Inflammation and stories on energy consumption


Malaria, HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis. One of these must be the biggest cause of deaths in the developing world, right?

Wrong. It is pollution, not diseases, that causes the most deaths in developing countries. Around 8.4 million lives are claimed each year by various kinds of pollution. That is three times more deaths than those caused by malaria, and four times as many as caused by HIV/AIDS.

India and Africa are areas where there are particularly serious problems. India, not China, is home to the world’s most polluted city: Delhi. The number of PM 2.5 particles, the world’s most dangerous, capable of penetrating the lung and therefore entering straight into the bloodstreams of millions, reached 21 times the recommended limit recently.

These levels are twice as toxic as those in Beijing, the accepted pollution capital of the world. The pollution in India causes 1.3 million deaths a year. It also cuts 660 million lives short by three years. Three years off a life simply because of where a person is born or happens to live.

Pollution is also a danger in Africa, where malaria and HIV/AIDS often take the headlines as the leading killers on the continent. Gaborone, Botswana, ranks eighth in particulate pollution among cities that provided information about their pollution levels.

Besides outdoor pollution being an issue, there is also the problem of indoor pollution in both Africa and India. This is generated mostly from cooking with wood and other sooty fuels that clog up the air. Regulations are lax, toward both indoor pollutants and corporate ones.

Never fear, however. New wearable pollution-sensing technology is on the way to save the day, or at least improve the situation. TZOA is producing a small gadget capable of informing wearers about the air they breathe by using “internal sensors to measure your air quality, temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, ambient light and UV (sun) exposure all in one wearable device.”

The device can hook up to an app on a phone to give air readings. It is not alone in the small pollution-sensing gadget department. A device that doubles for a key-chain called Clarity can perform a similar task. Clarity tracks “personal exposure to air pollution via a smartphone app,” just like TZOA.

While these technologically advanced gizmos cannot reduce the drastic levels of pollution around the globe that are killing millions, what they can do is help provide data where it is lacking in areas where pollution is prevalent. Data is often not available or not provided in some of the areas with the worst pollution.

These gadgets also have the potential to raise awareness for the severity of the issue. Empowering those in the thick of the worst conditions has the potential to make the severity of the situation clearer to governments as well as ordinary people. Armed with this information, both could take action because of the data provided by devices like TZOA and Clarity.

Greg Baker

Sources: Tech Times, Inter Press Service, Huffington Post, BBC, Wired, New York Times

Earlier this month, the Canadian government passed the Extractive Sector Transparency Measures Act (ESTMA), an energy transparency law that aims to shed more light on the financial activity of energy companies in foreign countries. The law applies to nearly 2,000 energy companies that are registered in Canada or listed on Toronto’s stock exchange and will require them to publish detailed records of payments made to foreign governments.

The ESTMA came just before the G7 Summit on June 7, and is the product of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s commitment at the 2013 G8 Summit to establish stricter standards for the reporting of financial activity by Canadian extractive companies.

The stated purpose of the law is “to foster better transparency to ensure that the resource extractive industries support proper development in the countries where they operate, while at the same time making it harder to conceal illicit payments.” According to Canadian Securities Law, the Act will require affected companies to report any payments made in relation to the commercial development of oil, gas or minerals that exceed either the amount prescribed by regulation or $100,000 on a number of types of payments, including royalties, production entitlements, dividends and infrastructure improvement funding.

While a similar U.S. transparency law has existed since a 2010 amendment to the Dodd-Frank Act, no rules have been officially implemented for extractive industry activity abroad. The Securities and Exchange Commission threw out regulations written in 2013 after a lawsuit from the American Petroleum Institute – the oil industry’s principal U.S. lobbying organization – claimed the regulations were too punitive for its member companies. In the fall of 2014, Oxfam International filed its own lawsuit against the SEC for failure to implement previously mandated regulations and expects a decision “any day now” on whether or not a federal court will set a timeline for the SEC.

As of now, the majority of the world’s largest oil companies, including Exxon Mobil and Chevron, are nor required to report payments made to foreign governments.

For civilians in oil-rich countries, the detriments for allowing foreign energy corporations to extract their resources often outweigh the benefits they realize for hosting them.

