Information and stories on Energy and Electricity

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

Solar Energy in Rural Madagascar
Tech companies Groupe Filatex and Bboxx are teaming up to extend their solar panel services to rural Madagascar. The companies aim to install 170 megawatts of new solar capacity by 2022. In a country that receives about 2,800 hours of strong sunlight every year, implementing solar energy in rural Madagascar can be a “viable way to go.” Roughly 85% of Madagascar’s population has no access to electricity and they do have a national grid. Providing solar energy in rural Madagascar can give the people of Madagascar electricity, thus improving their way of life and reducing poverty.

Solar Energy Versus Fossil Fuels

Some argue that implementing solar energy can help alleviate poverty. Providing “access to a small amount of electricity could lead to life-saving improvements in agricultural productivity, health, education, communications and access to clean water.” Some consider it a better alternative to the current option of expanding electricity. The current option involves fossil fuels, which can be impractical and expensive.

Also, solar energy can be a cheaper option compared with fossil fuels. Many villages in Africa use kerosene lamps as a source of light. Kerosene can cost a household from $40 to $80 per year, compared with solar lamps which can cost between $27 and $35. Kerosene can also emit pollutants proven to be dangerous to health. Examples of these health hazards are respiratory and eye infections, kidney or liver problems, and house fires.

Solar Energy Benefits

Solar energy in rural Madagascar can be the first step out of poverty by providing new skills and sources of income. An example of this is Barefoot College’s program for “solar engineers.” These engineers are from rural areas and are taught to install, repair and maintain solar lighting units to promote rural solar electrification. Consequently, this boosts incomes for poor villages.

Solar energy in rural Madagascar can help reduce current poverty levels. About 75% of the population lives below the poverty line. This is higher than the regional average, which is 41%.

Growth in Economic Development

Despite the high poverty rate, Madagascar has experienced a growth in economic development. During the past five years, Madagascar’s economic growth increased to around 5%. This was due to a peaceful transition after years of political instability and economic stagnation. The peaceful transition was considered “instrumental to this economic revival.” It contributed to “restore investor confidence, reopen access to key export markets, reinstate flows of concessional financing and encourage structural reforms.”

Implementing renewable energy is not new to Madagascar. In 2014, the Madagascar government decided to take on intensive reforms. With the help of the World Bank, the government started the Electricity Sector Operations and Governance Improvement Project (ESOGIP). The objective of the project is to increase production capacity and reduce energy loss. It also aims to expedite progress on renewable energies to provide a reliable, more affordable alternative to expensive and environmentally unfriendly diesel generators. The goal is to provide energy access to 70% of households by 2030.

The World Bank offers many solutions to reducing poverty in Madagascar. One of the main solutions is providing electricity. The more affordable, electrification in rural areas — the better the quality of life will be for citizens of Madagascar.

Jackson Lebedun
Photo: Flickr

Power Production
Development programs often emphasize distributing a needed resource to as many people as possible. Once a program or company finishes with an area, it moves onto the next one. However, that strategy risks leaving people in poor, especially rural areas with infrastructure they may not know how to keep up. One such infrastructure is power production.

Electric Supply in Nigeria

Take the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) as an example. It was owned by the government, was the only centralized electric company there and contributed to less than 1% of the country’s GDP. In the U.S., electricity production and movement accounts for five times that GDP percentage. As the country with the second-most total economic activity in Africa, PHCN is a significant player and has the potential to be a leader for the rest of the continent. The inefficiency of power production and the deterioration of existing lines and plants, however, seriously hurt growth. Most Nigerians, if they have power at all, can only use it erratically. If they want a steadier supply, they must rely on fossil fuel generators, which is simply unattainable for many low-income families and groups.

