An Egyptian start-up wants to move farmers into the sun and away from the Nile
November 8th, 2012
By Adam Ramsey and Amanda Mustard
The Nile and its waters have historically been the lifeblood of Egypt. The country’s population occupies just 5% of the land, almost all of it along the Nile. But Egypt’s scorching deserts beyond the Nile delta hide a bounty: vast groundwater resources, which have usually been deemed not worth tapping.
Recently some farmers have begun to move outwards into the western desert to exploit the vast expanses of land, using diesel-powered pumps to pull up the groundwater for their crops. Diesel is cheap (the government subsidizes it) and the pumps run 20 hours a day. But they are noisy and polluting, and transporting diesel to these remote areas is costly and hard. “A logistical error in providing the diesel could result in powerless pumps, and therefore the loss of entire crops,” explains Xavier Auclair, founder of KarmSolar.
Four years ago Auclair, an engineering graduate, was based in his home country of France working for a strategy consultancy. He did well financially and progressed rapidly up the company ladder. But a few years in he found himself sitting in a closed-door meeting with an investment firm. “600 people were to lose their jobs due to that meeting’s decisions,” he said. After the meeting he resigned, and spent the next four months sailing halfway across the world, eventually moving to Egypt and learning Arabic. In reaction to what he had seen at the job he left behind, he decided to use his engineering training to pursue a “more moral” line of work. He began investigating the potential of renewable energy products, and with Ahmed Zahran, a former colleague, he started Karm Solar.
KarmSolar hopes to persuade the farmers to swap their diesel for solar power. Egypt is considered a “sun belt” country, lying in an area that receives 1970-3200 kilowatt-hours per square meter (kWh/sq m) of solar energy each year. By comparison, India receives between 1600 and 2200 kWh/sq m per year. The photovoltaic cells convert the sun’s energy into an electric current. (A kilowatt-hour of electricity powers a standard 100-watt bulb for 10 hours, though in the conversion from solar energy to electricity some of the energy is lost.) This can then be stored in batteries or used to power the pumps.
Although Egypt has more than its share of hot sunny days, the majority of Egypt’s renewable-energy solutions have been in the fields of hydroelectricity (Aswan dam) or in wind turbines (the recently built 200 megawatt wind farm in the El Zayt Gulf on the Red Sea). In another country the government might have systems in place to help a company such as KarmSolar. But in Egypt “they are actually more of an obstacle to us,” said Auclair. “They are subsidizing their fossil fuels to such an extent that we are effectively being priced out of the competition. This is one reason why we are moving off grid.”
KarmSolar has been commissioned to create a proof-of-concept “model farm” within a larger farm in the western desert, over 200 miles from Cairo. KarmSolar and its architectural partner, Green Architecture & Urbanism, spent days in the desert looking for possible sites. They want to design an area that would incorporate some 700 sq m of solar panels and a further 300 sq m for the buildings and workshop, to be built using locally procured materials.
Another partner of KarmSolar’s is WorldWater & Solar Technologies (WWST), a company based in Princeton, New Jersey, which is helping it improve its technology. As farms grow, technological hurdles appear. If a farm requires more than 20kW of solar power for its pumps, the bigger batteries needed to store the energy become much more expensive to produce and maintain, thus pricing the energy out of the market.
One of the problems with working off the grid is that every water pump needs to be designed to suit the conditions where it will be used—variations in the wind and the depth of the water table, for instance, must be considered. WWST helped KarmSolar write software that designs the farms and makes projections of their efficiency, overheads and returns, so they can pitch to potential investors.
Changing a country’s established methods takes time. Because the model farm is being built at a farm that already exists, Auclair is under no illusion that this first project will be everything he imagined. The pumps will still be using diesel power 60% of the time (due to restrictions, they can only use solar power on one well; the extra water required comes from diesel pumps). They will also be unable to implement a water-efficient, hydroponic “closed water system”; the rotary irrigation system that farmers are used to and prefer loses some ground water to evaporation.
