Solar Energy is Transforming Africa
Photovoltaics panels, more commonly referred to as solar panels, are often cited as the best way to decarbonize the world’s energy grids and reduce emissions. According to MIT, the price per solar cell has decreased by 99% since 1980. These incredibly low costs have now unlocked the use of solar panels for the world’s poorest continent, Africa, with incredibly positive ramifications for the local environments of its citizens and the international effort to reduce emissions. Beyond emissions, however, cheap solar energy also improves the prospects for poor and rural Africans to access electricity, opening new opportunities to enhance standards of living and reduce poverty rates. With the majority of the world’s poor now located in sub-Saharan Africa, these cheap panels, along with the innovative thinking of African communities across the continent, have created new use cases for solar energy that are increasing water security, improving rural access to electricity and increasing economic resilience for Africa’s developing economies. Here are three ways solar energy is transforming Africa.

3 Ways Solar Energy is Transforming Africa

  1. Kenya’s Solar Desalination Plant: Kenya, a former British colony located in eastern Africa, is home to a population of approximately 50 million people. With an annual population growth rate of 2.2%, Kenya has one of the fastest-growing populations in the world and is set to see a population of 85 million by 2050, according to the World Bank. While a significant amount of Kenya’s population growth will be in urban developments, only 28% of Kenya’s population is urban today, meaning that Kenya’s government will need to find ways to provide water and energy infrastructure for its rural communities for decades to come. One small Kenyan fishing village known as Kiunga, home to about 3,500 individuals, has found a solution. Partnering with an American NGO known as GivePower, this village uses solar panels to desalinate ocean water, with the capacity to deliver water to 35,000 residents, 10 times the village’s current population. Today, over 300 million sub-Saharan Africans struggle with water insecurity, often leading to conflict and instability that causes poverty, according to global NGO The Water Project. Developments that can reduce such insecurities can go a long way in improving the future for Africa’s poor. While much more progress needs to occur on this front, this village of Kiunga is providing a template for villages across Africa to harness the power of the sun for water security.
  2. Tanzania’s Rural Mini-Grids: Tanzania, a neighbor of Kenya and a former British and German colony, is home to about 58 million people. Tanzania is East Africa’s largest nation and is home to its largest population and its lowest population density. With its urban population constituting only 35.2% of the country, Tanzania faces the challenge of providing electricity to rural communities far from its city centers. Solar power is uniquely capable of delivering power to these rural communities, and Tanzania has embraced new economic models called “mini-grids” in order to deliver this power. While traditional fossil fuel power plants rely on extensive supply chains and infrastructure in order to deliver electricity, in part due to the weight of the fuels, solar panels generate power on-site, directly from the sun. These “mini-grids” allow small Tanzanian villages to afford electricity for the first time, creating opportunities for rural education and improving security, ultimately contributing to the reduction of rural poverty in Tanzania. Although the current situation is poor, with more than 70% of Tanzanians lacking access to electricity, by 2040, 140 million Africans – including many in Tanzania – will get electricity from these mini-grids, according to the World Resources Institute.
  3. Morocco’s Mega Solar Plant: The North African nation of Morocco is becoming an increasingly important economic power in Africa, with a growth rate of nearly 4.1%. Despite this progress, however, Morocco’s rural poverty rate remains high at 19%. Though one cannot fault Morocco for prioritizing its economy over its environment, given its current poverty rate, Morocco has committed to ramping up its solar energy production, seeking a 50% renewable energy capacity by 2030. The benefits of this development, however, are more than environmental, as Morocco is now a net energy exporter to Europe, decreasing its domestic electricity costs and enhancing its economic resilience, all while improving its economic and political relationships with Europe. Thus, Morocco has used solar energy to not only maintain its commitments to emissions reductions but also as a tool to diversify its economy, allowing the nation to not only lift its citizens from poverty but to sustain its citizen’s incomes in good times and bad.

Poverty remains a significant problem in Africa, with more than half of the world’s deeply impoverished peoples living in sub-Saharan Africa. However, through remarkably low costs and a variety of unique use cases across Africa, solar panels are now increasingly capable of delivering energy, water security and economic growth. From LED-powered lights in rural African schools to increasingly reliable electricity for African small businesses, solar energy is transforming Africa by contributing to its economic rise and modernizing its rural life. And, with solar-powered desalination moving from fiction to reality, water security is increasingly possible across the continent, leading to greater community stability and resilience. All of these factors play an essential role in decreasing poverty rates and improving the quality of life on Earth’s poorest continent. Sunlight, it seems, will brighten Africa’s nights in the future.

