Since 2015, Deena Mousa (JE ‘20) has served as the founder and head of Shamsina, a solar energy start-up operating in Egypt.
“Shamsina looks to provide solar-powered water heaters to Egyptian communities with insufficient or limited access to alternative power sources.”
“Mousa started the company along with her sister after observing that many residents of Cairo lacked access to water heaters. This prompted the use of hazardous methods to heat water such as lighting garbage pots on fire or employing kerosene lamps.”
In an interview with YRIS, Mousa described the serious public health issues caused by these practices, stating, “The health repercussions of inhaling kerosene fumes are similar to those caused by smoking two packs of cigarettes. Not to mention burns — local public hospitals report numerous cases, and even deaths, caused by kerosene lamps.”
The Mousa sisters envision Shamsina as a company that can not only help disseminate water heaters but also generate sustainable economic development by employing workers from low-income communities to build these heaters and utilizing locally sourced materials so as to generate a productive cycle of investment directly in underserved areas. This model reflects a growing trend in Egypt towards the adoption of new energy sources with the added dimension of social entrepreneurship calling.
Mousa’s work comes at a turning point for the renewable energy sector in Egypt. President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi has stated his intention to make renewable energy sources comprise 20 percent of Egypt’s energy sector by 2020, signaling interest in finding alternatives to the country’s traditionally oil-dominated energy landscape.
To date, the government subsidies meant to stimulate investment in renewables mainly benefit large firms in the form of feed-in tariffs, which pay firms a value proportionate to the amount of energy they contribute to the nation. Nevertheless, major investors remain largely hesitant to diversify from the dominant petroleum industry, which creates significant opportunities for younger companies such as Shamsina to fill in the gaps in coverage that continue to plague many Egyptian communities.
Mousa reported a greater diversity of enterprises, “from electric bikes to thermally-heated chicken farms,” which employ renewable energy to help the country shift towards a more environmentally friendly energy footprint. Shamsina distinguishes itself from oil corporations that, in spite of the high rents they generate, tend to employ proportionally fewer individuals and rarely utilize labor from nearby communities.
Currently, Shamsina is looking to expand its model to more communities and regions around Egypt. In the short run, Mousa identified refugee camps as a priority, as these locations often face issues securing access to heating in the winter, and employ many of the same hazardous techniques observed in Cairo, with medical centers in camps reporting cases of severe burns among residents. While this remains a formidable challenge, Shamsina is well poised to tackle it.
The company was recently recognized as a top 100 startup by the International Finance Corporation and World Economic Forum, an opportunity that has helped Shamsina “insert concepts of decentralized, bottom-up, and clean approaches to energy provision into an otherwise quite traditional conversation,” according to Mousa.
Additionally, greater international recognition has connected Shamsina to a wider array of partners interested in helping to further its mission and contribute to the global movement towards renewable energy.