The end goal is to one day create an entirely sustainable community off the grid. In the process Auclair hopes to create a cleaner, more sustainable Egypt by using the country’s massive quantities of land, groundwater, and sunlight, allowing farmers to be less tied to the crowded boundaries of the Nile.
Social entrepreneurship: Profits with purpose
October 14th, 2012
Alumni social entrepreuners work to provide sustainable solutions for pressing issues in society
Working in London as Shell’s carbon credit portfolio manager, Ahmed Zahran ’02 always dreamed of making clean, renewable energy accessible in Egypt. In 2010, a visit to a potato farm located in Wadi El Natrun in the northern part of the country made him realize his dream. Standing under the blazing sun, Zahran spent hours talking to farmers about possible alternative energy sources. Ruling out biogas as a logistical nightmare, he began to search for clean, reliable energy sources. It was then that he realized that Egypt, with its 2,900 – 3,200 hours of sunshine annually, had a treasure of solar energy.
Today, Zahran is chief executive officer of KarmSolar, a company that develops commercially viable solar-energy applications and solutions. Working with co-founders Yumna Madi ’04, chief business development officer, and Randa Fahmy ’10, technical innovation officer, Zahran and his team aim to integrate innovative solar energy solutions with other sustainable applications in the market, such as green buildings. “Desert farming in Egypt depends on diesel-produced energy for irrigation, which is expensive, inefficient and environmentally harmful,” said Zahran. “Solar energy is a good alternative to diesel fuel because its lifetime is almost four times longer, and it has minimal long-term recurring costs.”
Like Zahran, many AUC alumni have developed into social entrepreneurs, identifying pressing issues in society and working to provide innovative and sustainable solutions. Acting as agents of change, these alumni are driven by their motivation to generate social value rather than profits. Their work is targeted not only toward instant, small-scale effects, but far-reaching, long-term change.
Solar Energy Solutions
In partnership with WorldWater & Solar Technologies, KarmSolar has developed a high-capacity solution that provides clients with solar energy to pump underground water. After collecting information on land, weather and wells, as well as examining crop profiles, farming habits and financial implications, the KarmSolar team processes the information using an online management interface to produce a customized water-pumping system using solar energy. “The end product is a reliable and clean energy source that reduces the farming costs by about 60 percent,” explained Zahran, whose water pumping solution will be first implemented this year in the Oasis area.
Adopting the concept of Disconnected Development, the team is now working on more innovative solar energy solutions and standalone applications that help solve the problems of off-the-grid areas. “Our objective is going to new places where there are lots of resources and constructing cities that would be able to produce their own energy and treat their water using solar power,” said Zahran. “Egyptians live on only 8 percent of the country’s land area. We aim to increase this number to 20 percent.”
Attempts to utilize solar energy in Egypt go back to 1913, when an industrial-scale solar system engine was built in Maadi to produce steam in order to pump water from the Nile for irrigation purposes. However, Zahran, who studied finance at AUC and economics at the University of London, argues that the solar energy market has been untapped for years. “Egypt lies on what is called the solar Sunbelt, which is the best region for solar energy production in the world. We need to make use of this,” he said.
Engaging the Audience
For Perihan Abou-Zeid ’09, co-founder and communications director of Qabila Media Productions, social entrepreneurship is all about engaging the people. Responding to what she believes is a dire need for media outlets to connect with and truly represent their audiences, Abou-Zeid embarked on her social venture, Qabila, a media content creator that capitalizes on crowdsourcing and social media to produce content that bridges the gap between entertainment and the intellectual needs of society. The company, which was founded in 2010 by a group of alumni, offers production services of animation videos, short movies, video clips and documentaries to organizations that aim to communicate educational, value-based and promotional messages in a professional, amusing and interactive way. Clients include the World Bank, UN Women, the United Nations Development Programme and Egypt’s High Elections Commission. “Our aim is to send a valuable message and entertain people at the same time,” explained Abou-Zeid, who won several awards in academic excellence, leadership, and entrepreneurship. Most recently she received the Best Female Entrepreneur Award from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Enterprise Forum – Pan Arab Region, where Qabila won the first runner-up award.
