British Warm Banks
On February 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. This war has sparked an intense energy supply crisis in the U.K., Europe and other parts of the world. According to a new report that academics at York University published, 53 million people, or more than 75% of households, in the U.K. will have ended up in fuel poverty by January 2023. Fuel poverty is typically defined as when energy costs exceed 10% of a household’s net income. British ‘warm banks’ may be a solution.

About 86.4% of pensioner couples in the U.K. may fall into fuel poverty in January 2023 according to estimations. Of single parents, 90.4% of those with two or more children may also suffer from energy poverty. In January 2023, energy bills in the U.K. could top £4,200.

Creating British Warm Banks

The staff at Brickyard Bakery and Academy cookery school, in Westgate Guisborough, Britain, are providing good-natured help. The academy has been opening up a British warm bank above the shop every weekday for citizens to be in a warm place. Bakery and Academy owner Ed Hamilton-Trewhitt has stated that “heat from the bakery’s huge oven was being wasted heating an empty room above.” Hamilton-Twewhitt has subsequently furnished the area in a style full of nostalgia for the British psyche.

For the Community

Hamilton-Trewhitt spoke of the elderly community by stating that “I was worried about them during the pandemic and I’m worried about them now. I’ve got all this extra heat which is just disappearing up through the floorboards.” The owner also stated how “This is completely free, there’s newspapers and magazines and tea and coffee.”

This might just be the attitude necessary to help people survive this winter as the estimated bill of £4,200 per household is quite significant. Hamilton-Trewhitt stated that the bakery had always done its best to help the community and has previously offered free school meals to local children in the style of Marcus Rashford.

Previously, Hamilton-Trewhitt has cooked for the Queen and created dishes at the Ritz Club London.

Other British Warm Banks

British warm banks have opened across the United Kingdom in libraries, museums, cafes and even fire stations. These are publicly owned spaces or ones that are in a relationship with the government, available for the public to escape the cold. Young families, restaurant workers and an NHS cleaner are among those who have taken advantage of the free heat of Gainsborough library in southeast Ipswich. Carla Francesca spent some time here on Thursday with her two-year-old daughter. Francesca reported it was warm and a more cheerful place than her home, which remains unheated during the day to save money.

In a cold winter during a fuel crisis, British warm banks are becoming a significant coping method for the world’s second most altruistic country and making a difference.

William Fletcher
Photo: Flickr

Energy Poverty in Myanmar
Located in Southeast Asia, Myanmar stands as one of the least developed countries and has the “lowest electrification rate” on the continent. According to the Myanmar Information Management Unit (MIMU) in 2022, “80[%]of rural people have no access to grid electricity.” Considering the importance of electricity for sustainable growth, access to electricity is vital for poverty reduction. Inadequate electrification in Myanmar is a prolonged problem, recently aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the February 2021 coup. Myanmar needs more sustainable approaches to reduce energy poverty in Myanmar and promote economic growth.

Overview of Energy Poverty in Myanmar

Due to the lack of access to grid electricity in the rural areas of Myanmar, most of the rural population depend on “candles, kerosene, batteries and power generators” to go about their daily activities, according to the International Trade Administration.

According to the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, approximately 26% of the population in Myanmar lived in poverty in 2020. Furthermore, poverty rates in rural areas are double that of Myanmar’s urban areas. The lack of affordable and reliable access to electricity has hindered the economic growth of these areas especially.

According to the Miller Center, “Universal access to energy [can] provide an enormous boost to economic development, job creation and infrastructure improvements, particularly in rural communities.” Myanmar has set a target to expand access to electricity to 100% by 2030. However, the February 2021 coup “has thrown Myanmar into an economic crisis and put its electrification plans in peril,” The Globe and Mail reported.

Impact of the Military Regime in Myanmar

In February 2021, General Min Aung Hlaing and his junta overthrew the democratically elected government. The military takeover has led to halted cash flows, a devaluation of the currency and increasing costs for fuel and food. In addition, citizens face blackouts and “prolonged power cuts.” Not only does this impact households but it also detrimentally impacts businesses and students’ education.

When the coup occurred, many energy sector investors retracted from projects entirely or placed projects on pause. As a result, the military-run Ministry of Electricity and Energy “struggled to operate its infrastructure, honor contractual obligations, cover costs or follow through on projects,” The Globe and Mail reported.

The International Trade Administration confirmed this, stating that “Energy projects approved before the military takeover have been suspended due to the political and economic turmoil in the country.” As such, Myanmar is in dire need of foreign funding and investment in the power sector.

