Low-Cost Batteries
The University of Strathclyde in the United Kingdom (U.K.) has developed and tested a new low-cost battery that promises to reduce the production prices of current batteries by almost 70%. These new cheaper, low-carbon power batteries could make it easier to supply more homes in sub-Saharan Africa with electricity, as well as businesses and hospitals, currently in need of power.

Working alongside Scotland-based StorTera, the researchers found that the new battery could support infrastructures such as telecommunication towers and replace the current expensive fossil-fuel-powered batteries which are keeping them active. The two groups came together on this project following the supply of a grant from the U.K.’s Faraday Institution, which is part of the institution’s Transforming Energy Access (TEA) initiative.

The testing of the low-cost battery took place in the U.K. during the nationwide heatwave in 2022, in which temperatures exceeded 40 degrees Celsius, making the researchers confident that the batteries could withstand the hot temperatures in Africa.

No Change in Recent Years

Currently, more than 578 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are without electricity. An International Energy Agency (IEA) report estimated that there will be more than 600 million people without electricity access in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030.

Despite the increase in population, the IEA report showed that nearly 400 million people will gain electricity access in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa if they meet investments of $6 billion by 2030. According to the agency’s findings, the largest part of the continent which will see a lack of improvement in their access to electricity will be central Africa

Lack of electricity in sub-Saharan Africa has affected the countries’ national health care systems massively in recent years, as nearly 60% of the health care facilities do not have access to reliable electricity in order to power their refrigerators.

With no electricity, hospitals are unable to keep bags of blood, insulin and other medicines in their facilities, as safe refrigeration storage systems need electrical power. Similarly, there are no working MRI machines, x-ray scanners and heart rate monitors in most healthcare facilities in sub-Saharan Africa. These issues highlight the importance of the newly developed low-cost batteries.

Maternal and New Born Deaths

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the lack of electricity has a large effect on maternal women and children, as they both need constant care in health care facilities that have stable electrical power supply. More than 4.5 million women and babies die every year during pregnancy, childbirth or within the first month after birth. All of these are linked largely to the lack of power keeping health care facilities’ lighting and operating tables at a minimum.

Director of the Technical Division at the U.N.’s Population Fund (UNFPA) Dr. Julitta Onabanjo said “The death of any woman or young girl during pregnancy or childbirth is a serious violation of their human rights.”

WHO also revealed that there has not been much success in reducing these numbers since 2015, as last in 2022, there were nearly 290,000 maternal deaths, 1.9 million stillbirths and more than 2.3 million child deaths within the first month of being born.

Director of Maternal, Newborn and Child Health at WHO Dr. Anshu Banerjee, commented on the lack of progress saying “If we wish to see different results, we must do things differently. More and smarter investments in primary healthcare are needed now so that every woman and baby have the best chance of health and survival.”

Powering Up

Investments and initiatives such as Power Africa and Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL), are currently at the forefront of the battle to supply the whole of Africa with electricity. Power Africa established more than 18 million new power connections to homes in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa. It also plans to add an additional 60 million power connections by 2030.

Similarly, in 2022, SEforALL in partnership with Power Africa and USAID guaranteed a two-year $1 million grant which supports African governments in providing electricity to the continent’s health care sector alone. This effort is also an attempt to provide more hospitals with power.

With the invention of new low-cost batteries, grants like these could have a better use to supply more buildings with electricity from the same amount of money, as the supply costs per building reduce substantially.

Power Africa’s coordinator Mark Carrato, commented on the initiative saying, “This grant supports stronger and more resilient health systems in Sub-Saharan Africa by accelerating the development and deployment of clean energy and sustainable investment in health facilities.”

Looking Ahead

Innovations like the low-cost battery developed by the University of Strathclyde in the U.K. offer a glimmer of hope for improving access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa. By significantly reducing production prices, these batteries could pave the way for supplying more homes, businesses and hospitals with reliable power. Investments and initiatives like Power Africa and SEforALL are already working toward expanding electricity access, and with the introduction of affordable energy storage solutions, their impact can be amplified, leading to improved healthcare outcomes and a brighter future for the region.

