Inflammation and stories on energy consumption

 

Energy Poverty“I see a lot of problems in the world, and I think that engineering provides a platform to fix them. I really want to help people; that’s my goal.” –Hannah Herbst

What is Energy Poverty?

Energy poverty is defined by the European Union as the lack of energy-powered services that guarantee a decent standard of living, like adequate cooling and warmth, lighting and the energy necessary to power appliances. Energy poverty can result from a variety of issues, such as high energy expenditure, low household incomes, inefficient buildings and appliances and specific household energy needs.

Insufficient energy sources are one aspect of poverty that often goes ignored or underestimated by the general public. An estimated 1.3 billion people worldwide lack access to electricity; over 600 million in sub-Saharan Africa alone. But Africa is not the only continent contending with energy poverty:

  • Asia (622 million of 3.6 billion without power): Of all individual countries, India has the largest population living without electricity with over 304 million in the dark.
  • Middle East (17.7 million of 214.8 million without power): Since energy poverty has a direct correlation to income, Yemen (one of the poorest nations in the Arab world) houses the majority of Middle Easterners who live without power.
  • Latin America (23.2 million of 466.1 million without power): Haiti suffers the most from energy poverty, with only 29 percent of its population having access to power; even those with electricity only receive power an average of five to nine hours per day.
  • Europe: It is estimated that 50 million households in the European Union are experiencing some form of energy poverty.
  • North America (United States): Although most Americans have access to electricity, the inability to afford utility bills is the second reason for homelessness; outranked only to domestic violence.

The Teen Transforming Ocean Energy into Electricity

Seventeen-year-old Hannah Herbst from Florida was first introduced to the idea of energy poverty at age 15 by her nine-year-old Ethiopian pen pal Ruth. Ruth lived without lights—a simple luxury that Herbst had taken for granted all her life.

“I never realized how impactful her problems could be—not having lights to study by at night, not having sanitation systems, having limited medical treatment. Those problems really stuck out to me living in the United States, so I wanted to do something to help her,” Herbst explained.

Her willingness to help in tandem with her interest in engineering inspired her to investigate how engineering could be utilized to address energy poverty. What resulted was a prototype of an invention she dubbed Beacon (Bringing Electricity Access to Countries through Ocean Energy), a device that captures energy directly from ocean waves and transmits it as electricity.

Herbst focused on water energy because she noticed that populations tend to settle around bodies of water. In fact, only 10 percent of people live further than 6.2 miles from a freshwater source that does not require digging to get reach.

The Beacon consists of a hollow plastic tube capped with a propeller on one end and a hydroelectric generator on the other. As tidal energy drives the propeller of the Beacon, it is converted into useable energy by the generator. Since its creation, Herbst has tested the prototype and calculated that with enhancements, the Beacon could charge three car batteries simultaneously in one hour. She has also suggested to the BBC that her invention could be used to power water purification technologies or blood centrifuges at hospitals in the developing world.

Herbst plans on eventually open-sourcing the design after some further refinements, meaning that people around the world can create a Beacon for themselves and their communities.

– Haley Hiday
Photo: UPenn

Scientific Discoveries Could Impact Waste Pickers and Coal Energy Usage
The idea of turning trash into treasure is possible when one considers what waste materials can produce. Recent scientific discoveries involving trash and coal waste could have mixed implications for millions of waste pickers and coal energy consumption in the least developed and developing countries.

Plastic-Eating Enzymes

In 2016, a team of Japanese researchers discovered a solution to purging rubbish from rubbish itself. From a trash dump, they uncovered a combination of enzymes capable of consuming polyethylene terephthalate (PET) — plastic material used to create common consumer items such as drink bottles.

This year, scientists have “improved the enzyme,” says University of Portsmouth, U.K. Professor John McGeehan. While the team originally intended to just examine the atomic structure of the bacterium discovered back in 2016, they accidentally reinvigorated it.

This reinvigoration created a now “mutant enzyme” to degrade PET. The supercharged enzyme can reportedly break down plastic in a matter of days, and the renewed compound can degenerate the integrity of plastic with 20 percent higher efficiency than the original bacteria — Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6.