Proposed Solutions for Reliable Electricity

The lack of consistency in power production hurts far more than it may initially seem. If the industry cannot produce with regularity, other countries will outcompete Nigerians in most cases, compounding the issue of growth already present. Even when the industry does get power, it is more expensive because so much of it is lost – the system is currently working at 1/3 capacity, producing less than 3,900 MW for the whole country. With all these issues, it’s obvious that there needs to be a change. Some solutions that the government and other groups proposed are:

  1. Privatization: In theory, letting in investors should allow people to run the power sector of Nigeria with much more efficiency. Additionally, it can reduce the amount of corruption by separating power production from a not-so democratically elected government. This happened in 2012 when control passed to many oligarchs in the Nigerian GENCO group. However, privatization may widen the income gap between the rich and poor, where the top 1% already have 82% of the country’s wealth.
  2. Grants: Many organizations can give money to improve the general infrastructure directly. The World Bank gave Nigeria one such grant in 2018 of around $500 million. This money focuses on increasing access to and stabilizing the already existing power grid that supports 50% of the population. Although $500 million may seem like a lot of money, it’s an investment that can pay off for American and other developed countries’ businesses, as Nigerians can make more wealth and spend it in other parts of the world.
  3. Rethinking the System: The limited amount of energy-producing plants creates an opportunity for alternative energy solutions. Nigeria could invest in greener energy solutions, such as solar panels and wind turbines that produce power locally. Since long-distance power lines lose 7% of their energy, localizing production could save hundreds of megawatts, increasing stability and accessibility. This could also reduce environmental challenges due to greenhouse gases.

Improving access to electricity in developing countries like Nigeria is no easy feat. However, teaching proper maintenance techniques is essential no matter what path the country decides to take. That’s how power will get to the last 50% of Nigerians and be stable for everyone in the nation.

Michael Straus
Photo: Flickr

diminish global poverty
Self-driving cars and trips to Mars might be the first things that come to mind when thinking of Elon Musk. His massive-scale innovations will help humanity as a whole, but Musk’s initiatives are also helping to diminish global poverty. Since he was in college, Musk has sought to help humanity through space exploration, global internet and energy efficiency. The mission of Tesla, which Musk founded in 2003, is to accelerate the world of sustainable energy for the good of humanity and the planet. This mission will also have numerous benefits to the poor and overlooked populations of the world.

Tesla Powered Water Plants

In the coastal village of Kiunga, Kenya, water is available but contaminated. With most water sourced from saltwater wells, communities must bathe and cook with saltwater. Washing clothes and bodies with saltwater leads to painful sores that are hard to heal. On the other hand, drinking and cooking with saltwater leads to health problems like chronic diarrhea or kidney failure. These complications inhibit a healthy and productive society.

Tesla and GivePower offered a solution to Kiunga’s lack of potable water: a desalination plant that solar power and a battery reserve power. GivePower is a nonprofit organization aiming to provide resources to developing countries; it was acquired by Tesla Motors in 2016. A solar water farm that Tesla Powerwalls facilitated stores energy from solar panels to fuel the Kiunga facility at night and when there is a lack of sunshine. This plant produces about 70,000 liters of clean water every 24 hours, giving clean water to 35,000 people daily. This project has improved Kenyans’ lives, and GivePower aims to reach Colombia and Haiti next.

Tesla Powered Micro-grids

In many regions, people take electricity for granted. In Africa, hundreds of millions live without it. According to the International Energy Agency, 55% of the population in sub-Saharan Africa lack basic electricity access. Energy is essential to power schools, homes and healthcare facilities. A lack of modern energy in developing countries hinders the ability to study, work and modernize. For instance, in Zimbabwe, widespread violence and poverty contribute to a declining economy. One beacon of hope is the money trade, which takes place almost completely electronically. An innovative mobile payment system called Ecocash facilitates financial transactions for customers with mobile phones. To be effective, this process relies on consistent power infrastructure.

One incident in July 2019 exposed the vulnerability of Zimbabwe and its markets. A power outage occurred, and Zimbabwe’s Econet generators failed to power up, resulting in a mobile money blackout. This consequently had detrimental effects on the country’s economy, as the majority of financial systems halted. Over 5 million transactions occur daily through mobile money markets, adding up to around $200 million. Interruptions to power cause Zimbabweans to lose millions of dollars.

Microgrids are the answer. Generated by Powerwalls from Tesla, these self-contained systems of solar panels and batteries can provide power across the globe. Above all, no community is too remote to benefit. Tesla’s Powerwalls will alleviate uncertainties that unfavorable weather, unstable prices and fuel shortages cause. Although they require an investment of $6,500, solar-powered batteries replace archaic diesel-powered generators to ensure stability and diminish global poverty.