Actions to Address Energy Poverty in Myanmar

According to the Ministry of Electric Power (MOEP), the annual demand for power in Myanmar is rising annually from 15% to 17%. With the goal of providing “nationwide electricity access by the year 2030,” the government of Myanmar is planning to introduce a sustainable energy mix of “hydropower, natural gas, coal and renewable energy” to supply electricity to about 10 million homes in Myanmar under the National Electrification Plan (NEP).

Because of numerous electricity blackouts due to power decline since early 2022, the energy ministry in Myanmar started to focus on “damage control” and “attracting new foreign investment.”

In fact, Myanmar has an abundance of renewable energy resources to meet its energy needs. For instance, from 2016 to 2020, under the NEP plan, the Department of Rural Development (DRD) implemented “off-grid electrification” by using mini-grids and solar systems in rural communities. More than 430,000 households in 8,568 rural villages received these benefits, which provided electrical access to more than 2.1 million people. This success has encouraged Myanmar to expand off-grid renewable systems.

Nevertheless, political and economic turmoil under the military regime in Myanmar is causing power outages that directly impact the population, especially in rural areas. Also, “unsettled political and economic policies, unclear rules and guidelines and a shortage of skilled labor” as well as “corruption, lack of transparency in the tender and procurement process and banking issues” pose barriers for potential investors, the International Trade Administration said.

More investment in off-grid renewable energy sources can increase the accessibility of electricity in Myanmar. Because the national grid infrastructure in Myanmar is not well established, rural communities will benefit from the development of renewable mini-grids. The development of further off-grid renewable electrification systems will decrease energy poverty in Myanmar.

– Youngwook Chun
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in the United KingdomPoverty in the United Kingdom and the cost of living has increased steadily since early 2021. After Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, wholesale natural gas and oil prices soared, leading to more expensive bills for domestic consumers. The price of gas surged by 96% in a year and electricity has increased by 54% as it relies on gas for generation. Energy prices greatly impact the cost of living in the U.K., along with increasing prices of consumer goods such as food. The war in Ukraine has disrupted the country’s glass manufacturers, causing bottles for common products such as Coca-Cola to halt. According to the House of Commons Library inflation reached an astonishing 10.01% in July 2022, only dropping to 9.9% in August.

The U.K. remains at the high end of the worldwide inflation scale, ahead of the U.S. at 8.8% in April 2021, and 8.6% in the Eurozone from June. Low-income households spend more on housing, transport and food causing the high cost of living to disproportionately impact them, increasing poverty in the United Kingdom.

Movement in Geopolitics

Recent explosions of pipelines Nord Stream 1 which carried natural gas to Germany from Russia add pressure to the energy crisis. Although the pipelines have been inactive since early September, the accusations of sabotage of energy supply connections sparked anxiety in the U.K. and Europe. The fear has spread quickly as Norway, Europe’s largest natural gas supplier, has announced increased security on all of its gas and oil infrastructure. Panic could occur as millions are dealing with the mounting debt of rising food prices pitted against the high cost of energy bills.

Soaring costs of food and energy impact the most marginalized people the hardest. Bloomberg reports a peak inflation rate of 8.7% in June for low-income households. Whereas high-income households stood at 7.8% that same month. The data shows lived experience: if one earns more, one will likely have more to supplement rising prices; however, if one does not, one will likely fall short in purchasing power.

Confronting Crisis

Liz Truss’ tax cuts stunned economists and sent the pound into a free fall. On September 23, 2022, the British government announced a 45 billion pound tax cut ($48 billion USD) which caused the pound to drop to a record low of $1.03. In an unprecedented ‘mini-budget’ announced Friday, the government abolished the top 45% rate of income tax paid by the highest earners. As a result, YouGov polling shows that the Labour party has a 33-point lead over the Tories.

Only a year ago, Boris Johnson’s government made a decision to raise taxes to avoid public spending in the wake of the pandemic. Now the new government Truss has assembled caused markets to crash and investments in British industry to be withdrawn. In mid-September, the Bank of England announced that England might already be in a recession, as many are already feeling the sting of autumn without adequate heating.

Politico has quoted Truss in transit to New York this week saying, “Lower taxes lead to economic growth, there is no doubt in my mind about that,” although, with the value of the pound diminishing and the cost of goods, energy and transport already on a high the immediate effect is a negative one. The markets are one metric that helps weigh the viability of a Prime Minister. Currently, her reputation is not strong, even in her constituency. Truss has only two years to prove herself to voters with an election waiting around the corner in 2024.

Although Truss introduced the Energy Price Guarantee on September 8, 2022, which caps energy bills at 2,500 pounds ($2,788 USD) and went into effect on October 1, 2022. Even though this program will keep bills significantly lower than predicted, at least until January, many are skeptical of the Conservative government’s attempts to help people and businesses.

