Inflammation and stories on energy consumption

5G Internet Could Reduce Poverty
With the “fourth industrial revolution” underway as technology rapidly advances and changes the global outlook, fifth-generation (5G) internet has proved to be a breakthrough that could potentially pull millions out of poverty. One can characterize 5G internet by its high speed, high capacity and low latency with a bandwidth almost 10 times more than fourth-generation (4G) internet. Peak download speeds for 5G internet are around 20 gigabits per second, allowing users to download full movies, videos, advanced Internet of Things (IoT) software or artificial intelligence (AI) in minutes. 5G internet could reduce poverty significantly if countries implement the correct infrastructure for it.

Many countries have already begun building 5G networks. According to a report by Cisco, at the end of 2019, 26 countries were commercially selling 5G programs, 14 of which were developing countries. Countries with high rates of poverty could especially benefit from 5G internet as it would provide a stable internet connection and allow them to access a wealth of online resources. Below are seven ways 5G internet could reduce poverty.

7 Ways 5G Internet Could Reduce Poverty

  1. 5G internet could further advance the Sustainable Development Goals set for completion by 2030, especially surrounding “inclusive and equitable” education for all. The communities that live in rural locations most commonly face difficulties accessing educational resources. According to the World Economic Forum, construction of a school would have to happen every hour for 11 years in order to ensure enough schools for all of the children living in sub-Saharan Africa. 5G internet could connect those in unreachable locations to online teaching resources and remote learning opportunities. The speed of 5G internet could allow students to tune in live to classrooms globally.
  2. Healthcare, which has lagged far behind in many developing countries, could see massive reforms as part of 5G internet access. New AI and IoT devices could revolutionize the industry. New surgeons in training can wear haptic gloves that track hand movement to send to professionals across the globe so they can correct and mentor them. Virtual reality and 3D imaging allow medical professionals to aid in surgeries in rural areas. AI could even enable remote surgeries or checkups.
  3. Compared to 4G networks, 5G can reduce energy consumption by 50% to 95%, said the European Investment Bank. Energy poverty is already a prevalent issue, which is a lack of access to energy as a result of its high cost. Reducing energy usage further would allow 5G to be more affordable and sustainable.
  4. The internet has already allowed massive globalization to take place which has expanded global output by millions of dollars. 5G will continue this revolution – by 2035, IHS economics and technology has determined that 5G internet will enable $12.3 trillion in global economic output. In addition, it should allow the creation of 22 million jobs, meaning a vast new market could open up for employment in all countries.
  5. With new AI and IoT devices monitoring factors, such as rainfall, water content, nutrients in the soil, ground temperature and more, 5G internet should encourage the rise of “smart” agriculture. This technological push to increase farmer efficiency has already begun but faster data speeds and larger bandwidth that allow the installation of more sensors and larger-scale technology should accelerate it. Intel estimates that the global smart agriculture market will rise to $23.44 billion by 2025 and that 55% of data on farms will come from IoT devices. Impoverished countries could especially benefit from these advancements as they will allow higher crop yields, saving money and feeding a larger portion of people.
  6. People could use unmanned aerial vehicles (such as drones) in combination with 5G internet to supply a larger area. Especially in rural areas where built-in infrastructure would not provide for all of the people who need it, traveling drones could circulate 5G networks to all that need it. A farmer who is trying to use a cellular device on a large plot of land could have a personal unmanned aerial vehicle that would travel with them as they inspect the whole field, ensuring that their 5G network never experiences an interruption.
  7. Emerging countries are especially willing to build 5G infrastructure as it is more affordable than previous internet structures and proves to have a large payoff. The implementation of 4G networks is often more expensive with less energy efficiency, sustainability and economic increase, causing developing countries to jump straight into adding 5G infrastructure. India, Turkey, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Russia, Qatar, Oman and Uruguay have been some of the first countries to modify their industrial transformation programs. In addition, due to the fact that many western developed countries have banned or restricted 5G data networks until recently, major 5G players such as China have increasingly marketed to developing nations.

Currently, 5G internet is accessible mostly in urban areas due to population density, but rural areas will not lag far behind if areas put the right infrastructure in place. South African cities and Cape Town were the first in Africa to see 5G due to the growth of Rain, a South African company. These seven facts about how 5G internet could reduce poverty show that it holds a bright future for many of the developing countries and will be a key player in the coming years.