StarLink: High-Speed Internet Access Across the World

A lack of internet and mobile applications make life harder in developing countries. Without educational, communication and health tools, the cycle of poverty cannot be broken. According to the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, an estimated 750 million people over the age of 15 cannot read or write. Access to educational tools and resources through the global internet can reduce drop-out rates and improve education levels.

Elon Musk’s StarLink internet would deliver high-quality broadband all over the globe, reaching communities that historically lack an internet connection. The internet can bring education, telemedicine, communication and truth to people oppressed in developing countries. It gives isolated and overlooked communities a chance to become more secure. Using Starlink is straightforward: Plug in the device and point it toward the sky. The costs and benefits of Starlink can be shared across multiple families. The Starlink project strives to place a total of 42,000 satellites in space by the end of 2021, enabling internet access and helping to diminish global poverty.

A Sustainable Future for All

Musk’s focus on energy technologies benefits everyone, including the world’s poor. One obstacle to ending global poverty, especially in extreme cases, is that the poorest populations are usually the most remotely located. However, with Musk’s innovations, even remote rural communities can advance with modern technology.

Tara Hudson
Photo: Pixabay

Geothermal Energy in AfricaAfrica leads the world in annual population growth, but unfortunately produces the least amount of electricity of any continent. To mitigate this issue while being mindful of the continent’s vulnerability to climate change, African leaders are working to exploit natural energy sources. Recent efforts have begun to focus on establishing plants for geothermal energy in Africa. This involves harnessing energy from the Earth’s heat by digging underground. The east coast of Africa, home of the East African Rift System (EARS), presents a viable location for achieving this endeavor due to its geographical properties: this 6,500-kilometer stretch of progressive breakage in the Earth has constantly shifting plate tectonics that generate a large, renewable source of energy. Nations worldwide are coming together to help develop strong geothermal energy systems in Africa, with Iceland leading the way.

The Need for Electricity Access in Africa

Electricity access plays a significant role in lowering poverty in Africa. A study conducted by The World Bank found that affordable electrification can raise average household income by increasing farming and manufacturing production during off-seasons, as well as helping businesses create efficient services for production and expansion. Expanding electrification encourages economic investment, increases GDP per capita and creates jobs. For instance, when South Africa enacted an electric grid roll-out to poorer communities, the country experienced a 40%-53% boost in business activities due to heightened electricity access. Overall, generating electricity in impoverished areas will enhance economic capabilities and increase sustainability.

Potential for Geothermal Energy in Africa

The EARS is located in northern Syria and runs south to Mozambique. Countries along this rift include Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Eritrea and Uganda. These countries would benefit immensely from the rift’s geothermal energy since, depending on the country, only 35%-75% of the population had reliable electricity in 2018. In fact, initiatives like the African Rift Geothermal Development Facility project were designed to address this exact disparity using geothermal energy. The project’s goal is to gain access to untapped geothermal energy for these countries along the rift. The United Nations Environment Programme pledged $4.75 million for this official start-up in 2015. The project has had success so far in networking with other countries and attracting investors for financial support.

Geothermal energy in Africa is necessary to supplement the general lack of electricity. It is also essential to shift away from the other, less sustainable power sources currently in use. Coal is one of the most environmentally detrimental types of fuel, for example. Despite this fact, South Africa relies on coal-burning as its primary energy source; only 8.8% of the country’s electric needs are fulfilled by renewable energy. Coal-burning and other non-renewable techniques endanger Africa’s people and climate by polluting the air with various heavy metals.

Iceland Empowering Africa

Iceland, however, is a pioneer in geothermal energy: the country’s electricity obtains its power almost entirely by renewable resources. The country is currently advocating the creation of geothermal energy in Africa through several projects.