– Sam Kalantzis
Photo: Flickr

Electricity Access in AfricaIn an effort to better understand anti-poverty initiatives and their effectiveness, a pioneering Stanford University study published in November 2022 has provided some of the strongest evidence yet of the extent to which electrification fuels economic growth in the developing world. Though the research is still developing, rapid advances in computer technology indicate that the ability to collect and analyze such data will only expand in the coming years and decades.

A New Study

Led by PhD candidate Nathan Ratledge, the research relied on innovative techniques, developed at Stanford, that combine satellite imagery and AI to measure and study poverty in countries where data collection has traditionally posed a challenge. The researchers’ findings demonstrate that Machine Learning (ML) techniques can provide more reliable estimates of the causative impact of electricity access in Africa.

Specifically, the study analyzed the impact of Uganda’s expanding electricity grid on livelihoods in the country. Drawing upon vast data, it juxtaposed digitized maps from 2005 to 2016 with satellite-image-based wealth estimates for more than 640,000 houses across 27,000 villages in sub-Saharan Africa. This deep learning model, which trained an algorithm to detect patterns from images, allowed the researchers to visualize the social and economic impacts of electricity in ways not previously possible.

The Findings

Based on the findings, the electrical grid encompassed 41% of Uganda in 2019, marking a significant increase from just 12% in 2010. Furthermore, increased access to electricity correlated with substantial improvements in financial conditions and quality of life, as measured by increases in home construction, appliance use and other tangible markers of growing wealth. Overall, the data showed that the rate of wealth accumulation roughly doubled in Ugandan communities that gained electricity access, as compared with communities that lacked it. 

These findings were published during the November 2022 COP27 in Egypt, which marked the 27th annual meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The seminal focus of COP27 was overcoming challenges to addressing the pressing global climate crisis. More than 35,000 participants and 100 Heads of State representing governments around the globe attended the conference. One of the key outcomes was an agreement to establish a “loss and damage fund” to mitigate the inordinate effects that high-income countries have had on climate change and, thereby, on the vulnerable nations that suffer the most impact. Many of these nations are in Africa, which has seen continent-wide destruction by droughts, flooding and other climate-related disasters in recent years.

Encountered Problems

Until now, one of the primary problems encountered in measuring electricity access and its relation to poverty in Africa has been a lack of data. As Ratledge stated, “It’s hard in many low-income countries to get any reliable data. It just doesn’t exist.” A model for overcoming this obstacle, the recent Stanford study presents a new way to measure progress in the fight against global poverty.

A Promise of Future Growth

Due to the Stanford research, “we now have this technique to give local-level measurements of key economic outcomes at a broad, spatial scale and over time,” said Marshall Burke, the study’s co-author. Perhaps the most inspiring aspect of the researchers’ work is that all evidence points to an exponential proliferation of understanding. Ongoing technological advancements are expected to make such techniques widely affordable and accessible, allowing researchers to carry out similar work to better understand and combat poverty around the world.

Gabriel Gathercole
Photo: Flickr

Renewable Energy in Nepal
Nepal is in a unique position — the country is blessed with abundant natural renewable energy resources, providing it with the opportunity to bypass developing a fossil fuel industry and transition straight into a renewable energy economy. In 2019, about 17% of the population in Nepal endured multi-dimensional poverty. Renewable energy in Nepal can help expand energy access to remote areas and improve living standards for impoverished Nepalese people.

Immense Potential for Renewables

The dramatic Himalayan mountains, glaciers and rivers that dominate the Nepalese landscape provide the country with a powerful energy source, in the form of falling water. This is known as hydropower. Thanks to this energy source, Nepal is one of the few countries with domestic energy generation that is entirely renewable, with 98% of it coming from hydropower. Nepal currently produces 2,200 MW of hydropower but has the potential to produce 50,000 MW of estimated hydropower, one of the highest amounts in the world.

However, Nepal’s natural renewable resources do not stop at hydro as experts consider the country’s solar resources to be even greater than that of hydro. Scientists estimate that solar power alone could provide 100 times more energy than required for a 100% solar system in which all Nepalese had consumption levels similar to developed countries.

Despite abundant resources, the high cost of infrastructure development has historically limited the development of renewable energy in Nepal. Renewable energy makes up only a fraction of Nepal’s total energy consumption. The majority of the country’s energy consumption is from non-electric sources including biomass (68%) and fossil fuels (25%). Shifting to electricity as the main energy source, a process known as electrification, is necessary to fully utilize Nepal’s renewable energy potential.

