Energy Poverty in India
In India, a country with a population of more than 1 billion, almost 700 million people use solid fuels, such as wood and charcoal, as their primary energy source. Solid fuels have health impacts that can lead to adverse respiratory and cardiovascular conditions. The Lancet Global Health report from 2016 on India identified the air pollution from these fuels as the leading cause of chronic respiratory conditions, more than smoking. Squatter settlements are common in major Indian cities and often have informal power lines tapping into larger grids. These serve as an unreliable supply and source of electricity to large portions of the Indian population. Energy poverty in India affects all aspects of people’s quality of life, from health, education, productivity and even income-generating activities.

Renewable Partnerships

Energy poverty in India affects all aspects of people’s quality of life, from health, education, productivity and even income-generating activities. These affected areas strain the already stretched infrastructure in India and work against elevating the 8% in poverty.

In rural areas, dependence on solid fuels for energy requires long trips to forests to fetch these energy sources. According to the Encyclopedia of Social Work, this is a responsibility that women normally have. Because of its time-consuming nature, it prevents women from participating in income-producing activities that may elevate their economic conditions.

In light of the 244 million people experiencing energy poverty in India, Tata Power, India’s largest integrated power company and The Rockefeller Foundation have formed a partnership to address the issue. By utilizing Microgrids, this new initiative will be able to provide renewable electricity to nearly 5 million homes in India’s rural areas. Clean energy through these microgrids is set to assist businesses in Indian states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh where 40% of enterprises rely on solid fuels such as diesel.

TP Renewable Microgrid Ltd. will run until 2026 and will deliver clean and cheap energy to rural households and businesses. Its unique microgrid design also aims to create 10,000 job opportunities in the green sector and assist the local farming irrigation systems. It could also make Tata Power the largest microgrid developer in the world.

Conclusion

Addressing energy poverty not only provides people with reliable energy sources but also connects them to the wider world. It backs the running of local infrastructures such as hospitals and schools, advances sanitation programs as well as farming and business techniques making them less costly and more efficient.

With the financial resources of The Rockefeller Foundation and Tata Powers’ ideas, this joint venture is a solid example of how innovation can enhance one’s impact when fighting poverty. Innovative microgrid design creatively uses already available resources and scales them for maximum impact.

– Owen Mutiganda
Photo: Flickr

Renewable Energy
In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly established the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and it aims to achieve them by 2030. The SDGs are a comprehensive overview and effort from the global community to bring prosperity, aid and development all around the world. In September 2021, a major first step toward achieving SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy occurred. Major U.N. participating countries and leaders came together in New York to discuss and present plans to move forward with the pursuit of clean, renewable, affordable and eventually universal energy for all peoples of the world. The meeting laid out financial, societal and scientific goals to help develop and prepare the world for renewable energy.

Energy Poverty

The U.N. participating countries decided that they will largely aid countries experiencing “energy poverty” clean and renewable energy sources and the infrastructure necessary to support the production of those sources largely towards those suffering from “energy poverty.”

“We have a double imperative… to end energy poverty and to limit climate change. And we have an answer that will fulfill both imperatives. Affordable, renewable and sustainable energy for all,” said the U.N. Secretary-General.

Energy poverty is defined as “a lack of or limited access to modern energy sources.” This lack of modern energy sources means a lack of technology and technical assistance; everything from transportation, to light, heat and modern medical technology is all restricted. The use of polluting and dirty fuel sources and excessive time spent collecting fuels further burdens low levels of energy consumption.

Energy Access

One cannot overstate the pertinence of energy access and the lack thereof can be severe for those struggling in poverty. About 3 billion people or 40% of the world have no access to clean cooking fuels and about 13% lack access to electricity entirely.

People in poverty spend a vastly higher percentage of their income, effort and time on the energy that they use. “In situations where people do have access to energy, it is often the poorest that end up paying disproportionate shares of their income to energy, in part because the higher upfront costs of investments in energy-efficient equipment are more difficult to bear for low-income households,” reported Policy Brief 08. Lack of access to energy services is a form, an outcome and a cause of poverty.