The media content produced by Qabila is inspired, and sometimes generated, by the community and distributed or shared by the audience themselves. “In most of our work, we adopt the concept of crowdsourcing, which enables us to work on community developed content that is relevant to viewers,” noted Abou-Zeid. The company’s first production was a music video titled Kan Lazem (It Was a Must), which was produced shortly after Egypt’s January 25 Revolution. The second production, which was viewed by hundreds of thousands of people in the Arab world, was a seven-episode animation series explaining political terminologies and ideologies, as well as the different types of electoral systems, to ordinary people. “The revolutionary spirit, coupled with the Egyptian sense of humor, generated a unique flavor for our media content,” said Abou-Zeid, adding that more than 2.5 million viewers watched their productions in the first nine months of operation alone. Within 18 months only, the company’s productions have reached 75.
Qabila is currently embarking on a number of new projects, including Qabila Academy, which offers educational programs for media production enthusiasts. In addition, Qabila is partnering with Nabadat Foundation to produce content for their project, Tahrir Academy, which aims to “liberate the concept of knowledge in Egypt with a revolution against traditional sources of information.” Using animation videos to explain academic subjects in an entertaining way, the project has already produced a number of videos on physics, chemistry, geometry and Arabic grammar, but the ongoing initiative has more to offer. “We aim to produce the biggest video library that would give people from all walks of life easy access to information in different subject areas,” said Abou-Zeid. “Our dream is to develop new talent and change the structure of the media industry in Egypt so that it is strong, independent and engaging. We want to cut through the clutter and reach out to people by speaking their same language and addressing the issues that matter to them the most.”
Reaching for the sun
A solar start-up, KarmSolar, aims to make solar energy economically viable
June 24th, 2012
by Daria Solovieva. Picture Hayssam Sameer
In the spring of 2012, the sun appears to be shining on the latest solar technology startup, KarmSolar. The company came to the foreground of Egypt’s technology stage on the laurels of Google’s blockbuster nine-month long Ebda competition. KarmSolar made it to the top 20 finalists, but lost the top prize to traffic reporting service Bey2ollak.
They’ve also been generating global buzz, winning the $11,000 (LE 66,440) first prize in the Wharton-HCT Innovation Tournament announced in May in Abu Dhabi. At the event, KarmSolar CEO Ahmed Zahran pledged to make the project commercially viable over the next 12 months.
“We believe our project will help modernize the agriculture sector and support sustainable food production by providing agriculture farms with an affordable and efficient solar energy solution,” he said.
This lofty goal may seem daring for a new entrepreneur anywhere in the world. But KarmSolar faces a unique set of challenges as a technology developer in an industry that has yet to convince investors it is not only “feel-good” technology of the future, but can also offer commercially viable and a consistently competitive product.
On a sunny day in March 2009 Ahmed Zahran was visiting a potato farm in Wadi El Natrun in northern Egypt. The farm had a diesel problem, a lot of potato waste and wanted him to look into using it to produce biogas as an alternative source of energy. But Zahran was not interested in the biogas, which he thought would be a logistical nightmare. Instead, he noticed the sun.
“I realized there was this fantastic source during the winter,” he recalls. “If you have this source during the winter, it must be amazing during the summer.”
So he went back to Cairo and did his research. He found out Egypt was strategically positioned within a solar belt with a very unique resource in terms of clarity of the weather that impacts productivity of a solar farm. “We have a very good solar resource, not just in terms of hours in a year but also the quality of the sun,” he says.
In fact, as one of the so-called Sun Belt countries, Egypt is unique in radiation ranging from 1,970–3,200 kWh/square meter/year from north to south, with the southern areas receiving more sun exposure, according to the New & Renewable Energy Authority (NREA) annual report. It also boasts some of the longest sunlight durations of 9-11 hours a day with few cloudy days annually.