Energy Access in Remote Areas

Electrifying Nepal comes with challenges. The situation is especially severe in rural and remote areas where the rugged, mountainous terrain creates a barrier to connecting communities to national electricity grids. As a result, many rural households still use firewood, kerosene and batteries for cooking and lighting their homes. The lack of access to reliable and efficient energy hinders other fundamental human rights like access to clean water, health and education. This is known as energy poverty.

Despite historical challenges with energy access, Nepal is one of the fastest electrifying countries in the world. Electricity access in remote areas is increasing at an annual rate of around 4.3% per year compared to the global average of 0.8%. The proportion of households with access to electricity increased from 68% in 2010 to almost 90% in 2020. However, this remains low when compared to neighboring countries such as India, Sri Lanka and Thailand, which have achieved 100% access.

Micro-grid Renewable Energy

Micro-grid renewable energy may be the solution to Nepal’s energy access challenges. Government and local organizations have previously invested heavily in micro-hydro plants in rural communities. One example is the Rural Energy Development Programme (REDP) which began in 2015 and installed 307 micro-hydro plants across rural areas of Nepal. The overall efforts of the REDP allowed 550,000 people living in remote areas to obtain access to electricity.

Experts are now advocating for the use of micro-grid solar energy in rural Nepal. Solar is competitive with and vastly more available than hydro and is also easy to implement at small scales. As the cost of solar energy production falls, it becomes an increasingly viable option for broaching the gap in nationwide electricity access and eliminating energy poverty in Nepal. Solar will also enhance Nepal’s energy resiliency in the circumstance of changing weather patterns, with climate scientists predicting that some areas of Nepal will experience a reduction in water availability, which will impact hydropower production in the future.

Micro-grid Solar Power Installations

A number of micro-grid solar power projects have undergone initiation in rural areas of Nepal in recent years. One such project is the installation of solar-powered water pumps in the buffer zone of Bardiya National Park in the southern Tarai region of Nepal.  The water pumps allow clean water access for houses and businesses. The water also helps grow crops and raise livestock, contributing to the overall food security of the community.

In Nepal’s Gulmi district, solar panels underwent installation in 11 schools and colleges, providing educational institutions with a regular power supply. This improved the quality of education by powering equipment such as computers and has allowed water pumps to be installed to provide access to clean water and improve sanitation. Access to clean water is especially important for encouraging girls to attend school, given the sanitary challenges that stop girls from attending school during menstruation.

The electrification of Nepal’s rural and remote communities is also a goal of the federal government. The federal, provincial and local governments have been collaborating with energy sector stakeholders to expand and promote clean and sustainable energy. The government has released a target of electric cookstoves in all households by 2030 and net-zero national carbon emissions by 2045.

Looking Ahead

Renewable energy in Nepal at both small and large scales is playing an important role in the country’s economic development. With the right renewable energy strategy, experts believe Nepal can achieve energy self-sufficiency during the 21st century. The development of a clean sustainable energy economy has the potential to reduce energy poverty and improve living standards for Nepalese people.

Amy McAlpine
Photo: Flickr

Electricity Access in Sub-Saharan Africa
The Africa Minigrids Program is an effort that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) led to improve electricity access in sub-Saharan Africa. Using solar mini-grids, the program will work with 21 African countries up until 2027 to solve the energy crisis through renewable energy.

Energy Access and Poverty in sub-Saharan Africa

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), sub-Saharan African nations have some of the world’s lowest energy access rates. In fact, the agency notes that “Sub-Saharan Africa’s share of the global population without access to electricity rose to 77% from 74% before the pandemic.” The most recently available IEA data states that less than half of the region’s population, some 48.5%, have access to electricity as of 2019.

That being said, the lack of access to electricity intertwines with poverty in the region. According to the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index 2022, sub-Saharan Africa not only has the lowest electricity access rates but also holds the highest concentration of impoverished people.

Additionally, a 2018 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report says that policy solutions in 2018 did not “recognize the transformative potential of solar off-grid and mini-grid solutions to deliver clean energy access.” This is set to change with UNDP’s Africa Minigrids Program, which plans on using these methods to improve electricity access in sub-Saharan Africa.

