Information and stories on Energy and Electricity

DRC'S Energy Sector
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has a population of 85 million. Of this number, only 9 percent have access to electricity. Decades of corruption and war are two reasons for poor electricity access and economic development in the Central African country. More than 95 percent of the total electricity comes from 2,542 MW (megawatts) of hydroelectric power. However, a potential capacity of up to 100,000 MW of hydroelectric power is in reach thanks to the Congo River. Investors were once disinterested in updating the Inga Dams located on the river. However, some are finally attempting to make use of the DRC’s massive hydroelectric potential. British firm Bboxx and Power Africa, an initiative that USAID launched, are working to expand the DRC’s energy sector to reach millions of Congolese.

The Massive Hydroelectric Power Potential of the Congo River

The rapids and many waterfalls provide the potential for expanding the Congo River’s hydroelectric power. About two million cubic feet of water flows from the river into the Atlantic Ocean every second during rainy seasons. This makes the river’s hydroelectric power a viable option to expand the lagging energy sector. Construction on the Inga I and Inga II dams on the Congo River finished in 1972 and 1982, respectively.

Construction on Inga III, however, has halted. Inga III’s establishment could help power 40 percent of Africa. Its hydroelectric power would equate to at least 40,000 MW, with some estimating more than 100,000 MW. The Grand Inga is the name of this $14 billion project. It has had a long history of delays due to foreign investors dropping out of the project for various reasons such as a lack of transparency from former DRC President Laurent-Désiré Kabila. If the development of the Grand Inga completed, the DRC could export power as well. The country could then become a major energy exporter in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Completed Projects in the DRC

Zongo 2 is a hydroelectric plant on the Insiki River that feeds into the Congo River. Chinese company Sinohydro completed the dam in 2018 with the help of assistance through the Howard G. Buffet Foundation. It has a capacity of generating 150 MW and will generate $47 million of income annually. Currently, the DRC’s energy sector uses only about 2,500 MW of hydropower. However, projects such as Zongo 2 have proved that hydropower could benefit the country and surrounding countries in need of power. Zongo 2 might seem to be a small-scale project compared to the Inga III project. However, 150 MW could power more than 100,000 households.

Power Africa is an initiative to provide more than 30,000 MW of clean energy to 60 million homes and businesses. As part of its goal, Power Africa teamed with power company Virunga Sarl to expand hydropower facilities in the DRC. The Virunga region has eight potential hydropower sites. Two of these, the 13.8 MW Matebe and the .38 MW Mtwanga, are operational and located in North Kivu. The Mtwanga plant supports more than 400 jobs in the region. As of 2017, more than 4,000 customers were under Virunga Sarl’s grid. This included small- and medium-sized businesses, homes and social infrastructure. Virunga Sarl is also expanding to the Nyirigonga district of Goma, which has about 20,000 households without power.

The Potential of Congo’s Power Sector

In January 2020, British firm Bboxx signed a memorandum of understanding to bring clean energy to more than 10 million Congolese by 2024. Bboxx has already provided power to more than 200,000 households in the country. Power has transformed lives, granting access to services that were previously unreachable, such as health care and schooling. President Félix Tshisekedi said that his goal is to use “decentralized and renewable energy solutions as a foundation to improve the country’s electrification rate from 9 percent to 30 percent during my presidency.” For perspective, the length of the presidency in the DRC is five years, and Tshisekedi first took office in January 2019. The DRC’s energy sector is growing slowly, but the president’s massive goal could increase growth in the near future.

– Lucas Schmidt
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Solving Energy Poverty
Access to electricity and other forms of energy is so ubiquitous in the United States and other developed economies, that it is easy to forget that energy poverty persists in the developing world. Yet, energy poverty (the lack of access to modern energy services including electricity and clean cooking facilities) remains a barrier to global prosperity and individual well-being. At the current rate of progress toward the United Nations’ goal of universal energy access, 650 million people will still be in the dark in 2030. However, people can solve the problem of energy poverty in developing nations. Moreover, they can tackle energy poverty without a significant contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions. Here are three sustainable technologies solving energy poverty.

