Solar Power isn't Feasible!

Solar Power isn't Feasible!
This cartoon was on the cover of the book "SolarGas" by David Hoye. It echoes the Sharp Solar slogan "Last time I checked nobody owned the sun!"

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Disneyfication of Darb Al Ahmar and the Battle for the rooftops of old Cairo...

(The solar hot water system on Am Hussein's roof that he is now being forced to remove because the look of it "might offend" privileged visitors to Al Azhar Park who supposedly want to look down from their expensive meals in the park and see the roofs of the community restored -- "Disneyfied" -- to the way they looked 700 years ago)

(Am Hussein's daughter and grandson demonstrate the way their family has been heating its water for the past 70 years, before they built their solar hot water system last month -- on a kerosene stove in the dark narrow stairwell, to avoid inhaling the toxic smoke and in an attempt to protect the children from getting burned. Now they must go back to this dangerous system because some park planners object to their solar roof.)

This is hardly Darfur, but the recent controversy in Cairo over the US AID Solar Roofs project is worthy of attention as yet another, albeit low-grade, African tragedy in the making.

(Of course it could get much worse if Egypt, at a fork in the road between pursuing large scale solar projects such as the 20 MW solar thermal plant being built in Kuraymat, and pursuing the government's recent announcement to counter Iran's move by pressing for their own nuclear power program, chooses the latter. Far from merely having the "threat" of warm water leaks to deal with, Cairo will have to deal with Chernobyl-like leaks of radiation (especially in a country where entire buildings collapse with alarming frequency because of inferior materials, workmanship and code inspections) and the possibility of terrorist appropriation of nuclear material!).

What is the issue now?

It appears that the Cairo urban solar roofs project in Darb Al Ahmar is stalled and under threat.

And there is something you can do about it by making your voice heard!

The issue at hand is the attempt by a group of obviously moneyed stakeholders who purport to align themselves with the "El Eskan Population Section" (probably acting on advice of foreign consultants) to block the building of solar hot water collectors on the roofs of houses in Darb Al Ahmar along the Ayyubid Wall, stating that they are "not good looking beside the garden" and will somehow "spoil the view from Al Azhar Park".

This is what was told to Solar CITIES green collar trainers Hanna Fathy and Mahmoud Dardir and their team of Solar technicians when they tried to continue the US AID funded project in Darb Al Ahmar!

The official excuse given out to the media, of course (sadly reported and distorted at the conclusion of the recent National Public Radio piece on the project) is that the locally made solar hot water systems are as yet "unproven" and "might leak", and that by halting the creation of more solar roofs officials can buy time to "work out the kinks" and "rectify problems" before disseminating solar energy further. They claim that otherwise residents will be "reluctant" to accept solar energy, as though the people whom we have arranged to work with on the first 15 experimental systems (who must currently boil water on the stove with danger to life and limb) are reluctant to receive a free solar hot water system and training in its construction and use, especially with the guarentee we've given that we will maintain it, if they aren't satisfied we will remove it at our expense. The whole point of the program was that the first 15 systems would be "experimental" systems and the residents know that. By stopping production of the remaining experimental systems you actually stop any ability to "rectify problems", and simply shut down the initiative altogether. Thus, in claiming they are committed to the project but halting it to help build acceptance, the officials are in fact eroding confidence in the project and breeding more reluctance (in a patron-client state like Egypt the attitude can often be "if the officials don't sanction it, or have put a temporary stop to it, there must be something wrong with it)!

The notion that the systems our team builds might somehow "not work" was unfelicitously reinforced by a satement that I was recorded making when we were dealing with a minor float valve/ flow rate issue on Am Hussein's system (the float valve was 5 cm too high, meaning that it stopped hot water flow to the house after a few minutes of use because the discharge rate was greater than the inflow rate. It was a truly minor problem that was easily corrected). NPR recorded me saying that we faced challenges building systems because there is no "standardization" in the materials we buy in Cairo. I did not mean to say that we hadn't or couldn't surmount every challenge! It was true that in the development phase of our project a year and a half ago we had two minor incidents of leaking tanks that actually helped us come up with the pioneering and innovative idea of using Zahran float valves and plastic tank nipples. It was useful because the entire community uses blue plastic tanks for cold water storage and face the same leakage problems (which doesn't stop them from using them!). By incorporating these same local tanks into our solar systems we came up with an innovation (using local inventor Magdy Zahran's special plastic parts instead of the standard rust prone metal parts) that solved the leaking problem for everybody, solar and non solar users alike!

Furthermore, since that time way back then, before we were even awarded the US AID grant for dissemination, there have been NO leaks. But THE FACTS have historically never stopped people from finding ways to attack discredit or stall the solar industry! So Cairo is just going through the same battle we wen't through in California in the 1970s and 80s, when similar issues were raised against solar heating that halted implementation for a good twenty years!

The "need for more testing" excuse is of course contradicted by the fantastic success of the same program in Manshiyat Nasser, where 10 well-functioning systems are currently in operation, and more are being built every day, increasing the capacity, understanding and acceptance of the whole community, and in Darb Al Ahmar itself, where the 3 systems we did install have been working well consistently, one of them for over a year.

Furthermore, stopping the solar builders from coming in and building more units stops any further testing and completely defies logic, since the only people who would be able to work out any kinks, if there still were any, are these same green collar Solar CITIES workers themselves, since nobody else works on solar hot water systems in the area or even cares to go and inspect them!

But the Solar CITIES team are being told not to do any more work, not even to go around "rectifying any possible problems" and the halt in building and possible experimentation thus puts them out of a job. Are they expected to sit at home and wait to see if they get a call saying "hey, a pipe is leaking" before resuming their work? Or would you think they could better keep on top of things by working with the community on a daily basis to build a larger experience base?

The official "wait and see" excuse would also not explain why there is pressure for the residents along the wall who have perfectly well functioning solar systems to remove them!

It seems the nascent Egyptian program in increasing the number of green jobs is having the same growth pains other countries went through when our Zeitgeist still favored the status quo. Aesthetics and perception, and the desire to Disneyfy Darb Al Ahmar, I argue, are more to blame for this controversy over solar roofs.

But we CAN accelerate Egypt's transition to a green economy if we pull together on this and make our voices heard.

Background and Importance of the Project:

Al Azhar Park, as some of you know, is the first "green space" built in Cairo in over a hundred years. Until 5 years ago it was a massive garbage dump, an eysore and a health hazard to the communities surrounding it. Today, thanks to the magnificent planners and architects of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, it is a glorious botanical garden filled with fountains, lakes, waterfalls and meandering streams that hosts 3 beautiful fine restaurants. It has also been the host to several World Environment Day festivals.

