Information and stories on Energy and Electricity

Affordable Energy in Sub-Saharan Africa
For decades, the notion of affordable energy in sub-Saharan Africa has been a pipe dream. The region is extremely poor, with the majority of the population simply unable to pay for the energy that could offer opportunities to raise them out of poverty. This may be changing, however, with recent technological developments offering the potential to turn this dream into a reality.

More than 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to electricity, with estimates suggesting that even by 2040, that figure is expected to remain at more than half a billion. The energy infrastructure across the region is chronically underdeveloped, meaning that even those who do have access to power are unable to rely on it. For instance, in 2013, Tanzanian business owners were suggested to lose 15 percent of their business as a result of the frequent power outages. Issues such as this have led many to believe that the electrification of Africa may be the largest development challenge facing our world.

Despite this, numerous suggestions have been made as to how to tackle the problem. While it has limited natural resources in many areas, sub-Saharan Africa has great potential for renewable energy. The most commonly suggested method of taking advantage of this is through solar power, something that has become more and more appealing as the associated costs have decreased in recent years. This being the case, a number of companies have entered the market, offering solar power as a solution to the energy crisis facing the region.

Off Grid Electric is one of these companies, with operations in Tanzania and Rwanda and soon in the Ivory Coast. At the moment, it powers 125,000 homes, gaining an estimated 10,000 new customers per month, and employs around 1,000 people. Although packages may differ, customers generally receive a solar panel, which will be installed on their roof, and a battery-pack that allows them electricity to power lights and small electronics. For customers it is affordable, with basic packages costing near the same per month as a supply of kerosene would, but with more utility and without the health risks.

Access to this type of energy source can completely change the lives of those who use it. In schools, the power sources offer the possibility of getting computers to assist with learning, while lighting at home allows children to study after dark. Farmers are able to receive accurate weather warnings, allowing them to protect for their livestock and crops. Business owners can earn more, whether through being able to stay open longer or being able to communicate with customers by being able to charge their phones. The opportunities that electricity offers for development appear to be almost limitless.

Due to its low costs and easy installation, solar power would seem to be the way forward in providing affordable energy in sub-Saharan Africa. Off Grid Electric, and similar companies, may not be able to solve the problem on their own; however, the initial progress made is promising. With future active investment from the developed world, electrification of the continent seems more a reality than a dream.

Gavin Callander
Photo: Flickr

Belo Monte Dam
This past April, a Brazilian federal court suspended construction of the Belo Monte Dam in the northern state of Pará. The suspension arose from concerns regarding the protection of the environment and the natural resources of the Amazon. Sanitation works in the city of Altamira must be completed before construction can resume.

Community and Forest Effects 

The dam, which was scheduled to be completed in 2019, would be one of the world’s largest hydropower plants. As of April 2017, 10 turbines are already running, with plans to build 24 in total. The budget for the entire project is 30 billion Reais, or $9.6 billion.

The construction of the Belo Monte dam is a complicated issue. Droughts in southern Brazil led to energy shortages, increasing pressure on the Brazilian government to push forward construction of the dam.

Additionally, the desire to reduce Carbon emissions is a top priority for Brazil. Yet the deforestation and destruction of local communities due to dam construction are also pressing concerns.

The Belo Monte dam complex partially blocks the Xingu River, one of the major Amazon tributaries. The blockage forced the construction of a new channel, which has inadvertently flooded thousands of acres of rain forest. It is reported that many low-lying islands have been submerged and deforestation is occurring as a result.

Hydroelectric Dam Disruption

The construction of the dam disrupted the natural flow of rivers through the rain forest. It also forced many of the local inhabitants, primarily river dwellers and fisherman, to abandon their current lifestyle and relocate to urban areas. The forced relocation and loss of current lifestyles and employments exacerbates the risk of falling into extreme poverty in an already poverty-stricken area.

There is a loss of water supply and fishing stocks in several regions of construction as well as the lack of social support and economic compensation provided for local communities, many of which have indigenous populations. This is a major catalyst for lawsuits filed by the national Indian protection agency (Funai) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Hydroelectric dams, while currently favored not only in Brazil but throughout South America, are just one of several solutions for cleaner energy. Energy options powered by the sun or wind are also potential choices that could provide clean energy and reduce carbon emissions without contributing to deforestation.