The U.N. Energy pledge, stemming from SDG 7, is looking to provide 500 million more people with electricity and 1 billion more people with reliable access to clean cooking fuels by the year 2025. These milestones are shorter-term goals that aim to pave a road to eventual zero net emissions and universal access to clean energy.

The Future

Various member states, NGOs and other third-party organizations interested in aiding the people of the world suffering from energy poverty, committed more than $400 billion to this cause over 40 years. Beyond the money, there has been a global acknowledgment of the importance of energy access and conservation and a surge of resources and general support from around the world.

SDG 7 and the global effort against energy poverty is just another step in the struggle to help those around the world. Although there is quite a bit of work ahead, the global community’s drive, funding and planned approach are enough to warm and light up a room.

– John J. Lee
Photo: Flickr

Jeremiah Thoronka
The night of November 10, 2021, marked an inspiring day for renewable energy innovations. Jeremiah Thoronka, a 21-year-old student from Sierra Leone, won the Global Student Prize at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France. His invention, Optim Energy, utilizes kinetic energy from pedestrian and street traffic vibrations to produce clean, renewable energy. With $100,000 in prize money, he hopes to expand his responsible consumption practices and reach 100,000 people by 2030.

The Innovative 17-Year-Old

Jeremiah Thoronka was born into the chaos of the Sierra Leone war and his single mother raised him in a refugee camp. Firewood and coal, which produce photochemical smog, were the only energy sources available to his community, negatively impacting health and education. These adversities prompted his advocacy and creativity for renewable energy. He was only 17 when he first created Optim Energy, creating a unique kind of renewable energy since it does not rely on a battery or weather conditions, like wind and solar power. With a passion for renewable energy and robotics, Jeremiah began to change the world.

His achievements continue to add to his already impressive list, exemplifying his incredible drive and hard work. Jeremiah’s impact traces back to his involvement as a Durham University student, BA student in Global Challenge (Energy and Sustainable Development) at the African Leadership University, Secretary-General of ALU Student Representative Council (2019-2020), and founder of the Sierra Leone Student Conservation Organization (SLSCO). In Rwanda, Jeremiah aided the Agahozo Youth Village in providing education and skills to orphaned and vulnerable youth. The young innovator volunteers to teach children in his community how to pass the National Primary School Examination. He presents his research papers and workshops at world-renowned conventions, like The World Youth Forum or IRENA Innovation Week, as an author. In his writing, Jeremiah focuses on the environment, renewability, youth leadership and entrepreneurship. He dedicates his work to building stronger communities and opportunities for those without.

The Challenges of Energy Poverty in Sierra Leone

Energy poverty in Sierra Leone is severe, with only 6% of rural populations having access to electricity. The lack of power leads to a reliance on firewood and kerosene generators, both of which cause significant issues. Firewood leads to the destruction of forests, which puts Sierra Leone in danger of severe weather consequences from floods or landslides. Frequent house fires are common due to the cheap kerosene generators used. The replacement of these energy sources would be beneficial for energy access and fire hazards, the environment and health. “By replacing the use of kerosene, it reduces the risk of fires from the combustible fuel source, reduces the negative impacts on health, increases productivity and can offset around 370kg of CO2 per year.”

Optim Energy

Today, Optim Energy has been making strides towards improvements and expansion. It has generated power for 150 households and 15 schools while free of charge. Optim Energy has also grown into “a larger initiative aiming to shrink greenhouse gas emissions, educate citizens about energy efficiency, and build a sustainable energy sector in Sierra Leone.” There was a 5% improvement in energy access in 2019, where Jeremiah’s machine operates. That is 3% above the average for Sierra Leone, which has risen by 65% since the early 2000s. The problem with this increase is how underdeveloped their energy systems are, which cannot meet the population’s demand. “Over 89% of the population live without electricity, and nearly 96% rely on traditional solid biomass for cooking.” Improvements that inventors like Jeremiah Thoronka create will aid the energy poverty in Sierra Leone.

