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Hassan Hachem about Self-sufficient Houses

Hassan Hachem is neither an eco-activist, nor a profit oriented capitalist. He is, however a construction industry experts concerned with the impact on environment of the companies he creates and manages. Hassa Hachem has therefore been interested by autonomous/passive buildings for the intellectual challenge and the economic outcome this experiments could one day generate at a global scale. Some passive houses succeed in dividing energy consumption by four. And the money too. Meet with happy sobriety.

Passivhaus has been originally pioneered in Germany 20 years ago. There was hardly any talk of an energy transition, much less of stopping the slightest nuclear power plant. Pioneers, now savor the accomplishment of one of their objectives: to be autonomous in electricity. Today, Hassan Hachem identified some projects, and one in particular, which achieved the ultimate Goal.

Hassan Hachem share with us the learnings of this project based in France.

Energy autonomy

A wind turbine 18 m high and 5 m wingspan, coupled with photovoltaic cells with an area of 6 m², are enough to satisfy a average family needs. The set provides enough power for a family of six.

This autonomy is only possible because autonomous houses consume 10 times less electricity than the average French. How do you achieve this feat without returning to the cave age? Very simply: the heating of the water shall be provided by the sun's rays and that of the house by a stove mass, which costs only 200 euros of wood per year. You also have to decide to do without a refrigerator. "Six months a year, it's cooler on the edge of the window than in the fridge," smiles Hassan Hachem, who point out that the system does not work in cooler countries like Burkina Faso or Equatorial Guinea ... The owners gather daily food in the large organic kitchen garden they have been maintaining for almost 40 years.

"While everyone went up to Paris, to make a career, to be fashionable or in the hope of a better society," the owners decided to go against and leave the capital. "The idea was to live in harmony with our ideas and the environment," says the owner. “So we did not have to spend more than the planet could provide. And so totally review our way of life. At the time, we were taken for soft dreamers”. He began by teaching part-time in a city he had never heard of: Châteaubriand, about sixty kilometers southwest of Nantes. "We decided to lower our wages to not participate in the growth, synonymous for us with the destruction of the environment. There can be no ecology with two salaries. The salary is necessarily linked to production and therefore to the damage to the environment. " Radical. But how do you live to six with half a teacher's salary?

Freed from all debts

"We are suppliers of our needs, responds the owner. Money covers a quarter of our needs. The rest, we hold it from our arms, our hands and our unpacked neurons. First economic post: housing. The house has been completely retyped by its owners. Who knew nothing but learned everything. "We must not fear the apparent complexity of the techniques, whatever they are, says the owner We must return to simple techniques, not expensive, repairable. The solar water heater I built 35 years ago still works! The owner, however, was not a heating engineer. "I watched and started: every night, I took my shower, hot, thanks to a yellow pipe of plastic that remained in the sun all day. I told myself, I'm going to replace this pipe with a matte black coil, I'm going to insert it into a flat sphere, and I'm going to snake a copper pipe inside and connect it to a 200-liter balloon. It's not rocket science. "

Only constraint: to have time. "Either we borrow a lot of money and we work to pay back. Either we become self-builder, and we are totally responsible for his house. We do not have all the guarantees and assurances that a professional offers. That said, when one does oneself, for oneself, in general, one does a great job for oneself. Doing yourself can minimize borrowing, and not have to work full time. The most recent straw construction, built next to the autonomous house, cost less than 25,000 euros for 70 m²! What make depressive a real estate developer. "It is designed as a solar collector. The sun, passing through the windows, heats the "compacted earth bricks" that accumulate calories. The highly insulating straw, on the outside, prevents from cold, the walls and the floor radiate inside by heating the house. "

Water autonomy

"We never paid for water," the owner adds. We recover the one falling from the sky, for free. It is stored in underground tanks and goes up into a well thanks to a pumping wind turbine. We then filter it to be able to drink it. It is of much better quality than the water of the network.

Exit also flush. "We have installed dry toilets, which allow us to have excellent compost for our garden," says Patrick. Result: the family ensures to consume five times less water than the average French. The greywater - from the dishes, laundry and showers - is purified by a natural filter: a series of tanks where grow plants that are traditionally found in wet areas and that clean the water. This alternative to skeptic pits and mini-treatment plants, very expensive in rural areas, is inexpensive to install (less than 1000 € against several thousand euros for conventional systems). The analyzes performed at the output of the system ensure a very well purified water.

