energy, poverty and politics
Americans are burning through fossil fuels at historically high rates. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that the U.S. ranks number one in top energy producers and consumers as of 2019. While the domestic effects of oil, gas and coal consumption may feel familiar, the industry’s impact reaches beyond U.S. borders, influencing energy, poverty and politics.

In an interview with The Borgen Project, Dr. Bret Gustafson, professor of sociocultural anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis and author of “Energy and Empire: Bolivia in the Age of Gas,” explained the interplay among energy, poverty and politics.

Socioeconomic and Ecological Consequences of Fossil Fuels

Gustafson views the connection between fossil fuels and poverty as a paradox. Large profits bolster the wealth of companies and their owners rather than those living and working near industrial hubs of fossil fuel extraction. Similarly, many of the resource-rich countries that source of much of the world’s fossil fuels seem to benefit far less than the countries they supply.

The regions involved in fossil fuel production exist as “sacrifice zones.” These zones are so named because the social and environmental rights of people nearby are forfeited for profit. Gustafson argues that corporate heads of fossil fuel companies realize their industry’s detriment. However, the “logic of the corporate CEO is that anything that is negative can be paid for.”

Fossil fuels also wreak environmental and social destruction. From extraction to transportation, drilling and mining may lead to accidents, toxic spillage and water/air pollution. Moreover, fossil fuel production involves human risk. In fact, between 2008 to 2012, 34 fatalities and more than 1,400 injuries resulted from offshore oil rigs.

The Industry’s Role in US Politics: Subsidies and Lobbying

Energy, poverty and politics intersect in the U.S. as well. Despite evidence of socioeconomic and ecological harm, fossil fuel industries enjoy favorable political support in the U.S. Credible estimates of annual domestic fossil fuel exploration and production subsidies range between $10 billion and $52 billion per year. These estimates are likely to remain high with the current administration’s goal of “energy dominance,” a term synonymous with President Trump’s efforts to ramp up fossil fuel production and end the “war on coal.”

The fossil fuel industry and some U.S. politicians maintain a symbiotic relationship. The oil and gas industry was the fourth-largest industry spender in the U.S. for political lobbying in 2019.  In addition, from 2017 to 2018, companies tethered to fossil fuels spent nearly $360 million in campaign donations and lobbying. Koch Industries, ExxonMobil and Chevron were the leading spenders. In comparison, renewable energy industries spent $26 million during the same period of time.

A Sustainable Future in Energy, Poverty and Politics

Successfully addressing issues tied to energy, poverty and politics will likely require parallel streams of infrastructural change and public pressure. Experts at the Environmental and Energy Study Institute advocate for more efficient reconfigurations of the energy grid, such as a shift to electric transportation and renewable-powered buildings.

Gustafson believes awareness and protest will catalyze the political action necessary to make these changes mainstream. “It won’t happen by itself,” he says. “We need people in the street, marching, demonstrating.”

Though the fossil fuel industry operates within complicated socioeconomic and political contexts, individuals can walk, bike, vote or protest in the short-term for just, sustainable energy.

Maya Gonzales
Photo: Flickr

Women in Senegal
One of the most crucial needs for countries around the world is widespread renewable energy access. In Senegal, limited energy access in rural areas has impeded economic development for years, with only 44% of households in rural Senegal having access to electricity in 2018. With such a lack of access, rural communities are limited to rudimentary energy sources such as wood-burning fires for cooking, lighting, warmth and other needs. For rural Senegalese businesses, renewable energy could dramatically improve food production and work efficiency. For example, instead of drawing water from a well one bucket at a time, farmers in Senegal could simply use a solar-powered water pump, saving a lot of time and expending far less physical energy.

Rural agricultural businesses, like market gardens, are in dire need of these technology upgrades as well as equal energy access between rural men and women. Market gardening is a popular agricultural technique utilized by smaller-scale farmers in Senegal, and most of the market gardening businesses are run by women. In fact, women in Senegal comprise 70% of the total rural employment workforce, making them the cornerstone of the country’s agricultural and livestock farming sectors. The empowerment campaign Energy 4 Impact is supporting rural women not only in their pursuit of widespread access to clean and renewable energy but also in the promotion of women’s autonomy and equality.

