Information and stories on Energy and Electricity

Energy Poverty
Energy poverty is an issue that is little known by people around the world. Many people assume that poverty only means lacking money or food, but it also means cooking and living with very primitive energy sources, which could be even deadlier than malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS. If nothing is done by 2030 about the energy poverty crisis, 4,000 people could die each day of the toxic smoke and fires from primitive, unsafe stoves. Also, there are a few surprising facts about energy poverty that many people may not know.

1. There has been a tremendous amount of progress in delivering safe energy to people who need it, but it makes little difference. From 1990 to 2010, 1.7 billion gained access to electricity, and an additional 1.6 billion gained cleaner cooking fuels. But because the population grew by 1.6 billion during those years, there were still billions without safe energy.

2. It’s the quickly-developing countries that have the biggest energy problem. India is the fastest country to get her people access to electricity, and China has the most efficient energy on the planet, yet both countries have millions of people without electricity and other forms of safe energy.

3. About 3.5 million people each year die from indoor pollution caused by the smoke when cooking on wood and biomass cookstoves. Cookstove smoke is considered by some to be the largest environmental threat because it kills more than malaria (1.2 million) and HIV/AIDS (1.5 million) each year.

4. Countries with the most energy have people with the least. Nigeria produces the highest quantity of oil in Africa, yet it has the second highest number of people without safe energy in the world (behind India).

5. Renewable resources are currently not enough to provide safe energy across the world. The UN’s Sustainable Energy For All programs rely on creating more energy from renewable sources, such as solar and wind, to provide energy without polluting the earth, but renewable energy only accounts for less than 1% of the world’s energy consumption.

Katie Brockman

Source National Geographic, National Geographic


4 million lives are lost each year to household air pollution. This means that annually, a population roughly the size of Los Angeles dies as a consequence of traditional cooking methods still practiced by poverty stricken families of the global south. In an attempt to raise awareness of the need for the adequate power grids necessary to ameliorate the toxic effects of indoor air pollution, policymakers are calling for increased funding towards universal energy access.

Researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria recently published a study showing that an annual investment of between 65 to 86 billion dollars a year for the next 17 years would allow for universal energy access. Why is universal energy access the solution to indoor air pollution? In order to reduce fatalities by up to 1.8 million by 2030, clean combusting cooking fuels and electric ovens must be made available –via greater energy investment – to poverty stricken areas.

Regarding universal energy access, IIASA researcher Dr. Shonali Pachauri remarked that, “The scale of investment required is small from a global perspective, though it will require additional financing for nations that are least likely to have access to sources of finances.”

Ingenious forecasting models generated from the study show that an investment of 750 to 1000 billion dollars over the next 20 years – or 3 to 4% of current energy investments – would facilitate universal energy access. Furthermore, through these investments, a policy of fuel subsidies, new stoves, and improved access to electricity would all serve to dramatically reduce the casualties of indoor air pollution.

By enacting a policy of universal energy access now, future generations of poverty stricken families can enjoy the safety of cooking without the carcinogenic side effects of indoor air pollution. Dr. Pachauri optimistically notes that achieving this goal will result in signicant health benefits.

Brian Turner
Source: Science Daily
Photo: Building A Smarter Planet

Powering Communities Is Empowering Women
More than 2.3 billion people around the world live without stable electricity or without electricity completely. To combat this, residents of impoverished communities use kerosene lamps. These lamps are not only harsh on the environment but also contribute to a huge amount of fires and burns among users. In Nepal, women are responsible for finding the kerosene and using these oftentimes dangerous lamps.

To tackle the problem of the pollution these lamps cause, the damage afflicted to the female users as well as the problem of helping disenfranchised women, Empower Generation, has created the WakaWaka light – a solar-powered LED light. This light not only eliminates the use of kerosene lamps, but WakaWaka lights are also sold exclusively by women. Nepali women are given microloans by Empower Generation to establish a small business and sell the WakaWaka lights. In a year, most women have made enough money to pay off the loan and are equipped with a business of their own.

Empower Generation is a nonprofit started by Bennett Cohen and his wife Anya Cherneff. Each entrepreneur had a different vision in which the two were eventually able to mold into one solution. Shortly after creating this union of ideas they created a civil union and were married. Now, they provide clean energy to impoverished communities and work together to improve living conditions in developing countries while simultaneously empowering women.

– Pete Grapentien

Source: Earth Techling

The Link Between the Artificial Leaf and Development
For roughly three billion of the world’s population, access to traditional forms of energy is a luxury afforded to a privileged few. However, increased scientific research focused on finding “personalized” forms of energy production aimed at alleviating energy constraints in remote populations has resulted in amazing technological breakthroughs. Of these exciting new innovations, none has more potential in global poverty reduction than that of the artificial leaf and development.