How the Program Works

According to the Africa Minigrids Program’s website, the initiative will help improve electricity access across 21 sub-Saharan partner countries by “increasing the financial viability of, and promoting scaled-up investment in renewable energy minigrids in Africa, with a focus on cost-reduction levers and innovative business models.” By doing this, the program would also impact socio-economic development in the region since industries such as agriculture, health care and education require stable and consistent electricity access to see successful outcomes.

The UNDP is not alone in affecting change in electricity access in sub-Saharan Africa. The Global Environment Facility (GEF) financially supports the project with funding that will help the UNDP and its program partners, the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and the African Development Bank (ADB), implement the program, starting with an initial phase of supporting 11 out of 21 partner countries.

According to the program brochure, the first phase began in 2022, with the subsequent two phases expected to begin in 2023. Combined, the 21 countries are home to “more than two-thirds of the total unelectrified population of Africa,” with a total combined population of 396 million individuals without electricity. The program estimates that more than 200,000 schools and clinics will gain access to electricity as a result of the program along with upward of 900,000 businesses.

Benefits of the Program

Without a doubt, the electricity that the Africa Minigrids Project provides will have a significant impact on the impoverished populations of the 21 AMP countries. According to the World Bank, improving access to electricity is “key to boosting economic activity and contributes to improving human capital, which, in turn, is an investment in a country’s potential.”

Electricity in the region would help power schools, medical facilities and businesses, allowing millions a chance to improve their lives and move one step closer to living a life free of poverty. The Africa Minigrids Program presents a transformative approach to improving electricity access in sub-Saharan Africa, one that will positively affect millions of people currently living in poverty.

– Mohammad Samhouri
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Electricity to Africa
Akon, a U.S.-Senegalese rapper whose real name is Aliaune Thiam, grew up in a rural town in Senegal and spent much of his childhood without electricity. He personally faced the challenges of living off the grid, from limited educational and career opportunities to health and quality of life concerns. In 2014, Akon launched the “Akon Lighting Africa” project to help Africans access low-cost yet sustainable energy through solar power. Understanding the affordability of solar power, Akon’s solar project aimed to bring much-needed electricity to more communities in Africa.

Electricity Access in Africa

According to the World Bank in 2022, millions of Africans still do not have access to electricity. “West Africa has one of the lowest rates of electricity access in the world; only about 42% of the total population and 8% of rural residents have access to electricity,” the World Bank says.

Akon founded the solar project in partnership with two visionary co-founders, Thione Niang, a passionate Senegalese political activist, and Samba Bathily, a successful entrepreneur and CEO of solar company Solektra International. The co-founders understand that rural African communities require more than just temporary aid from foreign donors. They believe in empowering these communities with “affordable renewable energy delivered by fully trained African professionals managing for-profit projects that bring longevity, generate jobs and build new self-sustaining economies,” the Guardian reports.

Benefits of Akon’s Solar Project

In the first year of operation, Akon Lighting Africa brought solar energy to 14 African nations through street lights and solar panels. The project has made a significant difference in the communities it targets. Solar electricity is allowing vendors with outside businesses to operate for longer hours, children are able to study after dark and crime rates are decreasing due to the visibility that solar-powered street lighting provides.

As of 2016, the project had made significant progress toward its goal of providing solar-powered electricity to 250 million people on the African continent by 2030. With the installation of 1 million solar-powered street lights in 480 communities across 16 nations and the establishment of 1,200 solar microgrids and 5,500 job opportunities, the project is well on its way to fulfilling its mission. By 2020, Akon Lighting Africa had provided solar energy to 25 nations and about 28.8 million Africans in need.

A Vision of Sustainability for the Future

The singer has also expressed his vision of building a futuristic city in Senegal, called Akon City, powered entirely by sustainable energy. The city, which will feature everything from homes to hotels, schools and even an airport, will embody the principles of sustainable development and futuristic design. Akon also intends to build a $1 billion hospital with 5,000 beds among its many amenities.

The Akon Lighting Africa project is dedicated to improving lives in sub-Saharan Africa by partnering with local governments, companies and nonprofits to bring accessible solar energy systems to families, hospitals and schools. With 70% of sub-Saharan Africa’s population being younger than 30, creating sustainable jobs is crucial in many communities. To achieve this, in 2015, the project launched the Solar Academy in Bamako, Mali’s capital city, where young people from all over Africa receive training to become skilled professionals in the solar energy sector, for example, by gaining skills to build and maintain solar energy equipment.