When compared to other sources of renewable energy including wind, solar has other advantages such as storage capacity. “Energy can be stored with higher efficiency and more cost effectiveness than electricity,” says Rawya ElShazly in her feasibility study of concentrated solar power in February 2011. The study, done in association with Cairo University and University of Kassel in Germany for her master’s thesis, examines regulatory, institution and technical feasibility aspects. It concludes that solar energy has “enormous” potential in Egypt.
As conventional sources of energy are being depleted, government agencies are increasingly exploring alternatives. Domestically, Egypt is already pursuing several solar initiatives and has even taken on the regional leadership role as a host country for Regional Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (RCREEE).
Making it efficient
Before coming back to Egypt and getting involved in renewable energy, Zahran was managing its carbon credit portfolio for Shell in London, making sure they were compliant with the carbon quotas.
“As fancy as it sounds, I realized that carbon trading is a big joke,” Zahran says. He was disillusioned by the false incentives of the carbon credits for the renewable energy initiatives and organizational fallacies that led to a market collapse. “The message was that you cannot do renewable energy and energy efficiency unless there was an incentive,” he says. “And I felt that those kinds of projects should be attractive on their own without the need for carbon credits.”
After recognizing Egypt’s potential and unique resource in solar, Zahran and the KarmSolar team became determined to make it efficient. “What we’re trying to do is to show the market that solar energy is not a fashion, it’s not something you do because you want to be good. Solar energy is a practical solution because it is abundant and because this is one of the best locations in the world for solar energy.”
What KarmSolar introduced and the Wharton competition recognized was an innovative model of a solar power-generated water pumping system. The company plans to spend the prize money on commercializing the pump and making off-grid irrigation available to agricultural farms in rural Egypt that are suffering from diesel shortages.
Their basic idea was to provide
a water pumping solution that is cheaper and logistically easier using solar energy. “This region, this part of the world, is one of the biggest consumers of energy in water pumping,” Zahran explains, noting that most agricultural expansion is happening in off-grid locations in Egypt.
To make their model economical and cut down on the cost of batteries, KarmSolar made a strategic decision to replace a battery system with a water storage facility and an electronic interface developed by partner company WorldWater & Solar Technologies.
“The new system is the fraction of the cost of the cost of high-capacity solar water pumping systems” Zahran says. In addition, KarmSolar developed a software platform that would allow a farm to adapt the variability of solar power to its daily and hourly energy demands.
Xavier Auclair, a co-founder who has developed the new interface in-house, says the model could be competitive globally. “We’re not only competitive with fossil fuels, we’re even cheaper,” he says.
According to KarmSolar estimates, its solar model could save up to 60% of total cost assuming the cost of water pumping using diesel generators in 5 countries in MENA over 25 years are $24 billion (LE 144.96 billion) and the costs of water pumping using KarmSolar’s model over the same time period is $8 billion (LE 48.32 billion).
“It is a shame the region is not making use of one of its most abundant resource and keep on focusing only on the finite sources like fossil fuels,” Zahran says.
In the span of a few months, KarmSolar was able to accomplish an impressive feat: develop a new innovative model for water pumping, a growing team, and several high marks at international competitions. And they are gradually establishing clout within the industry as other startups targeting the agricultural sector and energy efficiency have reached out to KarmSolar to explore partnerships.
What remains elusive at this point in time is a committed investor who is willing to take the risk and bankroll the testing period. While many investors have approached KarmSolar, no one has signed on just yet.
So far, KarmSolar has raised about LE 500,000 through private investors and expects to break even in three years. To achieve this goal, the company would have to convince many investors who remain skeptical about entering the Egyptian market and the global solar market as a whole.
Equally important, KarmSolar will need secure large-scale farms which the company is targeting that are also willing to take on the risk and test out the new model.
Following the elections, the new president’s office will have to tackle an array of challenges and strategic priorities. Another risk amid the regulatory uncertainty for the solar market would be where on that agenda renewable energy will emerge. bt
Wharton’s Karl Ulrich: Access to Capital, Better Property Rights, and Stronger Education Needed to Cultivate Middle East Innovation
May 29th, 2012
In his first trip to the Middle East, Karl Ulrich, the school’s Vice Dean of innovation and CIBC professor of entrepreneurship and e-commerce, came to Abu Dhabi to oversee Wharton’s first innovation tournament in the region. Ulrich was impressed by the entries, which focused on sustainability projects, noting that the competitors showed the same aspirations and approach as innovators in Silicon Valley or Philadelphia.