Energy 4 Impact’s “Energy Opportunities for Women in Senegal” Project

Energy 4 Impact is a non-profit organization partnering with local businesses to extend access to energy in Africa. It is working alongside Siggil Jigeen, a non-governmental organization that promotes and protects women’s rights in Senegal through the Energy Opportunities for Women in Senegal Project. The project aims not only to supply rural communities in Senegal with sustainable, efficient energy, but also to increase women’s contribution across the entirety of Senegal’s energy value chain. The project is active within the Tambacounda and Kedougou regions in Senegal, marked by characteristically high poverty and unemployment rates, low access to electricity, the dependence on solid fuel, the high level of working poor and the untapped potential for agricultural development.

So far, the program has empowered over “250 women-led Micro and Small Enterprises (MSEs)” in rural areas. It hopes that by increasing the presence of sustainable energy sources, more economic opportunities will manifest themselves for women-run agricultural operations. The project has provided Senegalese women and women-run MSEs with reusable energy technologies (solar-powered pumps, solar lamps and freezers) and improved equipment for crop treatment. Besides supplying equipment, the project has held seminars providing women in Senegal with key entrepreneurial information that further empowers them as businesswomen. The project teaches business skills like record keeping, using financial services, networking and business autonomy, among others. Women are at the heart of Senegal’s agricultural scene, and this empowerment campaign has further secured their position as the country’s main actors along the energy value chain.

Project Impact

The project’s impact on women in Senegal is significant. A study found that married women entrepreneurs who participated in the project were more directly involved in decision-making, household investments/spending and health than other married women. Moreover, it was noted that most of the women who attended the informational seminars were more cognizant of “women’s energy needs,” their part in the energy sector and the numerous benefits yielded by actively participating in the country’s energy sector.

The Energy Opportunities for Women in Senegal Project has made tremendous progress by disseminating useful information and energy technologies throughout rural Senegal, but the country’s fight for energy is far from over. Energy access gender gaps and low female employment rates still plague Senegal’s urbanized areas. However, Energy 4 Impact has given hundreds of businesswomen in Tambacounda and Kedougou the tools needed to reach out to other women throughout Senegal, and hopefully empower them in the same way that they have been.

Maxwell Karibian
Photo: Flickr

In 2016, the African Development Bank launched the New Deal on Energy for Africa to accelerate the supply of electricity across the continent. After the African Development Bank launched its bold initiative, the president of the organization, Akinwumi Adesina, made a statement that resonated with countless communities: “Africa is tired of being in the dark.”

Fast forward to today and the vision of the New Deal has faded. All across Africa, communities suffer from frequent blackouts and grid congestion plagues slowly growing businesses. As the world becomes more tech-centered, it is critical that Africa is supported by modern technology rather than, as Adesina feared, being left in the dark.

High Population, High Demand

As the population in Africa steadily rises, so does the demand for reliable electricity to power growing communities. In sub-Saharan Africa, growing populations are overtaking electricity access, and the percentage of people in the region with access to electricity is declining. Additionally, mere access to power does not guarantee a high value in energy service. For instance, in Nigeria, it is estimated that homes and businesses spend $14 billion each year on fuel to power supplemental generators. This is because the current power grid is unable to keep up with the needs of the people.

If energy storage in Africa can be optimized, millions of people and small businesses will experience fewer blackouts. This will, in turn, provide energy, electricity and economic boosts for many struggling, impoverished communities. If executed properly, energy access could be the break in the poverty cycle that Africa has been waiting for.

Renewable Energy in Africa

With a consistently sunny climate, Africa has an incredible potential for solar energy. The cost of solar energy generation in Africa may even be relatively inexpensive compared to the current average prices for electricity. In Liberia, for example, one would have to pay a high average of $490 per megawatt-hour for electricity. However, if investors utilize the expansive supply of sunlight across the continent, the price will drop in the long run and provide more African consumers with stable energy. This could also provide more work opportunities in industry, technology and small businesses that would otherwise be unable to pay an electricity bill.

Overall, the impact of investing in new energy storage technology will be substantial. Impoverished communities will have access to reliable power, the poor can find work and countries’ economies will grow. However, the path to renewable energy integration is not as simple as one may hope.

