Renewable Energy in IcelandAs the world continues to modernize, there are still several regions with no access to energy and no chance for development. Finding solutions for the inadequate and unequal distribution of energy is more urgent than ever. Amid a global pandemic, 25% of hospitals in “Cambodia, Myanmar, Nepal, Kenya, Ethiopia and Niger” have no electricity. Electricity is essential in fighting this crisis (or any other). Taking a closer look at the struggles of energy poverty, renewable energy in Iceland provides an example of a nation that overcame these issues.

The Importance of Energy

The United Nations recognizes the importance of energy for development with SDG 7: “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.” Reliable energy systems benefit all sectors, including businesses, medicine, education and agriculture. Inadequate electricity creates obstacles in situations that citizens of developed countries take for granted. For example, without electricity, clinics cannot store vaccines and students cannot do homework at night. SDG 7 states that affordable and clean energy is necessary to raise any developing nation out of poverty.

Energy Poverty and Off-Grid Energy Systems

The World Economic Forum defines energy poverty as conditions that “lack of adequate, affordable, reliable, quality, safe and environmentally sound energy services to support development.” Currently, 13% of the world’s population (one billion people) lack access to electricity. The vast majority live in Africa and South Asia while 57% of the sub-Saharan African population (600 million people) live without electricity. Any form of sustainable development requires access to energy. Nations suffering from energy poverty cannot afford the energy that could propel them out of poverty. This locks them in the cycle of poverty.

Geography stands as one of SDG 7’s biggest obstacles. The countries in the most need typically cannot access grid electricity. In developing countries, expanding the electricity grid is neither financially nor logistically realistic. These rural areas need off-grid or stand-alone solutions to their energy problems. Renewable energy can provide off-grid energy and “give developing countries the opportunity to erase the electricity gap without passing through a phase of fossil fuels, that would be hard to sustain in terms of cost, natural resources and global environment.”

The Success Story of Iceland

At the beginning of the 20th century, Iceland was ranked as a developing country. In 1970, the largest share of Iceland’s energy consumption was derived from imported fossil fuels and the United Nations Development Program labeled the nation as a developing country. As of 2018, Iceland was the fifth most prosperous nation in Europe, acquires nearly 100% of consumed electricity from renewable energy.

Iceland has always been very spread out, making an interconnected energy grid too costly. This combined with fluctuating and unsustainable oil prices drove the Icelandic government to seek alternative energy systems. Through government funding and incentive programs, geothermal and hydropower energy systems took over the Icelandic economy.

The link between energy and poverty reduction is evident and undeniable. Renewable energy in Iceland transformed an impoverished, developing nation, dependent on imported coal and local peat into a prosperous, green energy leader. Many people believe the green energy movement is exclusive to wealthy nations, businesses and individuals. This is understandable considering the price of electric cars and solar panels. However, Iceland proves this idea wrong. Iceland completely transformed into a green economy as a small, developing nation.

One might argue that Iceland is a unique and unrepeatable example because of its proximity to renewable resources; however, this is far from the truth. Iceland overcame the two biggest obstacles that every energy-poor nation faces: poor funding and excessive off-grid populations. Iceland’s success does not provide a one-size-fits-all solution for every nation facing an energy crisis; however, developing countries around the world should gain hope and inspiration from renewable energy in Iceland.

Ella LeRoy
Photo: Flickr

Renewable energy in New ZealandNew Zealand, an island country located in the South Pacific Ocean, has an economy propelled by agriculture, manufacturing, tourism and geothermal energy resources. The government sees renewable energy as the future, and in accordance, it has taken major steps to expand renewable energy in New Zealand.