Charities Lending a Hand

Organizations such as Independent Age, Groundwork and the Smallwood Trust have stepped in offering grants for a range of people and communities affected by poverty in the United Kingdom. These grants will provide financial relief for material goods and basic essentials, as well as specialized needs.

Independent Age will give 25 grants of 45,000 pounds each to charities and community organizations helping older people through the crisis. Groundwork is partnering with One Stop Stores in awarding 1,000-pound grants to successful applicants. Smallwood Trust is focused on getting relief to women who need grants in the wake of the cost of living crisis. Women are especially important because they are underpaid and often overworked in society, on top of being the main caretakers in most households. As autumn begins, people are mobilizing to help each other through any difficult day, and that is always something to be thankful for.

During the period of volatility in the United Kingdom, the various organizations providing aid are extremely beneficial. Hopefully, with these charities’ continued efforts, poverty in the United Kingdom will reduce.

– Shane Chase
Photo: Flickr

Energy PovertyGermany has typically received most of its oil and gas imports from Russia, being more reliant on them than any other EU country. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, these imports have plummeted, through EU sanctions and pipeline closures by Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned energy conglomerate. Germany has further committed to ending all reliance on fuel from Russia by 2024. Making this transition quickly is a monumental task, compounded by worldwide inflation and the lingering effects of the pandemic. As Germany’s energy market struggles to maintain affordable fuel for its citizens, many Germans are at risk of falling into energy poverty. Many different solutions are needed to combat this issue, such as reducing fuel usage, restructuring affordability, and finding alternative uses for fuel.

The German Gas Market

Natural gas accounts for 27% of Germany’s energy. Before the Ukrainian invasion, 55% of it came from Russia. EU sanctions and the partial closure of the Russian-owned Nord Stream pipeline has caused significant disruption to Germany’s energy market. Since natural gas is mainly used in Germany for heating homes and other buildings, there is a risk of many Germans falling into energy poverty this coming winter.

Energy Poverty in Germany

Energy poverty is when the cost of purchasing energy impacts one’s ability to cover other bills and expenses, or when a reduction in energy consumption impacts mental and physical health. One in four Germans are currently energy impoverished, up from one in six in 2018. The poor and disenfranchised are far more likely than others to slip into energy poverty. A member of Germany’s lower-middle class is now twice as likely to fall under the “energy poor” category compared to only one year ago. The German government is scrambling to ease the pressure of increasing prices for suppliers and consumers.

Germany’s Efforts to Curb Energy Poverty

One of Germany’s efforts to curb energy poverty is through reducing the use of natural gas, through both energy-saving measures and switching to different fuels. Most public buildings are lowering their thermostats, and monuments will no longer be lit at night. Heated swimming pools are banned. Germans are being encouraged to take cold showers. The government is also reducing taxes on other forms of fuel, giving discounts to people who switch to public transportation, and reopening old coal power plants.

Another measure in Germany’s efforts to curb energy poverty is a new gas levy, or tax, for consumers, which will be in place from October 2022 through April 2024. While this will alleviate the pressure of surging prices from suppliers to help them remain solvent, there are concerns that it will push many vulnerable Germans into energy poverty. To counteract this, the government is giving subsidies to low-income households and households with children.

The German government is also shoring up gas reserves for the winter, when need will be the highest. As of early September 2022, gas reserves had reached 80% capacity, which is much earlier than expected. The filled gas reserves will help stabilize the supply during the winter, and reduce the risk of people becoming energy impoverished.

The subsidies, gas reserves, and the cutting of gas usage will save thousands from pressures of gas usage, and ease some of the burdens off the market. Reduced market burdens will give Germany’s efforts to curb energy poverty the time to stabilize the market, stop German citizens from falling into energy poverty, and lift those who have out.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr

energy-poverty-in-nigeria-2

Nigeria had the largest energy access deficit in the world in 2021. Regarding energy affordability, it can provide itself completely with self-produced energy.  However, according to a report from the World Bank, “as many as four in 10 Nigerians live below the national poverty line.” The report also noted that they lack education and access to basic infrastructures such as electricity, safe drinking water, and basic sanitation. The energy poverty issue in Nigeria has put many Nigerians, especially in the rural areas, at a high risk of relying on hazardous and polluting sources of lighting such as candles and kerosene lanterns. Lack of access to energy or electricity is directly related the economic hardship, food crises, health concerns and perpetuation of the poverty cycle.