At the base of the park is the newly restored ancient Ayyubid Wall, and behind that are the recently renovated homes of the urban poor who have put their faith, trust and confidence in the Aga Khan Trust for Culture to help them improve their environment and their lives.

Most of the rooftops on the dwellings in this part of historic Cairo are now covered with garbage and broken furniture and create quite an eyesore, but on the roofs of the renovated houses the marvelous local Environmental NGO's have started building rooftop gardens and solar hot water systems.

(This expensive hi-tech professional "evacuated tube" solar hot water heater, purchased from RSD technologies by the Environmental NGO "Roh El Shabab" and donated as a gift to the AKTC restoration project, serves three families near the ancient Ayubbid Wall. It is also visible from the park and was intended as part of an awareness campaign for the potential of solar power in urban Cairo. Because there is often no water in the community, it requires an elevated cold water storage tank. One of the chief objections to rooftop water systems in old Cairo by the "aesthetic imperialists" is the look of the water storage barrels, but without them families in the area have to go for long periods without any water at all)

These systems and the families who own them now seem to be under threat by people who seem to believe that architectural "orientalism" (Edward Said's term for the western ideal of making Arabic speaking peoples play a Hollywood-style role as romantically conceived but backwards antitheticals to the modern European) is more important than the welfare of the people who live in historical communities. We call this a form of architectural imperialism.

When Liane Hansen from National Public Radio came out to do an NPR special on "Climate Change and Cairo" (airing this Sunday) the team was treated to a visit to one particular roof, that of local carpenter Am Hussein, who was born in and has occupied his building along the Ayyubid wall for 70 years. He was one of the first of those who had paid their 30% of the cost of renovating their ancient homes (the AKTC takes care of the other 70%) to actively request an experimental home-made solar hot water system built by the Roh El Shabab Solar CITIES team using the US AID small infrastructure funds. And he was proud to show it to the foreign visitors, who were equally delighted to come up on his roof see it in operation, and glad to know others who couldn't find the time to come into the ancient residential area could still see it in all its glory from the park.

Up until last month, when the "Do It Yourself Solar Hot Water System" was built and installed, Am Hussein and his family had been forced by economic circumstances to heat their water on a "babur" -- a traditional brass kerosene pump "camping stove". They had to light the stove and do their water heating in the narrow stair-well, because the stove gives off massive quantities of hazardous black smoke that fills the house and blackens ceilings and walls and the lungs of the children.

(Am Hussein's curious grandchildren approach the smokey fire while their mother runs in the house to get a water can to heat to prepare their baths -- an all too typical dangerous moment in the daily life of the urban poor)

The use of these stoves not only makes it impossible to keep paint on the walls (because of the layers of soot they create) but, according to an Ain Shams Hospital report in Burns magazine, caused over 300 burns to children and an average of 13 children's deaths over a 20 month period in their hospital alone. 56.7% of the children were victims of scalds from hot water and 38.6% of were victims of open flames, as shown in the pictures above.

These statistics, reported from Badawy and Mabrouk (1999) are reproduced below, and are particularly relevant to the Solar CITIES study, which showed that out of 463 families, 212, or 55.8% (66% of 232 Zabaleen families, and the 25.6% of 231 Darb Al Ahmar families), must heat their water on some kind of stove because they are unable to afford rising electricity and gas costs.

47.4% and 19.9%, respectively, heat their bath water in the kitchen, and, because many of the stoves are portable, many actually heat their water in the living room, or, as in the case of Am Hussein's family depicted above, on the stairwell! These, then become additional sites of accidents.

("The place of accident was the home in 223 cases. In 140 cases one of the parents or a guardian was present at the time. The kitchen was the commonest room followed by the bathroom especially in patients who lived in slum areas where water supply systems are deficient and kerosene stoves are used to boil water. This makes children more prone to stumble over the boiling water and suffer flame burns (Table 2)" Badawy and Mabrouk (1999)).

("Scalds were the commonest etiology of the burns in our population. 173 patients (56.7%) of the total childhood burns were due to scalds. Hot water was the commonest cause of scald. The study showed that 118 patients (38.6%) were due to flame burns with kerosene stove explosion as the most frequent agent. In 9 patients (3%) the cause of burn was electrical while chemical burns were the cause in 5 patients (1.6%) (Fig. 2) Badawy and Mabrouk (1999)).
(Badawy and Mabrouk (1999) report, "There was a much-increased incidence of childhood burns during wintertime (44.27%) and springtime (25.57%) rather than summer (18.36%) and autumn (11.8%). This is due to the boiling of water for baths or lighting the fire for warmth (Fig. 4").

Still, families like Am Hussein's can ill afford much else -- electricity costs are rising precipitously, as are gas costs, and both of those systems also carry grave risks, particularly in buildings with inadequate grounding, wiring and piping. One article in an Egyptian newspaper called the poorly manufactured gas canisters used to heat water in other homes "time bombs waiting to go off" and many local plumbers and residents talk of electrocutions from electric heaters.

(Local children in Darb Al Ahmar carrying what one journalist called "time bombs" -- canisters of compressed gas, to heat water for bathing. Gas canister stoves are considered safer than kerosene stoves because the natural gas is cleaner burning, but they have an unfortunate tendency to explode...)

The Egyptian poor, therefore, often risk paying for hot water with their lives.

For Am Hussein's family, when interviewed by NPR, it was clear that the solar hot water system donated by Roh El Shabab ("Spirit of Youth") was a life changer, and possibly a life saver. Solar hot water is, of course, 100% safe, providing flame-less, smokeless, 40- 50 degree bath water in the winter, yet never reaching scalding temperatures at point-of-use.

For the first time in their lives (in the case of Am Hussein himself that means over 70 years of struggling to get hot water!) this large family could simply turn the faucet and take a hot shower. No more lighting up the kerosene stove, shooing the children away from the flames and smoke, tending the fire until the small water can boiled and carrying it to the bathroom to ladle precious scoops of hot water onto one's back. For the first time they could enjoy a steady stream of relaxing hot water, with no wait time to bathe each of the many family members.

The solar hot water systems (built by Roh El Shabab and field tested successfully in homes throughout the Zabaleen Garbage Recycling Community), not only provide 200 liters of hot water per day to Am Hussein's family (this amount can serve up to 10 family members comfortably) but also provide 200 liters of rooftop cold water storage to help them get through the many days when water is cut in the community.

A dream come true, providing dignity and comfort to Cairo's urban poor.

But this week that dream was shattered when a group claiming to represent the interests of the Al Azhar Park Residents told Roh El Shabab's solar technicians they could no longer build any solar hot water systems on any roof visible from the park, and that they must remove Am Hussein's coveted family system.