3 Sustainable Technologies Solving Energy Poverty

  1. Microgrids: Microgrids are small, localized power grids that operate on renewable energy, diesel back-up and batteries. With low costs and high yields, microgrids are an affordable and sustainable solution to energy poverty. The price of batteries, solar and other energy technologies has been decreasing since 2010, reducing the cost of operation. According to the International Energy Agency, microgrids are the most cost-effective option to deliver electricity to more than 70 percent of the unconnected. By powering fridges, fans, irrigation pumps and other machinery, microgrids have saved time for families on household chores, helped farmers increase crop yield and light classrooms. In India, a project that Smart Power India and the Rockefeller Foundation launched is using microgrids to power more than 100 villages serving 40,000 people. More than 140 microgrids that this initiative has built have helped to alleviate energy poverty in the region.
  2. Biogas Digesters: Biogas digesters burn organic waste to generate odorless, clean-burning methane. Some experts consider them carbon-neutral because they offset more emissions than they create. The average home biogas system can reduce firewood use by up to 4.5 tons each year, which translates into four tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Biogas digesters are a sustainable, reliable technology for powering gas stoves and lights, requiring little maintenance and is safer than combustible tanks of liquid petroleum gas. Because of their potential to alleviate energy poverty, the government of Nepal, through its Alternative Energy Promotion Center, has helped build more than 200,000 biogas systems across the country and aims to increase that number to two million.
  3. LED Lighting: Solar-powered LED lights are delivering electricity to those unable to plug into power grids. Thanks to extensive innovation in the field, people can now also use many LED lights to power phone charging and small fans. LED has a long service life, between 10 and 20 years, which makes it a reliable form of sustainable lighting. They are also portable, easy to install and safer than fuel-based lighting. People unable to connect to an electric grid have bought more than 2.1 million LED-solar products globally. According to the IFC-World Bank Lighting Africa program, nearly 5 percent of Africans without access to electricity, around 28.5 million people, currently use LED lighting. Nonprofit organizations, such as Solar Aid, are increasing that number as well by introducing solar LED lights to other economically poor areas to sustainably combat energy poverty.

Limited access to reliable, modern and affordable energy services hinders communities and cripples economies. That is why achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal of universal energy access by 2030 is so critical. These three sustainable technologies solving energy poverty are leading the way.

Kayleigh Rubin
Photo: Flickr

Facts About Fuel Poverty
Also known as energy poverty, fuel poverty occurs when a family cannot afford to keep their home at a safe and comfortable temperature. Many commonly overlook it as an aspect of living in a low-income situation, so these eight facts about fuel poverty should provide the basic knowledge necessary to understand the concept.

8 Facts About Fuel Poverty

  1. Fuel poverty is a relatively recent concept. Brenda Boardman published the first book about fuel poverty in 1991. The book, entitled “Fuel Poverty,” served as an essential introduction to the topic. Since its publication, there has been an increase in research and awareness about fuel poverty.
  2. The definition changes in warm areas. The majority of discussions about fuel poverty pertain to how people cannot afford to warm their homes. However, in warmer climates, a lack of fuel presents other struggles such as no lighting or cooking methods. Moving forward, most of the facts about fuel poverty will discuss fuel poverty in colder areas.
  3. The British Isles has been at the center of the discussion about fuel poverty. Historically, a lot of the action and research surrounding fuel poverty has occurred in the British Isles. This might be due to a combination of a cold and wet climate and poor housing quality. Although fuel poverty can occur in a lot of places, the British Isles has been very vocal about its citizens’ struggles with fuel poverty and what it is doing to address the problem.
  4. Fuel poverty has multiple causes. When examining why fuel poverty occurs, there are often multiple factors that converge to result in a home lacking proper energy services. The main causes of fuel poverty are low income, high energy prices, poor energy efficiency (i.e. poor insulation or heating systems) and under-occupancy.
  5. Fuel poverty has a clear measurement system. In 2013, England adopted a Low Income High Cost (LIHC) method of determining the criteria for fuel poverty. It considers a household to be in fuel poverty if it has above average fuel costs and that those costs would leave them with a residual income below the official poverty line. Because most fuel poverty research comes out of England, others have widely adopted this system.
  6. A lot of households are at risk. Around 20 percent of households in Europe experienced fuel poverty in 2018. Some characteristics increase a household’s risk of facing fuel poverty, such as possessing a household member with a disability or long-term illness, as some factors increase physiological needs for energy services.
  7. Fuel poverty can have serious consequences. Living in a cold house can worsen pre-existing conditions, causing related morbidity and mortality. In the U.K. in 2016, 3,200 excess winter deaths linked directly to people experiencing fuel poverty.
  8. There are steps to help. A study in the U.K. in 2019 found that making people aware of the risks that occur with living in a cold home and providing thermometers to track temperatures can actually improve people’s living conditions. It can also be beneficial to alert citizens about grants and programs available to them to assist with the costs of energy services.