“In many countries that are rich in oil, gas and other non-renewable natural resources, the communities from whose territory the resources are extracted bear the brunt of environmental and human rights impacts associated with extractive activity but see few tangible benefits,” said EarthRights International (ERI) in a statement in 2014. “We, along with our partners in Burma and elsewhere, believe that knowing what governments receive from extractive companies is an important step for communities to hold governments responsible for the use of natural resource revenues and to advocate for a fair share of the benefits.”

Since 2009 ERI has worked with Oxfam and other members of the Publish What You Pay Us (PWYP) coalition to fight for revenue transparency in the extractive industry. The stated mission of the PWYP is to “[help] citizens of resource-rich developing countries hold their governments accountable for the management of revenues from the oil, gas and mining industries.”

“Natural resource revenues are an important source of income for governments of over 50 developing countries,” states the PWYP coalition. “When properly managed these revenues should serve as a basis for poverty reduction, economic growth and development rather than exacerbating corruption, conflict and social divisiveness.”

Proponents of stricter oversight of extractive industries note that a lack of financial transparency raises doubts as to how much civilians in host countries benefit from the extraction of their resources by foreign energy companies. Detailed records published by energy companies will reveal more precisely who is benefiting from extractive industry spending and whether – and to what degree – recipient governments use that spending to benefit their own people.

– Zach VeShancey

Sources: Canadian Securities Law, Devex, Earthrights, Publish What you Pay
Photo: The Star

“Africa’s greatest growth challenge is energy, and there’s a serious need to quickly get additional generation capacity in place to meet increasing energy demands,” says Luc Graré, senior vice president EMEA at REC Solar. In a renewed effort to meet the vast demand for economically sustainable energy resources within developing regions, REC, a U.S. solar panel producer, recently announced ambitions to increase program investments and product installation within Africa.

A total of 621 million people – over two-thirds of Africa’s population – currently live without basic access to electricity. With large-scale power scarcities proving to reduce a developing nation’s economic growth rate by an estimated 2 – 4 percent annually, it is essential to note the multitude of costs associated with energy deficits across Africa.

Last month, a new report published by the Africa Progress Panel estimated that the 138 million African households living on less than $2.50 per day spent over $10 billion last year on energy resources such as firewood, candles, kerosene and charcoal. The report also claims that such impoverished homes annually pay on average 70 times more for energy than a household within a developed city such as Manhattan.

While the North African nation of Nigeria remained a top-10 global producer for oil last year, nearly 100 million Nigerian citizens still rely annually on the burning of charcoal and firewood to provide light and heating within their homes. With toxic byproducts released from the burning of such resources killing an estimated 600,000 people per year – nearly half of them children – it is imperative that we find a more sustainable and economical energy solution for Africa.

While the energy crisis within Africa seldom garners significant media attention, a comprehensive solution to this problem is necessary in order to guarantee successes within other forms of regional development. Researchers of the Africa Progress Panel have noted the potential efficacy of off-grid solar power installments, which would provide both infrastructural support to various development programs and stronger attention to other important socio-economic issues such as health and education.

Energy development experts have noted the largely untapped potential of sub-Saharan Africa, which maintains an admirable environment and landscape for the construction of low-cost, off-grid solar power systems. REC now offers a SolarBox installation kit for a 20-50kW off-grid solar system, which is comprised of multiple solar panel arrays, an inverter, a diesel generator and a deep cycle battery bank, all of which are contained within a single shipping container and exercise immediate deployment capabilities.

These units have been praised by numerous sustainable energy researchers for their efficacy in low costs, ease of transport and off-grid capabilities. REC recently donated a 20kW SolarBox unit to Bantayan Island in the Philippines, a community that was severely affected by the impact of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. REC has predicted the installation of over 100 GW of off-grid solar panel systems by 2030 within developing residential areas of Africa.

James Thornton

Sources: The Guardian, Energy Matters
Photo: Awake Africa

It’s black, it’s dirty, it’s smelly, and it’s often dangerous to obtain, yet it has the power to keep billions alive. Coal. An energy source for people on Earth for hundreds of years. Coal-burning can heat homes and provide power for massive electrical grids around the world. But the question being asked today is whether or not coal can cure poverty. Some believe it can while others maintain that other options must be explored.