Looking Ahead

Energy poverty is complex, and a solution will take years, yet innovations and creators make strides daily. Communities receiving education into leadership and ingenuity will spark a new generation of out-of-the-box thinkers. Companies that are creating clean, renewable energy are expanding and improving. The future of energy access is bright. It will take collaboration to fight energy inequality. Until then, Jeremiah Thoronka will continue impressing the world, and those he inspires will follow in his steps.

– Anna Montgomery
Photo: Flickr

Renewable Energy in Portugal
Portugal is taking advantage of its Atlantic coast by investing in offshore wind farms. These developments occur in an effort to reverse the negative economic effects of COVID-19 and downsize energy poverty in the country. The expansion of renewable energy in Portugal has the potential to reduce the country’s expensive dependency on imports while simultaneously creating new local jobs and domestic industries.

The Issue of Energy Poverty

The United Nations defines energy poverty as a lack of “access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy.” Compared to other countries in the European Union, Portugal endures some of the highest rates of energy poverty, with nearly 20% of the country’s population reporting that they were unable to properly heat and cool their homes in 2018. Compared to the E.U.’s average of 6.9%, Portugal has a notably high rate. Energy-inefficient homes result in extremely high energy bills for citizens when temperatures fluctuate, especially in the winter. Recent studies show that 75% of the buildings in Portugal fail to meet the required guidelines for heating. This is an issue that has devastating impacts on the overall health of residents.

The Portuguese government does provide discounts on gas and electricity for households that meet certain socioeconomic criteria, and in 2020, nearly 753,000 households in Portugal received the electricity social tariff. Additionally, approximately 35,000 received the natural gas social tariff. However, the development of renewable energy and the subsequent reduction of overall energy costs could eliminate the need for these social tariffs altogether.

The Economic Effects of COVID-19

Like many countries, Portugal’s economy has faced huge setbacks as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Its GDP decreased by 8.4% in 2020, “the largest annual decline since 1936.” In order to combat this decline, the country is making strides to expand its renewable energy sector.

The hope is that it can transition from the expensive task of importing fossil fuels to finding innovative ways to generate its own clean energy. Renewable energy in Portugal has expanded greatly in recent years, providing more than 50% of the country’s electricity needs in 2019, with hopes to reach 80% by 2030.

Innovations in Wind Energy

One area of renewable energy in which Portugal has become a leading European country is the development of wind energy. In 2019, Portugal’s Atlantic coast became home to the second floating wind farm in Europe, an alternative to onshore turbines which can disrupt tourism and generate noise complaints. Previously, offshore wind farms were limited to shallow waters, preventing countries like Portugal from taking advantage of the industry due to their deep Atlantic waters.

However, incredible innovation by the Windfloat Atlantic Project produced three wind turbines located 20 km offshore from the port city Viana Do Castelo, minimizing disruption to the local fishing industry and taking advantage of more powerful winds and deep water storms. These three turbines alone possess an installed capacity of 25 megawatts. This is “roughly equivalent to the energy consumed by 60,000 homes in one year.” The cutting-edge feat of the Windfloat Atlantic Project has captured the attention of many other coastal countries who hope to develop similar technology and presents great potential for a resurgence in Portugal’s economy.

Renewable Energy and Economic Growth

COVID-19 caused unemployment in Portugal to skyrocket by 36.2% between May 2019 and May 2020. Throughout the pandemic, workers without degrees in higher education were most affected, with an average increase in registered unemployment of 38.3% between the same dates. However, the expansion of offshore wind energy is creating new job opportunities for this demographic which do not require higher education.

Wind energy in Portugal currently employs approximately 22,000 people, and the Windfloat Atlantic Project, which Ocean Winds implemented in 2011, has created 1,500 jobs for local citizens. Increased dependence on renewable energy in Portugal will also decrease electricity bills for residents and become a pivotal agent in combating energy poverty. Many expect that the pioneer project will grow in the coming years. Portugal is in the perfect position to capitalize on that growth, improving the lives of its citizens and revitalizing its economy in an earth-friendly way.