Hopefully, these facts about fuel poverty have provided some fundamental knowledge about the topic. One can easily overlook fuel poverty, but it forces people to make difficult sacrifices and can sometimes result in negative health consequences. The issue has been coming into the light more in recent years as politicians and organizations work to help those who cannot afford to maintain a safe and comfortable home.

– Lindsey Shinkle
Photo: Pixabay

 

Today, 70 percent of Africans and 95 percent of those living in rural areas do not have access to electricity. Although many countries are still lacking access to electricity, there are some inspiring leaders making a difference in establishing electricity in Africa.  Particularly, George Mtemahanji has spearheaded the movement towards implementing solar energy in Tanzania.

Bringing Solar Energy to Tanzania

Mtemahanji was born in Ifakara, a Tanzanian village located in the Kilombero District of Morogoro Region. In his village, poverty rates are very high and education completion rates are very low. As a young adult, Mtemahanji was able to pursue his education in Italy. Mtemahanji’s passion for clean energy grew throughout high school and technical college, where he studied to become a renewable energy technician. Upon graduation in 2012 from IPSIA Ferrari, Manuel Rolando and Mtemahanji co-founded SunSweet Solar Ltd. The company designs and installs Solar Hybrid Microgrid Systems that supply electricity to rural communities in Africa, and more specifically, in Tanzania.

SunSweet Solar

Connecting rural areas to the power grid is an expensive process. However, solar energy has the ability to cut these high costs in the long-term. SunSweet allows customers to purchase energy via mobile phones, expanding energy access to schools and hospitals. Families who live in rural areas can also connect to power easily for a mere 15 cents per day. As of 2016, the technology has been implemented throughout six villages and provides energy to about 25,000 people.

One system, the Eco-Friendly Village Solar system, can meet the energy demands of a village 24 hours a day. This system is durable, where it can roughly last 20 years before needing to be replaced. Additionally, there are systems in place to help communities avoid electrical blackouts. This is especially meant for villages that are not connected to the national electrical grid (off-grid).

Impact on Medical Dispensary

With the collaboration of the Kilombero District Council, SunSweet has designed a solar photovoltaic system that has the capacity to satisfy the energy demand of an entire medical dispensary. Further, the system will provide energy each day for more than 25 years.

Called the RuDEK (Rural Dispensary Energy Kit), this kit has the ability to store energy for emergency dispensaries in less than three hours. First installed in 2016, the system stores additional energy for rainy seasons and cloudy days. By supporting dispensaries, more people will receive high-quality health services. Some of the direct benefits include women giving birth with more than candlelight, vaccination and medication storage in a refrigerator, and doctors having clear visuals of ailments.

Educational Benefits of Solar Energy in Tanzania

SunSweet’s first major contract was installing a solar power plant at the Benignis Girls Secondary School. The system aimed to support 236 lights, dozens of computers and fans in a majority of the classrooms. Though this was logistically challenging, SunSweet was successful in the project. With the installation of the solar power plant, students’ testing performance increased from 81 to 94 percent.

Looking Forward to a Bright Future

Two years after the company’s inception, SunSweet Solar was nominated for the prestigious Anzisha Prize, an award for young entrepreneurs in Africa. The exposure given to the company has attracted many opportunities that will support energy development throughout Africa. Further, support from Denmark, Brazil and Sweden will launch the company to take on greater projects.