While many are interested in applying the discovery to clean up the world’s oceans, this can have undecidedly good or bad implications for waste pickers in Cambodia that earn between $0.98 and $1.23 a day, and the 1.5 million to four million waste pickers in India.

Waste Pickers

Waste pickers often sort and separate recyclable waste, such as consumer plastics with PET, and sell them to scrap dealers, creating a recycling supply chain. In one sample of 150 Indian waste pickers, 94 percent claim it is their only viable source of income with no alternatives.

For a nation that produces 62 million tons of waste per year, India recycles up to 70 percent of all PET bottles. In comparison, the Environmental Protection Agency reported the United States produced 254 million tons of trash in 2013 with recycling rates between 31 and 34 percent.

A mutant microbe actually might seem like a threat to waste pickers who depend on the economic opportunity of trash picking, since the microbe would supposedly dampen their product’s value. Plastic-eating enzymes, however, could aid the notoriously unsafe and inadequate waste management practices that render public health challenges in the least developed countries.

The Journal of Material Cycles and Waste Management cites near absent sanitary landfills exist in the least developed countries where 26 percent of solid waste streams are considered recyclable.

Trash-Eating Bacteria

Mutant trash-eating bacteria could serve as a boon to public health — the United Nations reports an estimate of 1,000 deaths per day for children under the age of five due to unsafe water, insufficient sanitation and lack of hygiene. Children are most vulnerable to diseases such as hepatitis, dysentery and cholera since many play and swim in squalid waters filled with trash and toxins from landfills.

A natural terminating agent, such as a plastic-eating enzyme, provides some hope for an opportunity for unequipped landfills in the least developed countries.

Impact of Building Materials

Researchers at Washington State University are also in the business of turning trash into treasure via building materials.

Funded by the United States Department of Transportation, scientists are en route to creating concrete from coal fly ash — a byproduct from coal electricity generation usually considered waste. Coal fly ash derives from burnt coal residue, a wispy particulate containing unburnt carbon that usually just flies in the air with no practical use.

Scientists were able to enact a chemical bonding method in which atoms and molecules in coal fly ash are manipulated and combined with calcium oxide and sodium silicate, which results in an inorganic polymer more durable than cement. Standard cement creation accounts for 5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Coal Fly Ash’s Benefits

It is projected that in 2040 the developing world will make up 65 percent of the world’s energy consumption; in addition, the International Energy Agency expects coal energy used for electricity to increase by 33 percent during the same year.

What otherwise would contribute to air pollution through carbon emission or being stowed in a landfill, coal fly ash transformed into concrete could benefit developing countries such as China, India and South Africa. China is the world leader in coal energy consumption with 3.9 billion tons used in 2017; South Africa, in 2012, was first in coal energy used for electricity at 93 percent; and in the same year, China ranked third at 79 percent and India sixth at 68 percent.

In Botswana, Andre Boje, CEO of coal mining company Minergy Limited, states that “developing nations, such as those in Africa are unable to rely on renewable energy sources.” Therefore, there is demand for more coal energy as a safer alternative to firewood and kerosene, the latter on which 620 million Africans still rely and an estimated 1,634 die per day due to indoor air pollution.

Turning Trash Into Treasure

While the continued use of coal energy usage remains a contentious issue in the global community in regard to environmental safety, attaining technology with the potential to enable recycling coal fly ash for concrete poses at least some additional redeeming qualities in coal energy for developing countries.

Be it for waste pickers, children forging a playground from a trash heap or environmental friendliness, recent developments in science and technology radiate gleams of potential for a modified waste picker industry, safer living conditions and a cleaner environment for impoverished global citizens.

Thomas Benjamin
Photo: Flickr

Mitigating Climate Change in Bangladesh
According to the 2015 Climate Change Vulnerability Index, Bangladesh’s economy suffers the most from climate change compared to any other country in the world. Such impact greatly depresses Bangladesh’s annual GDP, as the nation diverts most of its financial resources toward the management of climate change impacts.

Risky Location

Geographically, Bangladesh is a low-lying country that is predominantly comprised of flatlands. The economy is very dependent on the success of agricultural advances and yields, yet this facet is challenged by climate change. In 2012, the National Committee for International Cooperation and Sustainable Development (NCDO) lists the different natural disasters and impacts from global warming and climate change in Bangladesh, which includes: floods, tropical cyclones, salinity intrusion and fluctuations between extreme temperatures and drought.

