Nick Rosen | |
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Two goodie bags

When 1500 world leaders get together to talk about climate change, one thing you are guaranteed is a lot of hot air. Another is a really decent goodie bag.

At the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York this week, everyone from Rupert Murdoch to Desmond Tutu has been seen clutching the organic hemp bags, carrying the Clinton Global Initiative logo printed with non-toxic dyes. While Brad Pitt spoke of regeneration in New Orleans, delegates were fiddling inside the bag with a mix of high tech items such as the USBCell, an AA battery that recharges off the USB port of your laptop, recyclable Timberland boots, and a Phillips super-efficient fluorescent light bulb. “The contents of the bag showed how simple products can be re-engineered to be eco-friendly” Said Simon Daniel, CEO of Moixa Energy which makes the USB cell. Another example is an unbreakable glass water bottle so the powers-that-be never need damage the planet by buying bottled water again.

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Those attending the meeting at the Sheraton probably did not need the water purification kit that was in each bag, and Rupert Murdoch can’t have been too pleased with the tapeless Camcorder that automatically uploads video to YouTube — as he owns rival MySpace.

On a more serious note, some major off-grid initiatives were unveiled. The Lemelson Foundation announced a commitment of $2 million to the focus area of energy and climate change at the meeting. The portfolio of projects will test for-profit and non-profit models that deliver energy technologies and services to those earning less than two dollars a day. The Foundation will align its financing — a combination of grants, loans and equity investments — with the specific needs of individual implementing organizations, including E+Co, Emergence BioEnergy Inc., Envirofit International Ltd., Solar Electric Light Company-India and IDEAAS.

E+Co, a global non-profit investment company, is establishing a social entrepreneur network for solar energy distribution in East Africa. With a grant and program related investment from the Lemelson Foundation, E+Co is building a key link in the solar energy distribution chain — the rural retail network — by training and financing rural small enterprises to provide households with access to affordable and sustainable energy. This off-grid energy, in the form of solar photovoltaic energy (PV) systems, will help the rural poor in Tanzania gain access to power for household light, cell phone charging and other small appliances. E+Co anticipates the deployment of 7,000 high quality household PV systems and the creation of 125 jobs.

Emergence BioEnergy Inc., a company formed by Iqbal Quadir is initiating an off-grid energy project in Bangladesh. The Lemelson grant will finance the development of biowaste-burning, stirling engine generators and the creation and adaptation of a micro-franchise business model. Each business will utilize a coordinated enterprise system in which one entrepreneur will produce and sell biogas, a second will use the biogas to power the stirling engine, and others will buy the electricity to run activities such as fruit and vegetable drying or refrigeration. The investment is expected to yield 500 systems and 1,500 jobs by 2010, eventually scaling to 500,000 franchises in South Asia and Africa.

Envirofit International, a non-profit organization in Colorado, will use funding from the Lemelson Foundation to install direct-injection retrofit kits on 3,000 two-stroke motorcycle taxi engines in Vigan, Philippines by 2010 — eliminating 3,000 tons per year of carbon dioxide and infusing the local economy with $1.4 million in fuel cost savings. Each retrofit kit reduces two-stroke engine emissions by 75 to 90 percent and increases fuel efficiency by 35 to 50 percent, thereby saving 120 gallons of fuel per year. The $350 retrofit kit can be financed through a micro-finance loan, which is easily paid off by drivers within a year by the more than $500 in annual fuel savings. Envirofit, which estimates that the production, installation and servicing of these engines will create 50 local jobs, is aiming for full-scale market penetration in the Philippines, where over 1.8 million two-stroke vehicles are in use, and expansion to other global markets.

Solar Electric Light Company (SELCO)-India, a successful for-profit company, will use a combination of grants and loans from the Lemelson Foundation to scale up its business. The loans will both support the expansion of SELCO’s solar energy distribution as it opens 25 new service centers in four Indian states — reaching an additional 135,000 households with its lighting services — and aid the company with the introduction of new products to its customers, including cooking technologies, biogas systems and thermal dryers. SELCO will also use grant funds to establish an Innovation Department to link modern energy services to income-generating activities and create models that could be replicated and taken to scale.

IDEAAS (Instituto para o Desenvolvimento de Energias Alternativas e da Auto Sustenabilidade), a non-profit organization based in Brazil, is working to cut carbon emissions by providing alternative energy services. IDEAAS, with a grant from the Lemelson Foundation, is testing the feasibility of providing solar energy to rural poor people in the lower Amazon basin. The organization’s solar kits — which households lease rather than purchase — are tailored to a customer’s needs, expectations and current energy expenditures. This project is expected to equip 130 households in the lower Amazon basin with solar energy systems, eliminating 780 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, and eventually scaling to 3,000 families.

Brad Pitt has announced plans to back a new community of homes in New Orleans’ hurricane-ravaged Lower Ninth Ward. Pitt is partnering with producer Steve Bing to create 150 affordable and sustainable homes, which are the first effort of Pitt’s “Make It Right” project.

The actor announced his plan at Wednesday’s meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, where he challenged attendees to join him and Bing in rebuilding the Lower Ninth Ward. Pitt and Bing have pledged to match $5 million each in contributions to the project.

“The heart and soul of New Orleans, specifically the people of the Lower Ninth Ward, are paramount to this project,” Pitt said in a statement.

“The words of one elderly man who is determined to return to New Orleans led to the name of our organization: he asked us, directly simply and profoundly, to help make it right. So that’s what we’re doing,” Pitt said, adding that the new homes will be “beautiful, safe structures that respect their spirit and provide a good quality of life.”

Buy our book - OFF THE GRID - a tour of American off-grid places and people written by Nick Rosen, editor of the off-grid.net web site

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