September 29, 2008

The Controversy Continues: Renewable Energy Revisited

In a previous post entitled "Waste for Welfare: Exploring Alternative Energy Solutions", I discussed a few examples of alternative energy programs that were being conducted in the developing and neighboring African nations of Kenya and Ethiopia. With a particular emphasis on bio-fuels and the use of waste (both food and human) in the production of fuel, I highlighted a bio-latrine project in Kenya's Kibera slums and a fuel briquette production program in the Akaki Kaliti neighborhood of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. This past week, I found two particular postings in the blogo-sphere that pointed out additional energy action and controversy in Kenya concerning the adoption of more eco-friendly and sustainable energy sources into the local communities. The first blog, "AfriGadget Innovator Series: Simon Mwacharo of Craftskills", was from, a website which sheds light on new innovative technologies developed by Africans to solve everyday issues. The post works essentially as a transcript of an interview with Simon Mwachano, an entrepreneur based in Nairobi who owns Craftskills. Craftskills is a small business that works to create and construct sustainable renewable energy projects in locations where electricity is difficult to access. The interview discusses the inspirations, challenges, and successes that Craftskills has encountered with the execution of their various projects, ranging from harnessing wind energy (as exemplified by the windmill pictured to the right) in the Taita hills to a water pumping turbine in Chirifi. The second post I stumbled upon similarly focuses on Kenyan energy projects, providing an impartial explanation of the potential benefits and the disadvantages to government implemented energy projects. "Biofuels and Biodiversity in Africa" from Kenya Environmental and Political News Weblog, a blog created to cover environmental and political information in Kenya with a view to promoting poverty alleviation through awareness, addresses the controversial aspects concerning the agricultural production of alternative biofuels is discussed, citing both environmental and pragmatic lifestyle concerns as evidence. While both blogs deal with the similar broad topics of "Africa" and "alternative energy", one discusses the challenges yet successes achieved through small-scale local ingenuity, while the latter delves into the downside of large-scale projects and international involvement in biofuel production.

"AfriGadget Innovator Series: Simon Mwacharo of Craftskills"
I thoroughly enjoyed this post discussing Simon Mwacharo of Craftskills, and providing those of us who are not familiar with his business and its mission with a sufficient introduction into the world of producing self-sustaining renewable energies. First of all, I was particularly pleased to discover that Mr. Mwacharo was originally from a village in the Taita Hills, a place I learned a great deal about after studying abroad in the coastal province of Kenya in the fall of 2007. My personal attachment to the Kenyan coast aside, his native heritage is of huge significance to his projects, both emphasizing and celebrating African "home grown" ingenuity and creativity, pointing to the success of initiative and action from within the community for its own preservation and prosperity. Craftskill's flexibility concerning the financial strain on the local community, as well as its understanding of deep rooted practices and beliefs, are also to the advantage of the company. This increases local popularity and support of these programs, and makes their innovative actions a tale of sustainable development "by the people, for the people", with projects encouraging the involvement and participation of the local community. A second poignant element of Simon's operation was his own motivation: training himself and working from the ground up, now with a skilled and growing work force of technicians, engineers, and sales representatives. Additionally, the use of local and inexpensive materials also makes Craftskills' projects easy on the pocket of the community while, once again, encouraging local sustainability. Overall, this post was inspirational and informative about small scale fuel technologies that do not receive much recognition. My one critique of the post. and thus the interview, stems from the lack of in-depth explanations of some of the individual projects, such as the Chifiri Water Pan Project, in order to gain more perspective on how these programs function and operate. How do the ideas come to fruition? How are these turbines faring today, and what are the reactions of the local community in regards to these creative and innovative renewable energy sources? Has it inspired other community members to get involved in other alternative fuel projects? Once again, thank you for uncovering such a unique and positive account on the developing nature of alternative fuels, and I hope to hear more about Craftskills (and its successes) in the future!

"Biofuels and Biodiversity in Africa"
I would like to thank you for tackling the issue of biofuel investigation and production, and uncovering the difficulties and disadvantages facing Kenya and Africa as a whole. While there are certainly benefits to the “green revolution” that has sparked the production of various alternative biofuel technologies, it is important to understand the potential repercussions of these actions. While I am not exactly sure to what extent a “moratorium on biofuels” in Africa, which as you mentioned was suggested by certain African non governmental organizations, would be an appropriate or correct choice, I understand the necessity to protect both the African people and the environment from those who wish to usurp and exploit its resources. I particularly appreciated the parallel you drew towards Darwin’s Nightmare and the issue of the Nile perch in the local fishing communities of Lake Victoria. After having spent a semester studying on the Kenyan coast last fall, I certainly heard a great deal of discussion concerning the fishermen living in Kisumu, and that point encompassed a great deal of personal resonance and perspective for me. I found the point you raised concerning the loss of land to non edible crops like flowers for international markets intriguing, and I was curious as to what source that information is stemming from, as I would like to broaden my understanding of the agriculture market in Kenya and Africa as a whole. I have also read from other blog postings and news sites about the issue of sugar-based ethanol farming in Kenya and the controversy regarding nomadic herdsmen and their concern over sufficient grazing lands for their cattle. Do you have a stance of this issue as well, and do you believe that this is yet another cause for critique concerning biofuel production in Africa? Additionally, there is certainly a lot of discussion concerning the rise of biofuel production and the increasing cost of food, which you reference in regards to the article, “The New Face Of Hunger” by Ban Ki-Moon. I think this is an important point to make, and certainly the most significant disadvantage to biofuel production. It is discouraging to that these lands are being converted in vain and are merely contributing to a crisis that is already so substantial internationally. I would love to know more about Jatropha and these other species called “miracle crops”, as I know very little about the variety of crops employed in the hopes of producing a viable energy source. While I do believe that the detrimental effects of these particular agricultural efforts for biofuel production need to be dealt with effectively and avoided in the future, I do not feel the answer lies in a widespread halt in the search of new energies. The inspiring stories of certainly point to the possibilities of small-scale and sustainable innovation for new energy technologies, and hopefully we will see more of them in the future. Again, thank you for this post and for shedding light of the controversies surrounding African biofuel production.


Sean Calcagnie said...

First off, I would like to praise you on your post and the fact that it is a very informative topic that should be widely discussed. A lot of people do not realize how pivotal renewable energy is going to be later down the road. And the fact that these less developed countries are looking early at consuming their resources, is really great. Being a real estate development major, I too also look for new developments that are environmentally friendly and that can also benefit not only society but the environment as well. I think the key issue that rises in your blog that you mention is awareness. To be honest I feel people do not know enough about their society and they are not properly informed to have the mentality to help contribute. I found it interesting when you mention how the Craftskills Company has taken into consideration the fact Kenya is in a financial strain on the local community, and also they have a thorough understanding of the people’s deep rooted practices and beliefs. This helps increase the local popularity and support of these programs, and makes this company’s innovative actions a tale of sustainable development "by the people, for the people", these types of projects will help encourage the involvement and participation of the local community. In these less-developed countries I think that is vital to have a greater support for the betterment of the community. What I am curious about, having little information on the topic is, are there any people who are opposed of the new development of renewable energy? Who are the ones that are slowing things down, if there are any? I think alternative energy solutions is going to be our future and should be harped on more in today’s world. I see that mentioned there are detrimental effects for creating bio-fuels and that there are such crops to help create viable energy sources. Maybe touch more the effects they have and expand more on the “miracle crops”, or link the miracle crops to a website that explains it. Overall great post and like I said previously very informative. I feel that a lot of people do not know a whole lot outside of where they live, such as me, and I love running into new information that I do not know about. Thanks again.

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