Information and stories on Energy and Electricity

Investing in Renewable Energy in AfricaIn sub-Saharan Africa, more than 600 million people do not have access to electricity in their homes. This figure equates to about half the population of the continent. In addition, the sub-Saharan African population makes up around three-quarters of the global population living without electricity. Reliable energy access is one of the most effective methods to bring people out of poverty. This is due to its status as a prerequisite for countless utilities and as a gateway to the online world. For these reasons, many companies and organizations are investing in renewable energy in Africa, especially renewable forms of energy such as solar and wind power.

How COVID-19 Impacts Electricity Access

The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted energy access in Africa. For several years prior to the pandemic, the number of people with access to electricity was steadily increasing, but in 2020, progress was lost as 13 million more people had no access to electricity in Africa. As many countries struggle to recover from the impacts of COVID-19, investing in renewable energy in Africa is more critical than ever.

Fortunately, the world has not given up on investing in renewable energy in Africa during the pandemic. In 2020, direct foreign investment in Africa fell by around 16% overall, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. This percentage of reduction was even higher in specific regions such as North Africa. However, “international project finance deals” in the renewable energy sector rose by 28% from a little more than $9 billion in 2019 to $11 billion in 2020.

Developing Efficient Energy Systems in Africa

One notable organization investing in renewable energy in Africa is the World Bank Group (WBG), which has invested around $2.3 billion in the West Africa Power Pool (WAPP) over the course of roughly 10 years. The project aims to provide “universal access to electricity” in 15 specific West African countries by 2030. Some of its methods include installing power grids and developing battery-energy storage technologies that will maximize energy efficiency and renewability.

As recently as June 10, 2021, the WBG provided $465 million to start the Regional Electricity Access and Battery-Energy Storage Technologies Project. This project will refine policies surrounding these technologies while also greatly expanding them. It will also help the rural and impoverished Sahel region between the Sahara Desert and the southern savannah.

Shoprite’s Solar Power Initiative

Domestic companies are also investing in renewable energy in Africa. South African retail chain, Shoprite, aims to promote solar power by installing miniature grids across South Africa to provide widespread access to electricity. The company aims for 25% of South African electricity to come from renewable sources in the foreseeable future. This is certainly feasible given that many countries generate much more solar power than South Africa despite being less sunny. Due to the sustainability and affordability of solar power as a renewable energy source, investing in solar power will likely save significant amounts of money in the long run.

Development of renewable energy in Africa is growing and it may help African nations recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, the sustainability of renewable energy may eventually bestow greater economic security to Africa.

Sawyer Lachance
Photo: Flickr

Geothermal energy in KenyaAccess to electricity in Kenya has steadily improved over the last decade and a substantial part of this progress is due to the country’s impressive geothermal power plants, the first of which formed in 1981. By prioritizing ways to expand electricity access and by harnessing the potential of geothermal power in Kenya, the government plans to achieve 100% access to electricity for its population by 2022.

Geothermal Power in Kenya

The geothermal energy in Kenya comes from Africa’s Great Rift Valley, a natural geological phenomenon created by tectonic plates, where the Earth’s mantle of molten rock comes closer to the surface. Geothermal energy plants produce electricity by harnessing this heat and creating steam to power turbines. Approximately 38% of Kenya’s electricity now comes from geothermal power rather than other non-renewable sources such as coal or natural gas.

Kenya’s primary geothermal power plants are contained in the Olkaria Geothermal Project, which has the potential to produce 791.5 megawatts of total energy, accounting for 27% of all energy in Kenya. The project sources its experts and employees locally, producing jobs and encouraging higher education. Renewable energy in Kenya is an integral part of helping the country maintain its pace as one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa.

How Geothermal Power Can Help Poverty

Despite its substantial progress, Kenya still struggles with poverty and access to electricity is still unavailable for a quarter of the population. An estimated 15.9 million people were living in poverty in 2020, which equates to about a third of all Kenyans. Rural areas have the highest concentration of multidimensional poverty and nearly half of those living in multidimensional poverty are children. Access to power, which often correlates with poverty, can help efforts to reduce poverty and improve access to education and healthcare in underserved areas. The reliable nature of geothermal power can also reduce the likelihood of blackouts and make electricity more dependable.

