The Ashden Awards, founded by the Ashden Trust ≠ one of the Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts, celebrate the very best in small-scale, sustainable energy schemes in the UK and developing world. They highlight projects which save or generate energy at a local level, providing direct benefits to the community, while also tackling environmental threats. Schemes covering solar, wind, micro-hydro, biomass, biogas and energy efficiency have all been winners in previous years.
Becky Daniel and Martin Wright report on four of this year’s prize-winning projects which make innovative use of water and are making a huge difference to thousands of people’s health, wellbeing and future prospects.
Bringing Power to Mountain Regions
Imagine what life would be like if you lived in a dark, simple home on a high, windswept mountain with none of the home comforts or opportunities we take for granted. Ashden Awards 2007 winners, Practical Action, Peru, have improved conditions for thousands of people with their small-scale hydro power stations which are providing electricity across the region.
For centuries, daily life has been extremely harsh for the campesinos who inhabit the remote eastern slopes of the Peruvian Andes. Some five million people live at high altitudes in remote villages in the same way as generations have done before them. The region is so severely under-developed that many young people leave to find a better life in the cities.
Connecting up to grid electricity is unfeasible in these parts, so locally-generated power is the only option. With that in mind, Practical Action, Peru, has been investing in technology which harnesses the high levels of local rainfall and the fast-flowing mountain streams. Since 1992, they have installed 47 micro-hydro stations, providing 30,000 people with power.
Since there is now electricity for decent lighting and power tools, it is encouraging people to set up in business. Some population counts have even doubled in size. A manager at Tamborapa said: ‘The community is growing fast now. We have good schools, a good health centre, a dentist and laboratory.’
A quarter of households have started or expanded businesses now they can ‘switch on’ and earnings have increased by up to 60 per cent. Thanks to the micro-hydro, schools can use computers, children can study in the evenings, teachers are less likely to seek work elsewhere, health centres can keep vaccines in refrigerators and families can enjoy TV and DVDs.
The whole community is involved in each micro-hydro project from decisions about installation to negotiating the best payment structures. Technicians are trained to take responsibility for the day-to-day running of the plants, an essential element to the project’s success. Practical Action wants to continue expanding the scheme to include other types of renewable energy.
Contact: Javier Coello, Scheme Leader
Solar Powered Floating Schools
One of the winners for Education, Shidhulai Sangstha, was rewarded for a project which makes the most of water as a way of bringing edu-cation and empowerment to remote communities. The organisation has designed a fleet of 88 locally-made wooden boats which provide a lifeline to the remote Chalanbeel region of Bangladesh. The boats use solar power to run computers and other equipment and provide lighting. They function as schools, libraries, internet hubs as well as information and advice centres, travelling up and down the rivers and across flooded fields to bring vital services to 400,000 people.
With limited road access, no mains electricity and only basic sanitation, Chalanbeel is inhabited by some of the country’s poorest and most marginalised communities. Few residents have enough land to support themselves and primary education is hard to access, especially in the monsoon season when schools are often cut off by floods. ‘If the children can’t go to school,’ says the organisation’s executive director, Abul Rezwan, ‘then the school can come to them.’
Education and access to information have opened new doors for young and old alike. Solar powered internet and mobile facilities have helped people stay in touch with distant relatives and learn more about what is going on in the world. The boats use the latest in technology, such as ‘Skype’ and webcams, to link farmers directly with agricultural experts in universities across Bangladesh. Now, a farmer can hold up a diseased tomato in front of the webcam and a crop disease specialist can tell him what the problem is. In the evenings, the boats use sail-like sheets as makeshift cinema screens to show agricultural training videos to villagers gathered on the river banks.
The boats can also act as mobile power plants. Shidhulai has distri-buted 13,500 home solar systems and 2,500 solar lanterns in the Chalanbeel area, providing decent lighting ≠ cheaper and cleaner than the smoky kerosene. Villagers can fish for longer and be safer at night; children can study better and adults can do craftworks such as weaving, so generating additional, valuable income, particularly for the women.
‘Due to climate change, over the next 20 years, 10 per cent of our land will be lost to floods,’ says Abul Rezwan. ‘Issues like this need local solutions and local people need to be involved at every level.’