Overview of Energy Poverty in Nigeria

The rapid population growth in Nigeria has increased the overreliance on fossil fuels that contributed to creating socio­-economic drawbacks.  The massive demand and the lack of an established energy supply chain in Nigeria resulted in acute energy poverty. In 2020, the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) estimated that almost 90 million people in Nigeria do not have access to grid electricity and the millions of those connected to the grid have less than 12 hours of electricity every day. The major problem with the energy shortage in Nigeria, regardless of the possession of enough conventional energy resources, is the inadequate supply of distribution, which is not able to meet the basic demand for the increased population.

Energy poverty in Nigeria is more severe in rural areas, where the majority of the population lives with a lack of infrastructure and an unstable and insufficient power supply, according to Environment, Development and Sustainability journal. The effects of energy poverty were worsened by COVID-19 when the household demand and industrial demand increased. The pandemic disrupted the supply chain due to the shortages in the workforce. Since the off-grid sector requires extensive labor, the shortage of workforce due to the safety restrictions during the pandemic stagnated the off-grid businesses. The downfall of the off-grid businesses in Nigeria pushed Nigerians to heavily rely on other nonrenewable resources of energy that also don’t adequately meet the demand.

Energy Disparities in Rural Population in Nigeria

In 2021, according to the World Bank, about 47% of Nigerians are living in rural areas. The percentage of access to electricity in the rural population was 24.6% in 2020, while the percentage of energy access for the urban population in Nigeria was 83.9%.

The large socio-economic disparities between urban and rural areas have enlarged the gap in accessing electricity. Ahmad Salihijo Ahmad, CEO of Nigeria’s REA, remarked on the seriousness of the issue in the rural areas in 2021, “…it’s not just a question of having no lights. There are adverse effects on business, social structures and the well-being of people in rural areas.”

Efforts to Address Energy Poverty in Nigeria

To address the energy poverty issue in Nigeria, the Nigerian government and international corporations have put vast investments in building an off-grid clean energy sector and the adoption of clean energy solutions to address the energy deficit in Nigeria.  Accompanied by the donor agencies with financial and technical support, the off-grid market in Nigeria exponentially grew.

In 2021, according to the Rural Electrification Agency (REA), developing the off-grid sector in Nigeria would create a $9.2 billion per year market opportunity for solar home systems that could save $4.4 billion per year for Nigerian homes and businesses. The enlargement of off-grid renewable electric sources in Nigeria has reduced the prices of solar energy over the years. However, David Arinze, a renewable energy specialist and program officer, pointed out during an interview in 2021 with The Cable, that the focal point of reducing energy poverty must be the government’s need to help the local sector scale and promote integrated collaborations with the local stakeholders in the renewable energy sector.

Since the electricity deficit in Nigeria cannot be resolved only with national efforts, international support has been implemented. To elaborate, the Federal Government of Nigeria launched the first off-grid energy system to address the energy deficit in 2018, Electrification Project for Nigeria with financing support from the World Bank worth $350 million. With the help of agencies of the Federal Ministry of Finance and REA, the project has been dealing with increasing electricity services for households, public educational institutions and various enterprises.

Technical assistance in building a framework for rural electrification of upscaling and improvement on building an extended supply chain could amend the energy poverty in Nigeria, especially in the rural areas. With the expansion of the off-grid energy businesses in Nigeria, the prospect of adequate energy distribution is positive.

Youngwook Chun
Photo: Flickr

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 because it does not rely on a battery or weather conditions, like wind and solar power. With a passion for renewable energy and robotics, Thoronka began to change the world.

His achievements continue to add to his already impressive list, exemplifying his incredible drive and hard work. Thoronka’s impact traces back to his studies at the Durham University and the African Leadership University where he pursued an honors “degree in Global Challenge with a focus on Energy and Sustainable Development.” He also took the position of Secretary-General of ALU Student Representative Council (2019-2020) and is the founder of the Sierra Leone Student Conservation Organization (SLSCO).

In Rwanda, Thoronka aided the Agahozo Youth Village in providing education and skills to orphans 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, Thoronka focuses on the environment, renewability, youth leadership and entrepreneurship. He dedicates his work to building stronger communities and opportunities for those without them.

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 use of cheap kerosene generators. 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 is making strides toward improvements and expansion. It has generated power for 150 households and 15 schools, 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.” In 2019, there was a 5% improvement in energy access in “the local community grid in the rural area where [Thoronka] 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 the nation’s energy systems are in meeting the population’s demand. Overall, in Sierra Leone, more than “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 an education that will spark leadership and ingenuity will create 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 PortugalPortugal 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 EU’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 its 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 a higher education degree 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 gives employment to 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: Flickr

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
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