Made of little more than a thin piece of silicone, the artificial leaf is coated with a self-healing substance that is able to produce a chemical reaction under certain conditions. The artificial leaf is able to utilize water and sunlight – not unlike the photosynthetic reactions of a real leaf – to produce enough energy to power a 100-watt light bulb for up to 24 hours. Furthermore, the artificial leaf has the unique ability to use dirty water as a means of energy production, a benefit considered instrumental in rural areas with little available drinking water. In regards to the artificial leaf and development, Harvard professor Daniel G. Nocera remarked that “They are a kind of ‘living catalyst.’ This is an important innovation that eases one of the concerns about the initial use of the leaf in developing countries and other remote areas.”

Scientific breakthroughs that open up exciting new energy possibilities such as artificial leaf and development are a reason to be optimistic in the fight against global poverty. In regards to the energy benefits of the artificial leaf, Nocera stated that “We’re interested in making lots of inexpensive units that may not be the most efficient, but that gets the job done. It’s kind of like going from huge mainframe computers to a personal laptop. This is personalized energy.”

Brian Turner

Source: Science Daily
Photo: The Guardian

Ask anyone who lives within a major metropolitan area to pick their favorite food truck cuisine and you’ll get answers that vary from Kobe beef sliders to Korean BBQ tacos. The recent surge in food truck popularity – thanks in part to Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race as well as a greater interest in reasonably priced culinary creations – has led to scores of artistically painted trucks patrolling city centers in search of hungry office workers and curious pedestrians. But what effect has the food truck phenomenon had on in promoting eco-friendly business models and renewable energy usage? Surprisingly quite a bit, as the following list describes 3 ways food trucks encourage sustainable business models.

1. Less energy consumption – When looking at the amount of energy required to run a traditional sit-down restaurant, the overall net energy expenditure is staggering. From the power used to light the business, the air conditioning and/or heating, hot lamps, stovetops, and dishwashers; the underlying business model of restaurants promotes wasteful energy usage. Unlike restaurants, food trucks encourage sustainable business models by their almost negligible use of fossil fuels required to move them from one location to another, which can be further reduced by their ability to convert to biodiesel, making them even more environmentally responsible.

2. Locally sourced produce – Another way that food trucks encourage sustainable business models is through their efforts in using locally grown fruits and vegetables in their recipes. The amount of energy needed for both the air and ground transport of fruits and vegetable grown out of season is huge, and serves as an enabler of continued energy dependence and fossil fuel waste. By using local growers, co-ops, and farmers, food trucks are able to promote the farm to fork business model of delicious seasonal produce.

3. Low start-up costs – The extremely high costs associated with operating, staffing, and running a restaurant is often prohibitive to local entrepreneurship and economic opportunity. Not surprisingly, food trucks encourage sustainable business models by enabling a wider cross section of the community the opportunity to own and operate their own food truck, which can serve as a form of poverty reduction for many families. And by opening up the market for increased local investment and small business owners, many communities can benefit greatly from the eco-friendly food truck business model.

Food truck business could become a sustainable model in developing countries whose local cuisines can be utilized to create income without incurring the high establishment costs required for restaurants.

Brian Turner

Source: Mother Nature Network
Photo: Daily Northwestern

Wonderbag: An Energy-Saving Cooking Method
The Wonderbag is an invention that reduces energy use and cooking time, and can thereby save money and free time for activities other than cooking for its users. It is designed primarily to benefit poor women who spend much of their time preparing food. The Wonderbag was developed by Sarah Collins, who has worked in Africa in environmental conservation and eco-tourism. She released the Wonderbag in South Africa in 2008 and plans to extend its availability to 15 other countries including Nigeria, Rwanda, and Kenya, by 2015.

The Wonderbag is very simple to use. You simply prepare a meal such as stew or curry, bring it to a boil on the stovetop, then seal the pot or pan in the Wonderbag for a few hours. The bag insulates the food, allowing it to continue cooking unattended. This not only saves carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere, but also saves families money on fuel. In South Africa, where half the population lives in poverty, even a small reduction in fuel usage results in substantial monetary savings. The Wonderbag can reduce an average South African family’s fuel need by up to 30 percent.

The Wonderbag is not a charity. The business sells the bags for around $45 but some are subsidized for those unable to pay the full amount. Carbon credits earned from greenhouse gas reductions, as well as a deal with sustainability-focused global manufacturer Unilever, account for the subsidies.

While the Wonderbag certainly saves time, money, and fuel over the long run, it remains to be seen whether the invention will empower women to become active in other ways. If women are able to enjoy more freedom, leisure time, and pursue self-empowering activities outside of the home as a result of using the Wonderbag, then the bag will truly succeed at reducing poverty.

– Kat Henrichs

Source: The Guardian

Harvard University Professor Daniel Nocera has finally perfected the solar panel leaf that he began trying to construct several years ago at MIT. This new technology harvests solar energy in a unique way and has become a more practical way for people living in harsh conditions to gain access to electricity.

Nocera’s invention addresses the main problems with solar panels which are their high price, complexity and inability to produce power at any time. This leaves normal solar panels impractical for the developing world in many ways.