All of these have resulted in decreased crop production and arable land for agricultural practice.

The nation’s government is working hard to address climate change in Bangladesh and further efforts of mitigation. Bangladesh has invested more than $10 billion dollars into its mission, and these funds go toward coastal resilience projects, increasing the number of government agencies that respond to emergencies and building coastal shelters.

Rising Sea Levels

Rising sea levels is one of the biggest concerns faced by the community. An article in the Scientific American discusses that the melting of glaciers in the Himalayas due to rising temperature has been a significant contributor to the rising water levels the country faces. For example, Sandwip Island has “lost 90 percent of its original 23-square-miles,” author Robert Glennon reports.

The projects that the government has developed are beneficial as current fixes to the issue of climate change. Any family that is affected by rising water levels or a cyclone are able to take refuge in one of the shelters the government has built.  The coastal embankment projects have worked create more durable islands. They accomplish this by laying sandbags on the coastline as well as building trees to help barricade the islands and absorb some of the water increases.

Long-Term Mitigation Efforts

For more long-term mitigation techniques, the Bangladesh government is addressing the need for more energy-efficient initiatives in rural areas that are most affected. For example, the World Bank supports initiatives such as building 320 solar irrigation pumps for farmers, offering training on electrical-alternative livelihoods for the poorer households in the community and the installation of energy-grids to help power rural businesses.

While the impacts of climate change in Bangladesh are felt the most out of almost any other country in the world, Bangladesh emits one of the lowest percentages of gas into the atmosphere. This means that as a nation, it is contributing very little to the climate change that so affects it as opposed to developed countries that emit levels in the double digits. Luckily, the community in Bangladesh is well-equipped with a resourceful and intelligent government that delivers climate resilience while also accomplishing societal development.

– Caysi Simpson
Photo: Flickr

On the Mark With China's Solar Power Target
China has recently made a powerful statement in regards to its solar power use as China’s solar power target for 2020 has already been surpassed, according to research recently published by the Asia Europe Clean Energy (Solar) Advisory.

With recent solar expenditures, China’s solar power target for 2020 has already been surpassed—the goal was 105 gigawatts of installed solar capacity. China now has 112 gigawatts of solar capacity, which bypasses any of the efforts of European countries to embrace solar power. Since the beginning of 2017, a whopping 35 gigawatts have been installed to meet China’s solar power target—more than twice as much as any other country had installed in 2016.

Part of China’s 112 gigawatts includes the largest solar farm and the largest floating solar farm in the world. This is part of a move by the Chinese government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as to reduce coal-fired air pollution in major cities like Shanghai and Beijing, which damages the air quality in these urban areas.

In response to China’s rapidly growing solar sector, some critics have urged European nations to step up their efforts to utilize the power of the sun. Since 2015, when China surpassed Germany as the world’s largest solar power market, the solar capacity of Germany has expanded to only 41.1 gigawatts.

The environmental implications of this are huge; however, solar energy could also play a key role in alleviating global poverty. Solar energy can be utilized to power the basic needs of those living in poverty in China—it is an effective way to offer power to those who may not have reliable access to electricity. Solar energy can pave the way to access to basic human necessities, such as lighting and drinking water.

Regardless, China still has much of its energy demand to account for. Only one percent of China’s energy demand will be able to be met by these 112 gigawatts of solar power, as coal remains the source for the majority of Chinese energy. China is still the world’s greatest carbon emitter, and this issue must be addressed. However, the remarkable nature of what China has accomplished should still be celebrated and replicated in the future.

Jennifer Faulkner

Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in Cabo VerdeThe Republic of Cabo Verde is a country comprised of 10 islands off the coast of West Africa. In 2012, the government planned to drastically increase its desalination system in order to improve water capacity and consumption and to meet the demands of the country’s rising tourism industry. Since this plan to improve water sanitation and availability of this country’s precious resource, water quality in Cabo Verde has improved in 2017, through government cooperation and local partnership.