The Akon Lighting Africa project is a great example of how investing in renewable energy can create jobs and bring electricity to people who need it. The project is bringing electricity to Africa by working with Chinese manufacturers of solar-powered products to provide affordable solar power to more Africans. This project is a great example of using renewable resources to create sustainable benefits.

– Frida Sendoro
Photo: Flickr

Fight Poverty in Uganda
When one thinks about ending global poverty, one often thinks about economic possibilities and foreign policy. However, thinking deeper, one may wonder about what specific, pragmatic factors they can focus on as surefire ways to reduce poverty globally. According to researchers at Stanford University, one of those surefire ways is electricity. By looking at Uganda, a developing country in East Africa, these researchers have proved that having access to reliable energy sources is vital in raising the world’s poor out of poverty. Here is how electricity can fight poverty in Uganda.

The Power of Electricity

Though many developed nations take access to reliable sources of electricity for granted, in many regions of the world this basic commodity is still missing. In developing countries, almost a billion people lack access to electricity – with more than half of these people being children under age 18. In a world that is becoming more digital and automated, those living without electricity are at a heavy disadvantage. Many factors that often lead to a better quality of life – such as plumbing, clean cooking and internet access – hinge upon access to electricity.

Even as technology progresses, those in impoverished countries continue to lag in the field of electricity. For example, even though in the past 10 years more of the global population has gained access to electricity, in Sub-Saharan Africa, the number of people without access to electricity has increased. Estimates say that by 2030, 660 million people will still lack access to electricity – most of them in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Hope in Uganda

Access to electricity is vital to the fight against poverty in Uganda. While one may consider how crucial it is, according to Stanford researchers, it is incredibly important. Using cutting-edge AI research technology, researchers looked at Uganda, a country that has struggled to access sophisticated technology. Researchers focused on Uganda’s rapidly-expanding power grid, examining how the expansion of electricity services affected the people of Uganda.

The study’s results were clear. Between 2015 and 2020, electricity access in Uganda’s population jumped from 18.5% to 42.1%. When looking at the communities that gained electricity access, the study discovered that they were able to increase their wealth at double the rate of those who still were without access.

One may ask how electricity access in Uganda creates opportunities for economic growth. Considering that almost 75% of all Ugandans work in the agricultural center, having access to electricity means access to new, effective technologies that increase yields and economic prosperity. Electricity access also drastically improves many facets of domestic life, including access to clean cooking fuels and methods. As the access to electricity increases for Ugandans, their wealth increases along with opportunities for improved living standards and long-term economic growth.

Looking Forward

The Stanford researchers hope their new research method, and the findings from their study of electricity access in Uganda, will help inform economic policy globally. As the fight against poverty in places like Uganda continues, considering simple commodities, like electricity, is vital in raising the standards of living of the poor. By understanding how technology can make such a huge economic impact in the fight against poverty in Uganda, better policies can form to help developing countries flourish.

– Elijah Beglyakov
Photo: Pixabay

World Bank’s RESPITE Initiative
West Africa consists of 16 countries with a population of 419 million people. West Africa’s access to electricity is one of the lowest on a global scale, with “only 42% of the total population and only 8% of the rural population having access to electricity.” The COVID-19 pandemic has also contributed heavily to West Africa’s energy poverty. More recently, the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine has significantly contributed to the rising food, oil and energy costs throughout the world and Africa has experienced the brunt of these consequences with high electrification costs, food crises throughout the region along with adverse effects of changing weather patterns.

However, with the World Bank’s introduction of the Regional Emergency Solar Power Intervention Project (RESPITE), the solution to sustainable and cost-effective and reliable access to electricity throughout West Africa will be more transparent with the introduction of solar and hydroelectric power along with answers to the issues that Africa is currently facing. Here is some information about the World Bank’s RESPITE initiative.

What is the World Bank’s RESPITE Initiative?

The World Bank in collaboration with the International Development Association (IDA) introduced RESPITE in December 2022 as a response to West Africa’s energy crisis through the introduction of renewable energy. The IDA is financing the initiative. The project has the approval for $311 million coupled with an additional $20 million in grants “to help facilitate future regional power trade and strengthen the institutional and technical capacities of West Africa Power Pool (WAAP) to undertake its regional mandate.”