As plans for the Belo Monte dam are reworked to better address certain environmental concerns, alternative forms of energy should also be considered as a way to reduce damage caused by hydroelectric dams.

Nicole Toomey
Photo: Flickr


This week, Saudi Arabia launched a renewable energy program that was outlined in late December. Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih announced that between 30 and 50 billion dollars will be invested into the program. Renewable energy in Saudi Arabia is currently somewhat non-existent, but the focus of the program will redirect the country to focus on aspects that will reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.

By 2030, Saudi Arabia aims to produce 70 percent of its power from natural gas and 30 percent from renewable energy. At an energy conference in late December, al-Falih expressed the country’s hope to generate approximately 10 gigawatts from solar and wind power by 2023. By the time the initiative is implemented, if fully executed, the country hopes to harness 700 gigawatts of alternative energy. The program will fund the construction of several wind and solar energy plants throughout the country.

Saudi Arabia is the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (OPEC’s) largest contributor and a top exporter of crude oil. Consequently, Saudis have struggled economically with budget deficits due to oil prices. Demand for power in the country is growing steadily, at about 8 percent annually. The renewable energy program can improve the economy by creating jobs and adding diversity to the country’s source of income.

Aside from economic benefits, Saudi Arabia recognizes the humanitarian benefits of investing in alternative energy sources and the environmental toll that total reliance on oil and gas can take. Renewable energy in Saudi Arabia will help the country meet worldwide sustainability goals and steer away from the exclusive use of crude oil.

Al-Falih has also spoken out about intentions to connect with energy initiatives in Yemen, Jordan and Egypt. Though he did not elaborate, a potential partnership between the countries in the region could be revolutionary for the production of renewable energy in Saudi Arabia and beyond.

Earlier in February, the energy ministry in Saudi Arabia announced the creation of The Renewable Energy Project Development Office to oversee the deployment of clean energy and monitor the progress of the project. The project also aims to direct funding into nuclear energy, which could cause controversy on the international stage in regards to domestic and international security topics.

Although the investment will create jobs in new sectors, funding for the program is said to be coming partially from cuts to welfare programs. Although it is too early in the project to draw any conclusions, there are questions about how these budget cuts will affect the Saudi people.

Renewable energy in Saudi Arabia has the potential to lay groundwork for surrounding nations looking to establish alternative energy programs. This is the hope of the international community as the country commits to reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

Peyton Jacobsen

Photo: Flickr

African Solar Energy
The 22nd session of the United Nations Climate Conference announced a new financial investment plan totaling $4 million. The funding will be allocated among eight companies whose entrepreneurial endeavors aim to provide conduits for the development and accessibility of African solar energy.

Presented by the Scaling Off-Grid Energy: Grand Challenge for Development initiative, the investment reflects goals to increase the accessibility of electric power for households and businesses in Sub-Saharan Africa. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Power Africa, the U.K.’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the Shell Foundation collaborated to found the off-grid energy plan in June 2016. The plan has since become a $36 million initiative with hopes to establish 20 million new conduits for electricity.

Established as a program through the Power Africa initiative, private and public sector collaborators have committed $52 billion to African solar energy development, while over $40 billion in investments are from private sector associates.

According to USAID, 600 million people living in Sub-Saharan Africa live without access to electricity. The ability to utilize such resources is pivotal to an individual’s ability to engage in the global economy and impedes the ability of families to consume modern fuels.

Companies originating in countries such as Uganda, Ghana, Kenya and Zambia received grant funding for demonstrating exceptional responses to providing low-cost options in correlation to traditional methods, attaining meticulous records of success and practical plans to develop effectively proven products to scale.

USAID emphasizes that the sustainable energy efforts will “improve payment and distribution processes”, while also being more cost-efficient for customers of African businesses. Product development goals range from modern technology – such as software that allows for eased methods of payment for electricity use – to the production of “pay-as-you-go” household solar tools. Companies like Village Energy are also establishing training facilities for young men and women to become technicians and manage retail shops to facilitate the development of rural service networks.