Nitya Marimuthu
Photo: Flickr

  Microgrid technology in African countriesIf you take a trip to Google Earth’s nighttime view of the world, you’ll see areas like the United States, Europe and Japan bursting with light. In these countries, electricity freely flows through a massive electrical grid, whirring through power plants and millions of electrical wires. Alternatively, satellite images of the African continent’s 54 countries show vast dark areas with a few scattered hotspots. However, this unequal spread of electrification may change in the near future. Microgrid technology in African countries is powering thousands of community’s electrical needs. The African continent’s electrification illustrates the broader trend of sustainable energy’s emergence in the developing world.

What is Microgrid Technology?

In simple terms, microgrid technology is a decentralized version of the massive electrical grids that exist in most developed nations. More definitively, a microgrid is “a local energy grid with control capability” that can work autonomously to both produce and supply power to small communities. The autonomy of microgrids limits the negative aspects of larger power grids, such as rolling blackouts.

In developed countries, certain essential businesses use microgrids to ensure a stable power source. For example, hospitals use microgrids in case a natural disaster would cut off power to large scale power grids. In many developing nations, governments are eagerly implementing microgrid technology in areas without pre-existing infrastructure.

Another benefit of microgrid technology is the easy integration of renewable energy sources. Presently, companies building microgrids in developing nations tend to rely on solar or wind energy due to their growing cost-efficiency. Peter Ganz, who studied microgrids through his master’s program in environmental management from Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment and currently works as Senior Energy Storage Analyst at EDF Renewables North America, said that “The idea that many businesses have in developing countries is to make these microgrids sustainable. This is so that, as developing countries gain energy access, they’re not stuck with this large fossil-reliant grid that we’re dealing with here in the United States, the EU and other large, developed nations.”

Africa’s Need for Electricity

Many companies like PowerGen, Energicity and Tesvolt are installing microgrids in several African nations to power homes, schools, hospitals and businesses. Many regions of Africa provide the ideal environment for sustainable solar energy. In addition, the overall cost of installing microgrids has dropped an estimated 25 to 30% since 2014.

Centering on Africa for microgrid technology development is necessary for worldwide electrification. Today, 13% of the world’s population does not have access to electricity. In particular, sub-Saharan Africa accounts for almost two-thirds of the world’s population without power.

In the mass movements for sustainable energy around the world, developing nations without existing electricity infrastructure see some advantages. Due to this lack of infrastructure, developing communities can begin to electrify local homes, businesses, and services with renewable sources. The integration of renewable energy into the grid will effectively prevent any future need to rely on fossil fuels.

PowerGen’s Work in African Nations

Founded in 2011, PowerGen is one of the main organizations serving on the frontlines of microgrid development in African nations. With a mission striving to provide “cleaner, smarter” and “decentralized” energy to Africa, PowerGen has installed sustainable energy utilities for more than 50,000 Africans who previously lacked electricity. The organization is far-reaching, deploying microgrids in Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia, Uganda, Rwanda, Benin and Niger. PowerGen has also set up offices and planned projects in several other African countries The company also develops commercial and industrial (C&I) solar power for more widescale, sustainable electricity.

According to a statement by PowerGen CEO Sam Slaughter, the organization’s microgrids “typically serve 100-500 connections” and “have a geographic radius under one kilometer.” The grids can power anything running off electricity including refrigerators, TVs, electric cars and mobile phones. The payment is affordable for African users who use an easy “pay-as-you-go” system via “mobile money telecoms services” or cash.

PowerGen hopes to expand energy access to one million more Africans by 2025. One of the biggest challenges in installing new power in the continent is government cooperation and acceptance of microgrids, but the organization is actively working to broaden its microgrid coverage everywhere.

Importance of Smart Power in Developing Nations

In the mass movements for sustainable energy around the world, developing nations are actually at an advantage; since many developing communities have no or unreliable access to electricity, they can begin their energy journey with renewable sources, effectively cutting off reliance on fossil fuels in the future.

“Our electric grid is very much the product of a time before renewables when most, if not all, generation was from carbon-intensive fossil fuels,” said Ganz. “Now that we have developed technologies that are carbon-free or carbon-neutral, it would be great to help these [developing] countries achieve the levels of grid resiliency and electric reliability that we [in developed countries] have without the carbon intensity.”

– Grace Ganz
Photo: Flickr

7 Facts About Energy Poverty in BulgariaThe initial and commonly held definition of energy poverty is a lack of access to energy sources; therefore, Bulgaria is free of energy poverty. According to the research organization Our World in Data, 100% of Bulgarians had access to energy as of 2016. However, if we expand the definition of energy poverty to include factors like energy efficiency and access to clean fuels, Bulgaria has a severe energy poverty issue. This article will discuss seven facts about energy poverty in Bulgaria.