Mtehamanji has since spoken with the Tanzania private sector foundation, the Tanzania investment center, the Tanzanian rural electrification agency, and many others to implement sustainable energy. With an official FuturaSun partnership, an Italian company, and a contract for a future partnership with Trine, a Swedish company, the future of SunSweet Solar looks as bright as ever.

Janice Athill

Photo: Flickr

Solar Energy Developments in Malawi
Solar energy developments in Malawi are helping its local communities maintain sustainable energy. Bwengu Projects Malawi provides teachers in high-needs schools with solar-powered LED projectors in Bwengu, the northern countryside of Malawi. This solar energy initiative partners with local providers and financial institutions to connect new solar farms to the power grid. Additionally, USAID is collaborating with solar power companies to provide solar home systems for homes in Malawi.

3 Solar Energy Developments in Malawi

  1. Solar-powered LED Projectors: In 2018, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that 53 percent of Malawi’s population was under the age of 18. Classrooms often swell to 150 students per teacher, and schools experience poor maintanence. Moreover, there are not enough books and resources for students. To help assuage these issues, Bwengu Projects Malawi established itself to help support community and educational projects in Northern Malawi. Most recently, it developed Whole Class Teaching Kits which includes solar-powered LED projectors. It connects with an android tablet and pertains to Malawi’s junior and secondary curriculum. This tablet installs with 20,000 pages of lessons and notes which teachers can then project on the wall. Volunteers regularly visit the schools to maintain the equipment and add additional schools that qualify for the project. Reports show that attendance is up at schools with teaching kits and in the case of one school, passing rates increased from 27 to 65 percent.
  2. The Bwengu Solar Park Project: A local initiative in Bwengu to bring more energy to the community is underway with the creation of solar farms that will feed into the energy grid. The development began in August 2019  and should generate approximately 50 megawatts of renewable energy per year to feed into homes and local businesses in Malawi. The construction of the facility is located on 125 acres in Ulalo Nyirenda village, a piece of land just 1,000 meters from the Bwengu Escome Substation power grid. QUANTEL announced the project in May 2019, a renewable energy producer. More than a dozen other energy companies have signed on to the deal to create the Bwengu Solar Park, marking a milestone in creating a sustainable energy supply in Malawi. The agreement that local and international stakeholders made complies with both United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MDGS III) and comes as demand for energy in Africa, population and industrialization all grow. Feasibility studies in Africa to scale up affordable solutions to meet these needs also drove it.
  3. Solar Home Systems: With financial backing from USAID, a collection of applicant companies like SolarWorks!, Vitalite, Yellow Solar and Zuwa Energy are aiming to deliver electricity to more 100,000 households in Malawi before 2023. However, the energy that these companies provide is uniquely off-grid. Solar Home Systems (SHS) is a focus of the Malawi Government National Energy Policy of 2018. One of the solutions that the policy put forth was off-grid solar energy for households that is easy to deploy and gives sufficient electricity for mobile charging, radio use and lighting. Currently, Malawi has only an 11 percent electrification rate and only 4 percent for rural areas, such as Bwengu. The SHS Kick-Starter Program not only has the design to increase access to energy but also to grow private sector business and provide companies with multiple supports, including operations support, capital and financing over the next three years. USAID has committed $2 million in grant funding and there are many financial backers, such as the Malawi Government and national banks. Among the energy providers are M-PAYG, an SHS pay-as-you-go service for low-income households in the developing world to give them off-grid, solar energy access. According to the Nordic Development Fund, the solar energy that SHS provides, such as M-PAYG, can level the gender playing field as well. Many expect schoolgirls to do household chores and homework in the morning before school. However, if families have access to reliable electricity, girls will have more time in the evenings to finish homework assignments before bedtime. This allows them to sleep in for longer before doing their morning chores.

These three solar power developments in Malawi come at a time when the population is expanding and demand for energy is growing. Cooperating charities, policymakers, national banks and energy providers have successfully powered the developments with support from the government and international community in line with sustainability goals. From these examples, one sees that the educational field has especially benefited from these innovative technologies in spite of historically poor conditions.