Though Santiago, one of Cabo Verde’s islands, already had a desalination plant implemented, the government suggested at least eight more plants be installed in order to satisfy the resident and growing tourist populations. At the time of the government’s 2012 plan to invest in major water quality improvement, reports showed that with the island’s 500,000 citizens and high volume of tourists, sources of water were already limited. Cabo Verde is a dry country and doesn’t receive much rain, so the country’s ministry of environment made it a goal to build a desalination plant for every island, as part of the National Directive Plan for Water.

The ministry hoped that over the next five years, 400 million euros, paired with a $66.2 million grant from the U.S. foreign aid agency, plus additional funding from the EU and the U.N., would significantly contribute to the country’s goal to have 50 percent of its energy supplied by renewable sources by the year 2020.

In March 2017, just five years since the start of the desalination and sanitation system implementation, Cabo Verde’s driest islands are seeing major victories, and some of the country’s most vulnerable populations are seeing the biggest difference. Santa Maria, a high-traffic tourist and travel location in Sal on Cape Verde, saw the inauguration of a 2010 Wastewater Treatment Plant. With the help of new management and a working operating system that connects to local sewage networks, the plant is now fully functioning.

The new system for delivering clean, available and affordable water will make lives on Cabo Verde a little easier. Most poor families can’t afford to access water through the island’s utility networks, and some are miles apart, making clean water retrieval hard on locals. Poor women spend the most time collecting water for each household, but some more rural areas of the country have very little access — a mere 16 percent of the country ever sees this water.

Because of improved water quality in Cabo Verde, residents are feeling confident about running their households, thanks to government funding and water treatment plants throughout the country. Some locals say having sanitary and accessible water is most important in keeping their families healthy.

Cabo Verde’s tourism economy is also expected to improve with efforts to keep sanitized water flowing. As the industry provides jobs for more than one-third of the population, it is vital that the Cabo Verde government keep water sanitation at its highest priority, so that cleaner beaches bring tourists back again and again.

The government plans to designate a water improvement sector fund specifically for the water treatment facilities, upon its success. With further plans like this, water quality in Cabo Verde will continue to show signs of improvement.

Olivia Cyr

Photo: Flickr


This week, Saudi Arabia launched a renewable energy program that was outlined in late December. Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih announced that between 30 and 50 billion dollars will be invested into the program. Renewable energy in Saudi Arabia is currently somewhat non-existent, but the focus of the program will redirect the country to focus on aspects that will reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.

By 2030, Saudi Arabia aims to produce 70 percent of its power from natural gas and 30 percent from renewable energy. At an energy conference in late December, al-Falih expressed the country’s hope to generate approximately 10 gigawatts from solar and wind power by 2023. By the time the initiative is implemented, if fully executed, the country hopes to harness 700 gigawatts of alternative energy. The program will fund the construction of several wind and solar energy plants throughout the country.

Saudi Arabia is the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (OPEC’s) largest contributor and a top exporter of crude oil. Consequently, Saudis have struggled economically with budget deficits due to oil prices. Demand for power in the country is growing steadily, at about 8 percent annually. The renewable energy program can improve the economy by creating jobs and adding diversity to the country’s source of income.

Aside from economic benefits, Saudi Arabia recognizes the humanitarian benefits of investing in alternative energy sources and the environmental toll that total reliance on oil and gas can take. Renewable energy in Saudi Arabia will help the country meet worldwide sustainability goals and steer away from the exclusive use of crude oil.

Al-Falih has also spoken out about intentions to connect with energy initiatives in Yemen, Jordan and Egypt. Though he did not elaborate, a potential partnership between the countries in the region could be revolutionary for the production of renewable energy in Saudi Arabia and beyond.

Earlier in February, the energy ministry in Saudi Arabia announced the creation of The Renewable Energy Project Development Office to oversee the deployment of clean energy and monitor the progress of the project. The project also aims to direct funding into nuclear energy, which could cause controversy on the international stage in regards to domestic and international security topics.

Although the investment will create jobs in new sectors, funding for the program is said to be coming partially from cuts to welfare programs. Although it is too early in the project to draw any conclusions, there are questions about how these budget cuts will affect the Saudi people.