The winner of the competition was Egypt-based KarmSolar, a concept to provide a solar-powered water pumping solution for Egyptian farms in arid areas, which currently rely on diesel generators to pump underground water for irrigation. Even though the team had to present virtually, Ulrich says they managed to persuasively demonstrate the value of their proposal.
Reflecting on the issue of youth unemployment raised by the Arab Spring protests, Ulrich says governments should promote regulation, strong property rights for investors, immigration and travel policies that allow the efficient flow of human resources, and fair protection of intellectual property to bolster innovation in the region. Instead of trying to invest in innovation projects, Ulrich adds, governments in the Middle East would be better off investing in education.
An edited transcript of the conversation follows.
Arabic Knowledge@Wharton: This was the first time Wharton conducted an innovation tournament in the Middle East. It is a new concept in the region, as most local competitions focus on business plans. What are your reflections on the event?
Karl Ulrich: I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the submissions we received. They were every bit as good as those we have received in response to the global solicitations for entries to our Philadelphia-based tournaments. I was especially impressed by entries from young innovators in developing countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Arabic Knowledge@Wharton: You had an opportunity to be presented with student sustainability solutions from the region, and interact with regional judges. Did you note a regional skew in the ideas presented — in other words, was there a different approach? Does geography and culture affect innovation?
Ulrich: The culture I observed was a culture of innovation, not a regional culture. The aspirations and approach of the participants was very familiar to me, just what I’ve experienced in Silicon Valley, Boston, and Philadelphia. Of course the needs addressed by the innovator vary significantly by region, the approach and attitude does not seem to vary at all.
Arabic Knowledge@Wharton: Due to visa restrictions, the winner of the innovation tournament could not even attend the competition, and virtually presented and interacted from Egypt via Skype videoconferencing. Was that significant in some regard?
Ulrich: The KarmSolar team from Cairo was very impressive even via Skype. Actually doing innovation across boundaries is not as frictionless as it should be, and hopefully government authorities interested in economic development will be responsive to this challenge.
Arabic Knowledge@Wharton: The tournament focused on sustainability, derived from the 10-year development goal set by the Abu Dhabi government. The question that many outside observers have, though, is how does a society that owes nearly all of its wealth to fossil fuels become a sustainable one?
Ulrich: The sustainability challenge will be played out at two levels for Abu Dhabi. First, over some time period — almost certainly much longer than ten years — the economy will have to transition from one based on an endowment of natural resources, to one based on human capital. Second, the lifestyles and modes of doing business in Abu Dhabi will have to become more sustainable, as the cost of energy and the consequences of consuming non-renewable fuels become more severe. These transitions are inevitable. The only questions are, one: Over what time period will the transitions be made? And two, will the transition be made in a smooth and orderly way or will it be a forced transition due to the sudden onset of crisis or disruption.
Arabic Knowledge@Wharton: Is there a particular method or approach to foster innovation in a society? Can wealth itself generate innovation? One of the key challenges teams in the competition said they faced was finding financial support.
Ulrich: I believe that access to capital, reliable property rights, and healthy educational institutions are likely to give rise to innovative activity by young people in a society. Capital readily flows to innovators in stable political environments in which the property rights of investors are protected.
Arabic Knowledge@Wharton: A number of officials here with government-funded entrepreneurship funds say their biggest issue, though, is that would-be entrepreneurs aren’t developing the ‘big ideas’ that they want to support. How is that problem addressed?
Ulrich: The notion of a “big idea” tends to be retrospective assessment based on the outcome. I think it’s hard to know what a big idea is in advance. Who would have predicted the value created around Instagram, Zynga, or Groupon?