Caleb Cummings
Photo: Flickr

Global Energy Poverty
Around 840 million people around the world have no access to electricity. Global energy poverty is prevalent with most living in developing nations in South Asia, Latin America and rural Africa. In India, more than 300 million people lack access to electricity. In Sub-Saharan Africa, that number is twice as high.

Energy poverty or the lack of access to modern energy services, including electricity and clean cooking facilities, remains a barrier to global prosperity and individual well-being. That is why ensuring basic energy for 100 percent of the world’s population by 2030 is one of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. Yet, at the current rate of progress, 650 million people will still live in the dark. Microgrids have the potential to improve that course and eliminate global energy poverty.

What are Microgrids?

Microgrids or mini-grids are small, localized power grids. They can operate on their own using local energy generation without needing a connection to a larger power grid. Renewable resources power most along with diesel back-up and batteries.

Microgrids can power fridges, fans, irrigation pumps and other basic machinery. With microgrid energy, families can power appliances that save time on household chores, farmers can increase crop yield with irrigation and schools can light their classrooms.

Benefits of Microgrids

With low costs and high yields, microgrids could end global poverty. The price of batteries, solar and other energy technologies has been decreasing since 2010, in turn reducing the cost of microgrids. The International Energy Agency named localized power grids as the most cost-effective option to deliver electricity to more than 70 percent of the unconnected. Continued innovation will further drive cost reduction.

Microgrids are also modular, easy to transport and simple to install. This makes them especially valuable in remote and rural areas.

Use of Microgrids

In India and Sub-Saharan Africa, microgrids are already electrifying and transforming communities. SmartPower India, with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, has used microgrids to power more than 100 villages and serve 40,000 people. Since the project launched in 2015, carpenters and tailors have more than doubled their productivity, farmers have built cold storage facilities to keep produce and entrepreneurs have opened small businesses. Local economies grew by $18.50 per capita.

In Kenya, a solar company is using microgrids to deliver power to villages deep in the African bush. SteamaCo’s microgrids supply 10,000 households and businesses across 25 villages with electricity. This has allowed for businesses to trade longer, students to study after dark and communities to grow more independent.

A lack of access to modern, reliable and affordable energy services hinders communities and cripples economies. It is time to turn the light on for the billions of people without access to electricity. Microgrids could end global energy poverty.

– Kayleigh Rubin
Photo: U.S. Marine Corps

Energy Use in Sub-Saharan Africa

Energy demand is estimated to increase by 85 percent in Africa between 2010 and 2040. To compensate for growing infrastructure and population, the cheapest and most environmentally-friendly energy sources are in high demand as well. Countries within sub-Saharan Africa have taken numerous measures to improve affordable living through receiving aid and implementing programs to promote efficient energy use. However, challenges hinder the implementation of efficient energy use in these countries. For example, the trained workforce that could take on massive energy projects is very small. There is also very minimal awareness of the benefits of efficient energy use so many people prefer to stick to traditional sources. Governments and global organizations are combating these challenges as they work to advance energy efficiency and indirectly reduce poverty and over-spending in sub-Saharan Africa.

Energy Efficiency in Emerging Economies Training Week

The International Energy Agency and the Department of Energy of South Africa hosted the very first Energy Efficiency in Emerging Economies (E4) Training Week for sub-Saharan Africa in Pretoria, South Africa from Oct. 14 to Oct. 17, 2019. The objective of the training was to educate junior policymakers from all over sub-Saharan Africa to model future politicians into environmental activists. The week included courses on the ability of energy-efficient sources to reduce extra expenses and, therefore, improve living conditions. The courses taught participants about energy efficiency policy in buildings, appliances, equipment, industry, cities and indicators and evaluation. E4 Training Week also made a key point to encourage women to apply for the program.

Numerous organizations supported the E4 Training Week, including Global Environment Fund (GEF), United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), East African Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (EACREEE) and SADC Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (SACREEE).