In recent years, older and more traditional power plants have been attempting to provide stable power to communities with moderate success. It is estimated that 42% of Africans lack access to electricity in their homes because they are not in zones served by an electric grid. Additionally, frequent blackouts and massive regions without power are not uncommon in the continent.

Energy Storage

As Africa aims to integrate affordable solar energy on a large scale, the current grid capacity will not be able to respond to the high levels of demand. Without massive design changes, this issue will continue to worsen in the near future.

Energy storage in Africa allows for the integration of renewable energy on a broad scale and can address the electrical challenges found across the continent. It will also create a buffer between the limited supply and increasingly high demand. Thus, a new grid system concentrated on energy storage and more resilient power systems will be absolutely critical in guaranteeing renewable energy. Such a system will also lower the cost of electricity for Africans. With this progress, millions of families and businesses will have access to stable electricity.

Making Progress

Though there is still a great deal of work to be done, it is impossible to ignore the remarkable advancements in African energy in recent history.

When looking for companies that are investing in the people of Africa, one need look no further than the massive retailer Amazon, one of the largest and most successful businesses today. Amazon recently announced that it is hiring around 3,000 South Africans for customer service positions that are designed to be fully remote. It is a rare case in which Africans prove to have a stable-enough internet connection for the work from home lifestyle to be possible.

The potential impact this will have on the poverty rate in South Africa is outstanding. The ability to work from home opens doors for a number of people who previously did not have the opportunity to work. For example, mothers who were generally expected to be the familial homemaker can now work from home while taking care of their children. Additionally, people all across the region will be able to avoid expensive travel costs altogether.

With more investments in energy storage in Africa, more families and businesses will be able to thrive. Should these massive economic leaps continue in the future, the unemployment rate in the region will gradually decrease. Providing access to electricity also benefits families, businesses and consumers by improving education, healthcare and quality of life. At the same time, it helps to improve the bottom line for utility costs and rates of return for investors, drawing in more business.

It is evident that investing in one region can slowly bleed into the next, giving hope for a more stable future to the whole of the African continent. Through these continued efforts, Africa will no longer be left in the dark but rather will be brought light.

– Daniela Canales
Photo: Flickr

Energy Crisis In Kosovo
The energy crisis in Kosovo has long inhibited its economy. Already suffering from a post-war economy, Kosovo’s need for green energy has increased dramatically as a result. The following are five of the most salient facts about the energy crisis in Kosovo.

5 Facts About the Energy Crisis in Kosovo

  1. Kosovo’s energy crisis, as well as war, has rendered it extremely poorabout one-third of the 1.8 million people in Kosovo live in poverty; the European nation reports a 60% unemployment rate for young adults between the ages of 15 and 24. After the war in Kosovo ended in 1999, its culture was left divided and its economy shattered. The additional strain of an energy crisis has only exacerbated the problem.
  2. Kosovo has historically relied on coal for energy—For most of its existence, two coal-powered plants—Kosovo A and Kosovo B—have produced 97% of its 900 MW “operating capacity,” according to the World Bank’s website. However, these plants have been in operation for a long time and rely on a non-renewable resource for power output.
  3. Kosovo’s current infrastructure has a short shelf lifeKosovo A, the older of the nation’s two plants, has produced energy from coal for 43 years, and it has been labeled Europe’s biggest pollutant. Likewise, Kosovo B has operated for 30 years and needs rehabilitation. The Government of Kosovo currently plans to cease the operation of Kosovo A and begin work to improve Kosovo B.
  4. Land disputes have worsened the problem in recent yearsIn 2017, the Kosovo government failed to seal a crucial land acquisition deal with the Sipitule village. The government desired the village’s land; the plan was to mine it for the 14 billion tons of coal thought to lie beneath it. Ultimately, Sipitule wanted more money than the government would pay, and the deal was not completed. At this time, Kosovo’s economy had already taken major blows as a result of insufficient power supply. According to Balkan Green Energy News, “the private sector of the economy suffered damages of almost EUR 300 million because of power shortages in 2016.” Since then, coal as a fuel source has become increasingly unable to support Kosovo and its people.
  5. Solar power can help solve the energy crisis in Kosovo from the inside—In 2015, in response to inflated costs of electricity, Kosovo native Fadil Hoxha started a solar panel manufacturing company called Jaha Solar. Today, Jaha Solar reports “a production capacity up to 200 MW solar panels per year” on their website. The company remains the only solar panel manufacturer in the region, but its numbers evince great success.