The initiative involves the nations of Chad, Sierra Leone, Togo and Liberia. RESPITE’s main objective is to “rapidly increase grid-connected renewable energy capacity and strengthen integration in the participating countries.” RESPITE involves the “installation and operation of approximately 106 megawatts of solar photovoltaic with battery energy and storage systems, 41 megawatts expansion of hydroelectric capacity and will support electricity distribution and transmission interventions across the four countries,” the World Bank reports.

RESPITE’s Necessity

RESPITE comes as a necessity since West Africa suffers from the lowest access to reliable electrification, which has resulted in millions being unable to live in comfort as food is unable to be refrigerated and fans or air conditioning does not function, and children are unable to do their homework. The gravity of the energy crisis that all of Africa not just West Africa, faces is dire because, by 2030, there will be only three countries in West and Central Africa that will have the capability to supply their people with stable electricity, which means that more than 263 million people will be unable to have access to electricity by 2030, according to the World Bank.

RESPITE’s necessity also comes from the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic that adversely affected Africa’s development within the energy sector. The pandemic caused more than 100 million people to lose access to electricity and slowed the region’s progress toward affordable accessibility. Furthermore, with the rise of supply chain issues beginning in 2021, when countries began to recover from the pandemic, costs for batteries, solar panels and other essential parts increased significantly.

Furthermore, access to energy is detrimental to daily activities, including but not limited to education, health, hygiene and food. With the pandemic disrupting the affordability and access to electricity, by 2030, more than 2.4 billion people in Africa will be unable to access clean cooking, according to Energy Monitor. Remedying Africa’s energy poverty comes with its challenges. However, the solution to this is introducing off-grid renewable energy. Access to energy is critical to the region’s economic development.

Benefits of the World Bank’s RESPITE Initiative

RESPITE helps to create a path towards providing electricity to every person in West Africa that it is a part of because it answers the current power supply crisis that it is currently facing and simultaneously solves issues such as changing weather patterns through renewable energy and the food crisis. According to the World Bank, RESPITE was introduced as an emergency measure to address West Africa’s energy poverty by introducing renewable energy. In addition, the introduction of RESPITE in the nations of Chad, Libya, Sierra Leone and Togo creates the foundation for establishing a stable power trade since these four countries are members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

According to Boutheina Guermazi, World Bank Director for Regional Integration for sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Northern Africa, RESPITE helps enhance the existing regional integration with ECOWAS members within the energy sector. At the same time, the initiative helps “create economies of scale, increases the potential for regional trade through investments in transmission and generation infrastructure to integrate the markets physically, and develops regional public good by facilitating knowledge sharing and capacity building,” the World Bank reports.

Forward Thinking

The IDA, also known as the “World Bank’s fund for the poorest,” has supported the development of more than 113 countries. On average, it has contributed more than $21 billion, which continues to increase. More than 61% of the funds have gone to Africa alone. In addition, the World Bank over the last three years has “doubled its investments to increase electricity access rates in Central and West Africa. We have committed more than $7.8 a billion to support 40 electricity access programs, of which more than half directly support new electricity connection,” the World Bank stated.

– Arijit Joshi
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Electricity in UgandaElectricity in Uganda remains a fundamental need many citizens live without due to poor infrastructure and high prices far outside the budget of average Ugandans. Uganda’s president has repeatedly complained about the electricity tariffs and soaring fees from private companies. As a result, the Ugandan government decided not to renew its contracts with Eskom, one of South Africa’s top electricity providers. The government is taking Eskom’s plants over with the Uganda National Electricity Company Limited (UNCEL) to control electricity prices, expand access to electricity and decrease multidimensional poverty in Uganda.

Overall, access to electricity is essential for economic growth. Without it, people are fighting to attain a proper education, access to social services, clean water and countless other necessities for living a life free of poverty. As access to these necessities expands, the quality of life could improve and so could the economic productivity of Uganda where 42.1% of people live in a complex web of multidimensional poverty.