First, the nonbelievers. On June 26, 2015, Huffington Post published an article, titled “No, Coal is NOT the Fix-All Solution to Energy Poverty,” that dove into analyzing how and why coal isn’t cutting it as a global fuel source. The article stemmed from Pope Francis’ encyclical “On the Care of Our Common Home,” a critique on the increasing global warming crisis as a direct result of human energy consumption. The pope’s message sent shockwaves throughout the world raising arguments for energy reform.

An excerpt from Huffington Post says, “Although fossil fuels and renewable energy are not mutually exclusive in aiding development efforts, the truth is that this claim is just another attempt by the industry to justify the continued use of fossil fuels.” The truth is, there are other more energy efficient ways out there to provide energy to the poor, but the powers that be don’t want the public to be aware.

One such energy source that is becoming more and more viable to the poor is solar panel technology. According to the Huffington Post article, solar panels are now less than half of what they cost in 2010. This technology is emerging as a legitimate rival for the coal industry, as well as developing into real hope for those in poverty across the globe. In addition to the growing industry of solar panels, global organizations such as the World Bank have stopped financing renewable resource projects worldwide with exceptions to rare situations.

As for the advocates of coal, the case is significantly weaker. An article by World Coal on June 24, 2015 makes the case for coal as the salvation to global poverty. An excerpt from this article reads, “On a global scale, coal fulfilled approximately half of the increase in energy consumption in the last decade. In the last century, the amount this source has produced is as much energy as nuclear, renewable, fuel oil and natural gas combined.” While this statistic appears impressive, it fails to acknowledge the crippling effects to our atmosphere. Coal is a good fuel source, but it comes at a great price. Billions of people on earth depend on coal to survive, but even more billions feel the effects of global warming because of it. So, do we need more or less to cure poverty?

– Diego Alejandro Catala

Sources: Huffington Post, World
Photo: Total Health Care

Expansion of Carbon Pricing Promises to Alleviate PovertyWith an estimated value of between $16 and $54 trillion, the services provided by natural resources are an asset worth protecting. It is widely recognized that carbon dioxide from fossil fuel emissions threatens the environment and that reducing carbon emissions is a global necessity. A dominant strategy to reduce carbon is to make it more expensive which incentivizes individuals, companies and nations to use it more efficiently or switch to alternatives. Roughly 40 countries and over 20 subnational governments are either doing or planning to do so through legal mechanisms that increase carbon pricing. A recent analysis by the World Bank estimates that the value of these initiatives grew to nearly $50 billion this year.

There are two ways in which these efforts will be working to lighten the burden of poverty across the globe.

The first focuses on the role that a stable climate and healthy ecosystems have in providing a solid footing for economic development. Clean air and water, fire, flood and erosion control, mitigation from tsunamis and prevention of landslides are all services that intact ecosystems provide. These protect human populations and provide the foundation of productive agricultural systems.

Excessive use of carbon is leading to rising sea levels, increased desertification, stronger storms and less predictable weather, which will subvert the progress made on ending poverty and may create large groups of climate refugees, up to 200 million by 2050. In short, robust ecosystems offer goods and services and climate change undermines the provision of these goods and endangers massive economic, social and political costs.

The second way in which the expanding carbon market may reduce poverty depends on the design of the regulation. Currently, the two main strategies that reign supreme are cap and trade schemes and carbon taxes. The first sets a limit, the cap, on the amount of carbon that can be emitted and allows firms to trade permits to pollute. If one firm does not need to pollute, they may sell their permit to a polluter. Over time the cap is lowered and so are the emissions. Carbon taxes simply add a tax to carbon to make it more expensive and less attractive to use, though how the tax is applied and what is to be done with the revenue is flexible.

While both forms work to end poverty through protecting the environment, the cap and trade scheme contains an added component, termed carbon offsetting, which funds emissions-reduction projects in the developing world. Rather than buying permits to pollute, a firm can invest in an emissions-reduction project that otherwise would not have been financially feasible. These projects introduce clean technology and increase the level of investment in the developing world while protecting the environment.