Kosovo still suffers greatly from poverty and insufficient energy, but companies like Jaha Solar have created new and cleaner methods of energy production that could help reduce the aftermath of coal dependency.

– Will Sikich
Photo: Flickr

Reducing Energy Poverty in Italy Through Solar PV Market
Powertis, a Spanish company that focuses on the development and investment of large-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) projects, has announced an expansion plan to enter Italy’s solar PV market. This shift will bring Powertis closer to its goal of reaching one gigawatt (GW) of ready-to-invest assets by 2023. In addition, it will support the National Plan for Energy and Climate (NECP), which has set a target of +30 GW of PV capacity by 2030. Powertis’ growth into the solar PV market will also serve as an opportunity to decrease energy poverty in Italy by reducing the price of electricity.

What is Energy Poverty?

Energy poverty refers to people who are least likely to have access to energy services. This increases their likelihood of remaining poor. Energy poverty affects health by increasing the risk of cardiovascular or respiratory disease and the number of excess deaths in the winter, especially in colder areas. In 2017, estimates determined that 1.1 billion people do not have access to electricity and nearly 3 billion people cook meals with polluting fuels, such as charcoal, wood, kerosene and dung.

The Aim for Efficient and Affordable Energy

In 2011, the former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative to drive faster action towards achieving SDG7. SDG7 is the seventh goal of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It is battling energy poverty by advocating for improved access to reliable, affordable, sustainable and modern energy for all. SE4ALL aims to double the global rate of improved energy efficiency and the global share of renewable energy by 2030. By working with government leaders, the private sector and civil society, SE4ALL hopes to ensure universal access to modern energy.

Energy Poverty and “Vulnerability”

The primary concern that Italy’s population faces when it comes to energy poverty is the uneven distribution of energy expenditure. The lowest 10% of Italian income-earners spend 4% of their budget on energy compared with the 1% that affluent households spend. This leads to a concept known as “vulnerability,” where the lowest 10% of Italian households have compressed purchasing power and reduced ability to purchase domestic or international goods and services.

Furthermore, as of 2017, Eurostat reported that 15.2% of Italy’s population cannot afford to adequately heat their homes. The inability of households to purchase an adequate amount of energy goods can have negative direct costs including increased stress on the healthcare system. It also has indirect costs such as a decrease in economic productivity and output in the community.

How Italy is Addressing the Issue

Italy’s government has created the National Energy Climate Plan (NECP) to address its energy poverty. The NECP aims to cover 30% of final consumption by renewable sources, reduce final energy consumption by 39.7% and aim for a 33% reduction in greenhouse gases. Italy introduced the NECP in December 2018 as a commitment and strategy to increase environmental protection and energy security while reducing polluting emissions, as the European Union put forward. So far, Italy has obtained “Medium” ratings in all of the categories after the Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) evaluated it for 2020. This suggests that there has been a lack of implementing effective measures by the public sector.

Powertis’ Role in Reducing Energy Poverty

The CCPI evaluation also includes a “Low” rating for the “Renewable Energy – current trend” component, demonstrating the need to involve the private sector in producing more renewable energy for Italian markets. The inclusion of PV solar panels would improve Italy’s rating. According to Roberto Capuozzo, the Country Manager of Powertis in Italy, Powertis is one of many private firms working to address this need. It is operating as a leading company in the transition to a zero-emission economy. Powertis’ plans to develop PV projects in Basilicata, Puglia, Sicily, Sardinia and Lazio and increase its pipeline beyond over two gigawatts between Italy and Brazil.

Powertis is reducing the price of electricity by working with local community partners to structure the project’s financing and offer a lower price, in comparison to the cost of electricity for coal. Italy’s main issue is the inconsistent distribution of energy expenditure budgets for the bottom 10% of Italian income-earners in comparison with the top 1%. If prices for energy decrease, energy poverty should decrease. Powertis’ expansion to local communities in Basilicata, Puglia, Sicily, Sardinia and Lazio will offer these individuals more purchasing power and decrease their level of vulnerability. This will also benefit the economy by allowing them the ability to consume other goods and services. By increasing Italian households’ purchasing power, Powertis is increasing access to energy services and reducing energy poverty in Italy.

