Information and stories on Energy and Electricity

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 $65.9 billion in 1990 to $533.6 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 cannot get access to a stable power grid. While energy poverty is an unfamiliar term to many countries, including 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 its 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 the World Bank interviewed 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, they 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 on 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 expand 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 housing 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 Bulgaria
The 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 the winter of 2008 because they could not 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 is 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 links with 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 in comparison with other EU countries, Bulgarians’ incomes are proportionally low. The IAEE noted that 22% of Bulgaria’s population was 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 Euros 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 for electricity. In addition to protests, Bulgarians fight against 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 cannot 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. However, hope exists 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

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