  1. Geothermal Training Programme (GTP): In collaboration with the United Nations, this six-month annual postgraduate training program teaches individuals from developing countries about geothermal construction and exploration. Between 1976 and 2016, about 39% of graduates originated from African countries. This demonstrates the impact of the GTP in fostering geothermal potential through the next generation of innovators.
  2. African Women Energy Entrepreneurs Framework: With a focus on addressing the barriers that hinder women as entrepreneurs in business, this project was launched in 2017 to support innovative environmental solutions in Africa and promote gender equality within the energy sector. Women are trained in sustainable energy technologies and management in order to create renewable energy policies and partnerships.
  3. Africa Geothermal Centre of Excellence (AGCE): Currently in the preliminary stages with help from Iceland and other partner countries, the AGCE aims to expand geothermal research and training. Its goal is to produce geothermal scientists, engineers and technicians to ensure geothermal expansion in Africa for years to come. Governments of multiple African countries are committed to creating this center in order to achieve their climate change and sustainability goals.

Iceland is also a member of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The country is commended for its work in Africa. The UNEP Energy Programme Manager Meseret Teklemariam Zemedkun stated, “Iceland has been a steadfast and important partner to UNEP in bringing geothermal expertise to East Africa.” Beyond fostering geothermal energy in Africa, Iceland’s financial contributions help support the UNEP’s other projects and overall mission. Iceland continues to be a world leader in demonstrating the significance of renewable energy. The country accomplishes this goal by addressing Africa’s present and building for its future.

– Radley Tan
Photo: Flickr

Africa’s Untapped Nuclear EnergyAfrica’s demand for energy increases every year as its population continues to grow at an enormous rate. As more people are connected to the energy grid every year, the supply of energy must keep pace with the growing demand. To meet the demand, many African nations have invested in nuclear energy to provide clean and nearly limitless energy. Currently, only South Africa has a nuclear reactor, but more nations are planning on taking advantage of Africa’s untapped nuclear energy potential.

Supply and Demand

Africa’s population is rapidly growing, and more Africans are connected to electrical grids every year. As the continent industrializes, energy consumption will continue to grow. Africa’s population is projected to double by the year 2050 and will consequently spur a substantial rise in energy demand. Access to electricity is a requisite for a stable life and economic growth. As such, impoverished Africans face an uphill battle against the vicious cycle of poverty if they do not have access to electricity. Electricity allows people to be more productive at night, and many tech jobs require access to the internet.

To meet the growing energy demand, many African nations are considering turning to nuclear power. Currently, only South Africa has constructed a nuclear power plant to meet the energy demand. South Africa’s power plant in Cape Town provides safe, renewable and clean energy for the people of South Africa. The success of the Cape Town nuclear power plant has led nearly 30 African nations to consider nuclear power. Additionally, South Africa plans to increase its nuclear capacity by 2,500 megawatts by the year 2024. The success of South Africa’s nuclear power plant demonstrates Africa’s untapped nuclear energy that can meet the increasing energy demand. Africa’s quickly growing population requires a diverse array of clean energy sources.

Clean and Reliable

Nuclear energy is a viable solution to Africa’s energy shortage because it is entirely renewable and relatively clean. Africans require access to electricity to escape poverty, and other energy sources are not as consistently reliable. For example, solar panels provide electricity for many people who live off the grid, but they cannot meet large African cities’ energy demand. In accordance with the global trend favoring urbanization, sub-Saharan Africa has one of the highest rates of urbanization in the world. Urban cities require great sums of electricity and require a constant stream of energy that is not disrupted by the weather.

With Africa’s population expected to double by 2050, it is crucial that people have access to electricity that is not dependent on variable conditions. Many nations use hydropower from dams, yet hydropower is vulnerable to drought. Both sunlight and wind energy are subjected to inconsistent weather, whereas nuclear power is consistent and plentiful throughout the year. These characteristics have compelled many nations to consider utilizing Africa’s untapped nuclear energy.

Great Potential

One of the most crucial requisites for escaping poverty is access to consistent electricity. With the world’s economy rapidly modernizing, well-paying jobs now require electricity and internet access. As such, people cannot escape poverty if they do not have access to electricity. Nuclear power is a viable solution to Africa’s energy shortage, and its benefits have compelled many nations to invest in Africa’s untapped nuclear potential.

– Noah Kleinert
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