Geothermal energy also produces significantly fewer carbon emissions than traditional fossil fuels, “just 2.7% as much as burning coal or 5% as much as natural gas.” The reliable nature of geothermal energy, and its lack of continuing fuel costs, also keeps its costs of operation and maintenance low and predictable. After the initial costs of discovery and development of a geothermal power plant, it remains cost-efficient and it can produce energy at a stable and affordable price.

Another advantage of this type of renewable energy in Kenya is its minimal use of land. The Olkaria Geothermal Project, which is located in the Hell’s Gate National Park, takes up less space than other sources that produce the same amount of energy. This allows more of the surrounding natural landscapes and ecosystems to thrive without interruption.

Increasing Access to Energy

The Kenyan government outlined a goal to provide universal access to electricity by 2022. The Kenya National Electrification Strategy, which was created in 2018, incorporates multiple strategies to expand access to rural areas and strengthen existing power infrastructure. A focus on renewable energy will also help Kenya meet its goal to reduce its carbon emissions by 30% by 2030 while continuing to develop. Through partnerships with the World Bank and other institutions, the government is working to keep electricity affordable, clean and reliable. Kenya now has the highest rate of electricity access in East Africa and it continues to improve dramatically. With further investment and a focus on geothermal and renewable energy, Kenya can continue its pace and develop sustainably.

Nicole Ronchetti
Photo: Flickr

Self-sufficient Energy Production in OdanthuraiOdanthurai, a small village in Tamil Nadu, India, is the first in its region to incorporate wind, solar and biogas energy into its community. India is running out of the resources normally used to receive electricity. Since imports are expensive, using solar energy will boost the economy in the long term. Using solar energy will also help many villages, such as Odanthurai, to gain access to clean electricity. Self-sufficient energy production in Odanthurai will help many villagers gain access to clean electricity and, as a result, alleviate poverty.

Why Odanthurai Converted to Self Sufficiency Energy

When farmer Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam was elected council president of Odanthurai, he became invested in the development of the community and village as a whole. Shanmugam fought for access to cleaner water, as well as better sanitation and roads. He then began realizing that implementing these additions, such as the installations of street lights, drinking water plants and filtering points, was increasing the village’s electricity bills. In an India Climate Dialogue interview, Shanmugam admitted that “the electricity bill was only INR 2,000 (USD $30) when I joined, and it increased to INR 150,000 (USD $2,220) in just two years.”

Shanmugam realized that change was necessary in order to sustain Odanthurai without causing extensive electricity bills. In the long run, clean energy would allow for a reduction in power bills. Electricity bills were making up 60% of the council’s expenses. This was a hindrance that prevented them from implementing any other developmental changes. Shanmugam began looking into alternative means of energy.

Implementing Clean Energy in Odanthurai

The first change Shanmugam made in Odanthurai was to replace the electricity-run water pump with a biomass gasifier. The resulting cost showed a reduction from the previous cost by almost 70%. This was a significant cutback from the state of the village’s electricity beforehand. Additionally, Shanmugam established two solar lights in Odanthurai. This was a step toward renewable energy that saved the village a total of 5000 INR.

The success of biogas and solar energy bolstered interest in exploring alternatives for electricity. Eventually, the council bought a windmill. The resulting energy that the windmill created was enough to sell to the state as well as pay off the local villages’ bank loans. Shanmugam’s statement on the self-sufficient energy production that he helped to effectuate was simply, “[The village councils] in India should take steps to address development on their own. If this can be done in Odanthurai, it can be done anywhere in India.”

Clean Energy’s Role in Poverty Reduction

While clean energy such as biogas, solar and wind energy is important for the environment, it also has a strong link to poverty reduction. The cost of installing electricity in the village was infringing on their budget for developmental changes. Using clean energy, which reduces power bills, can help alleviate poverty by allowing impoverished communities to focus on other necessary improvements such as hygiene and education.

According to a 2015 report by Synapse Energy, harnessing renewable energy allowed the state of California to save more than $15 million in the first six months. This can be similarly applied to other regions in the world, as the long-term costs are proven to significantly decline over time. As a result, villages can focus on areas that need further development without spending a majority of their budget on electricity bills.