Examples of U.N. certified emissions-reduction projects range from a soil conservation project in Moldova to reforestation of degraded croplands in Paraguay and generating power from rice husks in India. In 2013, total investment from certified projects was estimated to be over $315 billion. As carbon pricing expands, poverty reduction and sustainable development will follow.

– John Wachter

Sources: National Geographic, Oakridge National Laboratory, The Nature Conservancy, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, World Bank
Photo: Eco Talk

Hangzhou is widely regarded as the poster child for the Chinese economic model. The city is growing at nine percent annually and is six times larger than it was in 2000, thanks to the break-neck speed at which its industries are diversifying and expanding. Residents enjoy a GDP per capita of 9,300 dollars, the ninth highest of all cities in China. But the frenzied rate of development has also precipitated rain on Hangzhou’s parade – the rain being showers of coal dust.

On March 10, 2013, residents woke up to a film of black powder that coated their homes and roads. The trees and flowers of the nearby Bashan National Forest Park were not spared either. Paradoxically, Hangzhou is a city whose name translates to “heaven of the earth.” It is legendary for its natural beauty; an ancient saying declares, “just as there is paradise in heaven, there are Suzhou and Hangzhou on earth.” In 2009, the city was voted the “National Garden City” and given the “China Habitat Environmental Prize.”

However, authorities were not able provide an explanation, much less a solution, for the shower of coal dust that came down on Hangzhou. It was an incident that both literally and figuratively besmirched the city and pointed to a larger nation-wide problem. China burns 3.5 billion tons of coal each year, largely for energy purposes, which generates 60 percent of the nitric oxide, 40 percent of the carbon dioxide and 25 percent of the dust pollutants in China’s notorious pollution.

Many residents of Hangzhou have refused to turn a blind eye to the environmental strains caused by the city’s rapid development. In May of 2014, people in Hangzhou demonstrated against a proposed garbage incinerator they believed would contaminate the air with toxic dioxin and mercury. More than 20,000 signatures were gathered from concerned residents who called for the project to be halted.

The authorities demanded calm, claiming that the incinerator was necessary given that the rapid expansion of the city had led to mounting levels of residential waste. After facing months of continued criticism, they promised that the project would not go ahead if public resistance remained high. At the same time, however, they arrested dozens of protesters. But even if authorities did pledge a shutdown, they could easily withdraw it. In 2011, a paraxylene plant that had sparked multiple protests in the city of Dalian was later quietly reopened in 2012, one year later.

The Chinese government is taking some steps to address the environmental problem in Hangzhou. It promised to build a coal-free zone by 2017, and assured Hangzhou’s residents that they would be able to enjoy more than 300 days of second-grade or better air quality by then. The government established the aptly named Project Blue Sky, Project Green Water, Project Greenness and Project Quietness.

While not being entirely inert, the rate at which progress is being made to ensure clean air might not be fast enough to keep up with the city’s rate of growth. In spite of implementing a metro system in 2012 and other public transportation initiatives that were aimed at decreasing people’s dependence on automobiles, CO2 emissions due to transportation are projected to increase by 59.6 percent by 2020. As long as the city develops at its current rate, demand for cars and other forms of motorization will continue to surge.

In 2013, China released 29 percent of the world’s CO2, or 10.3 billion tons. It was the largest emission from any single country. The U.S. released the second highest amount of CO2, accounting for 15 percent of global emissions with 5.3 billion tons. There is cause for hope, however, with the carbon reduction deal President Barack Obama and President Xi Jingping signed last November. China agreed to cap emissions and increase its use of zero-emission energy sources by 20 percent by 2030. But even with this initiative, it seems that Hangzhou will continue to suffer increasing environmental degradation for at least the next fifteen years.

– Radhika Singh

Sources: China Briefing, Chicago Policy Review, NYTimes, The Epoch Times, Xinhua, IKPMG, Hangzhou Weekly, Hangzhou Government, Hangzhou Government, UN Habitat, The Guardian, PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the European Commission
Photo: Fortune

On October 9, Glasgow University set a precedent for the UK, following suite with other parts of the world. The university announced that it will sell any of its shares invested in companies who produce fossil fuels. This translates to the withdrawal of £18 million of investments over the coming years.