Renewable energy in Saudi Arabia has the potential to lay groundwork for surrounding nations looking to establish alternative energy programs. This is the hope of the international community as the country commits to reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

Peyton Jacobsen

Photo: Flickr

SunSaluter: Energy, Water and Jobs Rolled Into One
There are upward of 780 million people in the world who do not have access to clean water. On top of this, an estimated 1.2 billion people lack access to electricity — that is nearly 17 percent of the world’s population. Individuals living under such circumstances suffer chronic exposure to waterborne illnesses, and hundreds of millions more must walk hours each day to collect potable water.

SunSaluter, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to improving energy and water access in the developing world, aims to remedy these issues in a simple and affordable way.

The goal of SunSaluter is to make energy and water more accessible through one simple device. The SunSaluter device itself uses gravity and water, rotating a solar panel throughout the day. The device generates 30 percent more electricity, is 30 times cheaper and is far more durable than motorized solar trackers.

The SunSaluter has been deployed in 16 countries and has impacted nearly 8,000 people worldwide. By boosting solar panel efficiency by 30 percent, fewer solar panels are needed and the overall system costs are reduced by 10-20 percent. This lowering of cost alone has helped the impoverished families eliminate the use of kerosene gas.

How does it work? The SunSaluter enables solar panels to produce energy more consistently through the day, beginning earlier in the morning and lasting later at night. This is critical for rural families who often wake early in the day. It helps decrease the need for batteries to store energy that is usually produced mostly around high noon.

The SunSaluter also contains a water purifier within its system. Each day the device is capable of producing four liters of clean drinking water. By combining both energy and water collection into one simple device, the SunSaluter kills two birds with one stone. It improves consistent usage of the purifier as well, which tends to be the biggest hurdle to overcome for clean water programs.

Consequently, SunSaluter is not just working to help with the lack of energy and water in the developing world. “Our goal is to provide entrepreneurial opportunities for individuals in underdeveloped countries,” Eden Full told Business Insider in a recent interview. “We give them guidance, mentorship, and some funding, and the idea is to spread this technology.”

Currently, the company’s core manufacturing operations are in India. It is looking to move into Malawi as well. SunSaluter and its impact on the developing world have only just begun!

Keaton McCalla

Photo: Flickr

Energy poverty
Access to energy around the world, and especially in developing areas, is severely lacking. Globally, an estimated 1.2 billion people have absolutely no access to electricity, and an additional 2.7 billion rely on the use of traditional biomass to cook.

Burning traditional biomass, which includes wood, agricultural by-products and dung, causes respiratory diseases that kill over 3.5 million annually, which is twice the amount of deaths caused by malaria every year.

Solving the problem of energy poverty is central to the goal of eliminating global poverty, but there is an extensive and politically-charged debate on the best way to approach solutions.

Tensions can run high in renewable sources such as hydro, solar and wind energy versus fossil fuels such as coal and oil. The potential role of nuclear power is also a significant consideration in the mix. Even beyond issues of energy sources, questions remain about whether energy generation should be largely centralized, or be more locally distributed?

This aspect of the question was highlighted in a recent debate held by the Brookings Institute. Ted Nordhaus is the co-founder and Research Director of the Breakthrough institute that is in favor of a more centralized model of energy development.

Nordhaus pointed out that in the past no country has had universal access to energy without the majority of the population moving out of agriculture and into cities, pointing out that growth in off-farm employment is crucial to this development.

In response, Daniel Kamme, Director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at UC Berkley described the numerous technology innovations such as micro-grids and improved batteries that make a more distributed energy model more viable.

He emphasized that both centralized and distributed grids can coexist, and that rejection of smaller grids in favor of larger centralized ones is “to bet on the past, not bet on the future.”

A centralized model is more in line with coal-fired power plants and other fossil-fuel reliant methods, while a more dispersed approach has a higher reliance on renewable resources.

Proponents of fossil fuels such as Dr. Robert Bezdek, president of the consulting firm MISI, argue that the tried-and-true method of using coal is a much more reliable way to solve energy poverty, and that better scrubbing technology has improved the cleanliness of coal so that it is more sustainable.

Opponents of this viewpoint argue that this perception is an antiquated, one-size-fits-all model, and neglects to consider the level of innovation that exists now in contrast to the industrial revolution.

