Information and stories on Energy and Electricity

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
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in GhanaFor Ghanaian students enjoying Empower Playgrounds, Inc.’s (EPI) merry-go-rounds, scrapes, cuts and bruises are shrugged off with a laugh. However, treating medical emergencies like malaria infection, especially in rural areas, is no laughing matter.

EPI, A nonprofit organization based in Ghana, operates in remote locations where electricity is almost nonexistent, and medical centers are extremely scarce. By building playgrounds that generate electricity, EPI prioritizes children’s entertainment as much as their health and education.

The Borgen Project had the opportunity to speak with Ben Markham, the founder of EPI, about healthcare in Ghana. According to Markham, when a student falls extremely ill at school, a teacher will accompany the student to the nearest trained nurse, if one exists. The student and teacher will often travel by foot out of town, and if the medical emergency is severe, the teacher will leave the student at the facility and walk back to the community to inform the child’s parents.

Fortunately, healthcare in Ghana is transitioning to include more technology and communication channels. With substantial telehealth investment injected into rural Ghanaian towns, these communities stand a chance to receive basic health supplies and on-demand medical attention through telehealth methods.

Telemedicine is More Accessible Than In-Person Visits

In response to COVID-19, Ghana’s Ministry of Health proposed to open 94 new hospitals across the country between 2020 to 2021. In a statement addressed to the nation, Ghanaian president Akufo-Addo said that the pandemic exposed “the deficiencies of the healthcare system,” casting blame towards under-investment. So how will the addition of more hospitals benefit areas outside of the country’s municipalities?

Lack of basic healthcare in Ghana stands as a serious issue in the non-urban areas of the country. Nearly half (49 percent) of Ghanaians live in rural communities, and many communities lack a central facility and have a shortage of medical professionals. The Ghana Health Service (GHS) has partnered with various entities to solve this problem on the ground.

For example, Community-Based Health Planning and Services (CHPS) trains volunteers to provide health services in rural communities. Additionally, GHS has partnered with Novatoris Foundation to develop teleconsultant centers. These centers allow community nurses, who usually lack equipment and staff, to speak with urban nurses over the phone when medical urgencies arise, such as childbirth.

Within the last ten years, healthcare in Ghana has seen emerging interest and attention directed toward telehealth. When the first teleconsultant centers opened in 2011, 60 percent of calls were maternity-related, mainly due to the fact that the majority of maternal mortality occurred in rural areas. In effect, telemedicine became an avenue of investment to bridge spatial and temporal gaps for remote Ghanaians.

Vodafone Proves to be a Major Player in Ghanaian Health

Among technologies and assets helping Ghanaians stay informed about their health, the cellular company Vodafone stands out.

The company has partnered with Ghana’s healthcare industry through its philanthropic arm, Vodafone Ghana Foundation. In 2019, the foundation cleared the medical debts of 180 Ghanaian patients who had been discharged yet detained due to outstanding hospital bills. Upon settlement, all 180 former patients were released from detention. In 2018, the company partnered with the central government to monitor epidemics, specifically targeting the Ebola virus, by aggregating heat maps from customers’ GPS movements. They are doing the same with coronavirus today.

In the spring of 2020, as the novel coronavirus moved into Ghana, Vodafone stepped in to dispel misinformation. The Vodafone Healthline Medical Centers, call centers equipped with medical experts, expanded services to include representatives who communicate in a variety of local languages including Ga, Twi, Fante, Ewe and Hausa.

Managing Expectations

Markham and his staffers know of telemedicine services, but they remain skeptical. Cellular signal breaks up where cell towers are not present, and towers can often be 32 kilometers outside of a remote community. In addition, many Ghanaians turn their cell phones off to save battery, since many of them are still powered with AA batteries rather than chargers. Cell phone credits are also considered precious, leading to many people turning their devices off to save unused credits. All these factors could inhibit the ability of telemedicine to improve healthcare in Ghana.

However, Markham feels optimistic about the role that technology can play in providing health services to rural-based Ghanaians. He believes grassroots efforts, such as the Community-Based Health Planning and Services, should continue to expand at the same rate as telehealth and tech-based health initiatives.

– Victoria Colbert
Photo: Empower Playgrounds, Inc.