Nocera’s invention differs from a normal solar panel in that it breaks down solar energy similarly to how a plant photosynthesizes. In fact, the solar panel is touted to be ten times more efficient than the average leaf. Nocera’s artificial leaf breaks down solar energy into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is then held in a fuel cell and can be used on demand. Due to film build up, the initial design called for purified water to be used, which is rare in developing countries and rendered the invention impractical for impoverished communities.

However, Norcera recently developed a fix for this seemingly impossible problem. The innovators created a mechanism in the leaf in which a catalyst driving the chemical reaction breaks down. This provides a surface that is inhospitable for the film to develop.

With this new development, Nocera predicts that his invention will be widely used in developing nations as a cheap and sustainable way to create useable electricity.

– Pete Grapentien

Source: Knovel
Photo: Wired

Australian crowdfunding site, ChipIn, is being used to raise money to provide rural Indian slums with solar powered lights. ChipIn has joined forces with Pollinate Energy, an NGO dedicated to providing sustainable and renewable energy sources to rid India of energy poverty. Pollinate Energy’s goal is to crowdsource funds to support the purchase of five franchises that will sell solar lamp kits for tent slums in Bangalore, India.

Pollinate Energy’s goal is to provide the community members with a month-long training program, initial hardware, and continuing support systems to ensure long-term success – as opposed to simply providing members of the community with solar lamps.

Crowdfunding has rapidly gained in popularity in recent years, and has become an efficient way to fund renewable energy projects in supporting energy-poor communities in developing countries. Pollinate Energy says that the funding is needed, as they found nearly “3,400 families without power in a 6-mile radius.” Information released by the government backs up these numbers, with a recent report citing that 1 out of every 6 urban Indian lives in a slum, a majority of which are not even connected to the power grid at all.

Christina Kindlon

Source: Clean Technica

REwiRE Brings Electricity to 67 Million
Rural Electrification with Renewable Energy (REwiRE) has taken the multi-level task of financing, developing and managing renewable and sustainable energy power grids in emerging markets. In this type of setting, once a company is on the ground in a foreign country, many unforeseen challenges present themselves.

REwiRE has chosen Indonesia, where 67 million people are without electricity, as the best country for the business. Indonesia presents almost the perfect situation for a startup such as REwiRE. The archipelago landscape has made fuel shipments to the country’s 18,000 islands very costly leaving some communities without power completely. However, this provides the perfect context for smaller scale power grids which can provide the communities of Indonesia with much needed and affordable electricity.

Faced with a new culture, diverse landscape, and unfamiliar legal system, REwiRE has teamed up with Ibeka, an NGO which has been helping REwiRE get accustomed to local culture and other challenges.

Providing electricity to impoverished communities is one of the most important building blocks to creating an infrastructure that can pull a developing country into the developed world. By contributing this tantamount element to Indonesia’s diverse landscape REwiRE sets the stage for more future development.

-Pete Grapentien
Source: Social Capital Markets

Largest Global Anti-Poverty Organization

BRAC assists “138 million of the poorest people in nine countries in Asia and Africa,” yet few people have ever heard of the global anti-poverty organization. BRAC began as the Bangladesh Rehabilitation Assistance Committee but has expanded to multiple countries.  Though BRAC is no longer an acronym, it has become a synonym for progress.

The organization works to alleviate poverty through empowerment. It is the largest global anti-poverty organization. BRAC provides opportunities for self-improvement, such as self-employment and financial aid. Its economic programs created 8.5 million self-employment opportunities, and BRAC has issued over $5 billion in micro-loans.

Education is key to mitigating poverty in future generations. The organization created over 66,000 schools to meet the needs of primary and pre-primary children. To date, the schools have graduated over 6.1 million students.

Furthermore, the organization itself employs over 125,000 people in Asia and Africa. Many of the employees are first time job holders, and BRAC teaches them necessary skills.  “As a job-creator and employer of scale and diversity, we teach people the basics of customer service, and how to be productive employees,” said Susan Davis, President and CEO, BRAC USA.

BRAC engages diasporas for economic and social development. The organization realizes the value of local people.  Instead of Americans instructing people on how to improve their communities, the organization starts by training people from the country in need.  After successfully completing the program, trainers return home with new skill sets.  These individuals communicate their success stories and encourage others to strive for better lives.

One of BRAC’s unique strengths involves creating new markets.  The organization trains 100,000 health and other promoters to achieve self-employment.  Promoters work with “legal services (property rights), poultry and livestock services, and energy services.”  The jobs vary based on the specific needs of the communities.  Each position interacts with people to teach vital subjects, such as agriculture, family planning, and disease prevention.

The organization “has remained relatively unknown in the West…because it developed on the local level in the poorest, most remote communities of Bangladesh.”  It originated in communities and developed gradually.  Fazle Hasan Abed created BRAC “when he was overwhelmed by the sight of death and extreme poverty among refugees returning to Bangladesh after the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh.” He fled the corporate life and employed all of his resources to launch BRAC.  Today, his vision has improved the lives of millions of people.  Talk about a visionary.

Whitney M. Wyszynski

Source: Fast Company