Limited Access to Information

Data on energy poverty in Bulgaria is limited. However, a 2018 report by the European Union Energy Poverty Observatory stated that Bulgaria performs worse than the EU average on certain measurements, including the percentage of households that could keep their homes adequately warm in 2017. A 2014 report from the International Association for Energy Economics (IAEE) stated that more than 67% of Bulgarians went without sufficient heat in winter 2008 because they couldn’t afford it. The EU average was 8%.

The IAEE report noted that “specific measures and social policies” for three key factors of energy poverty in Bulgaria are “ineffective.” These include low income, high energy prices and poor-quality buildings because they focus on a limited part of the population with a limited standard of heat. What’s more, the 2019 European Energy Poverty Index by data firm OpenExp ranked Bulgaria last of all EU nations for a set of factors including energy expenditures, winter discomfort, summer discomfort and quality of dwellings. These and other sources delve into the factors behind these rankings and into Bulgaria’s energy poverty issue in general.

7 Facts About Energy Poverty in Bulgaria

  1. Energy poverty has been linked to a state of post-socialist recovery. According to the book “Energy Poverty in Eastern Europe: Hidden Geographies of Deprivation” by Stefan Buzar, energy poverty has emerged across former communist/Soviet Union nations. In fact, half of the modern six nations that partly comprise the communist Eastern Bloc and are now EU members rank in the bottom 10 of the 2019 European Energy Poverty Index.
  2. Incomes are too low even for relatively low energy prices. Even though energy prices are low compared to other EU countries, Bulgarians’ incomes are proportionally low. The IAEE noted 22% of Bulgaria’s population were living in poverty in 2012/2013. That equated to around 1.6 million people. At that time, the nation’s minimum salary was 158 Euros per month, but it had an average salary of 408 per month. As such, based on the U.K.’s definition of fuel poverty, residents spent at least 10% of their household income to heat their homes to an acceptable level of warmth. Typical Bulgarians were fuel poor from at least 1999 through 2012, according to National Statistical Institute data.
  3. The expense issue is also due to inefficient energy use and resources. For one, homes are not well-built for heating. A 2012 report showed the construction of 65% of existing homes occurred before 1990. At least 800,000 residences were prefabricated buildings. The kinds of homes have poor thermal insulation. In Bulgaria, daytime winter temperatures average 32-41 degrees Fahrenheit. Furthermore, electricity accounts for 42% of Bulgarian energy consumption sources, instead of the much cheaper source of gas. This is partly because Bulgaria has an underdeveloped gas supply network.
  4. Residents have protested prices more than once. Protests over high electricity bills erupted in 2013 despite a mild, and thus less expensive, 2012 winter. The government responded by refraining from letting prices increase the next year. However, in 2018, thousands took to streets in several cities to protest high fuel prices.
  5. To save money, Bulgarians have turned to dangerous alternative heating sources to electricity. In addition to protests, Bulgarians fight high electricity expenses by measures that risk their quality of life. They underheat their homes or rely on coal and wood. This causes more air pollution, according to the Palgrave Macmillan book “Energy Demand Challenges in Europe.”
  6. Energy poverty in Bulgaria is widespread. The EU Energy Poverty Observatory reported that “some socio-economic groups are known to be particularly vulnerable to energy poverty.” However, that is not the only factor. Location, which energy carrier the people have access to and the housing situation can all play a part.
  7. The Bulgarian government is making at least some effort. The Energy Efficiency Act created the Bulgarian Energy Efficiency and Renewable Sources Fund (EERSF) to support and finance energy efficiency projects in the country. It hopes to increase renewable energy sources for residence and public buildings. Hydrothermal, geothermal and solar energy are among those eligible to receive funds.

These seven facts about energy poverty in Bulgaria show that it is a real issue despite the country’s World Bank status as an upper-middle-income nation. Too many people can’t afford to properly heat their homes. Due to a lack of access to gas, people must use the more expensive option of electricity or simply underheat their homes. But, there’s hope for the future as government programs exist to offset the problem.