Organizations Providing Assistance

While Shanmugam and the village council were able to implement self-sufficient energy production in Odanthurai, other activists and organizations are also taking action toward advocating for clean energy. Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) is a non-governmental organization that provides solar energy to underprivileged regions around the world. SELF points out that 14% of the global population lacks energy access, which is a whopping 0.9 billion people. Since 1996, SELF has conducted its projects in about 25 countries around the world. Some of their notable projects include providing excess energy from solar vaccine refrigerators to power medical equipment. It also has been improving online learning in South America and powering telemedicine in the Amazon rainforest.

Self-sufficient energy production in Odanthurai acts as a powerful example to the rest of the world. Clean energy has the power to change the world and alleviate poverty. It is time for other communities and countries to look toward self-sufficient energy options and see how they can improve the lives of their people.

– Esha Kelkar
Photo: Unsplash

solar-powered iron
India possesses the second-highest worldwide population with 1.2 billion people. Poverty in rural areas leaves local Indians unable to find job security. They instead must resort to street vending. Approximately 10 million street vendors exist in India, with many representing the laundry and textile industries. In particular, impoverished Indian families tend to choose the path of ironing clothes, a lucrative business considering the needs of everyday workers. However, there is one downside of the traditional method of ironing clothes in India: charcoal powers the irons. Luckily, a 14-year-old girl named Vinisha Umashankar recognized this energy source’s impact on the environment and innovated a solar-powered iron to create a renewable alternative to coal in India.

The Importance of Street Vending in India

Two kinds of retail industries exist: organized and unorganized retail. The latter represents the main retail industry in India. Unorganized retailers lead a solid 97% of businesses in the country, including local stores, family-run shops and street vendors. The sector of unorganized retail is the second-largest source of employment in India following agriculture. This demonstrates how much these workers crucially rely on their jobs for financial security. Those who have education but are jobless, or who suffer from poverty, benefit from the consumer familiarity and low-cost structure of the unorganized retail sector. Additionally, Indian small-store retailing generates self-employment relatively easily and does not require much investment in labor, land or capital.

India’s Pollution Problem with Charcoal

Early Indian society used a coal-fuelled iron box to smooth out clothing. Street vendors who iron clothes rely heavily on coal to power their equipment. There are some 10 million ironing carts in India and each cart uses more than 11 pounds of charcoal daily.  Given the hot and dry summers in India, cotton clothing requires washing and ironing on a daily basis. The high demand for ironing is escalating the use of coal and intensifying the smog issue in India.

The monsoon season from June to September poses an additional threat to the quality of the environment. Due to heavy rains, the coal becomes damp, causing an increase in the total weight bought by vendors. The moisture of the water, however, also reduces the warmth the charcoal produces when burned. Also, in the winter, as the price of coal naturally rises, suppliers purposefully add additional water to extend their product. Therefore, intense rain means increased spending on coal for the irons, further intensifying the cycle of Indian poverty.

Coal supplies approximately 72% of India’s electrical needs. The reliance on coal energy presents challenges regarding rising smog levels and respiratory conditions in cities. Coal power plants emit toxic gases and particulate matter that can penetrate human lungs. A reaction between sunlight and the nitrogen oxides that coal-powered plants release causes smog. The more people burn coal, the more smog that will emerge. However, coal is still a cheaper alternative to other, cleaner, forms of energy in India. Most people do not have the means to finance renewable energy.

Vinisha Umashankar’s Solar-Powered Iron

Vinisha Umashankar, an Indian teen with great concerns for the Indian air, developed an alternative to coal-powered irons. She suggested that they use solar-powered irons to harness the energy in the sun. This innovation promises to improve the poverty associated with the ironing industry as well as the environmental issues it causes. India receives enough sunlight to produce solar power 3,000 times more than its total current energy consumption. Her innovation to eliminate the use of charcoal in the ironing industry received the Children’s Climate Prize, comprising 100,000 Swedish krona ($11600) to further aid the project.