Poverty in Poland
Poland is a parliamentary republic in Central Europe. The country was a formal satellite state of the Soviet Union until it gained full sovereignty in 1989 after the country’s free election. During the early 1990s, the Polish government implemented the “Shock Therapy,” or Plan Balcerowicza in Polish, program to vitalize the country’s economy. The program succeeded, bringing Poland’s GDP from 65.978 Billion in 1990 to 533.816 Billion in 2008. While this rapid increase in the country’s GDP fluctuated throughout the 2010s, Poland’s economy is still growing. Despite this massive economic growth, poverty in Poland is an issue that demands the Polish government’s attention.

What is Energy Poverty?

Energy poverty is one factor that contributes to the state of poverty in Poland. Energy poverty refers to a situation where a household has difficulty in heating their homes or has limitations in using electrical household appliances because they can’t get access to a stable power grid. While energy poverty is an unfamiliar term to many countries, including in Poland, there are reports that suggest Polish citizens often suffer from it.

The definition of energy poverty can also change depending on if the country suffering from it is a developed country or a developing nation. In developing countries, energy poverty refers to a lack of access to electricity because of the country’s gaps in electrical infrastructures. In developed countries, such as Poland, energy poverty refers to a household’s lack of access to electricity because of their financial limitations. The United Kingdom, which is currently the only country that has an operational definition of energy poverty, states that a household is energy poor if their required energy costs are higher than 10% of its disposable income.

According to the U.K.’s definition, researchers found that 40% of Polish households were energy poor in 2012. Given Poland’s three-month-long severe winter temperatures, which can drop to -32 degrees Celsius (or -4 degrees Fahrenheit), this factor can jeopardize the health of many Polish households that suffer from energy poverty.

Not only can energy poverty cause reduced immunity, elevated incidence of respiratory system diseases and weight gain in children, but it can also have a negative impact on the mental well-being of adults. In extreme situations, fatal cases of hypothermia can also occur. Ryszard, a Polish worker who was interviewed by The World Bank in 2014, stated that the majority of his monthly $500 payment is used to heat his apartment and to buy food for him and his daughter.

The Ups and Downs of Unemployment

Despite Poland’s continuous drop in the unemployment rate, youth unemployment still contributes to the rate of poverty in Poland. Poland’s unemployment rate, which was 10.32% in 2013, sharply dropped to 3.84% in 2018. Eurostat, a statistics website, noted that Poland had the largest decrease in the unemployment rate within the E.U. between 2005 and 2019.

However, Polish youth securing stable, long-term employment is still challenging. According to the World Bank, Poland’s youth unemployment was 25%, which was higher than the national unemployment of 14%.

Even when young people in Poland are able to secure employment, the usually secure temporary contracts that pay little and have no social and economic security. In 2014, when the World Bank article was written, an estimated 27% of employed Poles worked as temporary contracts. These temporary, low-paying jobs leave many households in Poland in danger of poverty.

Helping Hands

The Polish government and many other organizations are working to address the current state of poverty in Poland. Habitat for humanity launched an advocacy project in 2017 to prevent and alleviate energy poverty in Poland. The project aims to alleviate energy poverty in Poland by developing and mobilizing a prevention group that will gather and systemize information about it.

Izodom 2000, a company based in Poland, is building energy-saving houses that can help Polish households save on their heating bills. The Polish government also conducts spending programs that support low-income families. These assistance programs constitute approximately 2% of Poland’s GDP. While the World Bank states that Poland’s multiple social assistance programs are helpful, they added that Poland’s programs could be expanded to mirror that of the programs in Germany and Hungary.

Poverty in Poland has many aspects. From energy poverty to youth unemployment, multiple factors contribute to poverty in Poland. Improving and building energy-efficient housings for Polish families and creating stable jobs for the Polish youth is no small task. However, there are many organizations and people that are facing this challenge head-on. The Polish government conducts multiple social assistance programs and many other nonprofit organizations work to improve the lives of many Polish citizens.

YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

7 Facts About Energy Poverty in BulgariaThe initial and commonly held definition of energy poverty is a lack of access to energy sources; therefore, Bulgaria is free of energy poverty. According to the research organization Our World in Data, 100% of Bulgarians had access to energy as of 2016. However, if we expand the definition of energy poverty to include factors like energy efficiency and access to clean fuels, Bulgaria has a severe energy poverty issue. This article will discuss seven facts about energy poverty in Bulgaria.