Powertis has expanded its reach into Italy’s solar PV market, thereby decreasing the price of electricity for Italian households. This has increased households’ access to energy services and subsequently increased their ability to dedicate more of their personal budget towards the consumption of other goods and services. The households’ lower level of vulnerability should also help to decrease energy poverty in Italy.

Natasha Nath
Photo: Flickr

Solving Energy Poverty
Access to electricity and other forms of energy is so ubiquitous in the United States and other developed economies, that it is easy to forget that energy poverty persists in the developing world. Yet, energy poverty (the lack of access to modern energy services including electricity and clean cooking facilities) remains a barrier to global prosperity and individual well-being. At the current rate of progress toward the United Nations’ goal of universal energy access, 650 million people will still be in the dark in 2030. However, people can solve the problem of energy poverty in developing nations. Moreover, they can tackle energy poverty without a significant contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions. Here are three sustainable technologies solving energy poverty.

3 Sustainable Technologies Solving Energy Poverty

  1. Microgrids: Microgrids are small, localized power grids that operate on renewable energy, diesel back-up and batteries. With low costs and high yields, microgrids are an affordable and sustainable solution to energy poverty. The price of batteries, solar and other energy technologies has been decreasing since 2010, reducing the cost of operation. According to the International Energy Agency, microgrids are the most cost-effective option to deliver electricity to more than 70 percent of the unconnected. By powering fridges, fans, irrigation pumps and other machinery, microgrids have saved time for families on household chores, helped farmers increase crop yield and light classrooms. In India, a project that Smart Power India and the Rockefeller Foundation launched is using microgrids to power more than 100 villages serving 40,000 people. More than 140 microgrids that this initiative has built have helped to alleviate energy poverty in the region.
  2. Biogas Digesters: Biogas digesters burn organic waste to generate odorless, clean-burning methane. Some experts consider them carbon-neutral because they offset more emissions than they create. The average home biogas system can reduce firewood use by up to 4.5 tons each year, which translates into four tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Biogas digesters are a sustainable, reliable technology for powering gas stoves and lights, requiring little maintenance and is safer than combustible tanks of liquid petroleum gas. Because of their potential to alleviate energy poverty, the government of Nepal, through its Alternative Energy Promotion Center, has helped build more than 200,000 biogas systems across the country and aims to increase that number to two million.
  3. LED Lighting: Solar-powered LED lights are delivering electricity to those unable to plug into power grids. Thanks to extensive innovation in the field, people can now also use many LED lights to power phone charging and small fans. LED has a long service life, between 10 and 20 years, which makes it a reliable form of sustainable lighting. They are also portable, easy to install and safer than fuel-based lighting. People unable to connect to an electric grid have bought more than 2.1 million LED-solar products globally. According to the IFC-World Bank Lighting Africa program, nearly 5 percent of Africans without access to electricity, around 28.5 million people, currently use LED lighting. Nonprofit organizations, such as Solar Aid, are increasing that number as well by introducing solar LED lights to other economically poor areas to sustainably combat energy poverty.

Limited access to reliable, modern and affordable energy services hinders communities and cripples economies. That is why achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal of universal energy access by 2030 is so critical. These three sustainable technologies solving energy poverty are leading the way.

Kayleigh Rubin
Photo: Flickr

Facts About Fuel Poverty
Also known as energy poverty, fuel poverty occurs when a family cannot afford to keep their home at a safe and comfortable temperature. Many commonly overlook it as an aspect of living in a low-income situation, so these eight facts about fuel poverty should provide the basic knowledge necessary to understand the concept.