Umashankar also developed a solar-powered street cart. Similar to the solar-powered iron, Umashankar designed the model with functionality and cost-efficiency in mind. Individuals can use the cart effectively after only 15 minutes of tutorials. The solar-powered batteries charge in under five hours and last for six hours.

Overall, the goal of the solar-powered iron and cart is to improve the economic and health outcomes of the street vendors working in the ironing industries. In the long run, with further innovation, Umashankar intends to develop a cart prototype with solar panels and batteries that could last up to eight years. This ambitious plan favors sustainability for two parties: vendors and the environment.

Looking Ahead

With innovations like Umashankar’s solar-powered iron, India shows promise for improved environmental conditions and reduced poverty rates. Although expensive, new technologies are constantly emerging and individuals as young as 14 years old are working to prioritize cost-efficiency and sustainability. Given the fact that street vending is a widespread market in India, a solar-powered iron has the potential to transform the harmful coal-sourced iron industry into one that is profitable and environmentally conscious.

– Sarah Frances
Photo: Unsplash

Renewable Energy in Mexico
Renewable energy in Mexico is facing a crisis. On December 28, 2020, Mexico saw a two-hour power outage that affected 10.3 million people. Mexico’s National Center for Energy Control (CENACE) reported that the blackouts were due to an imbalance in the National Interconnected System (SIN).

SIN is Mexico’s state-owned power grid. During the blackouts, Mexico experienced a loss of 7,500 megawatts due to complications with Mexico’s fossil fuel power plants. CENACE blames the blackouts on renewable energy, although renewable energy currently accounts for only 28% of SIN’s power supply.

Following the blackouts, CENACE sought to consolidate the SIN system. Representatives from the CFE (Federal Electricity Commission) said the current SIN grid system does not have the mechanical inertia and capacity to support renewable energy sources. CFE Communication Director Luis Bravo stated that renewable energy damages “the reliability of the national system” and that CENACE will exclude renewable energy from the SIN. This will not only set back Mexico’s environmental progress, but it will also drive up electricity costs for families and businesses that the pandemic has already left struggling.

Higher Electricity Costs and Reduced Investment

Expensive electricity has long been a hindrance to Mexican households and businesses. In 2020, the state-owned electric company’s generation costs were over three times the generation costs of private renewable energy businesses. In February 2021, when the company cut power to two Oaxaca communities where many residents had unpaid electricity bills, local residents traveled to the state’s CFE headquarters to protest the company’s unreasonably high rates.

Nevertheless, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is fighting against cheaper renewable energy in Mexico in favor of government-owned fossil fuel plants. On February 2, 2021, he proposed a bill that mandates that SIN plants be the first source of statewide power. The bill also requires that the government approve all renewable energy usage.

Not only are many Mexican businesses voicing opposition, but many foreign companies, like Iberdrola, a huge Spanish producer of wind power, have stopped investing in Mexican energy projects. In June 2020, Iberdrola suspended a $1.2 billion project to create a power plant in Tuxpan that would have been an economic boon to the area. Reduced usage of renewable energy in Mexico could also damage the country’s standing in international arrangements, such as trade agreements or the Paris Climate Accord.

Renewable Energy Opportunities

Despite what their president claims, renewable energy in Mexico is affordable. While wind energy is growing within Mexico through international means, solar panels are helping domestically in rural areas.

Many businesses are starting to use solar energy. One region, in particular, Querétaro, is wholeheartedly embracing the economic benefits of renewable energy. The Federation of Producers of Corn Flour and Tortillas said solar cells currently power more than 40% of the state’s 389 tortilla shops. This organization helps shop owners take out low-interest government loans, allowing businesses to get off the SIN grid. Federation president Arthur Campos Novoa said, “Over three years, they have to pay [monthly] for the [solar panels], but after that, it will be a benefit to the business.” Businesses that receive the loans save 20,000 pesos every two months. The goal is to get 100% of Querétaro’s tortilla shops off the SIN grid.

Iluméxico

Iluméxico is another company using renewable energy to benefit everyday citizens. Its mission as a social enterprise is to empower rural communities that are living in energy poverty. Iluméxico specializes in installing small solar panels in areas with poor infrastructure. The company designs and distributes solar panels, creates affordable energy access plans and trains people in the solar panel trade. Iluméxico is Mexico’s largest provider of off-grid solar energy. It has installed nearly 25,000 systems and should reach 1 million people by 2025.