– Saarthak Madan
Photo: UN Multimedia

Project LoonInnovative 21st-century technologies have motivated NGOs and tech companies around the world to develop apps and other online ways for people in developing areas to stay connected. Information provided on the internet or transmitted through SMS assists people worldwide with acquiring resources and employing techniques to advance education, healthcare and agriculture. Unfortunately, some areas remain untouched by the benefits of staying connected because their remoteness prevents internet availability — at least until now. Google’s sister company, Loon, is rising to the challenge of providing internet to remote populations in Africa and recovering populations affected by natural disasters using solar-powered 4G balloons with Project Loon.

Project Loon

Project Loon, which became one of Google’s “moonshot projects” in 2011, began launching balloons by 2013 and partnered with Telkom Kenya in 2018. Following this deal, the solar-powered balloons were tested on 35,000 customers covering over 50,000 square kilometers. The goal was to provide adequate connectivity to underserved and disadvantaged communities, beginning with Kenya. Loon executives stress that providing creative, low-cost solutions is the greatest way to help people, particularly those in rural areas where connectivity could be life-changing. Their passion stems from an intense desire to “challenge the status quo” by “[relying] on knowledge and empathy to make wise decisions.” Initial findings suggest that Loon balloons cover up to 100 times more area than typical cell towers and deliver wifi strong enough for video callings, surfing the web, watching YouTube videos, downloading apps and messaging other users.

How it Works

Loon 4G balloons are essentially flying cell phone towers but they are much lighter and more durable. They have the ability to withstand temperatures below -90°C and to remain steady amid violent winds. After being launched in the United States and traveling through wind currents across the world, the balloons begin their 100-day stays in Kenyan airspace, providing internet download speeds up to 18.9 megabits per second in partnership with AT&T.

Although the balloons heavily depend on wind currents as guides, they also have specially designed, state of the art Flight Systems that consist of three main parts: the balloon envelope, bus and payload. The envelope, made of polyethylene plastic, forms what people typically recognize as a balloon. The bus holds solar panels where the battery is charged, the altitude control system that navigates winds using GPS and the safety gear (parachute) for landing. The payload is the internet provider that houses the LTE antenna and the gimbals which liaise between the balloon and the ground. The balloons also depend on lift gas to loft them 20 kilometers into the air and to assist during the descent alongside local air traffic controllers. Loon specifically designates predetermined landing zones where the balloons are either recycled or prepared for reuse by on-site recovery teams.

After the balloons are collected, they are closely analyzed for holes and tears, allowing examiners to alter their designs and make the balloons stronger if necessary.

Disaster Preparedness

Resilient balloons can go a long way in addressing disaster preparedness and this also presents a significant opportunity for Project Loon to make a difference. Natural disasters often wipe out infrastructure, leaving populations disconnected when communication is more vital than ever. Because Loon balloons fly at such high altitudes and do not require activation within close proximity, there is greater potential for connectivity.

For example, Loon’s balloons were deployed during an earthquake in Peru where they covered nearly 40,000 square miles and were used following a devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico. The company’s role in connecting families in the wake of disaster “is a lifeline” for those affected and can have a life-changing global impact.

Loon Chief Executive Alastair Westgarth has expressed concern about the effects of COVID-19 on disconnected populations. Because the virus has obstructed normalcy, connectivity could be the only way to continue education in developing nations. There are numerous agriculture, healthcare and education resources that, with internet connection, can preserve progression, one of Loon’s immediate goals.

Future Flights

To date, Loon has launched 1,750 4G balloons that have spent more than 1 million hours in the stratosphere and connected over 35,000 users, with the most successful balloon remaining aloft for 300 days and counting. The ultimate goal is to maintain a permanent 35-member fleet over eastern Africa in the hope of connecting and empowering developing nations.