Amber Bailey

Photo: Flickr

47 of the World's Poorest Nations Aim to Use Completely Green Energy
A recent U.N. climate change conference in Marrakech, Morocco demonstrated that the multinational fight against rising global temperatures continues, as the event ended with 47 of the world’s poorest nations pledging to transition to 100 percent renewable energy.

The goal was set in place during the conference’s Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), a meeting designed to discuss methods in which nations could meet benchmarks set by the Paris Climate Deal. Haiti, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Malawi, Niger, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guatemala, Honduras, Cambodia, Sudan and many other nations made the commitment to transfer to renewable energy.

The Paris Climate Deal is an agreement reached by 195 nations during the 2015 Paris Climate Conference to limit the average rise in global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Switching to renewable energy sources will allow the world’s poorest nations to avoid the mistakes of more developed nations, also known as “leapfrogging.” Though the term is usually used for economics and business, it describes the ability of parties to avoid the problems plaguing their more developed counterparts by skipping over these problems entirely.

For example, the world’s poorest nations switching to renewable energy sources allows them to fuel economic growth without raising greenhouse gas emissions to dangerously high levels, like countries such as the U.S. have done.

The nations in agreement planned to have 100 percent renewable energy systems in place sometime between 2030 and 2050. Each nation must turn in a detailed plan to reach this goal to the U.N. by 2020.

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions may also help the world’s poorest nations increase water and food security, as some of the nations are part of the Vulnerable Twenty — the group of nations most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

For example, Bangladesh already suffers from flooding and rising sea levels due to its low elevation. Cyclones regularly displace the country’s 156 million people. Though the country had planned to build 24 coal power plants to expand energy access to the half of the population that lives off the grid, the CLF called for Bangladesh to use sustainable energy to meet this demand. Coal power plants will only worsen the catastrophic events Bangladesh experiences due to climate change.

The success of the Paris Climate Deal will hinge largely on monetary contributions from developed nations which agreed to contribute $100 billion to sustainable energy initiatives. The U.S. pledged to contribute $3 billion.

The goals of the climate agreement are put in jeopardy if powerful nations defer or abandon their contributions. So far, the U.S. has only contributed $500,000 of their promised contribution.

Though the U.S. President-elect Donald Trump stated he will cancel the U.S.’s part in the Paris climate agreement, in recent interviews Trump said he will simply keep “an open mind” about the agreement.

Cassie Lipp

Photo: Flickr

Avant Garde Innovations Creates Wind Energy in India
Based on the most recent data available by the World Bank, wind energy in India only comprises 0.4 percent of the total final energy consumption for the nation. Renewable energy calculates higher at approximately 39 percent, but there is still room for improvement for the entire clean energy sector. Hoping to fill some of the voids, Avant Garde Innovations will soon test the market with a newly developed wind turbine.

Avant Garde Innovations (AGI) was founded in January 2015 by two brothers, Arun and Anoop George. Based out of Thiruvananthapuram on the southern tip of the subcontinent, the mission of the organization is “to eliminate energy poverty, reduce dependence on struggling state power grids, and create energy self-sufficiency.” They also place emphasis on affordable, locally operated products. As such, the first move toward this goal was the construction of a windmill prototype intended to eventually replace nonrenewable energy sources throughout India, particularly in households.

AGI’s turbine is unique in its smaller size, producing slightly less energy but at a dramatically lower cost. Right now, competitors offer windmills to develop wind energy in India for about 200,000 rupees per kilowatt, but AGI’s model is only expected to cost 50,000 rupees per kilowatt – a 75 percent reduction in price! Some media sources are even boasting comparisons that a typical Indian family will now be able to install windmills to power their entire homes for less than the price of an iPhone. In terms of power, AGI expects 20 percent capacity utilization in contrast to the 25 percent capacity utilization of larger mills. However, even at this rate, their turbines can produce five units of power every day, which is plenty for the average-sized household.

For the moment, the first AGI turbine has been constructed outside of the Madre De Deus Church in Vettucaud, India where it will undergo its pilot testing phase this January. Once the trial is complete, AGI intends a full launch in the international market during the first quarter of 2017, and investors are already showing interest. The Indian government also aims to formally introduce the design by 2022.