The Domestic Energy and Rural Access to Basic Sources Project

The World Bank’s Domestic Energy and Rural Access to Basic Sources Project (PEDASB) worked to install a 52-kilowatt plant in Zantiébougou, south of Bamako in the Sikasso region. The plant has provided electricity to 765 people and allows women to carry out other economic activities and trades as they are no longer concerned about gathering fuel, such as wood. PEDASB also implemented a hybrid electricity system that combines solar photovoltaic and diesel power in Niena. The system improved the quality of health care in local clinics and increased school performance in students. This energy sector as a whole is contributing to the economy of sub-Saharan Africa and increasing the wealth of its people.

Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs

Ethiopia’s government is taking the initiative to improve efficient energy use. Through a collaboration with the World Bank Project, the Ethiopian government introduced compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL), which help rural families save money. 80 fewer megawatts of electricity is used by distributing 2.5 million CFL bulbs, which quantifies as $100 million saved. Through a $4 million investment, 5 million CFL bulbs were distributed all over the country. Households under the poverty line were able to reduce their energy usage by 55 percent which significantly cut utility costs for families. Beyond lightbulbs, 2.5 million efficient cookstoves were distributed in Ethiopia, reducing 40 to 60 percent of wood fuel. This not only helps the environment but also boosts families’ lifestyles all over the country.

The Electrify Africa Act

In 2016, President Barack Obama signed the Electrify Africa Act (S.2152) into law. The Electrify Africa Act ensures that the Obama Administration’s Power Africa initiative remains in effect, providing millions of sub-Saharan Africans with access to electricity which in turn, increases economic growth and development.

So far, the Electrify Africa Act is a great success. As of January 2019, Power Africa, with the support of the Electrify Africa Act, achieved the following results in sub-Saharan Africa:

  • 20.5 billion invested in Power Africa transactions
  • 58,552,435 beneficiaries gaining access to electricity
  • 10,095 megawatts (MW) reaching financial close
  • 2,652 MW moved from financial close to operation

In conclusion, sub-Saharan countries are breaking the cycle of poverty through creatively implementing efficient energy sources. From educating young policymakers to governments distributing free equipment and implementing laws, numerous countries are able to benefit from efficient energy use in sub-Saharan Africa.

Haarika Gurivireddygari
Photo: Flickr

 

Four Tech Investments
Technology advances at a blinding rate with new innovations popping up every day. People can use these new technologies to make life easier, save lives, entertain the masses in new, creative ways and serve countless other purposes. In this age of technology and instant access to information, a consumer will find dozens of different companies vying for their money with thousands of different advertisements, promising new features and faster internet. If a consumer investigates further, they will find people around the world using the bleeding edge of technology to reduce poverty by increasing access to medical facilities, providing more energy to those in need, aiding struggling farmers and innovating on the use of technology in the classroom. Here are four tech investments to lower poverty.

4 Tech Investments to Lower Poverty

  1. TEAMFund: The organization Transforming Equity and Access for MedTech (TEAMFund) invests in companies that can increase medical access in impoverished areas. TEAMFund usually invests in companies that specialize in digital health or artificial intelligence in hopes that these innovations will help with the shortages of doctors and other health care specialists. Some investments that TEAMFund has previously selected include Forus Health, an Indian organization dedicated to using technology to lower cases of preventable blindness, and digital ophthalmology, the use of technology to prevent diseases like glaucoma or diabetic retinopathy. On September 18, 2019, TEAMFund closed a budget of $30 million to invest in low-income areas. As TEAMFund invests this money, many of those in impoverished areas will feel the benefits of easy medical access.
  2. The Rockefeller Foundation: Energy poverty is also a major problem around the world. Many developing nations do not have electricity with almost a billion people worldwide lacking the ability to live in comfortable temperatures or store food for long periods. On September 12, 2019, the Rockefeller Foundation launched the Global Commission to End Energy Poverty. This commission will explore the many sources of electricity, including microgrids to provide total energy access by 2030. One method it will use to achieve this goal is setting up solar microgrids in developing countries around sub-Saharan Africa, as suggested by Rajiv Shah, president of the Rockefeller Foundation.
  3. BICSA: Agriculture is a necessary gamble in any community. Long droughts could cause the loss of fields of crops, and without them, people could starve. Currently, no risk is greater than planting crops in India. Many farmers in India rely on monsoon rains to feed their crops, but the rains have been patchy and unpredictable recently, raining 35 percent below the predicted amount. Luckily, organizations like the International Water Management Institute and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research have combined their strength and formed the Bundled Solutions of Index Insurance with Climate Information and Seed Systems to Manage Agricultural Risks (BICSA). This organization will work with the farmers of India and try many different strategies to avoid massive crop loss and protect farmers from bankruptcy. BICSA claims that they will provide services like drought or flood insurance, more seed varieties, new methods to forecast the weather and different farming practices that suit the climate better.
  4. Education Technology: Education is arguably the most important factor in a developing country. Nevertheless, over 260 million children worldwide do not receive an education. Education Technology (EdTech) companies dedicate their resources to providing more access to quality education. They achieve this goal by teaching programming to young students, providing online college courses to those who cannot afford them, teaching foreign languages and much more in places like Nigeria and Kenya. These EdTech companies, like Andela, Coursera and Kramer have been receiving record-breaking investments in recent years. In 2018, EdTech companies received over $16.3 billion in funding from countries like the United States and China. As these companies grow and reach more people, the world should crawl closer to the total education of the entire world.