Like many countries, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were detrimental to Portugal’s economy. However, the success of the WindFloat Atlantic project has resulted in more job opportunities for those who became unemployed during the pandemic, a decreased dependence on energy imports and the downsizing of energy poverty due to the more affordable prices that renewable energy sources are able to offer. The cutting-edge technology of Portugal’s offshore wind farm has sparked excitement in many other European nations who hope to develop similar projects along their coastlines. As a new leader in the development of renewable wind energy, Portugal will continue to innovate and pave the way for cleaner, more affordable energy for all.

– Hannah Gage
Photo: Unsplash

EU Energy Poverty
Rising prices for gas and electricity have prompted the EU to appeal to its member countries to subsidize customers and businesses as it deals with the negative impact of its decisions regarding climate. Seeking to deter energy poverty, EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simon spoke of measures that target select customers at most significant risk of energy poverty with direct payments, cutting energy taxes and shifting energy taxes to general taxation. Simon said to the EU lawmakers that mitigating the social consequences and protecting households most at risk is of 
“immediate priority.” He also suggested that businesses engage in longer-term power purchase agreements while not ruling out the possibility for relief through state aid. Here is some information about energy poverty in Europe as well as programs to alleviate energy poverty.

Energy Poverty in Europe

Energy poverty is prevalent across Europe, where anywhere between 50 and 125 million people cannot afford proper indoor heat, according to a 2009 publication by the EU. Member states have acknowledged the gravity of the issue and its ramifications in health issues and social isolation. Energy poverty marks low household income, high energy costs and inefficient energy houses, where an increase in revenue, management of energy costs and more energy-efficient infrastructure are solutions. Energy poverty affects Sub-Saharan Africa significantly, particularly in the medical sector, with limited time for health care activities and thus increasing risk for patients. Europe is not immune to these issues and should not overlook them, even if the potential scale is not as significant.

EU Plans Backfire and Exacerbates

According to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, behind the rising energy prices afflicting Europe today are the EU’s “Green Deal” policies. President Vladimir Putin of Russia shares the same opinion. The Green Deal initiative aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 compared to levels seen in 1990, on the way of eliminating emissions by 2050. One of its strategies involved discouraging the usage of long-term purchase agreements for gas, coal and nuclear energy in favor of short-term pricing to deter its use. LTPAs are not sensitive to market prices and are therefore a more cost-effective option than purchasing gas if one is doing it for the long run. This discouragement has left EU member countries scrambling for alternative gas options amid the energy shortage, exacerbating the already low levels of energy poverty.

Programs to Alleviate Energy Poverty

Various projects have developed across Europe with the common aim of ending energy poverty. Horizon 2020 Energy Efficiency voiced themselves in 2018 and granted around 6 million euros to three projects responding to energy poverty: STEP (Solutions to Tackle Energy Poverty), EmpowerMed and Social Watt. STEP, for example, has created a model that includes a call to organizations and consumer groups that specialize in issues affecting those who are energy-poor. It wants to educate energy-poor consumers in nine European countries they have identified as the most energy-poor and share their methods and policies with other EU countries.

STEP

In Lithuania, for example, the Alliance of Lithuanian Consumer Organizations partnered with STEP following inquiries by ALCO into organizations that revealed concerns by consumers regarding energy poverty issues. The Association of Social Workers, an amalgamation of social workers across many organizations, which also happens to be ALCO’s principal partner, received an introduction to the STEP project. This led to several social workers’ interest in receiving the required training to become efficient energy advisors.

EmpowerMed

EmpowerMed, a slightly more nuanced project than STEP, is also addressing energy poverty in Mediterranean coastal areas with a focus on women, gender and health. Its name has an association with numerous publications on energy poverty training, policy and reports. This is part of a constitution of other efforts such as energy workshops, advocacy campaigns that gender-neutral stress policies and energy visits to select households.

