Poo. It is not a glamorous topic for a Monday, but it is an important one. All of us eat, and all of us must go to the toilet. We barely think about this routine, but it is one that creates an energy rich byproduct, which could power our homes and schools. Energy has been a regular topic on Inventive Africa. We have discussed individual solar projects, like that of the Solar Sisters, who empower women to sell solar products and therefore empower households. We have also discussed the issue of storing electricity from renewable energy and the innovations making off peak renewable shortage less and less of a problem. On this occasion, we discuss the energy we make ourselves that is powering schools and houses in Cameroon.
Bio-Energy Cameroon, a youth run NGO, have started providing schools and individuals with equipment that is able to convert waste from septic tanks and pit latrines into bio gas. Across the continent, lack of optimal sewage systems means that most peoples “waste” is flushed (or simply dropped) into a pit outside the house, or in the community. This waste is then usually pumped out and taken away by a company. Bio-energy Cameroon not only provide the equipment. They train people how to use it and to utilise the ‘brown gold’ that is sitting right outside their homes.
This bio gas can be used to power small generators, running household appliances, and also for cooking and heating houses. It is particularly useful for houses that are not connected to the grid, as they can now provide their own power and cooking fuel (and essentially start the process all over again!). But, in a continent that often lacks a regular power supply, this technology can fill in the gaps left by unreliable. It is not only the reliability that can be remedied by toilet created bio-fuels. It can drastically cut costs of powering the house and cooking, which in Cameroon can be very high. (It is $10 for a gas cylinder).
There are obvious benefits for individual households, but schools and local government also look set to benefit from the developments in Cameroon. Schools obviously have a large output of daily excrement, and that can be utilised to power the school. Saving money for other much needed items such as text books, or even bringing in more technology to the school. (Like BRCK – the cool self servered educational tablet). For the local council it has a two pronged effect. It enables them to save money, to be spent on other services for the area, such as clean water, and it also ‘relieves’ them of the burden of dealing with sewage problems.
Students in the schools, especially female students, are being trained to use the process, using the septic tank connected to the bio-digester, and create bio gas. The aim is to not only to create autonomous households, not reliant on grid power, but also to empower young women in the area. As we mentioned, poo is not a glamorous topic, and it is a particularly smelly one, but by empowering the youth to create electricity themselves, it will create the next generation of scientists and engineers.
As with many of the other developments in creating electricity from renewable sources, the benefits are stark. Children can now do their homework after the sun goes down, and there is no need to worry about knocking over a candle and burning the house down. Fridges can store food for longer, meaning less food waste and people can enjoy a little bit more comfort with a fan cooling the room, even when the grid is not providing electricity. It even makes a difference to the levels of deforestation. By creating their own gas to cook with, families will need less charcoal and wood to fuel their kitchens.
Elections are won and lost on the basis of availability of electricity in Africa. Ghana had a power crisis in the months leading up to the general election last week and the ruling power then lost the election. It may not be the only reason, as the Ghana Cedi has depreciated and there have been other dissatisfactions, but it can not be ignored as a possibility. Empowering people to create their own off grid electricity could help reduce some of the burden.
Source – http://news.trust.org/item/20161205072135-jx527/