Because solar hot water systems allegedly "spoil the view" for tourists visiting the Al Azhar Park, who want to look down upon a Disneyland version of "Medieval Cairo".

(Moussa and Hanna inspect one of Roh El Shabab's successful solar hot water systems under the pigeon coop of their solar-tech-colleague Imad's house in the Zabaleen community. Nobody has complained about the aesthetics of solar hot water systems in the garbage recyclers neighborhood, mainly because tourists don't go there. The solar roofs project of the urban poor of Darb El Ahmar is being targeted because what used to be a garbage dump towering over their community is now a playground that caters to rich tourists. Gentrification of historic Cairo is soon to follow if planners are not careful).

According to the individuals who claim to speak on behalf of El Eskan and who apparently have considerable influence over the community restoration project, rooftops along the Ayyubid Wall and visible from the park should not have any technologies on them that were not present in the area hundreds of years ago! These people appear to be either anti-environmental technology or unwilling to embrace win-win postmodern solutions to conquering underdevelopment.

(Roh El Shabab ("Spirit of Youth") solar technicians Romani, Moussa and Hanna, assemble their do-it-yourself solar hot water system on Am Hussein's roof in the cool evenings after the sun has gone down. In the background you see the lights of one of the posh Al Azhar park restaurants, from which the solar hot water system is visible. Apparently what stakeholders in this participatory community development project thought would demonstrate to rich visitors and tourists the entrepreneurial and progressive nature of Cairo's civil society fighting poverty and global climate change is now being challenged by the the scourge of "Orientalism" -- the desire by some people to remake historic parts of Arab countries into never-never-land "theme park" attractions).

The Disneyfication of Darb Al Ahmar demands a certain fantasyland aesthetic, and some European architects I have met in Cairo (a few who were associated with the park project) have defended the idea that, no matter what the poor think they want or need, they should be prohibited from having satellite dishes, rooftop water storage tanks, solar hot water systems and other "unsightly" technologies that conflict with the aesthetics of the elite who look down on them, figuratively and literally, from Al Azhar Park.

This is especially sad for Am Hussein and his family, who recently paid long saved money to have a small satellite dish installed on the roof while Roh El Shabab's Solar CITIES team was at work on his solar hot water system. The family was excited to be on the cutting edge of the best technologies that globalization and environmental stewardship have to offer. They were excited to finally be connected to the world in a meaningful way, and thought their location, adjacent to and visible from the now famous park, would be a good thing for everyone.

They were proud to show off their systems to the NPR folks from Washington D.C., and hoped many more people would come and visit so they could explain how the poor can help fight climate change and poverty at the same time if given an initial helping hand and if connected to the outside world (almost all poor families we surveyed used their limited savings for cell phones and satellite dishes, telling us that "to be cut off from the world and unable to participate in the global conversation is the worst nightmare -- how does one move ahead in isolation and ignorance?" This is also the message of Hernando DeSoto's "The Mystery of Capital").

NPR Producer Davar Ardlan, Egyptian Media Producer Sara Abu Bakr, NPR host Liane Hansen, NPR producer Ned Wharton, Roh El Shabab Solar CITIES coordinator Hanna Fathy and Solar technician Moussa atop the Ayyubid Wall next to Al Azhar park while taping a segment for National Public Radio on how Solar Hot Water systems in the community help fight global warming and poverty)

But now those dreams are threatened and the fate of the entire Solar CITIES project hangs in the balance.

The moratorium on building more solar hot water systems has created a devastating period of unemployment for the newly trained Roh El Shabab solar technicians, who have been laid off this month while architects, engineers and local stakeholders try to work out a compromise. Given that they are also from a poor community, this standoff is unfortunately forcing them to find other jobs and is dampening their enthusiasm for working in what now appears to be a politically volatile renewable energy field. They are feeling discouraged, wondering how to proceed if such projects don't have support from the elites who control domestic affairs. As one contact from an Egyptian Environmental NGO recently reported, "the environment no longer seems like it is a priority for the AKTC or Al Azhar Park". The lack of activity, in turn, has created doubts in funding agencies whether to continue putting money into environmental projects in the inner city where the slightest political controversy can shut everything down.

And for what? All for the aesthetics of some romantic "variations on a theme-park" notion of what "the Eastern other" should look like to Western eyes (whether in the eye sockets of foreign or local heads). Edward Said, may he rest in peace, would be appalled, for it was just this sort of intense "othering" he detested.

You can travel north and cross the border to Israel and Palestine and see how the architecture of these beautiful countries celebrates solar energy and other brilliant technologies, and how the cultures deftly blend the ancient and the modern in a delightful post-modern pastiche. In fact, looking across the venerated wailing wall of Jerusalem to the holy Al-Aqsa mosque at the Dome of the Rock one counts at least 10 solar hot water systems and as many as 30 water tanks blessing this sacred architecture.

(Click to enlarge this Bruno Barbey photo from a German newspaper of the Holy City of Jerusalem and you can see the solar panels that connect the sacred terrestrial architecture to the holy heavens above)

You can cross the Mediterranean to Spain and Greece and see countries awash in solar panels, where the selling point of many visits today is how they are fighting climate change and inflation and making their countries the most advanced environmentally friendly nations "under the sun", while preserving their ancient heritages. Spain actually has a law that all buildings being built or renovated will have solar panels installed.

(Luxury villas in Rota, Spain, with two different types of solar hot water collectors on the roof)

(Solar thermal panels line the roof of "Hotel Playa de La Luz", an appropriately named luxury getaway on the southern coast at Rota, Spain).

Only the Middle East, Edward Said argued, is forced to "stay backward" as it moves forward, in order to satisfy some fetish that outsiders have with "the orient". That is what "Orientalism" is all about.

But other Arab countries are actually taking the bull by the horns and resisting such Orientalism. Tunisia, working with UNEP and the Italian government and a consortium of energy and utility companies, recently switched its subsidies from gas, oil and electricity to solar energy, providing solar roofs for its citizens (see "PROSOL, the Solar Water Heating Loan Facility, investing in a climate of change").

And Dubai and Abu Dhabi, with their "Masdar" ("source") Clean Energy Initiative, are vying to become solar leaders for the 21st century.

Ironic and sad, then, that Cairo, the former cultural capital of the Arab World, is now caught in a vise grip between radical fundamentalism and radical orientalism, neither of which are any good for our Arab or North African identities.

To sadly quote Dwight D. Eisenhower (via William Gibson's "Pattern Recognition") Cairo is "more the way it is now than it has ever been."