Social Watt

Social Watt tasks itself with providing parties exhorted under Article 7 of the Energy Efficiency Directive in Europe to engage with strategies to alleviate energy poverty. Integral and endemic to the function of Social Watts are its features. The Analyzer feature of Social Watts is a downloadable tool that facilitates consumer data observation to identify risk houses. The Plan function identifies optimal solutions that accommodate any nuances in the energy conservation dynamic. The Check tool serves as a verification function to ensure the endeavors of Social Watts are without errors or negative ramifications. 

The ramifications of energy poverty constitute adverse health effects, educational delay, medical impedance and economic disruption. While COVID-19’s economic consequences have exacerbated Europe’s energy poverty, programs to alleviate energy poverty have been able to offer hope to the most vulnerable and, at a minimum, prevent social unrest.

– Mohamed Makalou
Photo: PublicDomainPictures

Ending poverty with energy solutionsThere are 840 million people worldwide without access to electricity. According to The Rockefeller Foundation, 650 million people will still lack access to electricity in 2030. Without electricity, people have limited access to education and healthcare. Having access to power is critical for all aspects of life. Access to electricity means “small businesses of all kinds can expand and connect with outside markets.” It also helps farmers protect their crop value and boost the productivity of local agriculture. Making sure people have access to reliable electricity can help lift families out of poverty. The Rockefeller Foundation has made it its mission to end energy poverty globally.

Solutions

Distributing clean and renewable energy is a big way to end energy poverty. The goal of The Rockefeller Foundation is to “dramatically accelerate the pace of electrification by leveraging the full potential of decentralized renewable energy.” The way to do this is through climate-smart energy systems. By doing this, the populations that are more vulnerable will have access to reliable energy.

Powering the last mile

In 2015, The Rockefeller Foundation launched the Smart Power for Rural Development Initiative in India, Myanmar, and sub-Saharan Africa. The initiative addresses the gap in access to affordable, dependable energy in different communities. “SPRD promotes partnerships around decentralized renewable energy solutions, specifically mini-grid electricity, to ensure that high-quality, reliable energy is provided to all segments of the community.” By providing access to renewable energy, SPRD gives local economies a chance to thrive. Smart Power India has connected 15,000 households and over 8,000 enterprises with electricity. With this initiative, local “renewable energy mini-grid companies” get the support they need. Business revenue has also increased between 35% and 52% since the program started.

While using decentralized mini-grids is a great way to provide electricity access to rural areas, the cost of doing it is increasing. To combat this, Smart Power India uses unique technological solutions, such as standardizing grid technology by using a “grid-in-a-box”, along with using irrigation to help farming communities. Also, with smart meter technology, they can modernize the operations of energy companies. These solutions are cost- and energy-efficient ways of getting the job done.

Smart Power Myanmar intends to bring access to electricity to 10 million people during the next decade. By taking what they have learned through Smart Power India, along with partnering with USAID and The World Bank, their plan is to “accelerate rural electrification access through decentralized solutions.”

Through Smart Power Africa, The Rockefeller Foundation has a three-step plan to expand access to electricity: The production of mini-grids in Sierra Leone, extending the connections with last-mile communities and developing rural mini-grids in Africa.

Final thoughts

Electricity is a huge part of modern society, and without it, it is difficult to thrive. The Rockefeller Foundation is doing all it can to help end energy poverty by providing electricity globally.

– Ariel Dowdy
Photo: Unsplash

Renewable Energy in PanamaPanama is part of a group of Latin American countries committing to new energy priorities that allow them to build back better after the COVID-19 pandemic. Renewable energy in Panama is a key part of this success. The international COVID-19 crisis forced the leadership of many countries to rethink the status quo, from prioritizing healthcare accessibility to normalizing the virtual workplace. Sourcing power from renewable sources is part of this envisioned restructuring of society.