5 Facts About Renewable Energy in New Zealand

  1. New Zealand has a history of being innovators in energy. The first hydroelectric power plant in the Southern Hemisphere was built in New Zealand in 1885. Since then, the country has been a leader in renewable energy and was the second country to ever use geothermal energy for hydrogen production.
  2. Roughly 84% of the electricity in New Zealand is produced from renewable sources. This large amount of renewable energy production ranks the country second in the world for energy security. Hydro, geothermal, wind and bioenergy are among the largest producers of electricity. New Zealand’s volcanic and tectonic features give the country the ability to utilize geothermal energy. For this reason, geothermal energy represents more than half of the renewable energy in New Zealand. An estimated one in five people living in New Zealand has to sacrifice powering their homes in order to pay for other essentials because of the expensive energy bill that comes from non-renewable energy sources. When the power grid in a country comes increasingly from renewable energy, those living in poverty are placed in a more favorable situation because the high cost of fossil fuels no longer burdens people.
  3. Renewable energy will play a part in the country’s COVID-19 economic recovery plan. The Labour Party-led government in New Zealand sees the pandemic as an opportunity to invest in more renewables in order to create more jobs. The Labour Party plans to develop more high-skill jobs that it believes will immediately boost the economy and also help the country prepare for the future. It is estimated that renewable energy could create almost NZ$165 trillion in global GDP gains by 2050. Such a large economic comeback would significantly benefit those living in poverty, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic hurts the impoverished the most.
  4. The government is spending NZ$30 million on investigating pumped hydro storage. This investment expects to bolster New Zealand’s broader renewable energy goals as well as create thousands of skilled and semi-skilled jobs. The result of the investigation will potentially create a more affordable solution to the problem of hydropower storage during dry years when hydro lakes are low. This large investment signals the country’s dedication to renewable energy with plans to mitigate much of the risk of supply and demand.
  5. New Zealand’s goal is to have 100% renewable energy by 2030. Additionally, the country hopes to have net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The proponents of the plan believe this will cause a massive increase in job growth and reduce electricity bills, which will benefit New Zealanders living in poverty.

Overall, New Zealand is making significant strides in its renewable energy sector in order to address the issue of energy poverty that impacts the most vulnerable people in the country.

Stephen Illes
Photo: Flickr

Renewable Energy in Sweden
Sweden is one of the world-leading countries in the transition to renewable energy. Sweden plans to operate in all sectors with 100% renewable energy power generation by 2040 and reduce greenhouse emissions to zero by 2045. In 2018, 68% of Sweden’s electricity derived from the renewable energy source hydro energy. Today, Sweden has been able to introduce innovation from energy companies that make the renewable energy market a booming capital venture with an aim to full-coverage renewable energy operations.

What is Renewable Energy?

Often known as clean energy, renewable energy is a sustainable, climate-driven and innovative alternative to fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal. Renewable energy consists of natural wind, sun, water and nuclear elements that can produce electricity through transmissions. Heating, lights and factory machines often use the cost-effective option of fossil fuels. However, the limited quantity and damaging dispositions of fossil fuels have caused environmental concerns for Swedish and international energy companies. These concerns have resulted in a rising demand for resources and data about renewable energies.

Renewable Energy Sources in Sweden

Renewable energies are the fastest-growing source of electricity in Sweden with more than 50% of the current electricity production adding up to 89,306 gigawatt-hours. Although nuclear energy has had contributing factors in Sweden with 42% of the country’s 2018 electricity production, nuclear usage has sparked many concerns since 1980.

Hydro energy is the leading renewable energy source in Sweden. It powers most electricity productions with 61,605 GWh in 2018, while wind energy is the second efficient renewable energy source with more than 20 TWh in 2019. Forests, the largest biofuel in Sweden, regulate the country’s bioenergy. These forests cover 63% of Swedish land. Furthermore, solar energy could surge from 400 GWh in 2018 to 1.7 TWh in 2022.

The International Renewable Energy Agency stated that “The country’s power system is almost entirely decarbonized already, based on extensive hydropower resources and nuclear power, as well as district heating fuelled by biomass.” Sweden has successfully integrated energy powers with its current climate objectives, including the taxation of carbon dioxide emissions on factories and other sectors.