Their updated windmill is not the only reason to find promise in AGI, however. Arun believes the patent-pending design is transferable, which could form the foundation of future projects such as hydro- and tidal turbines, and potentially even an automobile motor. The basic blueprint is also said to require little maintenance, and will still be able to generate power at lower wind speeds than competitors’ offerings.

As a result of their startup success, the organization has already been honored with numerous accolades. To name a few, AGI has been invited to attend exclusive conferences hosted by the U.N. as well as a major energy forum in Silicon Valley, California. Drawing further attention is their commitment to operating on 100 percent clean energy themselves. For the future of wind energy in India, AGI’s business model is a major step on the path toward sustainability.

Zack Machuga

Photo: Flickr

Power Africa Initiative
President Obama’s Power Africa Initiative is looking to solve a monster problem in sub-Saharan Africa, where two out of three people lack access to electricity. Power Africa suggests “ambitious but achievable” goals, including the creation of 60 million new electricity connections and 30,000 megawatts of new and cleaner power.

According to President Barack Obama, “Access to electricity is fundamental to opportunity.” With Power Africa, the U.S. is investing in Africa’s potential. Obama has brought together private and public organizations, political leaders and power generation experts with the goal of improving peoples’ quality of life and stimulating economic growth.

USAID’s goal with the Power Africa Initiative has been “to remove barriers that impede sustainable development.” A recent article in Bloomberg, however, claims that after three years, those barriers are still in place.

Writers Toluse Olorunnipa and Tope Alake cite evidence that Power Africa “has fallen well short of its goals, so far producing less than 5 percent of the new power generation it promised.” They highlight political dysfunction, policy bundling and economic hurdles as major obstacles to progress.

USAID, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy, is aiming to implement policy and regulatory reforms, and the Department of Energy has partnered with the Clean Energy Solutions Center in the Power Africa Initiative to “help governments design and adopt policies and programs that support the deployment of clean energy technologies.”

With over 120 public and private partners, the Power Africa Initiative has the potential to make an enormous impact in the African continent, despite the bleak progress reported.

In September 2016, President Obama argued that progress is being made, citing successes involving “solar power and natural gas in Nigeria; off-grid energy in Tanzania; people in rural Rwanda gaining electricity.”

Obama went on to say that the global community must continue to invest in Africa’s youth in order to build upon the progress that has already been made. It may be that maximizing investment in Africa’s young people will “spur Africa’s energy revolution.”

As President-elect Donald Trump prepares to assume office, his choice of cabinet members is demonstrating a philosophical shift in foreign policy. It is uncertain at this point whether the incoming U.S. administration will continue to support international development projects such as Power Africa.

As long as funding continues, however, the initiative will continue to make an impact.

Tim Devine

Photo: Flickr

SunSaluter: Energy, Water and Jobs Rolled Into One
There are upward of 780 million people in the world who do not have access to clean water. On top of this, an estimated 1.2 billion people lack access to electricity — that is nearly 17 percent of the world’s population. Individuals living under such circumstances suffer chronic exposure to waterborne illnesses, and hundreds of millions more must walk hours each day to collect potable water.

SunSaluter, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to improving energy and water access in the developing world, aims to remedy these issues in a simple and affordable way.

The goal of SunSaluter is to make energy and water more accessible through one simple device. The SunSaluter device itself uses gravity and water, rotating a solar panel throughout the day. The device generates 30 percent more electricity, is 30 times cheaper and is far more durable than motorized solar trackers.

The SunSaluter has been deployed in 16 countries and has impacted nearly 8,000 people worldwide. By boosting solar panel efficiency by 30 percent, fewer solar panels are needed and the overall system costs are reduced by 10-20 percent. This lowering of cost alone has helped the impoverished families eliminate the use of kerosene gas.

How does it work? The SunSaluter enables solar panels to produce energy more consistently through the day, beginning earlier in the morning and lasting later at night. This is critical for rural families who often wake early in the day. It helps decrease the need for batteries to store energy that is usually produced mostly around high noon.

The SunSaluter also contains a water purifier within its system. Each day the device is capable of producing four liters of clean drinking water. By combining both energy and water collection into one simple device, the SunSaluter kills two birds with one stone. It improves consistent usage of the purifier as well, which tends to be the biggest hurdle to overcome for clean water programs.