Limited Access to Information

Data on energy poverty in Bulgaria is limited. However, a 2018 report by the European Union Energy Poverty Observatory stated that Bulgaria performs worse than the EU average on certain measurements, including the percentage of households that could keep their homes adequately warm in 2017. A 2014 report from the International Association for Energy Economics (IAEE) stated that more than 67% of Bulgarians went without sufficient heat in winter 2008 because they couldn’t afford it. The EU average was 8%.

The IAEE report noted that “specific measures and social policies” for three key factors of energy poverty in Bulgaria are “ineffective.” These include low income, high energy prices and poor-quality buildings because they focus on a limited part of the population with a limited standard of heat. What’s more, the 2019 European Energy Poverty Index by data firm OpenExp ranked Bulgaria last of all EU nations for a set of factors including energy expenditures, winter discomfort, summer discomfort and quality of dwellings. These and other sources delve into the factors behind these rankings and into Bulgaria’s energy poverty issue in general.

7 Facts About Energy Poverty in Bulgaria

  1. Energy poverty has been linked to a state of post-socialist recovery. According to the book “Energy Poverty in Eastern Europe: Hidden Geographies of Deprivation” by Stefan Buzar, energy poverty has emerged across former communist/Soviet Union nations. In fact, half of the modern six nations that partly comprise the communist Eastern Bloc and are now EU members rank in the bottom 10 of the 2019 European Energy Poverty Index.
  2. Incomes are too low even for relatively low energy prices. Even though energy prices are low compared to other EU countries, Bulgarians’ incomes are proportionally low. The IAEE noted 22% of Bulgaria’s population were living in poverty in 2012/2013. That equated to around 1.6 million people. At that time, the nation’s minimum salary was 158 Euros per month, but it had an average salary of 408 per month. As such, based on the U.K.’s definition of fuel poverty, residents spent at least 10% of their household income to heat their homes to an acceptable level of warmth. Typical Bulgarians were fuel poor from at least 1999 through 2012, according to National Statistical Institute data.
  3. The expense issue is also due to inefficient energy use and resources. For one, homes are not well-built for heating. A 2012 report showed the construction of 65% of existing homes occurred before 1990. At least 800,000 residences were prefabricated buildings. The kinds of homes have poor thermal insulation. In Bulgaria, daytime winter temperatures average 32-41 degrees Fahrenheit. Furthermore, electricity accounts for 42% of Bulgarian energy consumption sources, instead of the much cheaper source of gas. This is partly because Bulgaria has an underdeveloped gas supply network.
  4. Residents have protested prices more than once. Protests over high electricity bills erupted in 2013 despite a mild, and thus less expensive, 2012 winter. The government responded by refraining from letting prices increase the next year. However, in 2018, thousands took to streets in several cities to protest high fuel prices.
  5. To save money, Bulgarians have turned to dangerous alternative heating sources to electricity. In addition to protests, Bulgarians fight high electricity expenses by measures that risk their quality of life. They underheat their homes or rely on coal and wood. This causes more air pollution, according to the Palgrave Macmillan book “Energy Demand Challenges in Europe.”
  6. Energy poverty in Bulgaria is widespread. The EU Energy Poverty Observatory reported that “some socio-economic groups are known to be particularly vulnerable to energy poverty.” However, that is not the only factor. Location, which energy carrier the people have access to and the housing situation can all play a part.
  7. The Bulgarian government is making at least some effort. The Energy Efficiency Act created the Bulgarian Energy Efficiency and Renewable Sources Fund (EERSF) to support and finance energy efficiency projects in the country. It hopes to increase renewable energy sources for residence and public buildings. Hydrothermal, geothermal and solar energy are among those eligible to receive funds.

These seven facts about energy poverty in Bulgaria show that it is a real issue despite the country’s World Bank status as an upper-middle-income nation. Too many people can’t afford to properly heat their homes. Due to a lack of access to gas, people must use the more expensive option of electricity or simply underheat their homes. But, there’s hope for the future as government programs exist to offset the problem.

Amanda Ostuni
Photo: Flickr

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