For example, Iluméxico helped Nereo Cruz of Chichicuastla, Veracruz along with his wife and four children out of energy poverty. Cruz and his family used to have to stop most activities at sunset because of their lack of electricity, but with a microloan from Iluméxico, Nereo purchased a solar home system that he slowly paid off using savings and income.

Renewable energy in Mexico is revealing political divisions. However, those fighting for a greener and more affordable future are persevering through the current crisis to continue alleviating energy poverty.

– Matthew Martinez
Photo: Flickr

Brightlife Brings Financial Inclusion
BrightLife is a program from FINCA, the microfinance organization. The program is a Uganda-based, social enterprise that pairs access to finance with access to energy. This allows for connections to financial inclusion for the “unbanked.” BrightLife brings financial inclusion to Ugandans and clean energy products to poor and impoverished areas through multiple initiatives and products. BrightLife ensures financial inclusion and wellbeing for those areas. People pay for their BrightLife products with a system called PAYGO. This allows people to pay for only the electricity they use as they go. This then allows BrightLife to build credit profiles for “unbanked” people and connect them with FINCA.

The Situation in Uganda

There are currently 1 billion people in the world living without electricity and 73% of the Ugandan population does not have access to electricity. People living without electricity must often use insufficient fuels to heat, light and energize their homes. This can then lead to indoor air pollution causing premature death. These energy uses are also dangerous in homes since they can cause fires.

Lack of energy in any area can cause a cycle of poverty since so many people cannot access the most basic necessities. This is why BrightLife brings financial inclusion to Ugandans. As FINCA states, the program “provides last-mile distribution and end-user financing for products that create healthier and safer homes, increase productivity, reduce household expenses and provide additional income-generating opportunities.”

BrightLife’s Impact

To date, BrightLife has impacted over 202,000 lives with clean energy. By providing education, distribution, financing and after-sale support, BrightLife is able to bring clean energy products like home appliances to people who cannot acquire them. However, access to energy is just the first step in FINCA’s BrightLife enterprise.

BrightLife announced a new product called “Prosper” in March 2019 to further its impact on the Ugandan people. Prosper is an initiative that helps Ugandans access the clean energy that BrightLife provides. Then, Prosper helps people transition from unbanked to FINCA Uganda where they can access savings and credit opportunities, increasing their financial inclusion.

A Better Tomorrow with BrightLife

Now, BrightLife is working to better understand the solar energy needs of their clients and is positioning itself to serve communities more efficiently. Through COVID-19, it has been able to grant access to solar lanterns and give students the ability to still get the education they need from home. Since BrightLife brings financial inclusion to Ugandans, it also won the Smart Communities Coalition Innovation Fund grant. As USAID reported, this grant will allow for the development of “a solar-powered hatchery” and small-scale solar systems used for poultry farming in Kiryandongo, Uganda.

– Grace Aprahamian
Photo: Flickr

Electricity in VenezuelaOn March 7, 2019, Venezuela entered the worst power outage in the country’s history. Plunging all 23 states into darkness, the blackout lasted over five days in majority of the country. The economic losses triggered by this event exceeded $800 million and led to the deaths of an estimated 46 people. Electricity in Venezuela has since become a huge cause of concern for people.

Blackouts in Venezuela

Regrettably, this blackout was not an isolated incident, although it was the longest. Blackouts have become a routine aspect of Venezuelan life, dating back to as early as 2010. In a country where 96% of the Venezuelan population lives in poverty, these blackouts serve only to exacerbate the struggles of a vulnerable population. They strip people of access to basic necessities like water, food and fuel. Their root causes are often unclear although the key contributing factors are widely agreed-upon.