This could, however, be a pivotal moment for increased awareness, global solidarity and community participatory development. As Dr. Laila Iskander, founder of the Spirit of Youth NGO that runs the Solar CITIES project in Cairo pointed out in her article in Al-Ahram Weekly,"Advocating for the poor does not mean taking an adversarial stance. Rather, it is the act of presenting viewpoints seen through a lens that might differ from the one used by policymakers -- one that is more connected to the reality of people living in informal settlements."

If you feel moved by this sad turn of events, and would like to get involved, please write to and support the wonderful and visionary architects on the ground at the AKTC, Kareem Ibrahim and Naveen Akl, and Urban Planner Seif Rashidi, who have been supporting our effort to bring clean, low cost and safe environmental technologies to "medieval Cairo" for the past two years. Address an email to the Aga Khan Development Network by using and cc:ing the following email addresses:

In Switzerland at:


at the Aga Khan Project for Islamic Architecture at Harvard University at:

and at the Harvard Graduate School of Design:

at the Aga Khan Project for Islamic Architecture at MIT at:


and of course in Egypt at:

If you care about a clean solar powered Egypt, tell them how you, as a potential visitor to Cairo and Al Azhar park, would feel if you could have a lunch at the lakeside cafe and look down to see rooftops gleaming with solar panels that help the urban poor living on the other side of the wall to lead dignified lives without fearing injury or inflation.

Share with them the idea that besides helping the poor, you feel that such solar roof projects can help reduce Egypt's domestic consumption of gas and electricity so that the government can safely and harmlessly remove the energy subsidies that are crippling the economy (over LE 50 Billion per year) and export gas and electricity at full market value for much needed hard currency. To stall such efforts for what amount to "orientalist aesthetics" is criminal.

As it is the supposed values of the hypothetical foreign or rich, elite visitor to the Al Azhar park that is driving this battle for the rooftops of old Cairo your voice is important in the debate.

Perhaps if the AKDN project leaders in Geneva, Switzerland could hear enough voices defending the right of the poor to access the benefits of globalization and the technologies that can protect us all from devastating climatic and economic changes, they will put a stop to those who have put a stop to the Solar CITIES initiative!

And perhaps, if the leaders in Geneva, and the local leaders, all see that a million solar roofs in this city of near 20 million would actually ATTRACT tourists and make their very laudable renovation project really shine, they too will be moved to invest in environmental technologies in their restorations, and move Egypt closer to a future that shines brighter because it relies on sunshine!

(Spirit of Youth (Roh El Shabab) NGO staff member Amal Nabil sits with Solar Energy consultant Thomas "Taha" Culhane planning the location of Solar CITIES hot water systems using Google Earth. The irony is that before placement and construction, Darb Al Ahmar community members, AKTC architects, planners and environmental NGO members all had extensive meetings and decided that locations on renovated buildings near the Ayyubid wall were the best location for the US AID infrastructure initiative precisely because of their visibility. Only now that they are installed and operating and the awareness and demand from neighbors is rising are the "aesthetic imperialists", who were never interested in being part of the community participatory planning process, demanding their removal and halting further construction.)

(In this picture, Roh El Shabab NGO staff explore the placement not only of solar roofs, but of rooftop biogas facilities that can run on city garbage and pig waste, for homes that don't get enough sunshine. Solar panels already built are indicated by the orange "sunshine icons" on the map, which can be downloaded for Google Earth on your own computer here. The use of architectural models generously provided by the AKTC, modeled in Google Sketchup and 3D Game Engines like "Elder Scrolls Oblivion Construction Set" enable good planning: local NGOs can now model angles of the sun and needed pipe lengths from the computer. Local Proctor and Gamble officials have offered to help find funding for the effort in Manshiyat Nasser; the jury is still out whether such innovative projects can be extended to historic Cairo, where environmental priorities are currently taking a back seat to cosmetic changes.)

(Meanwhile, across the Mediterranean, The Spanish Government's feed-in tarrif law encourages architects to grace every possible rooftop with sail-like solar thermal and, as in this picture, photovoltaic panels, making buildings in southern Europe seem as if they were "setting sail toward a brighter future".)

(Spain has also built the world's largest "solar power towers", using world-class architects to design veritable "cathedrals of solar energy" that beautify the landscape, literally glowing in beams of reflected sunshine.)

This one solar power tower in Islamic or "Moorish" Spain near Seville produces 11 Megawatts of power, enough for 6,000 homes. When we visited we saw several other solar power towers under construction which will soon provide 300 Megawatts, enough clean energy for 180,000 homes. The power plants were beautiful, smokeless and eerily silent, letting us appreciate the songbirds and other wildlife that surrounded them. There is nothing but aesthetic imperialism and orientalist ideas stopping Cairo from creating similar "Bourg Al-Shams" fields. We at Solar CITIES feel that, using carbon offset funds, a reverent celebration of Islamic architecture blended with post-modern environmental technologies would easily allow the creation of beautiful mosque-like towers throughout the city that could completely clean up the Cairo skyline!)

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Big Solar: Coming Soon to A Planet Near You!

World Of Wonder Magazine, January 2008: "What Comes After Oil? The world war for new energy sources".

(The "Energy Wars" map on pages 24 and 25 of the article. The author, Mirko Herr, suggests that the Western Energy Companies, by letting oil prices stay above 100 dollars a barrel, are poised to demolish the OPEC oligarchies. Herr's argument is that the greedy OPEC consortium are so bedazzled by their windfall profits that they can't see that consumers will rapidly shift to other sources of energy that are now cost competitive with Middle Eastern Oil for the first time. By investing in alternative energy sources and technologies, BIG ENERGY can shift away from foreign hydrocarbons faster than the Sheikhs and dictators in the world, who can't see the forest for the fossilized trees. Meanhile, recognizing that North Africa, Australia and Western South America have a comparative advantage in insolation, BIG ENERGY is working to make win win deals with governments in sunny countries so they can bring competitively priced sunshine derivatives to cloudy climate but prosperous countries).

In my rough concept sketch for a song I want to produce called "Running on Sunshine" (not to be confused with "I'm walking on Sunshine, whoa-oh!" by Katrina and the Waves - a party favorite of ours in SingStar on the PS2) I wrote the following lyrics:

(Spoken intro)

"Hello Sunshine! Look what we're up to... installing a sharp looking Solar System, uh-huh. No more filthy fossil fuels for this family... we're doing our part to fight climate change, saving money and saving the planet at the same time... say "hello sunshine... "


"I've found a simple way to get us clear blue skies in no time -- hello sunshine! 'Cause last time I checked nobody owned the sun, and now I expect to make my whole house run on sunshine... we're running on sunshine, yeah, in this way we're changing the world."