– Natalie Clark
Photo: Flickr

Accessible Energy in TogoTogo is a country in western Africa that is bordered by Ghana, Benin and Burkina Faso. Togo’s government is currently working on increasing the rate of access to electricity for its citizens. The country has already made significant progress, advancing from 17% in 2000 to 35% in 2016. However, there are large disparities in electricity access between urban and rural areas. Electricity rates are 87% in urban areas and only 7% in rural areas. Currently, one million households in Togo are without power.

Togo’s government has set ambitious goals to achieve universal access to electricity by 2030. The country cites three main obstacles to this goal. First, Togo has limited experience with independent power producers. Second, there are technical issues concerning the aging infrastructure. Finally, Togo does not have a plan to integrate on-grid and off-grid connection goals yet.

Initiatives Promoting Rural Accessible Energy in Togo

A large part of Togo’s energy project targets improving access to energy in rural areas. Many rural communities are not reachable by the standard electricity grid. Therefore, the government is looking into various off-grid options to support the three million people who are not reachable by the grid.

In 2017, Togo launched an initiative called “CIZO.” This initiative seeks to increase rural electrification to 40% by the year 2022. In order to do this, the government is working with off-grid companies to offer solar power to rural communities. The goal is to build 300 small solar plants across the country and distribute solar kits to 500,000 households. So far, 35,000 households have received solar kits.

Looking Towards a Renewable Future

In addition to solar energy, Togo is invested in creating other sources of renewable and accessible energy for its communities. The country has a goal of reaching 50% energy from renewable sources.

In July 2020, Togo announced that it will begin the construction of a new biogas reference laboratory at the West African Centre for Scientific Services on Climate Change (WASCAL) at the University of Lomé. As stated by Komi Agboka, director of the WASCAL, “the future laboratory will enable Togo’s enormous biomass potential to be further exploited through the development of research capacity and the demonstration of innovative biogas production technologies.”

The construction of this laboratory is part of the larger Programme for the Development of Renewable Energy in Togo (Pdert) which launched on February 27, 2019. This project will assess Togo’s renewable energy resources, develop the storage and distribution of clean energy, and find economically sustainable models.

Togo’s government emphasis on finding renewable energy sources has garnered international attention. Togo’s Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Agency recently won third place in the Ashden 2020 Award for its renewable energy development policy. This is an award given by the British organization Ashden and seeks to highlight countries that show “systemic innovation for energy access.”

Accessible energy in Togo will take many significant steps to achieve, but with the persistence and commitment of both private energy providers and academic institutions, this goal is realistic. Togo’s renewable energy initiatives show that even without the large budgets of developed countries, it is still possible to make meaningful progress towards sustainable and accessible energy.

– Antoinette Fang
Photo: Flickr

Energy Poverty in Greece
Greece is addressing energy poverty and its variety of adverse effects on households using innovative approaches. With 58% of Greek households identified as lacking efficient energy, this issue has significantly impacted the overall physical and mental well-being of its citizens. Cardiac issues, respiratory illnesses and mental health stressors due to unaffordable energy bills demonstrate the need for innovations in poverty eradication in Greece.

Energy Poverty Among Vulnerable Populations

According to the European Union Energy Poverty Observatory, energy poverty impacts 50 to 125 million people within the European Union population. In fact, in Greece, 90% of households lack sufficient energy. The inability to obtain adequate energy to power appliances, electricity and air conditioning systems demonstrates the true impact of insufficient energy access. Due to low incomes, poor-quality housing and high energy prices, innovations in poverty eradication in Greece are critical.

Innovative Energy Initiatives Create Jobs

Since its transition to renewable energy in the 1990s, Greece has faced unforeseen obstacles due to government legislation, business regulations, investor subsidies and funding deficits. Since 2010, modifications of such initiatives have led to progressive developments and growth opportunities.

Some expect that innovations eradicating poverty in Greece through renewable energy could boost employment and economic opportunities. In fact, projections have determined that job openings including electro-mechanics, construction and energy farm installation could contribute to 50% of these potential opportunities. Job generation will increase household income and minimize the inability to afford adequate energy by reducing unemployment and creating growth.

Global Organizations Addressing Energy Poverty

Greece has demonstrated its commitment to resolving energy poverty among vulnerable households. In 2015, the state formed a partnership with Greenspan Greece to develop the Solarize Greece Campaign, which promotes renewable energy in an effort to alleviate energy poverty. This initiative involved the installation of photovoltaic systems in low-income family households. By 2018, Greece was able to increase renewable energy production to 20% of the gross energy consumption.