8 Facts About Fuel Poverty

  1. Fuel poverty is a relatively recent concept. Brenda Boardman published the first book about fuel poverty in 1991. The book, entitled “Fuel Poverty,” served as an essential introduction to the topic. Since its publication, there has been an increase in research and awareness about fuel poverty.
  2. The definition changes in warm areas. The majority of discussions about fuel poverty pertain to how people cannot afford to warm their homes. However, in warmer climates, a lack of fuel presents other struggles such as no lighting or cooking methods. Moving forward, most of the facts about fuel poverty will discuss fuel poverty in colder areas.
  3. The British Isles has been at the center of the discussion about fuel poverty. Historically, a lot of the action and research surrounding fuel poverty has occurred in the British Isles. This might be due to a combination of a cold and wet climate and poor housing quality. Although fuel poverty can occur in a lot of places, the British Isles has been very vocal about its citizens’ struggles with fuel poverty and what it is doing to address the problem.
  4. Fuel poverty has multiple causes. When examining why fuel poverty occurs, there are often multiple factors that converge to result in a home lacking proper energy services. The main causes of fuel poverty are low income, high energy prices, poor energy efficiency (i.e. poor insulation or heating systems) and under-occupancy.
  5. Fuel poverty has a clear measurement system. In 2013, England adopted a Low Income High Cost (LIHC) method of determining the criteria for fuel poverty. It considers a household to be in fuel poverty if it has above average fuel costs and that those costs would leave them with a residual income below the official poverty line. Because most fuel poverty research comes out of England, others have widely adopted this system.
  6. A lot of households are at risk. Around 20 percent of households in Europe experienced fuel poverty in 2018. Some characteristics increase a household’s risk of facing fuel poverty, such as possessing a household member with a disability or long-term illness, as some factors increase physiological needs for energy services.
  7. Fuel poverty can have serious consequences. Living in a cold house can worsen pre-existing conditions, causing related morbidity and mortality. In the U.K. in 2016, 3,200 excess winter deaths linked directly to people experiencing fuel poverty.
  8. There are steps to help. A study in the U.K. in 2019 found that making people aware of the risks that occur with living in a cold home and providing thermometers to track temperatures can actually improve people’s living conditions. It can also be beneficial to alert citizens about grants and programs available to them to assist with the costs of energy services.

Hopefully, these facts about fuel poverty have provided some fundamental knowledge about the topic. One can easily overlook fuel poverty, but it forces people to make difficult sacrifices and can sometimes result in negative health consequences. The issue has been coming into the light more in recent years as politicians and organizations work to help those who cannot afford to maintain a safe and comfortable home.

– Lindsey Shinkle
Photo: Pixabay

 

Solar Energy Developments in Malawi
Solar energy developments in Malawi are helping its local communities maintain sustainable energy. Bwengu Projects Malawi provides teachers in high-needs schools with solar-powered LED projectors in Bwengu, the northern countryside of Malawi. This solar energy initiative partners with local providers and financial institutions to connect new solar farms to the power grid. Additionally, USAID is collaborating with solar power companies to provide solar home systems for homes in Malawi.

3 Solar Energy Developments in Malawi

  1. Solar-powered LED Projectors: In 2018, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that 53 percent of Malawi’s population was under the age of 18. Classrooms often swell to 150 students per teacher, and schools experience poor maintanence. Moreover, there are not enough books and resources for students. To help assuage these issues, Bwengu Projects Malawi established itself to help support community and educational projects in Northern Malawi. Most recently, it developed Whole Class Teaching Kits which includes solar-powered LED projectors. It connects with an android tablet and pertains to Malawi’s junior and secondary curriculum. This tablet installs with 20,000 pages of lessons and notes which teachers can then project on the wall. Volunteers regularly visit the schools to maintain the equipment and add additional schools that qualify for the project. Reports show that attendance is up at schools with teaching kits and in the case of one school, passing rates increased from 27 to 65 percent.
  2. The Bwengu Solar Park Project: A local initiative in Bwengu to bring more energy to the community is underway with the creation of solar farms that will feed into the energy grid. The development began in August 2019  and should generate approximately 50 megawatts of renewable energy per year to feed into homes and local businesses in Malawi. The construction of the facility is located on 125 acres in Ulalo Nyirenda village, a piece of land just 1,000 meters from the Bwengu Escome Substation power grid. QUANTEL announced the project in May 2019, a renewable energy producer. More than a dozen other energy companies have signed on to the deal to create the Bwengu Solar Park, marking a milestone in creating a sustainable energy supply in Malawi. The agreement that local and international stakeholders made complies with both United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MDGS III) and comes as demand for energy in Africa, population and industrialization all grow. Feasibility studies in Africa to scale up affordable solutions to meet these needs also drove it.
  3. Solar Home Systems: With financial backing from USAID, a collection of applicant companies like SolarWorks!, Vitalite, Yellow Solar and Zuwa Energy are aiming to deliver electricity to more 100,000 households in Malawi before 2023. However, the energy that these companies provide is uniquely off-grid. Solar Home Systems (SHS) is a focus of the Malawi Government National Energy Policy of 2018. One of the solutions that the policy put forth was off-grid solar energy for households that is easy to deploy and gives sufficient electricity for mobile charging, radio use and lighting. Currently, Malawi has only an 11 percent electrification rate and only 4 percent for rural areas, such as Bwengu. The SHS Kick-Starter Program not only has the design to increase access to energy but also to grow private sector business and provide companies with multiple supports, including operations support, capital and financing over the next three years. USAID has committed $2 million in grant funding and there are many financial backers, such as the Malawi Government and national banks. Among the energy providers are M-PAYG, an SHS pay-as-you-go service for low-income households in the developing world to give them off-grid, solar energy access. According to the Nordic Development Fund, the solar energy that SHS provides, such as M-PAYG, can level the gender playing field as well. Many expect schoolgirls to do household chores and homework in the morning before school. However, if families have access to reliable electricity, girls will have more time in the evenings to finish homework assignments before bedtime. This allows them to sleep in for longer before doing their morning chores.