The use of technology to reduce poverty brings an age-old problem into the modern world. These four tech investments will not eradicate poverty overnight, but they show that the superpowers of the world are willing to give more for the benefit of the world’s poor. With easier access to medical facilities, energy, agriculture and education through technology, countries with a large poverty rate could move forward on the path to a developed, flourishing society, strengthening the global economy with their commerce and aiding other countries that require assistance.

– Charles Nettles
Photo: Flickr

Energy in AfricaRecently The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation expressed their passion for increasing energy in Africa in an eco-friendly manner. In partnership with other organizations, Africa is aiming to turn its waste into electricity.

Africa is a large continent containing a surplus of mineral resources, fossil fuels, metallic ores and other biological resources. Despite this abundance of natural resources, Africa’s economy still struggles to thrive. Most of the country’s economy comes from agriculture and sustenance farming which occupies 60 percent of the population.

Background

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to reduce inequality around the globe. Work includes advances in health conditions, decreasing infant mortality rates and empowering the poorest. The foundation is also working towards bringing more electricity to Africa. Currently, it is projected that there are 500 thousand people with no power. However, there is evidence of improvement as 600 million people were without electricity in 2014.

Ken Silverstein, senior Forbes contributor writes that by 2050, Africa’s population and the economy will grow. The country’s population expects to see an increase from 1.1 billion to 2 billion and the economy by 10 percent a year.

The growth in population, economy and electricity will aid Africa immensely, but it also brings new projections for how much energy the country will need. Silverstein also records that “the International Energy Agency, sub-Saharan Africa will require $400 billion by 2035 to modernize its energy foundation.” The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the United Nations (UN) are planning a project in response to this.

Initiated Projects for Sustainability

The UN has initiated the Sustainable Energy for All project. The program works with government figureheads, businesses and the civil sector to works towards Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7).  The project “empowers leaders to broker partnerships and unlock finance to achieve universal access to sustainable energy.”

In line with the goal of achieving SDG7, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation instituted the Breakthrough Energy Venture. The Breakthrough Energy Venture is an investment lead fund whose aim is to “make sure that everyone on the planet can enjoy a good standard of living, including basic electricity, healthy food, comfortable buildings, and convenient transportation, without contributing to climate change.”

These projections signify more energy in Africa and a higher rate of demand for energy. Both projects, by the UN and The Gates Foundation, are aware of the harm that the rising demand for energy will have. More energy creates more waste, and these projects are working towards a cleaner planet as well as providing energy to the world.

Waste-to-Energy

A type of biomass referred to as waste-to-energy uses garbage to provide electricity and heat. Alternatives include burning or recycling the garbage, but providing clean energy to Africa is the number one priority.

Electricity issues in South Africa have led to “brownouts” that was thing preventing a transmission grid loss. The country’s provider, Eskom also cannot meet demands. There are hopes that waste-to-energy will be the solution to problems like these. The Climate Neutral Group introduces the Joburg Waste to Energy offset project.