Consequently, SunSaluter is not just working to help with the lack of energy and water in the developing world. “Our goal is to provide entrepreneurial opportunities for individuals in underdeveloped countries,” Eden Full told Business Insider in a recent interview. “We give them guidance, mentorship, and some funding, and the idea is to spread this technology.”

Currently, the company’s core manufacturing operations are in India. It is looking to move into Malawi as well. SunSaluter and its impact on the developing world have only just begun!

Keaton McCalla

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Senegal
Senegal is a rapidly developing nation in West Africa. Like many developing nations, it is gaining access to lots of new technologies but still lacks many key tools for effective education among other issues.

More specifically, many schools in Senegal do not have electricity. While many technologies exist to foster education that can help to raise people out of poverty, few of these technologies can be used without a stable power source. However, the oil industry is emerging in strength and may be able to help end poverty in Senegal.

According to the International Monetary Fund, Senegal’s economy has been stable and growing at a rate of 6 percent. This is in part due to the development of the country’s oil industry. Oil is one of the world’s most demanded commodities. Despite this fact, the oil resources of Senegal and West Africa are mostly untapped.

Yet, interest in the region is increasing. The Scottish-based company Cairn Energy has stated they plan to spend nearly $70 million exploring projects to drill in Senegal; Australia’s FAR Ltd is considering setting up commercial operations in a basin off of the coast. This basin is speculated to contain at least 200 million barrels worth of oil.

The managing director of FAR’s development plan said that the expansion plan will yield “a world class oil field that can support a commercial development.” FAR has also noted that the costs of operating offshore have decreased by more than 20 percent since 2014. Because poverty in Senegal affects so many citizens, the government must take advantage of their emerging position as a major oil producer for the region.

Senegal’s economy is based largely in the agricultural sector. In addition to the lack of educational technology, poverty in Senegal often stems from agricultural workers who face the threats of drought and climate change.

However, the country benefits from peaceful leadership and one of the most stable democracies on the continent. With this in mind, the burgeoning oil industry may be able to help end poverty in Senegal.

Nathaniel Siegel

Photo: Flickr

GravityLight Glowing on Developing Countries
The GravityLight Foundation developed a gravity-powered LED lamp funded by Siemens to provide energy access in developing countries. The aim is to reach 15,000 people in off-grid areas of developing countries by 2017.

The light harnesses kinetic energy from gravity activated by a 12-kilogram weight. The weight can be made from accessible sources such as a bag of sand or rock. The resulting light lasts for 20-30 minutes, takes three seconds to recharge and is six times brighter than a kerosene lamp.

GravityLight costs approximately $10 and pays for itself over the course of two to three months when the cost of kerosene is removed.

The project is funded by Siemens Stiftung, a German engineering firm that sponsors a competition for sustainable development improvements. The gravity-powered light was chosen as the winner from 800 submissions across 88 countries.

GravityLight was tested in 26 countries with 55 partner organizations. Feedback received during these trials from countries such as Liberia, Guatemala and the Philippines provided invaluable feedback regarding the use of the light and the needs of those living off the grid.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) maintains that 1.2 billion people in developing countries do not have adequate access to safe and affordable lighting. Kerosene is expensive, dangerous and an environmental hazard.

According to the World Bank, kerosene costs 20-30 percent of a family’s income. Approximately $38 billion per year is spent on kerosene, the equivalent of $80 per kilowatt hour for electricity, among the world’s poorest citizens.

A kerosene lamp burning for four hours emits 100 kilograms of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Additionally, inhaled kerosene fumes are the equivalent of 40 cigarettes per day, killing approximately 1.5 million Africans every year.

The GravityLight Foundation intends to locally produce the lamps, creating a market for skilled jobs and contributing to local economies. The foundation is currently testing assembly in Kenya. The next goal is to provide GravityLight to 100,000 people in Indonesia and Peru in 2018.

Dependable lighting is taken for granted in developed countries. Technology such as GravityLight can change social dynamics in developing countries by allowing children to complete homework after dark, allowing adults to work longer and allowing families and friends to come together for interaction and other activities.

Light, even for just a few additional hours per day, can change lives and create opportunities in developing countries.

Mandy Otis

Photo: Flickr