The Potential of Renewable Energy in Panama

Renewable energy in Panama can help drastically reduce energy poverty. Energy poverty occurs when a household does not receive enough electricity to power the home. Symptoms of energy poverty include negative health impacts as a result of extreme temperatures, stress and exorbitant energy bills. Panama has great potential to develop its renewable energy capacity in hydropower, solar, wind and more. The goal laid out in Panama’s National Energy Plan aims to generate 70% of its energy from renewable sources by 2050.

Hydropower: Panama’s Powerhouse

Panama produces 54% of its energy through hydropower. An isthmus of land situated between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, Panama has many naturally flowing sources of water. In the last 30 years since Panama gained control of the Panama Canal from the United States, Panama’s economy boomed, and consequently, its energy needs swelled to unprecedented levels. Hydropower is a major source of foreign investment, and thus, is a boon for the economy.

All life is drawn to water. Conflict often arises in communities along rivers in hydropower construction projects around the world. In Panama, problems include flooding, forced migration, destruction of homes and habitats, pollution and obstruction of fish migration. In 2014, the construction of the Changuinola dam forced 1,000 people from their homes.

Addressing the needs of key stakeholders such as community members has been shown to improve the long-term sustainability of hydropower projects. A study found that heavy reliance on hydropower is linked to corruption in some nations. To address these problems, Panama may be able to opt for small-scale hydropower designs that do not require big reservoirs yet still produce enough energy. To truly create a sustainable energy source, project leaders can conduct site exploration and environmental impact studies to minimize the negative impacts of this expanding renewable energy source.

Wind and Solar Power: Uncaptured Potential

In its commitment to honoring the Paris Climate Accord, Panama has made great strides in implementing wind energy. Panama is known to have the largest wind farm in the Central American and Caribbean region, built in 2015. This wind farm generates “between 6% and 7%” of Panama’s electricity from the 108 wind turbines that stand.

Solar power has less of a foothold in renewable energy in Panama than hydropower and wind, but being a tropical nation near the equator, the nation gets a lot of sun, notably in the dry season from October and March. There is potential for even further expansion and for this development in energy security to lift families out of poverty. Between 2011 and 2020, Panama took its annual solar energy production from two to 198 megawatts, an amount that can now power about 300,000 homes each year. This trajectory will help lift millions out of poverty between now and 2050.

The Road Ahead

The story of renewable energy in Panama is one of accomplishment and growing pains. There are still many issues to face. For 70% of its energy to be produced by renewable sources by 2050, Panama will need to focus on environmental impact studies for hydropower projects. Another priority will be training and paying a workforce with the knowledge and skills to implement renewables technology.

Considering Panama’s energy demands are growing by 8% every year, the growth of hydropower, wind and solar energy play key roles in offsetting the expansion of fossil fuels. This produces better outcomes for everyone in the nation, but particularly those experiencing energy poverty. The expansion of renewable energy provides hundreds of thousands of people with electricity and improves environmental outcomes long term.

– Sarah Metzel
Photo: Flickr

Renewable energy in SpainIn 2018, Spain announced its goals of deriving 75% of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030, and by 2050, increasing this renewable energy reliance to 100%. Within two years, Spain rethought its entire energy consumption pattern and transitioned to generating 43.6% of its energy renewably by 2020. Along with producing more sustainable and efficient energy, renewable energy in Spain also helps reduce poverty throughout the country.