These three solar power developments in Malawi come at a time when the population is expanding and demand for energy is growing. Cooperating charities, policymakers, national banks and energy providers have successfully powered the developments with support from the government and international community in line with sustainability goals. From these examples, one sees that the educational field has especially benefited from these innovative technologies in spite of historically poor conditions.

Caleb Cummings
Photo: Flickr

Global Energy Poverty
Around 840 million people around the world have no access to electricity. Global energy poverty is prevalent with most living in developing nations in South Asia, Latin America and rural Africa. In India, more than 300 million people lack access to electricity. In Sub-Saharan Africa, that number is twice as high.

Energy poverty or the lack of access to modern energy services, including electricity and clean cooking facilities, remains a barrier to global prosperity and individual well-being. That is why ensuring basic energy for 100 percent of the world’s population by 2030 is one of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. Yet, at the current rate of progress, 650 million people will still live in the dark. Microgrids have the potential to improve that course and eliminate global energy poverty.

What are Microgrids?

Microgrids or mini-grids are small, localized power grids. They can operate on their own using local energy generation without needing a connection to a larger power grid. Renewable resources power most along with diesel back-up and batteries.

Microgrids can power fridges, fans, irrigation pumps and other basic machinery. With microgrid energy, families can power appliances that save time on household chores, farmers can increase crop yield with irrigation and schools can light their classrooms.

Benefits of Microgrids

With low costs and high yields, microgrids could end global poverty. The price of batteries, solar and other energy technologies has been decreasing since 2010, in turn reducing the cost of microgrids. The International Energy Agency named localized power grids as the most cost-effective option to deliver electricity to more than 70 percent of the unconnected. Continued innovation will further drive cost reduction.

Microgrids are also modular, easy to transport and simple to install. This makes them especially valuable in remote and rural areas.

Use of Microgrids

In India and Sub-Saharan Africa, microgrids are already electrifying and transforming communities. SmartPower India, with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, has used microgrids to power more than 100 villages and serve 40,000 people. Since the project launched in 2015, carpenters and tailors have more than doubled their productivity, farmers have built cold storage facilities to keep produce and entrepreneurs have opened small businesses. Local economies grew by $18.50 per capita.

In Kenya, a solar company is using microgrids to deliver power to villages deep in the African bush. SteamaCo’s microgrids supply 10,000 households and businesses across 25 villages with electricity. This has allowed for businesses to trade longer, students to study after dark and communities to grow more independent.

A lack of access to modern, reliable and affordable energy services hinders communities and cripples economies. It is time to turn the light on for the billions of people without access to electricity. Microgrids could end global energy poverty.