Arabic Knowledge@Wharton: You had an opportunity to see the United Arab Emirates. The accelerated establishment of its metropolises of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, despite being in the desert, is hailed as a development success, and a triumph of modern innovation. Would you agree with that claim?
Ulrich: The metropolises are impressive. However, if by development success, we mean economic success, the assessment really requires that the development projects generated more cash than the associated investment. I have not seen such an assessment, and so cannot judge the claim.
Arabic Knowledge@Wharton: Given the challenges raised by the Arab Spring revolutions, primarily youth unemployment, what sort of innovation should governments in the region pursue to tackle that issue?
Ulrich: The role of government in innovation is first and foremost to create a healthy environment for innovation. That means stable regulation, strong property rights for investors, immigration and travel policies that allow the efficient flow of human resources, and fair protection of intellectual property. Next, I believe government should invest in education. I’m less enthusiastic about direct investment in specific innovation projects. I don’t think governments have demonstrated a capability to pick winners at the project or company level.
Arabic Knowledge@Wharton: There is much discussion of an economic shift from the West, particularly to Asia. There are predictions that China’s growth would spur an innovation race with the West. Do you see that evolving, and what impact would such a competition have on innovations to come in the future?
Ulrich: The most significant risk factor in innovation is in understanding the customer or market need. Thus, much of the economic activity associated with innovation must occur close to the customer. As China develops, the economic significance of its consumers will become huge, and thus a lot of innovation will occur within its borders. The technologies associated with innovation will continue to be globally distributed, and will be driven in part by proximity to the customer, but also by where the healthy ecosystems are located.
Arabic Knowledge@Wharton: Another idea gaining prominence here is that of leapfrogging; emerging economies adapting and utilizing technologies in a way that not only allows them to skip developmental steps, but also generate innovation that can serve needs in the West too. Is that a credible trend?
Ulrich: Customers in emerging markets often have quite different needs than those in developed markets. In some cases, innovations that are responsive to those different needs may be valuable in developed markets as well.
KarmSolar in greenprophet
May 17th, 2012
by Tafline Laylin
A dynamic young Egyptian firm has won an $11,000 innovation prize for an off-grid, solar-powered water pump. Judges of the first HCT-Wharton Innovation Tournament held last week in Abu Dhabi were impressed by KarmSolar because their design could easily have a high impact on great numbers of people, reduce dependency on diesel, and it would be quick to roll out.
Which is exactly what the firm hopes to do with their prize money: commercialize the pump as soon as possible in order to provide highly efficient off-grid irrigation to agricultural farms in rural Egypt.
KarmSolar’s solar-powered water pump can pump groundwater even in remote regions that lack access to the electricity grid – a boon for Egypt given widespread energy shortages. But this design also reduces reliance on diesel fuel that is both expensive and environmentally-destructive.
“We believe our project will help modernize the agriculture sector and support a sustainable increase in food production by providing agriculture farms with an affordable and efficient solar energy solution,” said KarmSolar CEO Ahmed Zahran.
The firm lists the following six advantages of using their off-grid pumping solution:
1. Designed as a standalone solar pumping system allowing for easy replication & scalability;
2. Lifetime of the solar pumping system is 25 years;
3. No price exposure risk;
4. Instantaneous solar energy management services & support;
5. Minimal long-term recurring costs;
6. Environmentally friendly.
After decades of oppression, a nascent Egypt has woken up with surprising zeal. Similar initiatives that put power back in the hands of the people include the eZra3 remote-farming project and Schaduf – an urban micro farming initiative launched by the Hosny brothers in Cairo.
A privately owned company established in Oct 2011, KarmSolar concentrates on developing solar energy solutions for the Middle East and North Africa, although their aim is not merely altruistic. Their goal is to make solar applications commercially viable, which is exactly what we need.
Wamda featuring KarmSolar
May 10th, 2012
The HCT-Wharton Innovation Tournament, held this past Monday and Tuesday in Dubai, challenged entrepreneurs to produce innovative solutions to enhance sustainability by reducing the effects of greenhouse gases, or controlling consumption of non-renewable energy resources.