Amanda Ostuni
Photo: Flickr

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

Air Pollution in Nigeria
Nigeria has the largest number of deaths due to air pollution in Africa, while the country ranks fourth for air pollution across the globe. Statistics indicate that in 2016, 150 fatalities occurred per 100,000 people as a result of this environmental issue. The State of the Global Air Report that the Health Effects Institute (HEI) published determined that Nigeria’s air quality is amidst the most lethal worldwide. Atmospheric threats such as generator fumes, automobile emissions and crop burning cause air pollution.

In 2016, The HEI indicated that industrialized countries like Russia and Germany have reported lower death rates than Nigeria with 62 and 22 per 100,000 people. Meanwhile, developing countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and India have reported much higher rates with 406, 207 and 195 deaths per 100,000 people.

Causes of Air Pollution in Nigeria

Air pollution emits through generator fumes which produce the deadly gas carbon monoxide. Automobiles with older engines are also likely to emit unhealthy fumes into the atmosphere. In households, kerosene stoves produce flames that contribute to the poor air ventilation. The nation creates over 3 million tons of waste yearly and most Nigerians burn their waste in their neighborhoods rather than discarding it, contributing more pollution to the atmosphere. Another aspect that contributes to the air pollution crisis in Nigeria is the use of firewood and coal to cook.

Additionally, indoor air pollution in Nigeria is also a big issue, as the amount of fine particulate matter levels in many households surpass air quality guidelines by 20 times. In 2012, according to the WHO, Lagos, Nigeria experienced nearly 7 million deaths caused by indoor and outdoor air contamination.

Air contamination across the African continent kills over 700,000 people annually; more people die from air pollution than unsanitary hygiene practices and undernourishment. Casualties as a result of the air pollution crisis in Nigeria has increased by nearly 40 percent in the last 30 years. Nigeria has some of the highest rates of unhealthy air quality across the African continent. Overall, Nigerian cities contain the most unhealthy air quality with 10 urban areas being classified on a list of 30 cities in Africa with the most unhealthy air quality.

The Effects of Air Pollution in Nigeria

While developed countries have effective solutions in place to handle air pollution, underdeveloped countries are struggling to handle this environmental issue. Some countries have begun taking appropriate measures to handle it, though. As a result, the number of people exposed to air pollution has decreased from 3.5 billion in 1990 to 2.4 billion in 2016.

The report also indicated that 95 percent of the globe’s citizens are intaking polluted air. In 2016, extended subjection to air pollution contributed to roughly 6 million deaths, all resulting from diseases such as strokes, lung disease, lung cancer, bronchitis, asthma and heart attacks. Air pollution is one of the top leading causes of fatalities, particularly in underdeveloped countries, even after smoking, increased blood pressure and unhealthy diets. Exposure to air pollution also increases the risk of developing cancer.

Solutions to the Air Pollution Crisis

In order to effectively handle the air pollution crisis in Nigeria, it is important for the country to provide regular inspections of automobiles to ensure that older cars are not releasing harmful chemicals into the atmosphere. It is also integral that Nigeria removes cars from the road that are toxic to the environment.

The implementation of efficient electric energy will help decrease the need for generators, which produces unhealthy air pollution in households and work environments. However, Nigeria does have access to sustainable energy resources that are capable of providing power to its citizens. These methods are safer for the environment and the usage of them decreases the use of gasoline-powered generators, thus decreasing pollution.

Nigerians can reduce air pollution in the household by substituting fuelwood for biogas, which is a form of biofuel that is instinctively manufactured from the decay of natural waste. Biogas will provide sustainable options for preparing food and heating the household while eliminating air pollution both inside the household and the outside environment.

In terms of trash disposal, recycling methods will be helpful to make certain that people are not burning waste. Additionally, daily waste removal from households will also help to properly dispose of trash, which reduces the fragmentation of waste and prevents odors that contribute to air pollution.

Additionally, factories that are within metropolitan areas follow guidelines regarding sustainable practices in order to decrease air pollution in Nigeria. The National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) monitors operations to ensure that these work environments are abiding by the pollution proclamations.

In conclusion, the execution of environmentally friendly practices in Nigeria will help decrease the air pollution crisis in Nigeria that is present in households, businesses and the outside environment. In order for the elimination of air pollution to be effective, the country must pursue the regulations for all Nigerians.

Additionally, it is necessary to inform communities regarding the sources and consequences of air pollution in order for them to effectively take action in decreasing the issue. Furthermore, those that become more knowledgeable of the issue are then able to educate others and persuade the Nigerian government to continue to enforce legislation against air pollution.

Diana Dopheide
Photo: Wikipedia

 

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
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On the Mark With China's Solar Power TargetChina 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