Posts Tagged ‘renewable’

Berlin’s sustainable lifestyle is our emerging future

Workshop on making your kitchen sustainable, Berlin, 4th August 2018

Berlin is to an environmentally conscious, renewable energy, sustainable ecologically friendly lifestyle what Tokyo’s Harajuku Girls used to be to fast fashion. The pioneer, the path breaker, the evidence of quality of life balanced with conservation. I envy Berliners their city. It is a world city and its still affordable.

Bio is mainstream, not an organic premium, and at the airport the plastic bottle of water was priced 4 times as much as water in a recyclable cardboard container.

There’s no mountains to climb in order to live with a smaller footprint, more leisure time, the calm re-ordering of priorities, the half day off in the sun taking the toddlers to the public fountain to splash and play. This was my introduction to Berlin.

City dwellers would recognize the simplified hyperbole of a short term visitor attempting to grasp the entire sense of the city in a few short days, but forward looking companies, startups, spaces, and people abound. If a “Silicon Valley” of Germany emerges, it will be Berlin.

Rocket Internet is already headquartered there as are any number of startups. The ecosystem is so mature that its hiving off into narrower and narrower specialities. All of which is a good thing to happen as the range and diversity of sustainable solutions that meet the bar of a bunch of EU certifications and regulations is now wide enough and broad enough to show clear patterns of consumer behaviour transformation.

Its almost like Berlin is the living example of the Post Climate Hoax Adapt Immediately era, and its clearly an economically viable and feasible one. And nobody’s apologizing for eating less meat and more vegetables.

Tilting at windmills – inevitably renewable

Windmills, Holland October 1st, 2012

Why was it so hard for people to massively change energy infrastructure? There are parts of the world where as little as 10% of the population has access to energy. Innovative solutions and business models can be tested very easily. The latest we hear is MKopa from Kenya, attempting to implement a pay as you go payment plan via the SIM card and MPesa. This is initially available for solar power lighting solutions or home systems, I am not yet clear.

There are suddenly many variations on this theme – MeraGao in Western India, Eight19 also in Kenya, while Nuru offers energy as a service. In the next decade or so, we’ll have a better idea of what has emerged in the household energy solutions space. I suspect the existing model is already obsolete. Giant Asian cities like Manila and Singapore have begun pilot testing prepaid electricity which also tracks energy consumption, in the case of the island nation.

The ingenuity economy: grassroots social enterprises abound

Since I’d recently completed my review of Robert Neuwirth’s book, Stealth of Nations – The rise of the global informal economy, it struck me that what best characterizes this economic activity is captured by him here:

The French have a word that they often use to describe particularly effective and motivated people. They call them débrouillards. To say a man is a débrouillard is to tell people how resourceful and ingenious he is. The former French colonies have sculpted this word to their own social and economic reality. They say that inventive, self-starting, entrepreneurial merchants who are doing business on their own, without registering or being regulated by the bureaucracy and, for the most part, without paying taxes, are part of “l’economie de la débrouillardise.” Or, sweetened for street use, “Systeme D.” This essentially translates as the ingenuity economy, the economy of improvisation and self-reliance, the do-it-yourself, or DIY, economy.

Do those words not capture the spirit of innovation we so often discuss here?  The ingenuity economy seems to capture that essence somehow, though I doubt it would ever make it into general parlance. In any case, here are such two stories from Kenya – one regarding household solar power and one on potable drinking water – traditionally the purview of design students and social entrepreneurs everywhere.

Charles Otieno Ogwel is a school dropout who makes custom inverters for household consumption drawing energy from solar power. From yesterday’s Daily Nation article:

Mr Otieno is now lighting up rural homes where Kenya Power has not yet reached to provide electricity. At a cost of Sh12,000, a homestead will get electricity as his inverter converts solar energy into high voltage alternating current. One needs a solar panel, an accumulator, and the specifications of the domestic appliances to be used. Mr Otieno then determines, through calculations, the type of inverter, in terms of capacity, suitable for that home. He then makes an inverter that suits his clients’ need.
[…]
The father-of-three says he has spent more than Sh250,000 on research to come up with the modified gadgets and has sold close to 10,000 customised inverters.

Why aren’t all the solar power enterprises snapping up fundis like Mr Otieno? And from a slightly older article from the Business Daily  comes the story of these enterprising women from Kirinyaga who brought an organic, affordable and natural solution for water purification back from the Sudan. Here’s a snippet:

Victoria Kamwenja is one of the women now working to spread the word on the water purification in training sessions.

“When added to water, the crushed seeds attract particles of dirt that are floating in the water, including certain disease organisms. The dirt attaches to the seeds and they fall together to the bottom of the jar. Then you pour off the good water to drink,” said Victoria.

“The dirtier the water the more seeds you will need”.

Together the women are now selling the seeds to other households in other areas after offering training at a fee. Susan Kinya and Anastacia Nyawira are selling the seeds in four districts surrounding Kirinyaga where the Moringa tree doesn’t grow. They package the seeds in quantities sold for Sh10, Sh20, Sh50 and Sh100. In a single day in one district, the two women manage to sell seeds worth Sh5,000 on top of the Sh2,000 that they charge for the training. They hold their demonstrations at rivers, such as the River Chania in Thika District.

“It’s a good enterprise that has been keeping me busy since I retired as a school teacher. I am now planning to be the sole trainer of cheaper ways of purifying water in the whole province,” said Susan Kinya.

And there doesn’t seem to be any external agency involved, this is a homegrown women’s enterprise. One wonders whether they and the many others like them, particularly the makers and inventors, will ever come to the notice of investors wishing to make an impact among the communities?

Going solar as mainstream consumer choice

Supermarket solar display, Nairobi, Kenya June 2011

This shelf of alternate power supply equipment displayed in a Nairobi department store caught my eye.  It was in the consumer product section along with fridges, washing machines, TVs and a host of small appliances.  It was the first time I’d seen such a wide variety – batteries, solar panels, lamps – so casually displayed and in such a context.

Sunlite solar light, Nakumatt, Nairobi Kenya

Diesel generators and inverters are more common in India and certainly not displayed along with other white goods for direct consumer purchase. Seems like solar power is a mainstream consumer choice in the Kenyan market and worth exploring further.