Citizens Approve of Renewable Power

Sweden has been increasingly operating on hydro-driven electricity since the first lightbulb in 1882. As citizens comfortably adapt to the country’s rich supply of moving water and biomass, transportation and electricity bills are also becoming a great benefit. The Borgen Project spoke with Stockholm-based Health Administration student Ajoub Junior about whether complete renewable energy by 2040 is possible for Sweden. Junior stated, “I do believe it because I’ve seen great improvements all over around Sweden this few years.” As electricity companies transition to 100% renewable energy sources, many customers are noticing cheaper bills and changes in climate policies. Junior said, “In 10 to 20 years from now, I hope this country is free from fossil fuels.”

The Contribution of Competitive Markets

Vattenfall AB, Fortum Oyj, Swedish Biofuels AB, General Electric Company and RES Group are Sweden’s top five leading renewable energy companies to date, making the market “moderately consolidated.”

With a competitive market in a ready-to-go country, a 100% sustainable energy operation by 2040 is certainly an attainable goal. Although experts believe challenges in policy and system operations will likely compromise the prediction, achieving a 100% renewable power system is a possible goal with a promising future for Sweden’s climate.

Ayesha Swaray
Photo: Flickr

Hydropower Development in BhutanBhutan is the world’s first, and only, carbon-negative country thanks to its focus on clean energy and environmental protection. Countries that are defined as carbon-negative absorb more carbon than they produce, rendering the net amount released negative. This is partially due to the over 70% of tree-covered land that absorbs carbon and Bhutan’s strict environmental sustainability initiatives. One form of clean energy that has allowed Bhutan to achieve this status is hydropower. Hydropower is also the country’s major export and main economic driver.

Economic Benefits

Hydropower has existed as a major sector in Bhutan’s economy since the 2000s, as it accounts for 27% of Bhutan’s revenue and about 14% of its GDP. In fact, Bhutan produces so much energy from hydropower that about 80% of its surplus power is exported to India.

The hydropower potential in the South Asian country of 765,000 people is found in Bhutan’s many powerful rivers in the Himalayan Mountains. There are at least five operational hydropower plants generating more than 1,600 megawatts (MW) of power. However, this is only a fraction of what the country can generate. Bhutan’s hydropower potential is estimated at 30,000 MW, and of that amount, 23,760 MW is considered economically feasible.

Recent Developments

In order to reach the hydropower potential goal, more plants are in the work. Punatsangchu I and II, Nikachu and Khonlongchu are four such plants that will provide an additional 2,000 MW. This would double the amount of hydropower already produced in Bhutan. The projects will be complete within the next two years and strengthen past successes. The Mangdechhu plant (producing 720 MW) was completed in 2019 and is the most cost-effective power plant in South Asia.

However, Bhutan’s terrain is difficult to traverse when constructing hydropower plants, so completing an economically feasible project is rare. The proposed 2,585 MW Sankosh plant received grant money from a partnership between Bhutan and India in 2017 and will be the largest hydropower project in the region. The project will cost $1.65 billion, which is an ambitious and expensive project for a small country with a GDP of $2.3 billion. The project indicates the country’s push to continue hydropower development in Bhutan. Although Sankosh is still under discussion, the massive project could help Bhutan’s economy and lead to job growth once the dam begins construction. Hydropower projects usually involve hundreds of millions of dollars, yet the revenue earned by exporting surplus power covers the high cost in the long run.

Gross National Happiness

Although hydropower development in Bhutan appears to help its economy, the excess power is also used to help those who lack the means to afford electricity. Free electricity is provided to rural farmers, which also prevents the need to use wood and gasoline for fuel. Bhutan has had a 99% electricity rate since 2017, which is a big jump from 61%  in 2006. More than 95% of Bhutan’s electricity comes from hydropower. The country’s focus on clean energy is why it’s a carbon sink; trees absorb all the carbon produced by its people.

