The DDC’s program in Abu Minqar expanded with the launch of a new initiative to provide solar energy to power the community and to support sustainable economic development
In pursuit of its mission to create sustainable development in Egypt’s desert areas, AUC’s Desert Development Center (DDC) is continuing its five-year investment in the oasis community of Abu Minqar, researching alternative energy sources and sustainable development and developing training and community services for residents. Recently, the center’s program in Abu Minqar expanded with the launch of a new initiative to provide solar energy to power the community and to support sustainable economic development.
Abu Minqar, a community in Egypt’s Western Desert, is not connected to the national power grid. The community’s only power source is a generator that provides electricity for only six to eight hours a day. Outages during this period are common. The lack of full time electricity stifles local economic opportunity and makes household work more difficult. The aim of the new initiative is to utilize hybrid means to bridge those hours when the community is not serviced with electricity by introducing solar panels and solar-powered batteries. Funded by the German International Development Cooperation, the Canada Fund, and the DDC, the solar initiative promotes renewable energy and community capacity-building.
“The solar initiative has gone through a number of iterations to make the program practical, effective and attractive to Abu Minqar residents,” said Tina Jaskolski, a researcher at the DDC.
Initially, in June 2010, when the program began, households were encouraged to buy batteries and bring them to the association’s headquarters to be recharged for a fee as needed. The intent was to provide household power and at the same time, to provide a sustained revenue stream for the community. However, said Jaskolski, “The batteries were not able to generate the amount of electricity we anticipated, which made the purchase of batteries and the cost of recharging them less attractive to local farmers than we had initially hoped.”
Undeterred, the DDC has refocused its efforts on a new plan to better satisfy residents and meet their needs. “The community association came up with the idea to operate an egg incubator for hatching chickens with a hybrid system of solar power and generator power using the same panels previously installed to operate the development association’s recharging station,” said Jaskolski. Chicken breeding is popular in the remote community, she explained, where many only eat meat once a week. Before the new 200-egg incubator was installed in early June, some local farmers had previously traveled as far as 100 kilometers to incubate eggs. Additionally, the new incubator in Abu Minqar will be operated by the female members of the community association. This establishes female involvement in local development and fund generation for the association. The solar-operated incubator is the first of its kind in the oasis communities of the Western Desert.
The new incubator is only the most recent of the impressive solar initiatives which the DDC has successfully championed in Abu Minqar. The DDC also helped install solar panels at the local hospital, notorious for its electricity outages, especially during the hours of night and early morning. The ramifications of the lack of electricity were hard to overlook, from the discomfort caused to patients forced to suffer scorching temperatures inside without fans, to doctors unable to use electrical equipment except at certain times of the day. The solar system enables the electricity for most critical electrical items such as lights, fans, lab equipment, including an ultrasound machine, in order to bridge those hours of the day when the hospital suffers from a lack of available public electricity.