The chorus then had a choir singing "Another Sunny Day with Sharp Solar, Another Sunny Day with Sharp Solar", reflecting the fact that we were, at the time I wrote the sketch, installing Sharp Solar Panels, one of the industry's best products -- simple, easy, convenient and reliable.

I admit that the recording of Running on Sunshine that I posted on youtube to share the concept with my friends was atrocious -- and I sympathise with the person who left the comment " The solar panels are cool... but someone please shoot whomever is singing" -- that is what we artists get for using a public medium to share works in the rough and forgetting to toggle off the "public viewing button". My bad!

But as many theorists and futurists (like neuroscientist Susan Greenfield in her book "Tomorrow's People") say, we will soon be living in the age of "the public ego" where every facet of our live's will be accessible to a global audience, warts and all. Be careful what you write on your wall in Facebook, every photo equipped cell phone belongs to the e-public paparazzi, big sister is watching (and laughing) while big brother reports your latest escapades and your bad taste in music and movies to your potential employer AND your insurance company... Andy Warhol is regretting urging us all to seek our 15 minutes of fame while Dennis Danvers (Circuit of Heaven, End of Days) predicts we may have to face an eternity of infamy once we turn our individual personalities over to "the Bin".

But today's blog isn't about my atrocious singing on that cue and the terrible recording I uploaded to the digital and all too public bin as I rushed to get a concept of a new solar energy song out to my friend's at Solar CITIES (they at least appreciated the EFFORT! Better musicians and recording engineers than me can now run with the concept -- what we are trying to do here is come up with new material for our next solar powered "musical goodwill ambassador tours" of the Middle East that use festivals to introduce solar energy to remote communities. Read about them here.)

Today's blog is about the cartoon that we use to start our website and this blog ("Solar Power? We own the... er... , solar energy isn't feasible!") and the clever Sharp company slogan that I used as the key line in "Running on Sunshine" which says "last time I checked nobody owned the sun".

Well, check again.

Fact is that while posession may be "9/10's of the law" (the other 10th allegedly being proof of posession) ownership also involves use-value and exchange-value. And while anybody can USE the sun, only companies willing to invest in land and products that can commodify sunshine as a deliverable can own its exchange value. Ergo, those companies that set up in particularly sunny regions and create ways of getting that potential energy to the kinetics consuming public will OWN THE SUN. And that will be a good thing, I argue!

From Aristotle to Adam Smith, the concepts of value, use value, exchange value and price have obsessed economic thinkers. Marx added the dimension of theorizing labour's contribution to use-value and its transformation into exchange value, saying, at the beginning of Das Kapital,

"The utility of a thing makes it a use value. But this utility is not a thing of air. Being limited by the physical properties of the commodity, it has no existence apart from that commodity. A commodity, such as iron, corn, or a diamond, is therefore, so far as it is a material thing, a use value, something useful. This property of a commodity is independent of the amount of labour required to appropriate its useful qualities. When treating of use value, we always assume to be dealing with definite quantities, such as dozens of watches, yards of linen, or tons of iron. The use values of commodities furnish the material for a special study, that of the commercial knowledge of commodities.[5] Use values become a reality only by use or consumption: they also constitute the substance of all wealth, whatever may be the social form of that wealth. In the form of society we are about to consider, they are, in addition, the material depositories of exchange value." ([1])
"A thing can be a use value, without having value. This is the case whenever its utility to man is not due to labour. Such are air, virgin soil, natural meadows, &c. A thing can be useful, and the product of human labour, without being a commodity. Whoever directly satisfies his wants with the produce of his own labour, creates, indeed, use values, but not commodities. In order to produce the latter, he must not only produce use values, but use values for others, social use values. (And not only for others, without more. The mediaeval peasant produced quit-rent-corn for his feudal lord and tithe-corn for his parson. But neither the quit-rent-corn nor the tithe-corn became commodities by reason of the fact that they had been produced for others. To become a commodity a product must be transferred to another, whom it will serve as a use value, by means of an exchange.) Lastly nothing can have value, without being an object of utility. If the thing is useless, so is the labour contained in it; the labour does not count as labour, and therefore creates no value." (Capital Vol. I, end of Section 1, Chapter 1)

In the Marxian sense quoted above, there is an obvious truth to the statement "nobody owns the sun" -- it is a thing, like Marx's "air, virgin soil, natural meadows etc." that has use value but not exchange value -- until made into a product that can participate in some exchange. But when businesses get property rights to sunshine, the logic of economics dictates that they will invest ever more heavily in putting this tradeable on the market, and our market infatuation with filthy fossils will subside. Let the oil be used for manufacturing carbon composites. As Sheikh Yamani famously said in 1973 "The stone age did not end because we ran out of stone!" Burning oil is for troglodytes.

When the court of public opinion and the seats of consumer power declare sunshine to be the hottest commodity on the market, big players will rush in to bring it to our shopping carts.

It is true, as the economist Paul Craig Roberts points out, that "the comparative advantage principles developed by David Ricardo do not hold where the factors of production are internationally mobile". And because solar collectors and concentrators can be moved around the globe, and because all of the earth receives solar energy that can be exploited by these technologies, one can almost believe the conspiracy theorists who think "big oil" is interested in suppressing solar energy technologies lest they wipe out their comparative advantage in energy commodities.

But we at Solar CITIES we think this is naive. Unrealistically and dangerously naive

I had dinner with friends in the Sinai who work for "Big Oil" last week and they said, "we aren't threatened by renewable energy technologies. We see them as part of a portfolio to satisfy customer demand for energy. But we don't feel they can replace hydrocarbon fuels fast enough to make oil products superfluous in the near term. So we continue exploring ways to use what is available here and now."

Would big oil be threatened by renewable energy if the technologies of capture and storage were efficient, economical and available today? My friends reply, "I suppose one could conceive of such a competitive position, but if that were the case, we would simply do as we are doing -- mergers, acquisitions, patents, research and development -- after all, British Petroleum is now calling itself "Beyond Petroleum", Shell Oil is now "Shell Energy" with a "Shell Solar" Division... we are Energy Companies, and we always expand our portfolios."

Though you may be skeptical of globalization and rightly worry about the power of multinationals, one benefit of international commercial operations is their mobility -- they aren't tied to the land, and they would as soon exploit sunny desert surface areas as the oil wells beneath the sand. The logic of "buy low, sell high" suggests that exploiting sunshine would be a clear profit maximizer -- the overhead is rather low, considering that the source of energy is.. well.. OVER HEAD!

My oil company friends and I laughed in retrospect about the naivete of some middle managers in the U.S. Embassy in Egypt who turned down BP's offer to sponsor one of our "Circus Guy Musical Goodwill Ambassador Tours" of Egypt in 2004 because of a perceived "conflict of interest".