Understanding the Power System

In 2007, Venezuela’s private power companies were nationalized and transformed into one state-run monopoly known as Corpoelec. The company is underfunded, rife with corruption and unable to recover its own operating costs. The factors creating this untenable situation for Corpoelec date back even further to 2002 when national electricity rates were frozen. In Venezuela, “consumers pay only 20% of the real costs of producing power, delivering Venezuelans the lowest electricity prices in Latin America.” The drawback to these low rates is that energy is extremely overused and that Corpoelec is unable to generate sufficient revenue to fund infrastructure investments or even basic maintenance of its facilities.

Overdependence on Hydropower

The aforementioned problems are exacerbated by Venezuela’s near-complete reliance on hydropower from just one dam. The Guri Dam located in the eastern state of Bolívar accounts for 80% of the country’s electricity production and its systems are woefully neglected. The dam currently operates at a capacity considered unsustainable, “jeopardizing the machine room in the case of a flood,” according to experts. In a region where flooding is common, this is cause for concern.

Whereas other countries that rely heavily on hydroelectric power like Brazil and China have made large investments into other forms of energy, Venezuela’s ability to shift away from hydropower is crippled by underfunding, a lack of engineering power from within the country and corruption.

Corpoelec has stagnated progress as well. The company, “paid millions of dollars in no-bid contracts to political connections,” to maintain its dominance. Projects to build new dams and other forms of electricity production like thermal or wind have routinely been stalled due to a lack of funding and inadequate staffing.

The Cause of the Blackout

The March 7 blackout that heavily circulated the news was caused by a system failure at the Guri Dam. It was initially painted as a terrorist attack by president Nicolás Maduro, who tweeted, “The electrical war announced and directed by the imperialist United States against our people will be defeated.”

The Venezuelan president’s claim was that the U.S. had caused the power outage through a cyberattack on the hydroelectric plant. However, engineers who worked on the dam later clarified that the plant’s electronic monitoring system is not actually connected to the internet, proving a foreign attack to be an unlikely root cause. The plant has been poorly maintained and neglected for a very long time. In actuality, failure to properly manage the electricity grid may have caused a fire has been deemed the likely cause, and unfortunately, there is no quick-response system in place at the facility to protect its systems from damage.

The Future of Electricity in Venezuela

To ensure the return of consistent electricity to the people of Venezuela and protect against future blackouts, massive overhauls would be beneficial. However, such agendas seem unrealistic given the current economic and political climate in the country. Rather, a focus on increased upkeep and basic maintenance of power plants offers a more realistic path forward. This requires access for NGOs to bring in engineers and consistent revenue toward infrastructure repair. Without this basic funding and commitment from the government, the Venezuelan people will continue to suffer through blackouts.

– Scott Mistler-Ferguson
Photo: Flickr

Electrifying Transportation
The World Health Organization (WHO) has recorded seven million premature deaths globally as a result of elevated levels of air pollution. In 2016, the WHO reported that 91% of the world’s population reside in areas that did not meet the threshold for acceptable air quality. Such conditions escalate the effects of and increase mortality from strokes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and infections, cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In 2010, the World Bank along with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation reported that over 180,000 deaths and 4,100,000 disability life adjusted years of healthy life lost were directly attributable to road transport air pollution. Also, when declaring the ‘best practice group’ for policy handling of air pollution, the list consisted mainly of high-income countries that can afford preventative measures like electrifying transportation.

Air Quality and Poverty

The WHO reports that low-and middle-income countries suffer the highest effects from elevated exposure to harmful air pollutants. In fact, the majority of the world’s cities with the highest Air Quality Indices (AQI) are found in developing nations. These countries typically do not have adequate laws or enforcement to protect against air pollution. They tend to contain a higher prevalence of coal power stations, and less stringent restrictions on vehicle emissions.

Further, developing nations experience great disparity in the effects of air pollution and the burden typically falls on the countries’ poorest populations.  The reason being, the poor usually reside in highly concentrated areas with dense harmful emissions. This is due to their exclusion from suburban areas where there are fewer pollutant generating spaces.

Despite air pollution challenges, clean air has been deemed a human right and is covered under the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals. In order to improve air quality, amongst others, one of the UN’s main suggestions has been to adopt clean and renewable energy and technologies.