With hydroelectricity, wind power or photovoltaic sources generating 29% of energy, the country exhibits dedication to developing renewable energy technologies to combat environmental challenges.

Innovations in Renewable Energy Production

Plans to increase renewable energy sources in Greece are in the works. Using renewable energy production, the country will continue to progress in its fight to eradicate poverty. The Ministry of the Environment and Energy of Greece proposal, for instance, will include two production units and three reservoirs to expend energy from renewable sources. This system is expected to enhance pumping production and efficiency, performing 70.1% faster over the next 50 years.

Energy reform within Greece must remain a priority to rectify the social, economic and environmental destruction that energy poverty causes. Through the development of innovative energy technologies, Greece is making strides to achieve 60% of renewable energy sources by 2030. These actions will reduce the use of harmful coal technologies used to generate electricity by shifting to solar energy and pumped storage. Given the benefits of renewable energy in reducing household energy poverty, Greece is becoming a role model for other nations in protecting its people.

– Brandi Hale
Photo: Flickr

Renewable Energy in ColombiaIn the past decade, the nation of Colombia has made great changes to the way that it obtains energy. These changes have allowed the country to become more reliant on its abundant renewable water resources. Today, Columbia relies heavily on hydroelectric power; so much so that it accounts for 65% of its annual energy consumption. During 2010, Colombia saw higher growth than any other country in the use of renewable energy. This is because of the transition to hydropower, with renewable energy generation at 2,543 MW. However, though hydroelectric power accounts for much of the energy production in the country, Columbia also has an abundance of other potential sources, including solar power, biomass and wind. This abundance of renewable energy in Colombia may become necessary in the years to come.

Wind Energy

Wind energy opportunities are extremely abundant in Colombia. Many experts have come to the conclusion that wind energy could sustain Colombia’s current total consumption. One area of Colombia, called La Guajira, is known for its extremely high wind speeds. This region on its own has the potential to provide an estimated capacity of 21GW. Colombia’s first wind farm is actually located in this area. It is possible that more could be installed to increase the potential of wind energy.

Biomass

Biomass is another potential source of renewable energy in Columbia. Due to the large agricultural sector within the nation, there are large amounts of agricultural waste that could be used to generate energy. For example, coffee is the largest agricultural export in Colombia, providing one-fourth of agricultural jobs within Colombia. Bananas and rice are important agricultural products as well;  overall, about 2 million metric tons of bananas and 1.8 million of rice are produced annually. These staple crops create large amounts of agricultural waste, which gives Columbia the potential to create biomass projects that could convert that waste into energy.

The Negatives of Reliance on Hydropower

Renewable energy in Colombia is clearly abundant. Yet, the country is extremely reliant on mostly hydropower. Part of the reason for this preference is due to a 1990s privatization act in Colombia, which led to about 50% of the hydropower production converting to private ownership. However, the use of alternate renewable energy might prove essential to the future of Colombia’s energy.

According to Energy Transition, Colombia’s reliance on hydropower could have negative outcomes. Just like other forms of energy, hydropower can have an invasive effect on the environment: dams that are used to generate hydropower can detrimentally impact various ecosystems, and even cause floods – such as the Hidroituango hydropower plant, which majorly flooded in 2018 and severely impacted the surrounding environment.

About 27% of people in Colombia live in poverty, and that number grows to 36% for those living in more rural locations. Additionally, impoverished and developing nations are often more negatively impacted by natural disasters than other nations. These statistics place impoverished Colombians at a great disadvantage if hydropower triggers any other large-scale environmental event; thus, diversification of energy resources is necessary.

While hydropower has done some good, renewable energy in Colombia still has the potential to be expanded. It can protect important ecosystems and prevent those living in poverty from natural disasters that can be prevented. Renewable energy in Colombia can accomplish this all while paving the way for increased reliance on clean energy.

Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Unsplash

Renewable energy in Africa
The Clean Technology Hub is a center for innovative energy technologies based in Abuja, Nigeria. On top of conducting research and development for new renewable energy solutions in Africa — the Clean Technology Hub also acts as a start-up incubator for entrepreneurs committed to clean energy and as a consultant for businesses aiming to become more energy-efficient.