Middle management said at the time, "we felt we had to reject the money and sponsorship from the oil company because you were advertising your tour as a "solar powered tour, using photovoltaics to run the amplifiers and educating common Egyptians about alternatives to oil. We thought they wouldn't like that."

By the time upper management heard about this it was too late. But upper management said, "I wish this had come up to our level before decisions were made -- it turns out that the solar panels that the Circus Guy Solar Band uses are BP Solarex panels -- in other words, the band was promoting British Petroleum Products on their solar energy tour!"

Indeed most big oil companies manufacture and sell photovoltaic panels and are leaders in research and development.

So where is the disconnect?

I've written before about what I call "The Zeitgeist Conspiracy" -- groups of people get an idea in their heads and operate as if it were true without any substantiation and without investigating the reality of the situation, or working through the logic. The Zeitgeist notion (the spirit of the times) for the past century has been that business is inhumanly competitive and ruthless, and that big industry acts like George Orwell's boot in 1984 "stomping on the face of humanity for all eternity." The tribalist binary logic of "us vs. them" makes us assume that we are running a zero-sum game and that the big players are easily threatened by the slightest deviation from the game plan that favors their profits. Rarely do people want to lay down their swords and break bread and find out WHY people make the economic decisions they do.

I agree that history gives us plenty of justification for paranoia, but I think that when this logic is applied to renewable energy it is dangerously misguided and shortsighted. I think that the Zeitgeist Conspiracy, to which we all fall prey, is the largest barrier to effectively stopping climate change and the environmental degradation that comes from burning hydrocarbons.

We are all in this boat together, and we are all dependent on solar energy. We all have a stake in finding ways to make its use (whether stored in oil or in batteries) as clean and safe as possible.

As I've stated many times, it is not "oil" per se that is the problem. It is the burning of oil and the concomittant release of hydrocarbon combustion by-products that is the problem. It is the release of VOC's (volatile Organic Carbon Compounds) and crude oil into the air and water during drilling, transport, refining and end-use that is the problem. Not the oil itself.

I guess that is kind of like Charleton Heston (RIP) and the gun lobby's old saw, "guns don't kill people, people kill people" ( which Eddie Izzard brilliantly aped adding "and monkeys do too... if they have a gun! ... I think the gun helps, don't you?")

But think about it -- oil is stored solar energy that has been concentrated into a most useful form -- a wonderful solar battery when you think about it. You would imagine that with all our genius as a species we could easily find ways to use these stored hydrocarbons without releasing toxins and greenhouse gases into our collective environment, no? In fact WE HAVE.

And we might all be using them already if we consumers took their heads out of the tar sands and took responsibility for our actions and started demanding clean technologies and indicated to "big business" that we were WILLING TO PAY. Because business people all seem to say the same thing "we are in the business of selling. If you want to buy something, we'll sell it to you. Doesn't much matter what." Ah, the people of the bottom line...!

But the bottom line is that we have to demand it. And we have done a bad job at that.

Ask them, "can we please have solar now?"

And they will reply...


And that friends, is tantamount to "owning the sun".

And for my money, "Big Solar" is nothing to fear. It means business as unusual: clean, clear blue skies, clean water, lower cancer rates, a reversal of dangerous climate change patterns...

(Please note however that I am not suggesting all energy companies are equal in their vision, in the intelligence of their CEOs and shareholders, in their ability to understand full cost accounting, or in their responsibilities to their and our children -- see the article "It's the Profits Stupid" by Nomi Prins on how Exxon and Chevron in particular (as opposed to Shell and BP) are ripping us off and squandering our heritage in dangerous and irresponsible ways. Also, check out this article on how the increased flow of speculative funds into oil futures and other financial market developments are driving up all prices to a level where, instead of helping sensible energy sources like solar get developed by making them cost competitive, production of new infrastructure suddenly becomes cost prohibitive and leaves us stuck where we are. As we can see with speculators getting involved with food markets, which has raised prices so high it has caused hunger and rioting around the world , this same kind of criminal behavior -- letting the volatility of investors' market games rule basic commodity prices -- is causing pain not only for people at the bottom but for organizations and struggling companies trying to buy materials -- steel, copper, glass, cement, iron, special plastics, machinery etc.-- to invest in a renewable energy future. In our own case the price of copper and aluminum have risen so high we can no longer afford to build all the solar hot water systems for the poor our budget was allocated for. And so forth...).

Because the stakes are so high for us and for the high-minded energy companies who become Big Solar, we must encourage them to act fast, to act now!

Look at the map from Welt Der Wunder again (click on it for a large version).

Notice that North Africa (including Egypt) Northwest Australia and the West Coast of South America have the highest potential solar energy assets. In comparative advantage terms, they are in much the same position England was in terms of wool and Portugal was in terms of wine when David Ricardo made his famous example about the economics of trade. Sure, England could make wine, and Portugal could make wool, Ricardo argued, but the greatest benefits would go to the countries that exploited their natural comparative advantages and then engaged in trade.

According to the map accompanying Mirko Herr's excellent article, the US and Brazil rule the roost when it comes to Wind Power potential (red areas), while North Africa wins hands down in solar resources (yellow areas). The purple colored oil exporing states include those governed by all the worst dictators and fanatics. Energy company executives have told me these islands of instability and corruption are among the worst to work in and investors are reasonably worried about continuing to pour billions into infrastructure in these powder kegs.

So why are we still relying on the combustion of oil as our main energy source?

I believe that part of the answer is that we as citizens don't really talk to our political and industry leaders. Nor do we talk to the "man on the street" in areas ruled by oligarchs and dictators. Part of the Zeitgeist conspiracy is that there is an "us" and a "them" and we must be sworn enemies. This polarization, and a belief that "they are out to get us" dashes hopes of making progress and innovating solutions before we've even gotten out the gate.

When we started our Solar CITIES project, some people told us "big oil is going to shut you down. Those vested interests are going to see your project, building solar hot water and biogas facilities in the urban poor area and teaching photovoltaics to the masses, as a direct threat."
Ironically, when I discussed our project with the VP of Exploration at BP, he said, "this is fantastic work, really admirable. In fact we have about a million dollars in funding for such projects, but we haven't found people who we think we can rely on to give it to. Alot of people doing environmental work think they would be "working with the enemy". It is sad. But we in the energy industry are interested in finding creative ways to reduce domestic energy consumption. Solar and biofuels and other renewables are obvious candidates. If domestic consumption could be reduced, Egypt and our companies could export gas and oil and electricity at full market price for hard currency. Egypt needs hard currency. Right now we are all losing because of the subsidies for energy."