An initial 118 applicants were winnowed down to 12, which were invited to attend the Tournament, for a full day of mentoring sessions followed by a full day of presentations and judging panels. Five made the final cut.
The winning team, KarmSolar, won AED 40,000 (~$10,800) for their innovative solar energy-based water pumping solution. By helping farmers pump and conserve water through a solar-powered management system, it aims to transform economies by reducing dependence on diesel as well as food imports, founders Ahmed Zahran and Lumna Madi explained to Wamda at the MIT Enterprise Forum workshop in Abu Dhabi this March. (More detailed information on their product is available here).
In second place, the PAK-Energy Solution team of Lahore Pakistan won AED 30,000 (~$8,100) for their Natural Gas Digester, which uses cow dung to generate “clean” gas for cooking, heating and lighting, as well as fertilizer, making it ideal for rural communities.
In third place, the judges, who apparently agonized over the decision, decided to list three teams in a tie, rather than two. Those teams, each of which received AED 10,000 (~$2,700), were the WUDU Project, a device that conserves water by controlling its flow during daily ablutions (Wudu) in mosques, GreenSpark, which uses plants to generate electricity, and the Ballerina Energy System, which uses a combination of wind and solar energy to produce hot and cold water for household consumption.
“The quality of the applicants was very impressive,” says Walid Mansour of Middle East Venture Partners, who served as a judge at the event. “While they were at various stages- some at the design stage, some post-prototype, all had put a lot of thought into the technical side of their ideas.”
This diversity made it very difficult to choose a winner, however. “We assessed the teams based on innovation, impact, feasibility, and sustainability,” he says. “In the end, some were great ideas but actually used up another resource to achieve their goals, so they weren’t all very sustainable. We liked KarmSolar because it has a high impact, was highly innovative, reduced dependency on diesel, and would be quick to roll out.”
What set the winning teams apart was that “they all met the core challenge well,’” said Pankaj Paul, the Managing Editor of Knowledge@Wharton, referring to the event’s inspiration by the United Arab Emirates Vision 2021 planning document, which sets forth a vision of a “competitive and resilient economy” in a “nurturing and sustainable environment” in the UAE.
When it came to KarmSolar winning, despite having to conduct their pitches over Skype, says Paul, “it was heartening to see them start display enthusiasm for something that they believed in. They answered the judges’ questions very clearly, and the answers that they provided demonstrated that not only did they know what they were doing, but they believed in what they are doing.”
KarmSolar team CEO Ahmed Zahran said at the event that the prize money would assist to make the project commercially viable over the next 12 months. Although he was traveling back from Beirut today, I had a chance to speak with the rest of the KarmSolar team about the win. It’s an exciting time for them, and this win will help them start the next phase of development: launching a pilot in Jordan or Egypt, says co-founder Lubna Madi. Meet the rest of the team and see their responses below.
Al-Ahram: Middle East should embrace renewables as oil reserves fall
April 26th, 2012
The Middle East must embrace renewable sources to cope with the region’s declining oil reserves, the Arab League’s secretary general said this week as representatives from European and Arab states gathered in Cairo to discuss energy co-operation.
”Our energy resources are limited, oil reserves won’t last forever and each year it becomes more expensive to get [oil] out of the ground,” said Nabil El-Arabi, Secretary General of the Arab League.
“We must start now to study the use of renewable sources and, most importantly, to focus on energy efficiency. The Arab Spring [has] created a new spirit for change in the region.”
El-Arabi’s comments came at the opening of the Arab Forum on renewable energy and energy efficiency held from 23-24 April and organised by the Arab League, the EU mission in Cairo and the Euro-Mediterranean energy market integration project (Med-Emip).
Also present were representatives from the European Bank for Reconstruction and the World Bank, European and Arab development banks and investors in renewable energy projects.
Energy efficiency was one of the buzzwords during the two days, as speakers claimed that better use of resources could cut energy losses in public and private buildings in half.
”It is particularly important to make national governments aware of this aspect,” the EU Ambassador James Moran said in the opening day’s meeting.
