Welcome, Andy! I am back in Germany and the Egypt trip was enormously productive! NPR came and did a piece that will air on Sunday, April 28th, and both Hana and Mahmoud were great. Our fellow board of directors members Ahmed Khalifa and Neda Pouryekta came from Germany and spent days visiting our solar installations and we got started building a system for the 300 year old public bath in Darb El Ahmar. We also purchased and installed two professional 24 tube vacuum tube systems on the St. Samaan monastery cafeteria and on building 72 and put Hanna in charge of both Muqattam and Darb El Ahmar. We have been hiring and paying the young men from the Zabaleen school to work and train with Hana; his friend Moussa has become quite the solar engineer! Solar Cities is now a registered Verein (Association) and the web design is almost finished. I am glad to find this solar empowerment site, as the more directed hyperlinking we can do to others of similar mind the better! While I was in Egypt the newspapers announced Mubarak's decision to pursue a nuclear powered future and we are very concerned. We need to move fast, demonstrating that the best way to reduce domestic consumption of energy is through renewables, and allow Egypt to export its gas and oil for hard currency at market price. The idea of a nuclear powered Arab World is too frightening to contemplate, and I say that as one with great love and respect for my Arab family. Our genius should be put into solar energy. I am thus applying to the position of a director of renewable energy and conservation at Arava in Israel in the hopes that we can build a strong Middle Eastern coalition that can run the region on sunshine. I think you should upload your Cairo video here and your fuel cell videos here and let's see what emerges from this part of the network! It looks like this is going to be a well organized and creative site, and works well with our collective intelligence concept!
T.H.! It's so great to hear from you! As you can see, I am now a proud member of the solar empowerment network! I've uploaded the Egypt and Fuel Cell Videos, as well as several photos. Mike (a colleague of mine in the graduate program) and I, have been working to design an innovative solar pv canopy/rainwater catchment system. If you look at the photos I've posted, there are several of the solar pv system at Cal State Northridge. The system is designed so that, in addition to creating clean, earth-saving power, it also provides shade for the cars--making them more comfortable for the occupants, and reducing the urban heat island effect. However, what Mike and I want to do is design a system that can do all that AND catch rainwater and direct it to native vegetation on the parking lot, thereby greatly reducing stormwater runoff. We thought we could use the water to help cool the solar panels, too. We are working with engineers at Brown and Industrial Designers at the Rhode Island School of Design to come up with a system that is replicable, scalable, inexpensive, etc. Ideally, the system will also have a one or two axis tracker built in. I will try to do some google sketchup models as soon as I can in order to give you a sense of how we are thinking of designing the system.
My web site should be up and running in the next week or two. I can't wait! It's going to have a lot of innovative, useful features that will help move the work we are doing along. I just finished reading a book called 'Mountains Beyond Mountains,' a biography of Paul Farmer, the founder of Partners in Health. Dr. Farmer is a passionate advocate of the rights of the poor to have access to quality health care. He believes in what he calls 'a preferential option for the poor,' basing his argument on liberation theology, among other things. It was a very engrossing read, although it did leave me feeling somewhat inadequate and lazy...
Mike and I are also trying to start up a micro-credit program for Providence. The amazing thing about Providence is that even though there are 5 universities located in this city of around 180,000, we have a poverty rate of 25%, the third-highest in the nation. Unsurprisingly, the poverty is concentrated among women and minorities. So hopefully we can prove that micro-credit can work in the developed world, and start something akin to the Grameen bank.
I'm becoming increasingly interested in the concept of basic human rights. Muhammad Yunus talks a lot about how access to credit should be a basic human right. Dr. Paul Farmer believes that access to quality health care is a basic human right. And i have heard you eloquently expound on the notion that not just clean water, but hot water, is something that all humans beings should be able to enjoy. Solar water heaters, solar photovoltaics, and other small-scale, distributed renewable energy technologies are integral parts of moving towards providing those basic human rights. I wonder what would happen if we really acted on the belief that every human being alive deserves clean energy, clean water, quality health care, freedom from oppression, and so on. And should we not add access to information as a basic human right? With the cost of clean energy and computing coming down rapidly (the $100 laptop can be powered by a $100 foldable solar panel!) why should anyone languish in the dark, literally and figuratively?
Unfortunately, if we really believe that every human being has all these basic rights, then the only option we have is to feel outraged. Fundamentally, our outrage is directed at the fact that all this suffering we see around is needless, pointless and completely unjustifiable in an era where we have all the technology we could possibly need to provide water, energy, food, security, safety, to EVERYONE on the planet. How can this be? How can it be that in Providence many struggle with bloated bellies due to obesity, while in Haiti many children struggle with bloated bellies due to starvation? How can it be that in Providence many suffer from asthma from coal and natural gas plants, while all over the world many suffer from asthma (and death) from burning biomass and kerosene in inefficient stoves for cooking, lighting and heating water?
The challenge is to feel that outrage and yet feel optimistic. This solar empowerment website delights me because it means that I can connect my outrage and my optimist with that of others, and find practical solutions to problems. So...if anyone wants to help with my solar pv/rainwater catchment system, I'd be delighted to receive some input!
Also, for a class project Mike and I are trying to figure out if we can use micro-finance to rapidly scale up the number of solar water heaters installed in Cairo. The basic questions we have is: can we use a rental model for the systems? In other words, since you already know more or less what people currently pay to heat their water, could you charge them a fee that is lower than that amount until they pay off the system, at which point they would own it? If so, we could set up a web site and allow people to invest in the systems. I don't know how you'd feel about that, but it might solve the headache of constantly having to seek out donors. Perhaps you could find a way to link up with kiva.org? The point is that if you're interested, Mike and I are doing a class project on it, so take advantage of our brain power!
Last year, the World Resources Institute, a Washington-based environmental research group, published a report with the International Finance Corporation entitled “The Next Four Billion,” an economic study that looked at, among other things, how poor people living in developing countries spent their money. One of the most remarkable findings was that even very poor families invested a significant amount of money in the I.C.T. category — information-communication technology, which, according to Al Hammond, the study’s principal author, can include money spent on computers or land-line phones, but in this segment of the population that’s almost never the case. What they’re buying, he says, are cellphones and airtime, usually in the form of prepaid cards. Even more telling is the finding that as a family’s income grows — from $1 per day to $4, for example — their spending on I.C.T. increases faster than spending in any other category, including health, education and housing. “It’s really quite striking,” Hammond says. “What people are voting for with their pocketbooks, as soon as they have more money and even before their basic needs are met, is telecommunications.”
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