David Newall, secretary of the university’s governing body, made a statement, “The university recognises the devastating impact that climate change may have on our planet, and the need for the world to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.

A heavily involved student campaign of over 1300 students championed for these efforts. The campaign included rallies and even fake oil spills. The campaign is taking other active steps in reducing harm to the environment. For example, their carbon consumption will be significantly reduced.

The universal campaign is gaining support not only from Glasgow, but from 13 American universities who have also pledged to divest any support from fossil fuel companies. Fossil Free’s website provides a comprehensive list of various religious organizations, cities, counties, and universities in the U.S. who have also pledged to divest any investment in the fossil fuel industry.

In fact, Seattle, Washington, home of The Borgen Project, was the first U.S. city to do so. Their commitment took place near the end of 2012. Other universities who have done so include Stanford University and the University of Dayton in Ohio.

According to a Sept. article by The Guardian, even heirs to the Rockefeller oil fortune have chosen to divest. Thus $50 billion will be redirected from fossil fuel investments, sending a tremendous example to the rest of the world.

With less of a reliance on fossil fuels, the world can change its focus to safer, more efficient and more economical energy sources. The more the world learns to rely on solar and wind energy to power our cars and our homes, the more energy can be a resource for more of the global population.

People living in more poverty-stricken areas of the world do not necessarily have the funds for oil, but with the purchase or donation of a solar panel that could last a lifetime, they will finally have electricity opportunities that could in turn lead to a furthered education, a more literate population, healthier people and longer life spans.

So far, despite this activism, little effect has been seen on the trillion dollar franchise of the oil industry, but with increased participants and awareness this is likely to change. It’s promising that a majority of this change is beginning with the voices of our young people. And with people like those members of the Rockefeller foundation on board, these young people now have a means to make their influence known.

Kathleen Lee

Sources: BBC, Fossil Free, The Guardian
Photo: Flickr

IIBM's Solar Sunflower
IBM has worked with Swiss company Airlight Energy to create an advanced solar electricity generator called the High Concentration PhotoVoltaic Thermal (HCPVT) system. The prototype was officially unveiled in Zurich in September 2014.

The system looks like a solar sunflower, shooting 33 feet into the air and topped off with a massive dish consisting of 36 wafer-thin aluminum mirrors and a lattice of tubes carrying coolant throughout the device. What is especially notable about the system is that not only can it produce electricity, but it can also desalinate water for sanitation and drinking purposes.

Featuring an advanced sun tracking system that angles the dish to optimize its solar capacity and an effective hot-water cooling system, the device can convert up to 80 percent of the sun’s radiation into electricity. Each chip produces up to 57 watts and each generator about 12 kilowatts of electricity, up to 20 kilowatts on a sunny day; enough energy to supply numerous homes. In comparison, typical flat panel photovoltaic solar systems, also known as solar panels, have conversion efficiency ratings of only 15 to 20 percent.

Currently approximately 1.3 billion people lack access to electricity and while 2.5 billion people have no access to proper sanitation. What is even more alarming is that the number of people who lack access to proper sanitation is estimated to increase by nine percent each year.

IBM’s solar sunflower can combat both issues by making electricity while also providing clean, drinkable water. The cooling system is particularly useful for the desalination of water. The device utilizes hot water in combination with the desalinators to boil salt water and distill the liquid into potable water. As such, an installation featuring several generators is estimated to be able to provide enough desalinated water to supply an entire town.

Areas of interest for the device include southern Europe, Africa, the Middle East, the Southwestern part of North America, South America, Japan and Australia. In addition, the system could be used at remote hospitals and medical facilities, and even for commercial purposes such as for hotels, holiday resorts and shopping centers.

Designed to keeps costs low, manufacturing costs will be a third of the cost for similar current solar converters and, because many of the materials will be sourced locally, the device can provide work for local communities. The device is projected to be released by 2017. IBM has announced that it will install the first two devices for free in 2016 and has asked for towns around the globe to submit their names for consideration.

– William Ying

Sources: IBM, The Guardian, Forbes, Computerworld NewScientist
Photo: Flickr

d.light solar
The company d.light manufactures and distributes solar lights and other products to people around the world. Currently, 300 people work to complete the goals of d.light: give reliable energy to 100 million people by 2020. Aside from providing power, d.light notes that reliable power also contributes to better performance in school and better overall safety and health.

