Cairo's slums get an energy makeover

Posted By: Staff
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Washington, August 30 (ANI): Reports indicate that the slums of Cairo, Egypt's largest city, have got an energy makeover, with solar panels sprouting on apartment rooftops, providing residents with clean power and water and a chance to directly improve their lives.

According to a report in National Geographic News, since 2003, the nonprofit Solar CITIES project has installed 34 solar-powered hot water systems and 5 biogas reactors in Cairo's poor Coptic Christian and Islamic neighborhoods.

"Our program is unique, in that we're implementing rural-type solutions in an urban environment," said project leader Thomas Culhane, an urban planner and 2009 National Geographic emerging explorer. "It's the kind of stuff you would do in the Peace Corps in an African village, but we're doing it right smack dab in the slums of a city," he added.

Solar CITIES' hot water systems are constructed from recycled materials and are uniquely tailored to the parts of a city where water and electricity availability are often sporadic. "The problem with professional solar hot water systems is that they're made for cities with continuous water," Culhane said.

By contrast, Solar CITIES's water heaters use a city's water when it's available but draw from a backup storage tank when it's not. The setup consists of an insulated rectangular box covered in clear glass or plastic on one side. Inside the box are copper tubes wrapped in sheets of aluminum, which are painted black. Sunlight striking the darkened aluminum is converted to heat, which is then used to warm water flowing through the pipes. The glass sheet on top of the box prevents the heat from being carried away by wind. The water, which can reach temperatures of 176 degrees Fahrenheit (80 degrees Celsius), is then pumped into an insulated plastic barrel for storage.

The water, which remains warm long after sunset, can be connected to an apartment's plumbing system. Solar CITIES also installs biogas reactors, which are based on designs Culhane saw while working in India. The reactors use microbes harvested from animal guts to break down food wastes into flammable gas that can be used for cooking and heating.

If necessary, the reactors can draw hot water from the solar water heaters to maintain the warm temperatures the bacteria need to survive. By attaching a simple plastic tube to the reactors, gas can be piped down several stories for residents to use. "In 24 hours, you've got 2 hours of cooking gas from yesterday's cooking garbage," Culhane said. (ANI)

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