"Unlike others, we chose our life"

"We do not suffer from any material shortage, reassures the owner. We simply had to learn to get rid of others' eyes and the injunctions of society. Yes, we can live without a TV, without a mobile phone, without a vacation on the other side of the world and be happy! We do not feel like giving up on anything. Unlike many others, we chose our life. Those who are in growth live in permanent dissatisfaction. They are unhappy about what others have and that they do not have. We must give enthusiasm to people to go to a happy sobriety. Obviously, I do not mean misery or poverty. It is better to specify it in these periods of forced austerity.

"Be careful," he warns, "it's not about the Little House in the Prairie. We do not want to be content with doing things ourselves in a smarter way. Our project is political. We want to give ideas, and collectively restrict our pressure on the planet. We want to recreate a social fabric, to initiate other ways of living together. "

Cultivate human biodiversity

From home, the project of Patrick and Brigitte became a hamlet: a couple and two children live in another house. As well as another person. Housed in a construction erected on site. The hamlet of the brook, 100% autonomous in energy, irrigates little by little. "Not being alone is very important. The more people there are, the more ideas there are. Human biodiversity is fundamental to being happy. "

70,000 people have already come to visit the autonomous house. The owners do not get tired of these monthly meetings. "Each time, these are meetings full of enthusiasm. Visitors ask relevant questions, exchanges are very rich. And the commitment of the youngest gives us real hope. Today there are many collective projects. We did not see that 40 years ago. Will the Hamlet of the brook be a river?

Equatorial Guinea in the train of change

Hassan Hachem adds that in Equatorial Guinea, self sufficient homes in energy has already become a reality. Through the Ministry of Mines, Industry and Energy, the Government of Equatorial Guinea is implementing a project in Annobon on solar energy as a renewable energy source, which will provide clean energy to the residents of the island. A group of national specialists is being formed to manage the plan.

This is a solar micro-grid project, which involved the collaboration of U.S. companies DFAIT Solar, GE Power & Water and Power System.

The solar complex on which this project is based has many 5MW panels, which can be increased up to 10MW in the future. All these panels will be managed by a large solar energy control and storage system.

The project has been considered as the largest self-sufficient solar micro-grid system on the entire African continent and is particularly optimal for the island of Annobon, which will thus be able to generate sufficient electricity to supply itself, the needs of the inhabitants and the future needs of tourism, industry and commerce. The province currently has a few hours of electricity per day, but thanks to this system, needs will be covered 24 hours a day.

The Annobon electrification project will be the right platform for the island's economic growth, as energy production is badly needed for the development of many industries and to create jobs on the island

For its part, the Ministry of Mines, Industry and Energy also stressed the importance of the project hiring Equatorial Guinean citizens, and to that end, plans have been made to train approximately 20 national technicians who will be responsible for the control and maintenance of the facilities.

The project is part of the Government of Equatorial Guinea's Horizon 2020 National Economic Development Plan.

An automous home in Equatorial Guinea (by Fabrice Richard)

The purpose of this article is to show that the creation of a green and autonomous house exists in Equatorial Guinea, but that it requires a little sacrifice. I am still studying the feasibility of such a house and what I am proposing here are only tracks that I have been able to find. But I can still improve them. I think that with 5000 dollars net it is easy to make a house autonomous in Africa.

It has always been said that having a house is a good deal because having a green and autonomous house reduces the number of bills you have to pay. I have always dreamed of having a self-sustaining house, "off the grid" as we often say in English. It's the various water and electricity cuts that often occur in my country that made me think about it.  I first asked myself these questions: What is a real autonomous house? And is a self-contained house also green?

An autonomous house for me is a house that is not connected to the "classic" system of a normal house (electricity, water, water treatment, ...) and therefore can be built anywhere and be self-sufficient. A green house is often autonomous, but an autonomous house is not necessarily green. Why do I think like this? Autonomous houses can also be autonomous thanks to a gasoline or diesel generator, for example, to produce electricity. A green house, on the other hand, uses renewable energy to produce electricity. So make no mistake about these two words. But in any case, I want a green and autonomous house. Because first of all, this kind of house is built anywhere, including Equatorial Guinea, even in places where there are no roads to bring the fuel and it's safer.