5 Ways Renewable Energy in Spain Reduces Poverty

  1. Providing Clean Energy Jobs. In 2018, Spain made its first step toward renewable energy by closing coal mines and redirecting mining employees to clean energy jobs. Former coal mine employees were re-trained for jobs focusing on solar and wind power. The construction of renewable plants is providing jobs as well. By 2019, the switch to renewable energy in Spain created approximately 90,000 jobs in the sector. Enel Green Power’s Totana Solar Plant gave preference for employment to locals and provided training for the unemployed. The shutdown of coal mines did not bring about hardship to the country as new jobs were created through the transition to renewable energy, benefiting the entire nation.
  2. Lowering Energy Prices. Typically, renewable energy is more costly than conventional energy because it involves far less production. However, with the increased demand for renewable energy in Spain, renewable energy prices are dropping. Renewable energy also saves money in the long term due to its efficiency and sustainability. Experts estimate that the switch to renewable energy will save the average household €210 per year.
  3. Renewable Energy Tax Reform. Spain also uses taxes as an incentive to push renewable energy. Specifically, in 2019, Spain dropped its “sun tax,” which charged for self-consumption of solar energy and sharing of solar power. The sun tax made sustainable energy more expensive, essentially serving as a barrier in the renewable energy transition.
  4. Helping Economic Growth. As with the rest of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic hurt Spain’s economy considerably. Spain’s economy contracted by 11% in 2020, “the biggest contraction since the days of the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s.” Furthermore, the unemployment rate reached 16.1%, affecting tourism-dependent industries the most. In the wake of the economic consequences of COVID-19, renewable energy provides a way to stimulate the economy. In September 2020, Spain allocated €181 million to renewable energy in order to increase jobs, investment and affordable electricity access. As such, renewable energy is part of COVID-19 relief in Spain and will help repair the economy.
  5. Reducing Energy Poverty. Overall, energy poverty impacts “between 3.5 and 8.1 million citizens” in Spain. The definition of energy poverty is a lack of “access to affordable, safe, sustainable and modern energy.” Energy poverty can occur because of the inability to afford energy or because of the lack of energy availability in certain areas. With renewable energy replacing conventional energy, however, energy is not only becoming more affordable but the efficiency of renewable power makes it more widely available.

Looking to the Future

Spain’s new energy plan has greatly contributed to the decrease in both carbon emissions and poverty. Currently, the country is inching closer to the 50% mark of renewable energy reliance. The Spanish nation is following its plan closely and is set to achieve zero emissions by 2050.

– Maddie Rhodes
Photo: Flickr

Women in African energy
Energy and utility companies can play a significant role in financial growth and social progress within lower-income countries. Through employment and expansion of electricity access, these companies provide infrastructure crucial to development, especially in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa with wide disparities in access. However, established gender inequalities have prevented women from obtaining the same opportunities as men within the energy sector. In partnership with African governments, USAID is sponsoring the Women in African Power Network, which promotes women in Africa’s energy industry and their equal opportunity to join the workforce.

Access to Power in Sub-Saharan Africa

Approximately two-thirds of individuals in sub-Saharan Africa are without reliable electricity, according to USAID’s Power Africa. Limited access to power in sub-Saharan Africa has led to gender disparities because it poses a challenge to women’s health, employment and education. Access to electricity ensures safer childbirth procedures and allows for greater numbers of women to be employed or attend school. Another challenge to limited access to electricity is that women in sub-Saharan Africa frequently experience ill-health effects due to fuel-based electricity as they generally remain in the home for longer periods of time. Thus, many governments have begun to recognize the importance of including women in the implementation and decision-making of energy expansion initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa.

Gender and the Energy Sector

Studies by the International Union for Conservation of Nature occurred jointly with USAID and Power Africa in 2019, which found that women held only 6% of executive and leading roles in the energy sector in sub-Saharan Africa. Women also comprised roughly 16% to 20% of the general power sector workforce.

USAID has stressed the importance of closing this gender gap. According to an article on its strategy to increase the number of women in Africa’s energy sector, the U.S. agency described the “strong correlation between gender diversity and a company’s financial performance.” When women enter leadership positions, this beneficial economic trend is even more pronounced: companies that ranked highest in gender diversity in administrative roles had 14% higher return on investment than other corporations. Due to gendered differences in energy usage, women have valuable perspectives as decision-makers and consumers that provide crucial insight into the design and execution of new energy technologies.

In response, governments are creating more inclusive frameworks to advance the recruitment of women in Africa’s energy sector. As of 2018, almost 75% of energy-planning frameworks address gender inequality and several recognize the capability of women to lead the energy sector in innovation, efficiency and problem-solving.