Changing Infrastructure of Electricity in Uganda

Electricity in Uganda does not reach the majority of the population. Currently, around 42% of Uganda’s population has access to electricity, leaving the internet penetration rate at 26.2%. Electricity in Uganda has the opportunity to be innovative because it is typically non-reliant on fossil fuels. Uganda’s energy suppliers use biomass, hydropower and wind power more often than fossil fuels. Two hydropower stations are Uganda’s primary sources of electricity: the Nalubaale Power Station on the White Nile and the Kiira Hydropower station. Both hydropower stations have been under lease by the South African company Eskom since 2003. The lease will end in 2023.

Uganda’s government announced that it does not plan to renew the Eskom lease for the hydropower plants. Instead, it will take control of them through the state-run branch, the Uganda National Electricity Company Limited (UNECL). This decision stems from the incredibly high electricity costs limiting Ugandan’s electricity access.

Power Africa in Uganda

Power Africa is a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) initiative striving to bring electricity to all regions of Africa thereby ending energy poverty and improving well-being. Power Africa in Uganda has already brought significant improvements to Ugandans. To date, Power Africa in Uganda has increased electricity access rates by 63% in urban Uganda and 11% in rural Uganda, creating more than 1.5 million new electricity connections in the African nation.

Notably, Power Africa in Uganda has provided loan guarantees to several of the energy providers in Uganda to build miniature hydropower plants. It has also financially supported projects in Uganda to guarantee the building of full-size hydropower plants to secure funding from organizations such as the African Development Bank.

Implementing Plans

Much of the electricity in Uganda comes from hydropower plants. When drought hit in 2005, there was a severe shortage of electricity available in the years since there has been an incredible surplus and increased electricity generation. The surplus has caused high tariffs, making access to electricity challenging and continuing the limited access to the internet. The tariffs are set by Eskom and are free from government regulation, which is why the Ugandan government is taking control of the hydro plants to have proper access to expanding internet penetration at reasonable prices without tariffs.

The government has implemented many plans to boost electricity penetration rates. Coupled with help from USAID’s Power Africa initiative, the future looks bright for Ugandans.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr

Renewable Energy in Afghanistan   
Afghanistan faces an uphill battle in the supply of reliable electricity to rural communities. As of 2016, it produced only 22% of the country’s electricity needs domestically, mainly as hydroelectric (88%). Afghanistan’s rural regions often experience major neglect. In response, the Afghan government, with the help of foreign aid initiatives, is making a proactive shift towards off-grid renewable sources. This implementation of domestic renewable energy sources in Afghanistan will help the country more effectively alleviate poverty.                                                                          

Afghanistan’s Energy Reliance

The import of 78% of Afghanistan’s grid-supplied electricity comes from neighboring Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Iran and Turkmenistan. However, after the Taliban’s takeover in 2021, the Afghan government has increasingly struggled to pay for imported electricity, due to political instability, dysfunctional public services and the international freeze on overseas assets.

Afghanistan’s dependency only exacerbates its unstable international relations. In 2021, the country faced the daunting prospect of losing power, with only 38% of the 38 million residents having access to electricity. The burden of repaying outstanding bills to neighboring countries weighs heavily on the Taliban government. Meanwhile, independent companies are reliant on international loans to reimburse their neighbors.

Amid the rising insecurity surrounding the availability of electricity, there seems a desperate need for domestically sourced sustainable forms of energy. With this in mind, private organizations and government initiatives have been instrumental in the development and implementation of renewable energy in Afghanistan.

Off-the-Grid Renewable Options

Since much of rural Afghanistan is isolated and mountainous, the cost of transmission to these communities is not always feasible. However, off-grid renewables, that is energy sources that do not have a connection to a central grid system, have proven to be pivotal in electrifying regions without access to reliable power.

In 2002, the Afghan government established the national solidarity program (NSP), and with the help of USAID, managed to implement mini-grid systems powered by micro-hydro and solar projects. These mini-grids allow local communities to manage and take ownership of renewable energy.

Independently-sourced renewable energy can have a myriad of benefits to Afghan society, economy and environment. Organizations like the nonprofit Mercy Corps, with help from the U.K. Department for International Development, have worked with locals in establishing affordable renewable energy. Using a unique funding model, the organization helped bring solar power to a hospital in Lashkargah, Helmand Province, that now has access to electricity 24/7. By merging business incentives and humanitarian objectives, the hospital has been able to repay the initial start-up costs of solar implementation, and now has unlimited access to cheap, reliable off-grid electricity.