Electrifying Transportation

The emission from our current fuel and diesel-powered traditional transportation systems consisting of fossil fuel-powered cars, trucks and buses have been found to generate pollutants that have adverse effects on every organ in the human body. It is also responsible for approximately half of all the nitrogen oxides in our air and is amongst one of the greatest sources of green-house gases. Given the large contribution or main-stream fuel and diesel vehicles make to air pollution, electrifying transportation systems is anticipated to be one of the most effective, shorter-term solutions to air pollution, and thus lifting some of the burdens on poor and vulnerable populations.

One of the main advancements in renewable technology has been the use of electric vehicles. One estimate finds that with the widespread accelerated adoption of clean transportation through the electrification of vehicles and fuel, an approximated 25 million aggregate years of life would be saved by 2030. Included in this figure is at least 210,000 reduction in premature deaths in 2030 alone. These gains would primarily occur in China, India, the Middle East, Africa and developing Asia, all locations with amongst the highest rates of poverty.

So far, there are three classes of electric vehicles:

1.       E4W – Electric four wheelers

2.       E2W – Electric two-wheelers

3.       HEV – Hybrid electric vehicles.

Access in Developing Countries

One of the main barriers to electrifying transportation in developing nations is the fact that Electric Vehicles (EVs) are typically more expensive than traditional fuel and diesel-powered vehicles. However, switching to EVs can prompt savings. Developing nations exist on a spectrum of development. For those with public transportation systems, working police and emergency health care fleets, the governmental investment in the transition towards electric vehicles and trucks would not only help to improve the air quality in the respective nations but would also prove to be cheaper and more sustainable in the long run. Of the available classes of electric transport options, the E2Ws would be most beneficial in developing nations. This is because E2Ws have the lowest energy consumption rating. Unlike E4Ws, the E2W class’ of EV ability to be charged via regular home outlet means that there are no substantial charging infrastructure investment requirements.

In terms of operational costs, all classes of EVs were found to have lower operational costs than their corresponding fuel vehicles. However, the E2W class was found to have benefits ranging from 24% less, up to eight times less of an operating cost than their corresponding fuel-based transportation. Many developing nations might not yet be in a position to invest in and benefit from the E4W or HEV EV classes due to its high initial investment and required charging infrastructure investments. The E2W class by contrast has been found to be a feasible investment for electrifying transportation for poverty reduction. Not only will this contribute to a significant reduction in air pollution, lightening its burden on the poorer populations, but it will also prompt savings for governments and stimulate economic growth. Additionally, as investments in EVs continue to rise, the initial purchase prices will fall and so developing countries might be able to afford higher classes.

Rebecca Harris

Photo: Flickr

The GCEEPA whole 940 million people, or 13% of the global population, do not have access to electricity. This is the central challenge that The Global Commission to End Energy Poverty (GCEEP) is facing.

The Global Commission to End Energy Poverty (GCEEP)

The GCEEP is a smorgasbord of innovators and leaders composed of utility companies, off-grid companies, multilateral development banks, academics and individuals across many different sectors. Drawing from key decision-makers such as former U.S. Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, and Africa Development Bank president, Dr. Akinwumi Adisina, the GCEEP is in a unique and leveraged position to influence governments around the world to take a better-informed approach at tackling energy poverty.

The Global Impact of COVID-19

Operating under the leadership of the president of the Rockefeller Foundation, Dr. Rajiv J. Shah, the GCEEP issued a report in early December of 2020, stating that COVID-19 has resulted in a new wave of complications in the fight against energy poverty. COVID-19 could result in an additional 100 million people losing access to electricity because of exacerbated financial hardship.

Defining Energy Poverty

Energy poverty is defined as a lack of access to reliable and affordable energy sources. Energy is the foundation through which a place can build a healthy, financially stable community. As the COVID-19 pandemic has proven, energy is at the core of modern health care and treatment. Countries that lack access to electricity, or the financial capabilities to afford electricity, struggle to recover in several aspects. Access to energy is a key indicator and crucial aspect to eradicating global poverty.

The GCEEP’s 2020 report on electricity access calls for governments around the world to consider energy poverty a serious issue that demands an expeditious and large-scale response.

Boasting an MIT-led research team and a practical, on-the-ground approach, the GCEEP’s strategy directly engages government leaders, investors and stakeholders in the power sector.