Egypt now subsidizes gas, oil and electricity to the tune of over 50 billion L.E. (nearly 10 billion dollars) per year, which is between 8 and 10% of GDP. This is placing an enormous strain on the economy. Gas bottles are sold to the populace at an average of 7 LE per bottle while they cost 35 LE to produce. So Egypt and the gas companies are losing 5 times what they could get to use as an infusion into the economy. The problem (as the near bread-riots and protests of the past few weeks clearly indicates) is that any attempt to raise prices now could spark severe civil unrest.

But if the urban poor of Cairo could immediately be given solar hot water, solar electricity, small scale wind electricity and biogas (which could easily be implemented within a year or two) the government could then remove the subsidies on energy products without having any negative impact on consumer behavior and lifestyle. There would neither be loss of comfort nor loss of life.

This is the vision that my friends in the oil companies embrace. This is the vision that my friends who work for the Egyptian Government embrace. Nobody is against us. Nobody is trying to shut us down. But everybody feels that this eutopian vision is fanciful because "nobody believes it could happen enough to roll up their sleeves and start working on it."
What they mean is "NOT ENOUGH PEOPLE" believe in it enough. So while they are proud of us and our work, few people are going to risk pouring money and effort into a larger initiative, and business will go on as usual.

This is how the Zeitgeist Conspiracy works. We lose confidence in ourselves, we decide we can't trust the "others" out there, we retreat to our dreams and the catharsis of our complaints, and hope that one day, somebody out there with power and influence will take a bold step forward and reach their hand back to the rest of us saying, "come on and join us, won't you?"

I can only say this, in closing:

To those of you in the business community: You CAN own the sun. And the Wind. And all the Clean, Safe Energy Sources God has provided us with. And we will buy it from you at full market value. So start investing, now, and help build your loyal customer base.

To those of you in civil society: there are very very very few people against you, and almost everybody else on the planet, the vast majority, is for you, and those who seem against you will embrace your vision of a win-win world when you show them that you aren't against them . Stop hiding your head in the sand, and stop pointing fingers, roll up your sleeves and get to work. It's not a zero-sum game. Help turn "Big Oil" into "Big Solar" and bring clean energy to this planet now, before the curtain call.

All of us: Look at this cartoon whenever you feel there is an unbridgeable gulf between "us" and "them", and start bailing...


Friday, April 11, 2008

Interim report letter to our funders at US AID

Re: Solar CITIES small infrastructure grant Interim Progress Report

To whom it may concern:

Thanks so much for believing in us at Roh El Shabab and funding the first half of our initiative. As the initial co-founder and instructor in the Roh El Shabab Solar CITIES initiative, I am writing this interim report to supplement what our local team leaders are submitting to you.

The US AID funded Solar CITIES small infrastructure project has so far fulfilled its mandate by building 15 of the 30 budgeted flate plate solar hot water systems it was contracted to create in Darb El Ahmar and Manshiyat Nasser. In addition, two professional vaccum tube systems have been purchased and installed, one in each area, as part of our mandate to build capacity and engage in up-to-date training of local labor.

(picture shows some of the solar roofs we built with the US AID grant that are operating in Manshiyat Nasser and Darb El Ahmar)

Eight systems are currently in place and operational in the Zabaleen community, 5 systems are currently in place and operational and 2 additional systems are scheduled to have their plumbing finished this week. These systems all bear the US AID decal and are ready for inspection.

These past weeks, apart from leading more training with our Coptic and Muslim integrated industrial ecology team, building and installing residential SHW in the slums, we built and installed a 200 liter two panel system on a commercial building above the 300 year old Abu Hureyba Public Bath (once featured in National Geographic and Aramco magazines) and then built another similar sized system for the bath itself which will be installed this week. This is part of a broader vision for getting the community to take ownership over climate change mitigating technologies, described below.

These are, of course, baby steps, given the growing threats of climate change impact on the Egyptian economy and rising food, oil, gas and electric prices, but we have found that our stakeholders here in Egypt, particularly the garbage recycling Zabaleen who make up our Spirit of Youth NGO, and the local environmental NGOS we work with in the Aga Khan project area of Darb El Ahmar, are very enthusiastic about the Solar Hot Water initiative and can easily replicate and expand the program if we can get more grants.

Right now we are integrating our solar hot water systems with the AKTC rooftop garden program and are endeavoring to secure funding to create the first solar powered public bath in Egypt because we believe that these are the fastest ways to create local buy-in from the urban poor. The idea is to use self-provisioning potential amidst rising food prices and to use the revival of a decaying cultural icon like the venerated public bath to inspire confidence for renewable energy technologies in these ancient communities. Through these projects we know that we can get stakeholder buy-in so that we can submit for further participatory community development grants next funding cycle to expand the reach of the rooftop gardening/hot-and-cold water provisiong program and install a 2000 liter system that can help both restore the legendary public bath tradition (making it immune to the fuel cost increases that led to its decay and shutdown) and act as a focal point for invigorating a "million solar roofs campaign" of, for and by the disenfranchised urban poor.

The purchase of the two large professional imported evacuated tube systems from Alaa Watidy at RSD Technologies Egypt, is also part of this "pride building initiative" that can help "change hearts and minds." We placed the advanced technology systems in places easily visible from public areas (the cafeteria of the Samaan Monastery and a building next to the Darb Shuglan mosque, visible for Al Azhar park). By providing the latest technology in the area, working with Engineer Watidy's forward thinking Egyptian company, we ensure that the work force of the future in Egypt will not lag behind as technology shifts occur. As we build our own flat panel systems we thus always keep an eye on the future.

(picture shows Hana and Musa on the roof of the St. Samaan Monastery cafeteria after assembling a professional vacuum tube hot water system for washing dishes and glassware)

We feel what is really going to drive this evolution is having locally built installations whose daily use and innovation will create discussion foci connected to overall development that links to cultural pride and positive identity reinforcement.

Engineer Watidy and his company believe that we can bring the cost of professional solar hot water systems down by having many components (the specialized tanks and stands for example) manufactured locally. The craftspeople we are training in our Solar CITIES program are well suited for such an initiative due to their experience engineering systems from scratch. All they need is more infrastructure and green investment capital.

As you know, the craftspeople and laborers of poor and traditional communities pride themselves in what they can make by their own hands, and on their problem-solving acumen,and very much need a sense of ownership over and involvement in their future and over the solution sets used to address their development challenges.