USAID and the Power Africa Campaign

As part of the Power Africa campaign devoted to bringing electricity to all in sub-Saharan Africa, USAID partnered with African governments and IUCN to launch the Women in African Power Network (WiAP) in 2015. WiAP empowers women in African energy companies through professional growth opportunities, skill development workshops and networking facilitation that encourages connections between women in the industry. These connections also facilitate important mentorship opportunities for those who wish to join the workforce or rise within its ranks. Regional networks such as Women in Rwandan Energy and Women in Renewable Energy Nigeria promote more focused conversations among women within specific nations or departments.

By fostering professional advancement opportunities, WiAP aims to increase the number of women employed in the energy sector and to empower women who already work within it. With the skill development and empowerment cultivated within the network, the USAID initiative is working to close the gender gap in the energy sector and stimulate the accompanying economic benefits.

Though there are considerable gender disparities in employment in the energy sector, governments and outside organizations have begun to implement policies and plans to promote the inclusion of women in Africa’s energy sector. The Women in African Power Network, a network that emerged under USAID’s Power Africa initiative, aims to establish women’s networking groups and to develop their professional skills. WiAP operates with the knowledge that women are critical to the energy industry as female leadership has historically correlated with economic and social development.

– Sarah Stolar
Photo: Flickr

Renewable Energy in Thailand
Championed as a success of development in the region, Thailand has achieved upper-middle-income country status due to a steadily increasing economy and substantial reductions in poverty. Thailand’s energy consumption has grown rapidly in line with this development. It has seen an 18% increase in energy consumption in the last decade. The industrial and transport sectors account for the majority of national energy consumption. Furthermore, Thailand strives to meet its energy demands through the use of emergent renewable energy technologies. 

A Burgeoning Industry

The country has increasingly relied on renewable energy sources to ensure that its steady development is sustainable. Renewable energy accounts for a whopping 10% of the country’s energy usage. This number is comparable to the U.S. rate of 12% of total energy consumption from renewable sources. Thailand is on track to surpass the U.S. in just 10 years. Renewable energy in Thailand comes from diverse sources, relying equally on hydropower, solar, biomass and wind-generated power.

Thailand imports much of its renewable energy technology from overseas. However, future emphasis on domestic manufacturing of these technologies would create jobs. This emphasis will eventually position Thailand as a world leader in the use of renewable energy. The biofuel industry alone employs more than 102,000 people in Thailand, making Thailand the fifth largest employer in the liquid biofuels industry internationally. Thailand’s unemployment rate is meager at just 1%, but a large portion of these jobs are low-paying. Renewable energy jobs have the potential to create higher earners and address Thailand’s 10% poverty rate.

How Energy Access Alleviates Poverty

In addition to the thousands of jobs in the renewable energy sector, renewables are becoming more cost-effective than other sources like natural gas, so that more people have access to cheaper electricity than ever before. In fact, the World Bank states that nearly 100% of Thailand’s population has access to electricity, up from 82% in 2000.

However, this universal access to electricity comes at a cost: energy consumption makes up 10% of household spending per month, which qualifies Thailand as energy-poor. Paired with the fact that the cost of natural gas has been increasing recently, renewables are the affordable choice for decreasing the financial burden of energy on individual households.

Electricity access is vital when it comes to improving the living conditions of those in poverty. Electricity can enhance quality of life by providing refrigeration of food and increasing educational outcomes due to lighting at night, among other benefits.

The Future of Renewable Energy in Thailand

As Thailand’s demand for energy increases, it is essential that its development stems from a sustainable core. The Thai Ministry of Energy set a goal to reach 30% reliance on renewable energy by 2036. This would save an estimated $8 billion annually when considering the environmental and health costs of fossil fuel consumption.

Thailand must keep in mind the needs of its low-income citizens as it continues to integrate sustainable energy into its power grid. Further, renewable energy in Thailand should not be the only focus of sustainability initiatives. The focus should also be on reducing pollution and carbon emissions. With these accomplishments, Thailand is in an excellent position to secure a better economic future for its citizens.

– Helen Spyropoulos
Photo: Flickr