Tag Archives: Community

Clean Energy Transitions – Can Africa Leapfrog?

Simon Batchelor from Gamos Ltd offers his thoughts on smart technology in sustainable energy, and the concept of “leapfrogging” in energy transitions.

I recently attended the conference ICT4S which focuses on using smart technology to manage energy sustainably.  ICT4S is a series of research conferences bringing together leading researchers, developers and government and industry representatives interested in using Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) as a tool to reach sustainability goals. The 1st ICT4S Conference was held in Zürich and attracted 250 participants from 40 countries. The theme of ICT4S 2014 held in Stockholm was “ICT and transformational change”. ‘Sustainable development needs transformational changes regarding both technology and patterns of production and consumption. This conference explores  and shapes the role of ICT in this process and assess positive and negative impacts of ICT on sustainability. ICT for sustainability is about utilizing the transformational power of ICT for making our world more sustainable: saving energy and material resources by creating more value from less physical input, increasing quality of life for ever more people without compromising future generations’ ability to meet their needs.’

Obviously this conference discusses the high tech end of the spectrum.  There are many actions that can be taken to move towards cleaner, more sustainable energy production and consumption.  Switching off lights to save energy can be done by changes in behaviour – people ensuring they switch the light off when leaving the building.  But humans are fallible, so many technicians propose connecting lights to sensors that switch them off when there is no movement.   This conference spent a lot of time discussing such high tech alternatives – smart buildings that monitored and managed energy.  Even smart cities that mapped where people were travelling to and organised the public transport accordingly.

So for instance, one of the papers talks about smart management of a building in the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.  Their paper “GreenMind – An Architecture and Realization for Energy Smart Buildings” states in the abstract that existing buildings are responsible for more than 40% of the world’s total primary energy consumption (although that seems a very high proportion?). They go on to say that current management systems fail to reduce unnecessary energy consumption and preserve user comfort at the same time mainly because they are unable to cope with dynamic changes caused by user’s interaction with the environment.  So they created a software architecture for energy smart buildings.  Experimental results carried out in the Bernoulli building, a 12.000 square meter building of the University of Groningen, show that the proposed solutions are able to save up to 56% of electricity used for lighting, at least 20% of electricity used for heating while the savings from controlling workstations as well as other appliances are 33% and 10%, respectively. overall, their solution is expected to save up to 28% of total energy consumption in buildings such as the Bernoulli building.

But what relevance has this to Africa?  Well, I listened to their Eurocentric presentations with an ear for Africa, and I was surprised by what I heard.   In Citizen observatories of water: Social innovation via eParticipation, I heard officials from the Netherlands discuss how difficult it is to get people to report problems.  “Advanced citizen observatories can enable a two-way communication paradigm between citizens and decision makers, potentially resulting in profound changes to existing flood risk management processes”.   That is; they have created community volunteers who are willing to report problems!  This has been a problem in the past for Africa, not because people are unwilling to get involved (as is the case in Europe) but because the distance to report a problem was too far.  A broken handpump may lie idle because the community do not have the bus fare to get to the district to report it.  However this is changing.  There are mobile phones and reporting problems can be just a phone call away.  Africa does not need sophisticated websites to collect data on problems, it needs only a willing ear to listen – ears which can be used in face to face conversation or through a simple phone call.

As I sat listening to various presentations, looking for the leapfrog technology; I was surprised.  I realised that what Africa had was a leapfrog society.  Citizens who are willing to talk to each other in community, and to engage with officials IF officials are willing to listen.   The matching of mobile phones and a willing society could result in big data that might really help transitions to clean energy.

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Telling Our Own Sustainability Stories

Melusile Ndlovu from SEA offers his thoughts on the importance on relating sustainability and climate change issues to everyday experiences.

Sustainability discussions or agenda (for lack of a better word) can be far removed from many people’s daily realities at times. This dawned on me when I was listening to “educated” colleagues, in a bar, talking about the climate change phenomena. Needless to say my friend, a climate change practitioner, in his attempt to drive the point home kept on referring to polar bears, melting ice caps, and all the humdrum stuff that you see on news channels. However, this seemed far removed from everyone’s day-to-day existence.

