Competing with innovation -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Competing with innovation

By Jelica Vesic

Editor’s note:

Habitat for Humanity Kyrgyzstan recently became one of 30 winners of the prestigious World Bank Development Marketplace competition, a competitive grant program that funds innovative, small-scale development projects that deliver results and show potential to be expanded or replicated. This year’s marketplace awarded US$4 million for the best for the poor in developing countries. In addition, Habitat for Humanity Armenia was among 118 grant finalists for its project “Harnessing the Sun: Energy for the Armenian Poor,” chosen from 2,500 applicants from 55 countries worldwide.

Competing with Innovation: HFH Armenia and HFH Kyrgyzstan in the World Development Marketplace

HFH Armenia and HFH Kyrgyzstan have been selected among 2,000 applications for the final round of the World Bank proposal competition, World Development Marketplace. This article gives an overview of the innovative construction ideas that have brought them to the finals.

Armenia: access to hot water for vulnerable households through solar energy

People in poverty often spend more of their family income on energy services than wealthy households. In Armenia, rural communities in remote or low-density areas are particularly vulnerable due to the exorbitant costs associated with connecting to an energy grid. Families across Armenia resort to unsafe heating practices, which have a direct impact on the income, health, education and environment of vulnerable rural communities. Dilapidated homemade systems place enormous demands on power supplies and local forests, as well as pose a physical threat to users.

An average of 20 percent of household energy use is for heating water while vulnerable families barely produce enough hot water for their basic needs. Water is heated with homemade immersion electrical boilers and by burning wood in makeshift ovens. Immersion electrical boilers are extremely dangerous, especially if there are children — there is a constant threat of electric shock or explosion. In addition to these safety concerns, the boilers consume astronomical levels of electrical energy and are scarcely affordable for an average Armenian family. Wood-burning, kerosene and diesel oil heaters lead to health problems as well as degraded local forests.

According to the national gas supplier ArmRusGasArd, about 70 percent of the Armenian population has access to a natural gas supply; of Habitat’s partner families, only 5 percent have access.

Expanding on its work to eliminate poverty housing, Habitat Armenia is introducing a traditionally expensive technology to vulnerable households. (Though expensive from the point of view of individual families, once installed, the solar panels require no additional costs, and families can pay for the system in installments every month as part of a no-interest loan.) Quick and easy to install and maintain, the unique solar-powered systems will give affordable hot water access to 127 vulnerable households. Families will repay the cost of the system in less than 8 years; once installed, families have no further recurring costs for heating water. Twelve communities will be educated in clean energy sources, raising awareness of the positive effectives on income, health, education and the environment. This project has the potential to reach more than 10,000 households throughout Armenia, and to easily replicate it across the region and establish solar heating systems to the wider Armenian market. This project is an innovative commercial-nonprofit partnership — a pioneer in social business.

Project Highlights

  • Sustainable solar water heater systems will be installed in 127 safe, decent, affordable homes.
  • Families will save 20 percent of monthly household income in electricity costs.
  • Health complaints will be reduced by 15 percent.
  • Families will use 1.5 cubic meters less wood per year. Sale of renewable energy systems will increase by 5 percent.
  • Clean energy awareness in our communities will increase by 65 percent.

Kyrgyzstan: environmentally friendly housing coupled with cost-saving heating
In Kyrgyzstan, building a home is almost unaffordable, and house heating costs amount to up to 50 percent of an average family’s earnings.

To reduce building costs, HFH Kyrgyzstan reverted to the traditional cane reed house building technology common in the 19th century, but forgotten in the 20th. Using this technology, families will save about 40 percent on construction costs.

In a country with long and harsh winters, spending half of the household income on heating is a reality for most families. Electric heating is clean but dangerous, because often makeshift furnaces are used; it is also out of reach for most families because of the high cost. The traditional solid fuel heating, used by 80 percent of the population is cheaper, but pollutes, does not properly heat all the rooms, and can be fatal through carbon-dioxide poisoning. Additionally, it causes deforestation and depletes coal reserves. In addition to this, women and children generally spend much of their valuable time gathering firewood. As solid fuel heating involves little cost, families ignore or are unaware of the environmental and physical risks. Their main concern is to heat the house and still have enough to eat.

To reduce energy consumption, HFH Kyrgyzstan uses an innovative under-the-floor heating system which, when combined with the cane reed construction, saves 75 percent on energy costs, is clean, simple to use, easy to install and reduces pollution. This combination encourages the revival of a traditional cost-effective construction and the utilization of locally available resources.

The innovation is the combination of old technology, using cane reed for building houses, with new technology, the innovative coiled-circuit-under-floor heating system. Contrary to the 19th century method, Habitat builds the house with a timber frame filled with cane, reeds and clay. This construction has improved insulating properties, is seismically stable and meets local building codes. It is low cost and minimizes the environmental impacts. The floor heating system is unique as it uses extra thin locally produced pipes, thus minimizing the volume of circulated water. A further innovation is the laying of the floor and the heating system in one step.

Project Highlights

  • In a pilot project, 10 families—at least 60 people—will have simple, decent and affordable houses.
  • Energy services will be improved and safe heating provided to at least 60 poor people, then to whole communities.
  • One family will save up to US$60/month. With this money they can buy 490 loaves of bread, 20 kg of meat or 160 liters of milk. Thus, a family can feed all its members on the money that it saves. The savings can also be used to improve the living conditions of the families and secure the mortgage payments of US$15–$25 per month.
  • The use of solid fuel will be reduced, resulting in less pollution and improving health.
  • Respiratory illnesses resulting from damp, unheated, moldy rooms will no longer be a problem.
  • The community saves up to 3,000 kilowatts per family, per month.
  • Reed houses are seismically stable, which is particularly important in the mountainous regions of Kyrgyzstan.

Jelica Vesic is communications manager for HFH in Europe and Central Asia.