The project will clean up Johannesburg municipal sites as well as provide clean electricity. The Climate Neutral Group hopes to use the waste and methane gas from the hazardous municipal landfill site and transforming it into energy. It is anticipated that there will be a 19MW of electricity produced. This is enough to power 16,500 medium households.

The Gates Foundation, the UN and the Climate Neutral Group are placing a strong focus on improving energy in Africa. They are taking it one step further by helping provide electricity and energy through waste in partnership with other organizations such as the UN.

– Jade Thompson
Photo: Flickr

access to electricityA common joke in Nigeria is that the acronym NEPA, for the National Electric Power Authority, actually stands for “Never Expect Power Always.” Indeed, less than half of people in Nigeria have access to electricity, and even people who do have power frequently get it for only a few hours per day. The government has estimated that lack of access to electricity costs the economy more than $29 billion each year.

“I cannot help but wonder how many medical catastrophes have occurred in public hospitals because of ‘no light,’ how much agricultural produce has gone to waste, how many students forced to study in stuffy, hot air have failed exams, how many small businesses have foundered,” writes Booker Prize-winning Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. “What greatness have we lost, what brilliance stillborn?”

Post-Colonization and Lack of Electricity

Nigeria is not the only African nation to suffer from electricity shortages. In the last few months, Ethiopia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe have all rationed electricity due to shortages. Difficulties with providing access to electricity are common in post-colonial countries. Colonization made countries poorer in general, due to the exploitative relationships between colonized nations and their colonizers. For instance, on the eve of its independence from Britain in 1945, India’s GDP per capita was lower than it was in 1600. This theft of resources has made it more difficult for post-colonial nations to invest in electrification. And even when colonial powers did implement electric grids, they frequently only bothered to electrify areas populated by colonists and settlers, rather than the native population, according to a 2018 study by Ute Hasenöhrl, a professor of history at the University of Innsbruck.

Finding Solutions

Luckily, there are solutions to these problems. A study by a team of researchers, led by Dr. Samuel Ayokunle Olowosejeje, at University College Cork found that switching Nigeria’s electric grid to solar energy could make it significantly easier to distribute electricity by reducing costs. In particular, the study found that switching to solar could reduce costs by up to 132 percent.

Even if resources can’t be invested in traditional electric grids, new technology provides opportunities to electrify in new ways. Prof. Hasenöhrl gives the example of an initiative by the government of Bangladesh that has provided almost four million people in rural areas with home solar panel systems. These allow people to enjoy the benefits of electricity without requiring as much investment in infrastructure.

The initiative in Bangladesh, called Solar Home Systems (SHS), has had a big impact: 12 percent of the population – more than one out of every ten people in Bangladesh – have benefited from the plan, according to an evaluation of the program by the Centre for Public Impact. Before the beginning of SHS in 2003, a common method that some people in rural Bangladesh used to light their homes was kerosene lamps, which are expensive to power and produce relatively little light in comparison to electric lighting. The Centre for Public Impact report also highlighted how the program’s engagement with existing grassroots community organizations was key to providing legitimacy to the project. The organizations’ pedigree helped overcome initial skepticism on the part of many rural residents.

Harnessing the Sun

Dr. Olowosejeje also points to solar panels for individual households, in addition to more traditional grid-based solar energy, as a potentially beneficial move in Nigeria. “[S]olar-based power generation…is the most technically feasible and cost-effective solution to the challenge of extending electricity to 80 million people [in Nigeria] who are currently without access to energy,” he writes. In addition, solar panels could even be a source of income: “Renewable technologies could also help to develop an electricity market where those producing surplus energy can sell it to those who have a shortfall.”

The damage wrought by colonialism has made it difficult for many countries to create adequate electrical grids. The recent spate of electricity rationing in several African nations is just one example of this problem. However, the good news is that solutions exist. One of them is single-home solar electricity systems. These systems can provide access to electricity, overcome the limitations of traditional power grids, and even create an additional revenue stream to help struggling families by enabling them to sell electricity to others.

– Sean Ericson
Photo: Flickr