It is true according to World Bank data that least developed countries on average use renewable sources for 40.8 percent of their power generation, which is about twice as much as high-income countries.

Overall, the correct approach to solving energy poverty will continue to be debated until a solution is found. The answer to energy poverty must be sufficient to provide energy for both personal and commercial use in a sustainable manner.

Adam Gonzalez

Photo: Pixabay

Goat Poop PovertyTransforming inexpensive fibers into fuel using the fungi found in goat poop could be a new way to tackle global poverty.

Anyone who has ever seen a goat knows that these animals are professionals at consuming and digesting almost anything they can manage to get inside their mouths, whether it be straw, corn cobs or even a shirt. The reason these animals are so successful at digesting non-food items is, in part, thanks to the fungi that live in their digestive tracts, which can attack and break down fibrous materials.

Researchers are now looking to these fungi as a way to transform certain plants into alternative energy sources.

According to an article in Forbes Magazine, new research shows that the fungi found in goats’ stomachs – and eventually their excrement – are adaptable enough to stop breaking down goat food and start attacking something new. In this case, plant material for renewable biofuel.

The results are potentially beneficial for addressing global poverty in developing countries.

For a long time, coal has been a popular fuel source in “energy impoverished” nations. The low price tag on the substance makes it a popular energy source for countries like India and China, which are experiencing extreme poverty and rapidly increasing energy demands.

But while cheap, coal is also a major producer of dangerous fossil fuels. According to Rachel Kyte, climate envoy for the World Bank, coal has a powerful negative impact on global poverty, not only through health costs for the world’s poor but through long-term social disadvantages as well.

A Standard & Poor’s assessment found that the more impoverished a country is, the more negatively climate change affects its residents. Floods and agricultural shocks, which come as a result of climate change, often hit low-income people the hardest. This population has no option to migrate, insulate themselves from harm or recoup losses.

The goat poop solution might be just what developing countries need to access a low cost, low impact energy source. It is an unlikely but viable option to lower fossil fuel emissions and move toward clean energy solutions.

Jen Diamond

Sources: Forbes, The Guardian, Think Progress
Photo: Scoopnest

HomeBioGasAround three billion people in rural areas still utilize simple stoves that require burning wood, crop refuse or coal. These resources create dangerous air pollution, causing over 3.8 million premature deaths annually. The HomeBioGas startup aims to change this.

HomeBioGas, an organic renewable energy system created by an Israeli startup, aims to reduce the death toll in rural areas while at the same time helping farmers and families reduce their carbon footprint.

The machine safely converts food waste and animal manure into cooking gas and liquid fertilizer. The machine serves as a sustainable tool for urban and rural families living off the grid.

According to the company’s website, the 88-pound machine starts by adding a bacteria to a combination of waste and water, which triggers a fermentation process. The reaction then produces a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide, which can be used as energy.

The system can break down up to six liters of food waste, including meat and dairy. It can also dissolve 15 liters of animal manure, yielding about three hours worth of cooking gas and about 10 liters of liquid fertilizer. Families then can use the resulting gas to cook around three meals a day.

One of the few problems with HomeBioGas, however, is its dependency on warm temperatures. Under 64°F (17°C), the system will decrease its productivity, and it will cease to function at 32°F (0°C).

After a year, though, users eliminate one ton of organic waste, as well as decreasing toxic emissions going into the atmosphere.

Oshik Efrati, CEO of HomeBioGas, told Reuters that the system “will be available to everyone [who] needs it in the developing world.”

The company has already dispensed systems to underserved locations in order to cut back reliance on other types of fuel.

In the summer of 2014, Israel’s Ministry of Environmental Protection bought and installed multiple units at Umm Batin, a Bedouin village without access to clean energy and garbage removal.

The Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Energy and Mining, aiming to reduce the impoverished population’s overdependence on wood, recently signed a contract with HomeBioGas to purchase 50 biodigesters.

The pilot program’s prior success in the two countries, led their governments have decided to purchase even more biodigesters to combat poverty in these locations.

John Gilmore

Sources: Huffington Post, Israel 21c, IndieGoGo
Photo: EcoWatch