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Engineering HELP in Africa: Left behind but thinking ahead


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stove prototype from dartmouth help trip tanzaniaEditor’s Note: Students from Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering are working in Tanzania to help improve sanitation and energy technologies in local villages. This series chronicles work being done by the student-led group, known as Humanitarian Engineering Leadership Projects (HELP), to design "rocket stoves" in the village of Mwamgongo and top-light updraft design (TLUD) gasification stoves in the village of Kalinzi. The goal is to create a healthier, more energy-efficient cooking apparatus that these villagers will accept and use. HELP students are filing these dispatches from the field during their trip. This is their second blog post for Scientific American.

DAR ES SALAAM—While Parker, Zach, Kanika, Ryan and Kevin left for Kigoma, Wendy and I stayed in Dar es Salaam for some meetings. Although we still needed to finalize our design and determine the supply and demand for our stove in the villages, we wanted to anticipate potential problems with costs and distribution. Since our group was pursuing a gasification stove design made out of metal, we were worried that the cost of the stove might be too much for many villagers living in poverty. In anticipation of having a price point for our stove that wouldn’t allow for widespread dissemination, we wanted to learn more about options like microfinance and carbon crediting from some of the companies working on these topics in Dar es Salaam. We met with the national microfinance institution named Tujijenge Afrika, a carbon service provider called Environmental Protection and Management Services (EPMS), and an entrepreneur stove builder also pursuing carbon credits.

Our meeting with Tujijenge Afrika was extremely productive and we learned about their previous work, which included setting up microfinance programs for renewable energy projects and acting as the broker for a project to offset the greenhouse gas emissions of the British Embassy in Dar es Salaam. Tujijenge’s main advice was to eventually work through a local microfinance institution to provide flexible loans for stove builder entrepreneurs and flexible payment plans for consumers.

That same afternoon we went to visit EPMS’s headquarters outside of the city. To save money, we took local "Dala Dala" transportation all the way there, making it a cheap, but intense three-hour ride as Dala Dalas are public buses that pack people in like sardines to maximize revenue. We were meeting with EPMS to learn more about the process of registering Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) offset projects in Tanzania. Since I wrote a thesis related to carbon markets, HELP Worldwide requested that I assess the feasibility of subsidizing the sales of our efficient stoves through carbon credits. I have strong feelings that carbon credits generated from offset projects should only be used to cover temporarily unavoidable emissions and that responsible companies should work hard to reduce their own carbon footprint in order to spur more technological innovation. That said, offset projects—if set up properly—can often have multiple additional benefits in terms of health, employment, technological transfer and economic development. Despite concerns about supporting the entire system of offset carbon credits, I thought that if HELP Worldwide conservatively estimated the emission reductions from our stoves, we could help mitigate climate change while achieving many positive externalities like reduced acute respiratory infection (ARI) and morbidity in the Kigoma region. However, in our meeting with EPMS, we quickly learned that the process of achieving carbon credits through the CDM is even more difficult than normal in Tanzania.

Here is a quick summary of the complicated process. In Tanzania, Project Participants (PP), which would be us, need to notify the Designated National Authority (DNA) of their intent to start an offset project and request a Letter of No Objection (LONO). If approved, then the PP submit their Project Idea Note (PIN). When this is approved, the PP must begin the normal United Nations process and complete a Project Design Document (PDD) that is validated by a Designated Operational Entity (DOE). If the PDD meets the national sustainability criteria, the DNA issues a Letter of Approval (LoA), and the PDD is submitted to the CDM Executive Board (CDM EB). The CDM EB receives support from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat to review the PDD. Then, the PP begin monitoring emissions reductions, which are verified by the DOE, and a Monitoring Report is sent to the CDM EB. If the reductions are "additional, measureable, and real," the CDM EB issues certified emission reductions (CERs), which the PP can sell in the voluntary market or in the European Union Emission Trading Scheme (EU-ETS). Sounds simple right? You can see why when I tried explaining this process to members of HELP Worldwide they turned my name into an acronym and began calling me T.I.M.

That evening, we met with a stove entrepreneur and Dr. Hassan Rajabu for dinner. Dr. Rajabu is a professor at the University of Dar es Salaam College of Engineering and Technology (CoET) in the Department of Energy Engineering. He serves as HELP’s main CoET contact and collaborator from the Tanzanian engineering community. While eating some delicious samaki (fish), we learned about the entrepreneur’s ambitions to obtain carbon crediting for the distribution of efficient stoves. He has applied for several CDM projects, but he still has not received his Letter of No Objection from the government. He seemed convinced that you needed to go through one of the main consultants like EPMS in order to get a project registered due to their personal connections with government officials. Regardless, he is moving forward on another stove CDM application under the new UN Programme of Activities (PoA). The PoA allows you to register a small scale project with the intent of replicating it elsewhere without having to submit multiple applications. The entrepreneur is looking to have all of Tanzania as the "boundary" for the project.

That night, we went out to a nice bar to watch the World Cup soccer Ghana vs. Uruguay game. The bar was packed and a lot of people were blowing vuvuzelas (loud horns) in the audience, pretending they were at the game. Ghana was playing for all of Africa. One Tanzanian woman proceeded to blow the horn right by my ear, and when I walked by, she turned it in my direction and blew again. The simple reverberation of this sound seemed to represent her affirmation that Africans had beat the U.S. I admitted defeat and kept walking.

We moved to the front and began to watch what I think will be regarded as one of the most exciting soccer games in history. Ghana made numerous attempts to score and should have won when the Uruguay player blocked a shot with his hands. Ending the game with penalty shots based largely on luck was painful to watch, especially to the Africans in the bar, who saw the talent of their soccer players as a symbol of their own virtuosity. Wendy, who is from Ghana, would not talk for an hour after the end of the game. I more or less understood.

The next morning we woke up to fly to Kigoma to catch up with the rest of the group. They had been working to get supplies ready for our departure to the villages, and we hoped that there wouldn’t be any delays in getting the project started. We also heard rumors that Jane Goodall herself was also on her way to Kigoma.

Image of original stove prototype design courtesy of Kevin McGregor





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  1. 1. wurstere 9:31 am 08/24/2010

    Tim,

    I’ve registered several carbon finance projects around efficient stoves in Africa, leading to the sale of over 100,000 stoves. My latest project is in fact in Tanzania, where we also aim to sell them in the 100s of thousands. Feel free to check our website at http://www.eandco.net, or contact me directly at erik.wurster(at)eandco.net.

    Good luck with your project.

    Erik Wurster
    Manager, Carbon Finance, E+Co

    Link to this

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