I once had an interesting discussion with my grandmother that somehow changed my thinking around sustainability and climate change specifically. Briefly about my granny; she lives deep in rural Zimbabwe, I say deep because if she wants to visit the nearest town she has to walk quite a long distance to get to the “nearest” bus station. That is to catch the only bus that passes through her village once a day very early in the morning around 4am. Our discussion might have started off on what the villagers expected to harvest from their fields. She mourned the shift in seasons that she felt was happening and could affect their crop outputs. You see, rain is very important to them as small-scale subsistence farmers with no access to complex irrigation systems. Her argument was that there is something happening with our climate, we didn’t put a name to “this something”. I tried arguing that what they were experiencing might be one of the normal climatic cycles (a drought year). But who am I to argue with an old lady who has seen more drought years than I? She went on to give me details of the past drought years they had lived through and that what is happening now is different from what she had experienced before. Seeing that I was losing the argument, I asked her if she has been to a climate change workshop in the village. Her response was that she had never been to one and hadn’t been listening to radio discussions on this topic. She was adamant that she knew what she was talking about (that “something”).

My point is that while the topic of climate change and energy in cities is gaining resonance, the question might be how to tell our stories in ways that resonate with a broader populace given that most people in cities have many other things to worry about and climate change is something that might be far removed from them. Municipal officials might feel this is not an important issue to them as they are faced with other service delivery issues. And in some cases this might be seen as an unfunded mandate but the question still remains on how to communicate the sustainability message in a way that resonates with most people. Therefore, the Samset project might have to find hooks within our partner municipalities i.e. identify the most pressing issues within a given locale and try to locate linkages with energy and sustainability.

Energy, the Built Environment and Future Cities

Alex Ndibwami of Uganda Martyrs University offers his thoughts on the Ugandan context for SAMSET and some information about Uganda Martyrs University.

Uganda Martyrs University was founded in 1993 as a not-for-profit, faith-based private university, and has since grown, now registering a total of just over 4,500 students on different programmes and in different campuses across Uganda.  The main campus in Nkozi has a total of 1450 students.

The Faculty of the Built Environment situated at the main campus in Nkozi aims to be relevant to the current and future needs of developing countries, and to educate outstanding individuals with design creativity and technical competence, through a project-based integrated teaching approach, that integrates design with the techniques and practices of construction, structures, materials and building services within a theoretical and historical context, keeping in mind social, physiological and cultural needs.  The Faculty recognises that in a continuously changing built environment, professional experience and research are important contributors to achieve its mission.

Alex Ndibwami, Mark Olweny and David Mann are working on the project from Uganda Martyrs University.  Alex’s main research focus is on user behaviour in the built environment, how this impacts on sustainability, and user behaviour in energy use in buildings. Mark and David will be assisting Alex, bringing their expertise in energy efficiency and thermal performance of buildings; and sustainable urban planning and transport planning, respectively.

Urban Network Management & EiABC – Ethiopia

800px-Addis_Abeba,_Ethiopia blog feature

Xavier Lemaire from the UCL Energy Institute offers his thoughts on urbanisation in Ethiopia and the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture Building Construction (EiABC).

With an annual growth rate of almost 7%, the Ethiopian society is one of the fastest growing worldwide. Addis Ababa alone, as the biggest urban development in Ethiopia, will need to house approximately 4 million people more in 2025 than today.

An Urban Management Network (UMN) for Ethiopia has been launched in December 2013 to optimise urban governance and management, and capacity development of civil services in Ethiopia by aligning their activities to create synergy and to promote best practices and create space for policy dialogue. A Memorandum of Agreement has been signed between EiABC, the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture Building Construction and City Development and the Ministry of Urban Development, Housing and Construction (MoUDHC), the Ethiopian Civil Service University (ECSU) and the Ethiopian Cities Association (ECA).

EiABC, works notably with ETH Zurich to integrate urban sustainability in the design process in an early stage. The project “Urban Laboratory ETHiopia” realizes a platform for architecture and urban planning on the Addis Ababa University campus. The project’s main target is to contribute to the future development of Ethiopia by researching and publicly presenting various research activities for urgent problems as well as transferring knowledge for planning strategies in urban territories. Other projects where EiABC is involved try to showcase the use of local materials, and research, re-apply and re-invent vernacular building techniques to build Sustainable Dwelling Units.

http://eiabc.edu.et/

Image © Glustino / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0