– Kayleigh Rubin
Photo: U.S. Marine Corps

Vietnam's Economic Development Costs
Once one of the world’s poorest nations, Vietnam is now gaining global attention for having one of the fastest-growing economies, subsequently lifting millions out of poverty. From a country where most of the people rely solely on rudimentary agricultural production to secure livelihood and use the majority of lands for farming, Vietnam is now undergoing a process of rapid industrialization and urbanization. It is at the crucial stage of transition from poverty to prosperity, allowing many to enjoy higher standards of living than ever before. However, the nation is paying tremendously for Vietnam’s economic development costs from rapid economic growth. The surging energy consumption, pollution from industrialization and urbanization process and the nonrestrictive environmental legislation are taking tolls on the environment and the natural assets of Vietnam.

Energy Consumption

The demand for energy is surging in response to the massive economic growth of Vietnam, impacting Vietnam’s economic development costs. Energy consumption in Vietnam tripled just over the past decade and many anticipate that the demand will increase by 8 percent annually until 2035. To meet the increasing energy demand, Vietnam is relying substantially on coal for energy supply due to its affordability. The coal share of the total energy supply grew from 14 percent to 35 percent in 15 years. Currently, 20 coal-fired plants are in Vietnam and the government plans to increase the number of coal plants to 51 by 2050. Vietnam’s dependence on coal is raising concerns as it is seriously harming the environment and public health. A study revealed that existing coal plants can cause as many as 25,000 premature deaths annually.

Facing a rapid rise in pollution, Vietnam is making great efforts in developing renewable sources of energy such as hydropower, solar and wind energy as alternatives to coal. Vietnam’s energy plans now include a renewable energy development strategy. The Ministry of Industry and Trade has recently offered incentives for renewable energy by paying solar projects between 6.67 and 10.87 cents per kWh.

A report in 2017 suggests that renewable energy could generate 100 percent of Vietnam’s power by 2050. However, in the short-term, it is difficult for other renewable energy to challenge coal as the main supplier of energy. Coal is still the most affordable option available at the moment for Vietnam to meet its surging energy demand.

Water and Air Pollution

The country’s industrial production has grown 15 percent annually in the last decade. However, rapid industrialization is polluting Vietnam’s water sources and air. Only 25 percent of industrial wastewater receives treatment, while the rest, estimated at 240,000 cubic meters of wastewater daily, discharges directly into lakes and rivers without treatment. The quality of air in urban areas is also deteriorating severely in recent years as a result of traffic and industrial activities. A report in 2013 showed that Hanoi’s air pollution received grades from unhealthy to hazardous for more than 265 days of the year. The level of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentration was 1.3 times above the permitted levels in Hanoi, and twice the permitted levels in Ho Chi Minh City. This is detrimental to the public, especially children and the elderly.

The government and communities have started to pay more attention to addressing industrial pollution. Customers and associates are boycotting violating manufactures. Banks are also adjusting policies to avoid those clients on the environment blacklist, making it more difficult for those companies to access funding. The Vietnamese government has drafted a National Action Plan on Air Quality Management for the period of 2020 to 2025, including the plan to reduce 20 percent of NOx, Sox and particulate matter emitted by chemicals, fertilizer and petroleum production facilities. It is also drafting a separate National Technical Regulation on Emissions for the Steel Industry and the Environmental Law that includes air quality management requirements.

Vietnam’s Reforms

Vietnam has been pursuing reforms and investments to promote green growth and sustainable development with the support of the World Bank. Many projects have achieved notable results in promoting this sustainability agenda and mitigating the high environmental cost of Vietnam’s rapid economic growth. The Vietnam Renewable Energy Development Project has successfully expanded the usage of renewable energy, generating nearly 10 percent of Vietnam’s power. The Vietnam Industrial Pollution Management Project has significantly improved compliance with wastewater treatment regulations in four industrial zones in Vietnam. The percentage of industrial zones compliant with wastewater treatment regulations grew from less than 30 percent to 72 percent between 2012 and 2018.

This information about Vietnam’s economic development costs shows that despite many challenges still facing the country, the government is taking great strides to promote sustainable development with attention to ecological conservation. Raising public awareness and support for environmental conservation while strengthening the capacity for environmental development planning through legislation and investment is crucial in this stage of Vietnam’s economic development.

Minh-Ha La
Photo: Flickr