Nearly one and a half billion people around the world live without access to electricity. For a fifth of the population, the light switch that most people use every night does not exist. Most people without access to power live in regions with the highest rate of poverty: Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Many without access to power use kerosene lamps. But these are polluting and harmful to the people who use them. Burning one for four hours a day for one year results in 100 kg of carbon dioxide emissions, which contributes to climate change.

For individuals, using kerosene lamps can cause severe respiratory problems. If these health problems do not cause death, they severely limit access to jobs, which limits income and continues the cycle of poverty. As a demonstration of the importance of consistent electricity, it has been shown that household businesses with better lighting have a 30 percent increase in income, simply because it allows people to work at night.

The kerosene lamps are also extremely cost inefficient. LED lights produce almost 100 times more wattage than kerosene lamps. But without other options available, a significant portion of individual or family income goes toward kerosene lamps. Merely limiting access to modern technology results in dangerous, and possibly fatal consequences to people in poverty.

In 2004, Sam Goldman witnessed the effect of kerosene lamps when one burned his neighbor in Benin. This personal contact with the effects of limited access to electricity inspired Goldman to educate himself on sustainable and affordable innovation. During this time, he met Ned Tozun. Together, they created d.light, “an international social enterprise serving households without access to reliable electricity.”

d.light provides products such as study lamps, family lanterns and light systems with a phone charging capability. The products are powered through solar energy and can provide light for up to 15 hours. Indicating that the company knows its consumers, the products are versatile and can withstand the effects of weather or other uncontrollable factors.

As of July 31, d.light has empowered over 37 million lives, given solar lighting to almost 10 million children and saved over $1 billion in energy expenses. For each consumer, buying a d.light product can save approximately $150 over 5 years. Moreover, d.light positively impacted the environment by reducing carbon emissions by nearly 3 million tons.

Witnessing the dangerous affects of limited access to energy, two individuals created innovative yet accessible methods to address a problem associated with poverty. The innovation of d.light helps to alleviate both a cause and a consequence of an enormous issue. The benefits of d.light Solar evidences the significant potential impact of ensuring that people in poverty have access to innovative products.

– Tara Wilson

Sources: CNN, Acumen, d.light Solar
Photo: Discovery

South Africa is now home to one of the largest wind farms in all of Africa. The farm produces 138 megawatts of electricity and is located between the cities of Jeffrey’s Bay and Humansdorp in the Eastern Cape province.

The private power generation company in Africa, Globeleq, led the creation of the farm. It consists of 60 turbines that are 80 meters tall, and cover a span of 3,700 hectares. The turbines will provide enough clean, renewable energy to power 100,000 South African homes each year.

South Africa’s current means of production of energy is producing carbon dioxide. With the implementation of this wind farm, the country can avoid producing 420,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually.

Renewable energy sources are a fairly new phenomenon in Africa, but they are proving to be extremely powerful and efficient. Mikael Karlsson, Globeleq’s CEO, said, “[The Jeffrey’s Bay Wind Farm] demonstrates significant support for independent private power producers in the region and indicates the sustainability of the renewable energy sector.”

He continued to discuss the return to the community that this project will provide: “A percentage of the project’s operational revenues will be reinvested into the local community through socio-economic and enterprise development programmes, creating the skills needed to support the growth of the renewable energy industry in South Africa.”

The Jeffrey’s Bay Wind Farm is currently the second biggest on the continent. It is bigger than the 120-megawatt Ashegoda farm in Ethiopia, but the Tarfaya farm in southwestern Morocco will generate up to 300 megawatts of electricity annually.

The wind farm is a part of South Africa’s latest attempt at using renewable energy. The Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers (RE-IPP) program, which began in 2011, is focusing on solar and wind energy projects. Over the past several months, solar power projects have been implemented across the country, entering South Africa into the world’s top 10 utility solar power markets. The same accolades can be expected with the continued growth of wind energy projects.

– Hannah Cleveland
Sources: AllAfrica, Energy Business Review, Clean Technica
Photo: Clean Technica