(picture shows Taha and Musa holding recycled 1cm plastic panels made by Prima Plast from trash bags and other low-value plastic residuals supplied by the Zabaleen and now returned to the area as a value added product used to create the solar collector boxes for our Zabaleen community systems. Two years ago Solar CITIES advisor and AUC mentor professor of Environmental Science Dr. Jeff Miller inspired the idea, which recently became a reality after much experimentation. )

Respecting all of this, Dr. Laila Iskander and Roh El Shabab director Ezzat Naem Guindy have guarenteed that the youth of the community play a vital and increasing role in capacity building and system building and innovation in both of our target areas so that the true "spirit of youth" and its creativity is reflected in our training. We have devoted a small part of our budget to locally innovating and installing two completely new systems -- one, suggested by Roh El Shabab school teachers, that uses pressed recycled plastic bags to make the collector boxes and another,invented by Hana Fathy's brother Ayman when he saw the imported vacuum tube systems, that uses recycled plastic fluorescent tubes instead of copper pipe, radically decreasing costs (since copper makes up 40 % of our system costs.

We have also demonstrated the potential for systems built out of PVC pipes, steel pipes and discarded water bottles. The potential for many sorts of solutions to the problem of heating water without relying on greenhouse gases has been shown. The mainstay of our program, of course, is training people to build systems identical to but cost competitive with or cheaper than the flat panel systems currently made in Egyptian factories, and in that we have been quite successful. The 15 systems we have built from scratch and completed are functionally equivalent to those manufactured in factories.

What is amazing and gratifying to us is how our implementation of a US AID small infrastructure seed grant of only 25,000 (only half spent so far) has led to such enormous confidence, inventiveness and capacity building and rapid results in our two distinct target communities, Muslim and Christian.

This is mostly, I think, because the recipient NGO, Roh El Shabab, has been managing the funds in a completely transparent way, are forthright in our philosophy and social agenda of "connecting community catalysts" as the top priority of our initiative and are including broader environmental and conflict resolution education in the technical training we do so that everybody sees that this is not just a renewable energy and energy conservation project, but part of a broader community revitalization agenda.

We ask the local women, whom our surveys indicate are responsible for managing household energy consumption, what their ideas for improving service delivery are, and have even put wrenches into their hands and get them on the "solar roofs" to help the men make construction decisions. Thus, rather than trying to merely get the technology built, we focus on building good community relations and improving equity and democratic decision making.

Now, after nearly two years of struggling to find a flow, and six months after receiving the first half of our grant, the investment is paying off.

We are also finding that when 100% of the money goes directly into the local economy and the "technical experts" allow (and budget for) "learning by doing" with an allowance that actually encourages local trainees to develop their skills through trial and error and to "make mistakes and learn from what breaks", we get much better long term results.

We've learned that most of the long term problems with renewable energy systems in Egypt come from a disconnect between the mental models the local journeymen and women haveabout the way the world works and the actual, but often hidden, physical, chemical and biological properties of nature.

Public Science education in Egypt is poor and involves so little actual empirical testing that it is often impossible for even the best local plumber or construction worker to understand how air and water and light, heat and pressure are interacting in renewable energy systems. Cairo's laborers generally replicate only what they have seen before, without having the sufficient theoretical understanding to adapt to changing circumstances. With unfamiliar energy and convservation technologies that have no "one size fits all" advantage, this creates conditions for future failure.

To effectively train community members so that they will maintain and sustain our energyconservation initiatives we have had to build into our program the encouragement to "try your model of reality out, and if it fails, let it fail, then learn from the failure".

In a patron-client state like Egypt that has bred deep risk-aversion among its people, and in a community that doesn’t have the financial resources to recover from mistakes easily, this has been a major challenge. The hardest thing for outside technical experts is to watch people doing things their way, but doing them wrong, and bite our lips and say, “okay, try your idea, we will see what the results are, and adjust accordingly”. As a director and lead manager, I have had to use my judgment as to when the outcomes justify the risks, and when to intervene; the end results however are very encouraging and fortunately my local protégé, Hana Fathy, who has taken over from me, has learned well and is using the same good judgment as he trains new members of the team.

A little apparently goes a long way when subtended by principles of fairness, openness and a willingness to experiment and honor the contributions and creativity of each stakeholder.

I've thus returned to Germany from Egypt in high spirits, very confident in the sustainability of our Solar CITIES program and in the capabilities of our program directors at Roh El Shabab.

We believe that in these important and delicate times, when energy prices are skyrocketing, global warming is wreaking havoc on ecological and social systems and the Mubarak Administration and other Arab governments are using these realities as political excuses to green light the construction of nuclear reactors in Egypt and the Middle East (possibly a very dangerous proposition if we don't improve the general quality of education!) on-the-ground energy conservation and renewable energy training initiatives like ours are good and important investments.

We have learned from executives in the Oil Industry in Egypt that they too are looking for people and institutions with effective energy conservation programs that can help in the Middle East. Unfortunately they find a dearth of qualified personnel or find ideological or methodological barriers that would hinder cooperation. Our common enemy is the complex scourge of poverty, ignorance, terrorism and environmental degradation that threaten us all; energy companies whether they are involved with the exploitation of hydrocarbons or sunshine, are precisely the service and solution industries we in civil society and in the community planning sector must be working especially closely with and the Solar CITIES program of the Roh El Shabab NGO is ready to build those bridges.

According to many policy analysts, Egypt has a strong need to export gas and oil at fair market price, and to find ways to use petroleum products most effectively. Energy subsidies, on the order of 50 billion LE per year, are crippling the Egyptian economy and reducing its competitiveness. What we are trying to do in Solar CITIES is to reduce Cairo’s domestic demand for hydrocarbon based fuels (including electricity) so that subsidies can be removed or shifted without fomenting severe social unrest.

If we were to succeed in reducing urban energy consumption through our renewable energy initiative Egypt could export gas for much needed hard currency. Meanwhile rioting and protests and civil unrest could be avoided, not only because the impact of rising energy prices would be offset by a lesser need for increasingly expensive hydrocarbons, but because our solar roofs, small wind and urban biogas projects would create the jobs and training opportunities the poor are demanding. So it is a win-win-win for all.”

Our data on household demand for hot water among the urban poor gives us some ideas of what consumption patterns and needs are in a sector that makes up for its small per capita ecological and economic footprint through sheer population size.

Our passion for solving problems in innovative and creative ways, “integrating technologies for industrial ecology systems”, our dedication to the social intelligence of team playing and our commitment to continuing and sustaining the progress we have made should give you every confidence not only to continue funding us on our current grant, but to help us obtain additional funds through which we might expand into other much needed areas such as domestic biogas, waste management, water reclamation, and renewable electricity generation.

Thank you for believing in us and making this program possible.

Sincerely yours,

T.H. Culhane Solar CITIES program founder and team instructor Roh El Shabab (Spirit of Youth) NGO