This approach is the Integrated Distribution Framework (IDF). Focusing on what the report calls the “weak link” in power systems across the world, the IDF aims to address problems in distribution and large-scale electrification through business models that are feasible and actionable.

Key Principles of the IDF:

  • A commitment to universal access. This requires the permanence of supply and the existence of a utility-like entity with the responsibility for providing access in a defined territory.
  • Efficient and coordinated integration of on- and off-grid solutions like grid extensions and mini-grids.
  • A financially viable business model for distribution.
  • A focus on development to ensure that electrification produces broad socio-economic benefits such as better delivery of critical public services in health and education.

The GCEEP believes that ending energy poverty is an achievable goal. As the GCEEP co-founders sum it up, “Only by ending energy poverty can we end poverty itself.”

– Andrew Eckas
Photo: Flickr

solar microgridsThe United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) helped establish three solar microgrids in rural Yemeni communities. Earlier this year, the British charity Ashden honored the scheme as one of 11 recipients of its prestigious Ashden Awards. These annual awards recognize initiatives whose efforts to deliver sustainable energy have produced important social and economic advantages.

Solving a Fuel Shortage and Economic Crisis

Yemen’s energy infrastructure cannot transport power to rural towns and villages. Thus, many of these communities depend upon highly-polluting diesel generators. However, longstanding conflict and crippling embargoes have made fossil fuels scarce and expensive. Moreover, oil prices have fluctuated in recent years, and poverty has skyrocketed. This crisis has affected approximately three-quarters of Yemen’s population. Current estimates indicate that more than two out of five households have been deprived of their primary source of income. It’s also been found that women are more acutely impacted than men.

Now, the energy situation is shifting. The UNDP has provided funding and support to three different groups of entrepreneurs that own and operate solar microgrids. The three are located in Abs in the district of Bani Qais in the northwest and in Lahij Governate in the south. Their stations provide clean, sustainable energy to local residents and at a much lower price. The solar microgrids charge only $0.02 per hour as opposed to the $0.42 per hour that diesel costs.

Such savings for households and businesses have greatly impacted the local economies. Not only can people work after sunset, they also possess more disposable income. According to Al Jazeera, approximately 2,100 people have been able to save money and put it toward creating their own small businesses. These include services for welding, sewing, grocery stores and other shops. So far, a total of 10,000 Yemenis have benefitted from the energy provided by the three solar microgrids.

Empowering New Leaders in Business

The entrepreneurs who founded and now run the microgrid facilities in Bani Qais and Lahij Governate are young men. However, the power station in Abs is completely owned and operated by women. These Abs women receive training in necessary technical skills and study business and finance.

Some expected the scheme to fail due to the sophisticated knowledge it required and the relative inexperience of the facilities’ operators. Well, one year has passed, and the solar microgrids are running at full capacity. The project thus offers a valuable model for creating jobs in a country where civil war has shattered the economy and hobbled basic infrastructure.

Specifically for the women in Abs, though, a steady income and the ability to provide a much-needed service have increased their self-confidence. These women can feed their families and use the university educations they each worked for to a great extent. As the station’s director explained, their work has even earned them the respect and admiration of those who used to ridicule them for taking on what was once considered a man’s job.

Looking to the Future

The success of the UNDP’s project’s first stage shows a possible solution to Yemen’s problem of energy scarcity. The UNDP now works to find funding for an additional 100 solar microgrids. Since civil war began in 2015, both sides have tried to limit each other’s access to the fossil fuels that Yemen depends upon. Pro-government coalition forces have prevented ships cleared by the U.N. from unloading their cargoes in the north. On the other side, Houthi-led rebels have recently suspended humanitarian flights to Sanaa, the country’s largest city and its capital. This is all in the midst of hospitals struggling to care for patients during the pandemic.

The UNDP’s solar microgrids are a source of hope among the many conflicts plaguing Yemen. More still, it is likely others will soon follow in the footsteps of the three initial young entrepreneurs. These solar microgrids stations have empowered Yemeni communities to build better and more sustainable futures and will for years to come.

Angie Grigsby
Photo: Flickr