With plans to increase the number of boats and train more local technicians, the Shidhulai project is an inspiring example of imaginative problem solving, where appropriate sustainable technology is clearly enriching people’s lives.
Getting Water to Hillside Villages
Fresh water is so vital for life and yet so hard to come by for many in the developing world. A project in the Philippines has transformed the lives of thousands of rural villagers through the well thought out application of appropriate, renewable technology.
On the island of Negros there are numerous villages perched high above available water sources, with the only supply lying far below in streams or rivers in the valleys. Fetching daily water for drinking and cooking, meant a difficult scramble down steep slopes on foot, lugging it back up in jerry cans attached to a shoulder yoke ≠ a task both dangerous and extremely time consuming. It has meant that water is a precious resource used only for essential drinking or cooking with little left over for things like washing or irrigation.
Since the 90s, the Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation, AID, has been exploring ways of providing hillside communities with all the abundant fresh water necessary for a good quality of life. The terrain is ideally suited to ‘ram pump’ technology ≠ a method of pumping water uphill without using electricity or diesel. Ram pumps use the power of flowing water to lift it up to 200 metres vertically. The technology was invented by the Montgolfier Brothers in the late 18th century but was little used due to the dawn of cheap power.
It is ideally suited for areas with abundant rainfall, since it uses a simple mechanism to transfer the energy of a large amount of water flowing a short but steep distance downhill, to pump a small proportion of the flow much further uphill ≠ sometimes over a mile in distance from the source.
Operating continuously, the system pumps water to a raised tank in the village, from where it flows in pipes to collection points for households and across fields for irrigation.
Dutch born Auke Idzenga, founder of AID, travelled around the Philip-pines looking at existing ‘ram pump’ installations to identify factors crucial to successful operation of the technology. As a result, he designed an innovative, durable pump with cheap, locally available options for those parts needing regular replacement.
Over the last ten years AID has installed 98 of these ram pumps in 68 communities, providing water for over 15,000 people and irrigatin
g large areas. A tenth of the installed pumps have replaced electric or diesel ones, saving on fuel and cutting emissions. There are financial benefits too. Any village with excess water can sell it on to a neighbouring community that does not yet have a pump.
Pedro Zayco Jr, the Mayor of Kabankalan City said: ‘At first I didn’t believe it would work. How can you raise water higher than it was without some power? But you know, seeing is believing!’
Water Mills Help Nepalese Millers
Nepal is famous for breathtaking scenery of the Himalayas but life for its inhabitants is tough. Most people living here are poor subsistence farmers struggling to eke out a living from the land as generations have before them. Now a scheme to modernise traditional milling machinery is turning this around.
There are about 25,000 traditional water mills in Nepal, which harness the power of running streams to process grain into flour. It is reliable, environment-friendly technology, but the old mills are relatively in-efficient and they make hard work for the millers. Some have to work over 12 hours a day to make ends meet. Their customers ≠ mainly women ≠ have to wait a long time for the flour: time they could spend doing more productive work. This helped create a market for diesel mills, which, while more polluting and producing less tasty flour, have the virtue of being far quicker.
A few simple, affordable upgrades can transform the miller’s life.
Replacing wooden shafts and turbines with locally-made metal ones makes the mills far more efficient, allowing the miller to grind more flour, more cleanly, in less time.
Since 2003, the Centre for Rural Technology ≠ Nepal has upgraded more than 2,400 mills, benefiting around 96,000 people. Some of the mills have also been upgraded to generate electricity for the miller’s use or for sale to nearby homes. Others are modified to work as oil presses, rice hullers or sawmills.
Aaitram Tamang, a 70-year-old miller from the Nuwakot district, said: ‘I used to be able to mill 15 kilogrammes of grain a day; now I can get through 30 in half the time. We donπt have to run the mill half the night now.’
Water millers have seen their income increase by at least 25 per cent, often much more now they can process grain quicker and supply more flour. Mina Katri Chhetri, from the Kavre district, said: ‘The price is half what we paid at the diesel mill and it doesn’t smell like it did there.’
An environmental benefit is that where there are large numbers of improved hydro-powered mills, diesel mills have closed down, saving the equivalent of 2.4 tonnes of emissions each year.
Contact: The Ashden Awards
Tel: +44 (0)20 7410 0330