“Given the fact that one of the goals is the development of local industry, a higher awareness of energy efficiency could lead to the creation of more jobs.”
Moran also pointed out the importance of renewable and efficient energy for Europe, saying it is linked to intiatives against climate change.
In the case of Egypt, delegates noted the importance of agriculture to the country’s economy and the importance of irrigation and water.
Installing solar panels, even in places otherwise off the energy-grid, would allow farmers to power water pumps with something other than diesel, potentially leading to a 50-60 percent reduction in their energy bills, according to Karm Solar.
The Egyptian company, which came second in the semi-finals of the MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Business Plan Competition in Dubai in February, has developed new technology that lets off-grid farms use solar energy to power their high-capacity water pumps.
Speakers also mentioned the gaps in Egypt’s electricity infrastructure and problems in storing power away from the regular power grids. Solar power that is generated could be used locally to partially overcome these obstacles, they said.
Moran also mentioned Lebanon, where the government adopted the National Energy Efficiency Action Plan in November 2011, becoming the first Arab country to do so.
The plan includes a reduction of energy consumption, the target of a 12 percent use of renewable energy sources by 2020 and the adoption of a law on energy conservation.
Jordan and Palestine are also moving in this direction, he added.
Hassan Younes, Egypt’s Minister of Electricity and Energy, said the main objective of the Forum was to create a platform for dialogue between government agencies, financial institutions and the private sector.
This would help define objectives and a legal framework to attract private investments, he said, adding that without political and economic stability in the region there would be no investment.
Libya’s Minister of Electricity and Renewable Energies, Awad Al-Barassi, suggested his country could serve as a model. Speaking at the event, he said Libya needs to rebuild its energy resources falling large-scale damage during last year’s civil war. Reconstruction would mean new job opportunies, he said.
Video – KarmSolar: A Solar Energy Solution for Pumping Water in Egypt
April 22th, 2012
Ahmed Zahran and Yumna Madi of KarmSolar, which won second place in an elevator pitching round at the MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Business Plan Competition Workshop in Abu Dhabi this March, explain how they created a solar energy-based water pumping system that is cheaper than those that use diesel.
“Developing countries spend over 60% of their income on food,” says Yumna, explaining how KarmSolar’s solution works to ensure the sustainability of domestic agriculture in Egypt.
KarmSolar develops renewable energy solution for ‘off grid’ farmers, in Egypt Independent (Al Masry Al Youm English Edition)
22nd March, 2012
By Steven Viney
An Egyptian company, KarmSolar, has developed new technology that that will enable “off grid” farms to use solar energy to power their high capacity water pumps.
“Off grid” refers to areas that are off of Egypt’s main power grid, which provides electricity to most of the country. However, since most of Egypt’s fertile agricultural land runs exclusively along the Nile, farmers who wish to move further out are currently forced to use diesel engines to pump the water used to irrigate their land.
Diesel engines are not only unreliable, but particularly harmful to the environment. Previously, off grid renewable energy solutions were not financially feasible to compete with these engines, but KarmSolar believes that has now changed.
At the heart of the technology are more efficient components that make better use of minimal sunlight conditions, allowing for the powering of high-capacity pumps, as well as interactive software that will allow its users to easily specify at dawn what their energy requirements will be for the day.
KarmSolar believes this will allow farmers to reduce their energy bills by 50-60 percent.
“The power generated could actually be used for anything, not only farming,” says Xavier Auclair, one of the scientists involved in the project at KarmSolar. “However, since 80 percent of diesel engines are currently being used for water pumping purposes, that was the main focus of our research.”
Auclair also says that the vision is to create what could eventually be the seed for ecovillages of the future that will be able to function regardless of their proximity to a primary power source.
KarmSolar, being just a small team of environmental scientists, is currently in the process of obtaining funding to create a pilot project that will serve as a regional demonstration.
As part of this, they are currently semi-finalists in Google’s Egyptian Business Development Association (EBDA) competition that will grant finalists US$200,000.
KarmSolar is currently partnered with the renowned American company Worldwater & Solar Technologies.