Tackling the energy crisis in Egypt with online consumer tools


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CAIRO – When the lights come back on after a long power outage, it is almost a tradition in Egypt to give cheers of el-noor geh (the lights are back).

It’s a bit of a game, or at least it was, until power outages became more frequent and severe over the past year or so, peaking last summer. Those cheers have since been stifled, replaced by growing frustration.

But two website developers are giving the phrase new meaning with a new online platform called “El Noor Geh. ”

The website aims to raise awareness about the use of electricity by using interactive tools to help people track their consumption at home or at work.

Like many entrepreneurs who pride themselves on finding opportunities amid crisis and dysfunction, Essam Maged and Mostafa al-Khouly were inspired to tackle Egypt’s lingering energy problem. Recent graduates of the German University in Cairoengineering department, both have been working in a web design agency for just over a year now and have used their experiences to develop the platform.

Consumption is tracked using three online calculators. The electricity bill is added up based on the number of hours consumed by electronic devices such as laptops, phone chargers, air conditioners, televisions and light bulbs. The second supports users who wish to buy a generator by calculating their energy needs and by offering products according to their power and capacity. The third adds up how much consumers pay in electricity bills for each electronic device based on official prices.

In addition to calculators, the website also offers content on energy consumption, such as tips and tricks for saving electricity and suggestions for energy efficient products.

Maged says they want the website to be “an essential tool for anyone starting a new home or business on how to buy household items,” helping buyers through the decision-making process.

Higher prices, lower subsidies

Electricity has become a dreaded problem in most Egyptian households because the prices were raised in the midst of regular power cuts during the high consumption of the summer season. In July, Electricity Minister Mohamed Shaker announced new tariffs for households and business entities that would reduce state subsidies for electricity by 67% over the next five years. With the government’s plan to gradually lift energy subsidies, the price of electricity will continue to rise.

Power cuts are still occurring in several parts of the country due to a reported fuel shortage, making citizens fully aware of the national energy problem.

The developers of El-Noor Geh claim that their main mission is to reduce energy consumption for the benefit of consumers.

“We are fighting the electricity crisis by aiming to reduce the average consumer’s electricity expenditure, thereby reducing overall energy use,” Maged said.

Khouly adds: “We are saving electricity for individuals and thus creating a more environmentally friendly society.

At the height of the energy shortage last summer, the government created an electricity consumption meter that displayed on television screens to alert viewers to reduce their consumption. More often than not, the meter oscillated between the critical levels of orange and red.

Some argue that providing citizens with subsidized energy for decades has made them less used to thinking about conservation. But the problem runs even deeper, with high levels of poverty and unemployment compounded by the stagnation of economic growth over the past three years, making rising prices a very controversial issue both socially and politically.

Power in the hands of the people

The website is also a way for consumers to be more aware of their energy load, especially after complaints about erroneous meter readings or inexplicably high bills have become more common.

May al-Naggar says her electricity bills have more than doubled in the past year and that she now pays nearly 950 Egyptian pounds ($ 132) a month. When she asked the man who collects the monthly electricity bill about it, he simply replied that there were new tariffs. But when she and her husband tried to cut back, “it didn’t make any difference,” she says.

Mohamed Khallaf, a resident of Maadi neighborhood in Cairo, says his bill has gone from 350 Egyptian pounds ($ 48) to 850 ($ 118) in the past year. Even though he filed three separate complaints for erroneous readings, the amount remains more or less the same.

Other complaints include faulty meters, incompetent bill collectors, or simply an accumulation of overdue bills due to inefficient collection. Often times, they are compiled into one bill that is due immediately, creating a lump sum that is hefty for most people to pay all at once.

These are all problems that El-Noor Geh tries to solve by allowing people to calculate their own bills to avoid potentially being fooled by meter readings, or to allow them to understand why they are paying so much for electricity. .

Their main goal remains to change consumer behavior.

“The solution is for us to change our bad habits,” says Khouly. As an example, he says there’s no need to charge cellphones overnight, which he says can cost millions of dollars in electricity use nationwide, while being harmful to drums.

“Because we’re a big country, when our little bad habits add up, they actually make a huge difference,” he says.

You can’t tell people not to turn on their air conditioners in the summer, Maged notes, but you can “tell them to buy energy efficient air conditioners instead.”

The duo are optimistic about their ability to get their point across, as they have the added benefit of having a background in web design. When an important message about a new initiative is lost, it is often because of the way it is presented, they say.

They think their website is both good looking and user friendly. And it has to be to attract people and convince them of its potential advantage, both on a personal and national level.

“There are people who are already interested in changing their habits, so we give them the tools to do so while trying to convince those who are not interested to change their habits as well,” explains Khouly.

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