A Substantial Cause for Optimism

These initiatives benefit the country’s energy independence while also minimizing the impact on the environment. Mercy Corps has managed to install more than 300 solar systems across the country, and they strive to further integrate these technologies into programs that supply renewable energy in Afghanistan.

Investments in off-grid renewables like solar or micro-hydro can have an important effect on Afghanistan’s development. Access to consistent and clean energy helps alleviate poverty since more people have access to better health care, education and amenities. Furthermore, reliable electricity for water distribution centers and cold-storage facilities helps to sustain the basic needs of rural communities.

– Namra Tahir
Photo: Flickr

SDG 7 fosters hope for India’s energy sector
India’s alignment with the Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG 7) is something to be applauded. It has facilitated affordable, reliable and modern energy for all through investing in green hydrogen, sustainable energy transitions and a bio-economy. As a pioneer of sustainable economic models for developing economies, India has been taking steps to fight against climate change. With ambitions to achieve net zero emissions by 2070 while meeting 50% of its electricity needs through renewable energy sources by 2030, SDG 7 fosters hope for India’s energy sector.

SDG 7 provides a reliable framework for sustainability, encouraging the expansion of infrastructure and technology improvements. By incorporating renewable energy sources that mitigate global climate change, policymakers have showcased how SDG 7 fosters hope for India’s energy sector.

India’s Current Situation

As the third largest electricity producer, India’s energy sector has always faced scrutiny, with high carbon emissions demanding attention. Its reliance on coal as a primary source and imported oil as a secondary source of electricity create formidable sustainability hurdles. Additionally, with the impact of the pandemic weighing heavily on India, interventions and government policies to align with the SDG 7 have been necessary.

In response, the Indian government has initiated programs facilitating sustainable energy transitions. Economic opportunities incentivizing projects have helped India make transitions to clean energy. In August 2022, the Indian cabinet approved a national plan to increase its commitment to reducing the emissions intensity of its GDP by 45%. Numerous stakeholders have applauded this move, especially given its adoption of industry-standard recommendations to achieve net zero emissions. Also, the Indian government has mandated a better and more efficient transport system with plans to support its operations with renewable energy.

According to recommendations from General Electric, “The government should ensure that power producers comply with new emission standards by 2022 for India to meet its emission targets.” Such sentiments stem from the opportunities and challenges identified in the Indian energy sector, particularly with the scale of investments in renewable energy. Additionally, national policies within the energy sector are shifting to accommodate the development of an efficient electricity market, creating extensive progress in achieving clean energy.

Focus on the Bio-economy

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi asserted that India is achieving significant growth in its bio-economy, as it has grown eight times what it was eight years ago. Because of this, achieving net zero emissions by 2070 is a real possibility. Notably, the government’s continued support of its biotech sector has ushered in a new culture of doing business. Modi stated that “the number of biotech incubators has increased from six in 2014 to 75 now.” Identifying the contributions of diverse sectors in these achievements, he underlined Indian professionals’ growing momentum and reputation in the global market as it tracks sustainability principles.

The focus on the bio-economy has also spurred growth in the transport sector as modernizing this public resource demands strategic alignment. Mobility remains a crucial factor in India’s economy, and responses to sustainable and cheap transport have sought long-term energy solutions. According to Economic Times, “Market forces are acting upon balancing the energy mix in the short run and shifting fossil fuel load to clean energy in the long run.” Thus, such energy transitions forecast a sustainable future for India’s energy sector.

Focus on Green Hydrogen

In February 2022, India established a framework for producing and exporting green hydrogen. In its ventures, India has even sought help from global funders to facilitate low-rate loans for green hydrogen projects. The focus on green hydrogen reflects the country’s efforts in diversifying energy sources. According to the Minister for Power and New and Renewable Energy, R K Singh, “We achieved universal access to electricity by electrifying more than 18,000 villages in under 1,000 days and more than 28 million households in just 18 months in what was the largest expansion of access in such a short time anywhere in the world.”

Overall, these decisions affect billions of Indians reliant on electricity and forge a better framework to reduce their reliance on coal and oil. In this context, the contribution of the public and private sectors sustains the growing prominence of India’s clean energy. They contribute to its vision to facilitate 50% of its electricity needs through renewable energy sources by 2030, indicating that SDG 7 fosters hope for India’s energy sector.

– Hanying Wang
Photo: Unsplash