Bhutan’s economic development since 1972 is based on Gross National Happiness (GNH), a unique political initiative that guides the country’s development in every area. The four pillars of Gross National Happiness include environmental conservation, good governance, preservation and promotion of culture and sustainable and equitable socio-economic development. This initiative helped guide hydropower development in Bhutan while also saving the surrounding environment. For example, as part of GNH, at least 67% of the trees in the country must remain according to Bhutan’s constitution. This helps prevent deforestation while keeping carbon out of the air. The country has reached only about two percent of its hydropower potential, yet hydropower development in Bhutan continues to grow.

– Lucas Schmidt

Photo: Flickr

Hydroelectric Power in Kyrgyzstan
The increasing demand for centralized electrical power has put growing pressure on the government to modernize Kyrgyzstan’s hydroelectric capacity. 1“’s government has sanctioned the expansion of its energy infrastructure to mitigate extreme poverty and improve access to fundamental necessities in rural communities. As a focal point of its export economy, hydroelectric power modules supply 76 percent of its electricity. With lowering water inflow and deteriorating infrastructure, Kyrgyzstan faces a unique problem in mitigating and expanding its hydroelectric import/export industry while balancing the rampant poverty and income inequality among rural and urban communities. The surrounding Kyrgyzstan economy relies mostly on agricultural cultivations and the cotton export industry. With the increased development of modules of hydroelectric power in Kyrgyzstan, the controlled water supply offers the potential for massive growth in the agricultural industry. As a renewable energy source, hydroelectric energy provides the potential to control the rate at which the water flows and of the amount used, which is crucial to energy production.

Socioeconomic Implications

Traditional agricultural methods that rural communities commonly practice create the potential for extensive economic growth through the implementation of an updated hydroelectric system. Through a controlled system, the irrigation of various crops is more efficient with a renewable energy source that has less pollution. With substantial economic implications, hydroelectric power in Kyrgyzstan encourages more commercial enterprises to migrate to agrarian areas where people cannot access basic public services like running water and education as easily.

With 32 percent under the poverty line, the need for a centralized hydroelectrical grid can have vast socioeconomic implications, with an improved water supply system and improved access to basic health necessities. With Kyrgyzstan’s main hydroelectric infrastructure outdated and in need of a sufficient upgrade the inconsistency attached to this older hydroelectric module creates insecurity in basic necessities. With access to basic social programs tentative on ideal weather conditions in urban communities, the expansion of clean renewable energy sources can potentially create an influx of economic prosperity and improve energy efficiency throughout the country.

A focused effort toward improving consistent energy output will allow the quality of life to improve and give the impoverished a promising start toward economic mobility with increasing hydroelectric power in Kyrgyzstan. Reducing toxic chemicals put into the air from traditional cooking/heating methods in rural communities can allow room for a more comprehensive hydropower infrastructure. Rural communities on average tend to use more fossil fuels with more than 60 percent using those perishables due to inconsistencies within hydroelectric distribution and no updated grid system that would make those other methods obsolete.

Government Legislation

Since its independence, Kyrgyzstan established a network of standard practice in energy distribution with a comprehensive legislative agenda. People are underutilizing the potential for an increased hydroelectric presence as a larger kinetic energy source with geographically crucial bodies of water producing 5-8 billion kW·h per year and the country only using 3 percent. A more consistent hydroelectric grid is necessary for Kyrgyzstan’s economy to boost its agricultural sector. The government introduced the National Energy Program that assists in renovating abandoned hydropower plants and initiates constructing new ones. Additionally, government sectors have committed to actively work on the cultivation of Kyrgyzstan’s massive untapped energy sector. Along with a growing private sector and updated technology to improve the essential food and health infrastructures hydroelectric power in Kyrgyzstan will increase the capacity of its economy.

Adam Townsend
Photo: Flickr