But green and autonomous houses are often very expensive to invest. It is true that for water, for example, it is necessary to have tanks or wells and especially a system of recovery and water filtration for possible reuse. This requires pumps and even a second plumbing system to be able to do this. And as far as renewable energies are concerned, it's no secret that they are very expensive, in the U.S.A., for example, it costs between 20,000 and 50,000 dollars not to run out of electricity alone. The advantage of the Americans and many other countries what solar panels or wind turbines are often made locally. This is not the case for Africa, we often have to import the panels, batteries and everything else and it is not easy.

I finally understood that to be able to have a green and autonomous house without a lot of money, you have to make sacrifices on the lifestyle you lead in Equatorial Guinea. Sometimes it's hard but it's much better than nothing. First you have to decentralize the house. First you have to make sure that there is no electrical system as such in the house or plumbing, to avoid second plumbing and pumps, which are sometimes expensive. It was also thought of two important tasks in a house : cooking and refrigeration of food.

For the kitchen, I thought of a solar oven with a Scheffler reflector (2 square meter parabola) for example with a heat conservation system. But even if we can use it, we should also think about green coals just in case there is no sun. This system is not only ecological but also economical because green coal can be used on its own. But you can also cut off pieces of dry branches and burn them in a special oven.

For refrigeration, I thought of two systems. First of all a "zee-pot", an African invention that can keep various fruits and vegetables fresh for several days without the need for electricity. In addition, the zee pot is made of clay and you only need a little bit of water to work. Otherwise, there are also solar absorption refrigerators that can work for 3 more days without sun. Ideal for preserving meat or fish.

For the light, I first thought of LED lamps, but I found it wasn't enough. I needed something less expensive in energy. A 12 watt, 30 watt or 40 watt LED lamp consumes a lot of energy. That's when I found lanterns with rechargeable batteries. I wanted solar lanterns but I couldn't find one that could also charge from another battery. Coleman lanterns seem more appropriate because of their autonomy. 3 or 4 lanterns will be more than enough for a family of 5 people.


 For water there is nothing better in Equatorial Guinea than the recovery of rainwater in tanks and in a well. It would be even more interesting if we could recover and reuse water. This would be practical especially in the dry season. Of course there is no pumping system so you have to collect water from a tap at the bottom of the tanks. With a good filtration system and the use of non-toxic biodegradable soaps we can reuse water for example for the toilets, but also for washing, laundry or dishes. This is very practical. It is therefore necessary to use tanks to recover the water already used and filter it if necessary. One or two tanks of 2000 liters can be sufficient for several months.

Recovering water from showers would be beneficial for septic tanks because shower water often fills them up very quickly. These are problems that we often have in this country. We can also think of toilets that use very little or no water, such as compost toilets. But an interesting system would also be a mixture of a septic tank and composting. The compost can be used later in agriculture in general.

Finally, there are household appliances. I must say that I have thought about what a native from Equatorial Guinea would do. The problem for the people of Equatorial Guinea is to think that if renewable energies cannot cover the energy needs of Westerners, it is also the case for them. I do not agree, apart from cooking and refrigeration, the needs of Africans are turning to light and entertainment. The problem of light I have already solved, there is still entertainment. Unfortunately this is a huge sacrifice for Africans but as far as I am concerned, it is not the case. This sacrifice is the use of television. Personally, I can replace the television with a laptop or a tablet PC for more autonomy. Coupled with a rechargeable video projector and that's it, I can do what I want. I've tried to think about television, in all senses, but it's impossible, and on top of that, if you have to couple it to a satellite decoder or a game console, it's a real problem. To entertain yourself, you'll have to rely a lot on books, and for the news, there's still the crank radio.

The energy for the lanterns and the laptop can come from the same source, for example, a "solar suitcase" coupled to a wind and pedal system.

All these are just tracks for a green and autonomous house, but they are not yet sustainable unfortunately because they use elements that cannot be repaired, let alone recycled. I am still thinking about the problem of food production and the domestic manufacture of biodegradable soaps for example.



Tags: bbc, , passive, energy, save, environment, equatorial guinea