much easier to handle?"

With the Egyptian government subsidizing butagas and electricity heavily, it may take as many as 15 years to recoup the cost of a Solar CITIES solar heater or biogas digester, he continues. That may change sooner rather than later, however. The Egyptian government has said it plans to phase out energy subsidies in the next 4 to 7 years, according to the report.


Humanity In The Anthropocene


Thomas Schueneman