The Energy-Poverty Gap In Africa

Through advancing the field of clean energy solutions, the Clean Technology Hub hopes to bolster sustainable economic growth across Africa. More than 600 million people in Africa are currently living in energy-poverty and the continent’s population only continues to grow. As the world becomes increasingly reliant on technology, the need for energy access in Africa also continues to grow.

The core issue is not simply access to electricity but more specifically, access to reliable and uninterrupted electricity. Several million Nigerians only have access to an average of four hours of electricity per day. According to Clean Technology Hub, 93 million people in Nigeria do not have access to electricity at all. Rural areas of Nigeria face an exacerbated problem as over 60% of communities in these locations do not have access to energy. Of course, this issue is not unique to Nigeria. The Clean Technology Hub hopes to accelerate energy access across the entire continent through renewable and sustainable methods.

The Intersection of Renewable Energy & Technological Development

One of the Clean Technology Hub’s projects, Tech Meets Renewable Energy, intends to address the problem of renewable energy solutions in Africa. This initiative aims to bring energy access to remote areas in Africa through a collaborative effort between sustainable energy and technology. Clean energy providers need technological solutions to monitor consumption and develop transparent payment methods in order to make renewable energy as accessible as possible.

As a part of the Tech Meets Renewable Energy project, the Clean Technology Hub created a program to support entrepreneurs with innovative ideas on how to further develop the renewable energy supply chain. The issue of the energy supply chain can seriously hinder energy access in hard-to-access locations. This is only one of many ways that the Clean Technology Hub has created a space for innovators in the industry who are committed to advancing clean energy solutions.

Gender and Energy Access

Ifeoma N. Malo, the co-founder and CEO of the Clean Technology Hub, is a young Nigerian woman who is pioneering the world of renewable energy solutions in Africa. She believes that energy-poverty is an issue that affects almost every sector in Africa. In an interview with ESI Africa, she discussed the kidnapping of 265 young girls in 2014, who were taken from their schools in Chibok during a study period. She explains that part of “the reason they were kidnapped with ease and in such high numbers is that they did not have electricity,” making it impossible for anyone to get help.

Thus, gender-based development is an important aspect of Clean Technology Hub’s work. Malo believes that female-founded and led Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) are crucial to the future of renewable energy solutions in Africa. The Clean Technology Hub has a number of programs that empower African women and provide their businesses with cost-efficient, clean energy solutions. Over time, the MSME project has not only accelerated the adoption of renewable energy but sustained thousands of women-owned small businesses.

Looking Ahead

The future that the Clean Technology Hub envisions is the expansion and proliferation of renewable energy solutions in Africa, alongside sustainable economic growth and development. Although there is still a long way to go in closing the energy-poverty gap in Africa, the Clean Technology Hub’s important work has greatly accelerated the adoption of clean, renewable energy solutions in Africa.

Leina Gabra
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

Renewable Energy in ArgentinaOver the past decade, various countries within Latin America have begun to develop their renewable energy sector, including Argentina, which has been able to flourish under the use of this new technology. Abundant winds are present in the Patagonia region located in the south, while in the northwest there is constant sunshine. The use of renewable energy in Argentina is as beneficial for economic reasons as it is for environmental reasons. It creates new jobs and attracts foreign investment, both of which are beneficial to those living in poverty.

Economic Independence

Argentina has employed renewable energy in Argentina for several reasons. For one, the nation wants to be economically independent, and not rely on imports from other countries to meet their energy needs. Argentina struggled through default of $100 billion in 2001, losing 75% of its currency value. In 2005, energy subsidies grew from 1.5% to 12% within only a few years, sharply increasing government spending. Low investment in the domestic energy sector also made Argentina dependent on importing oil from other countries. In order to diversify its energy sector and remove its independence, Argentina sought out its own abundant natural and renewable resources.

Argentina has also made the transition to renewable energy because the country possesses many regions that are adaptable to solar and wind farming. Helpfully, the areas of Argentina with the most wind and solar energy potential are sparsely populated, meaning that the installation of wind turbines and solar panels are not as invasive to people’s homes or property.

Wind Energy

Many of the most powerful winds in Argentina can be found in the Patagonia region, located near the Argentina-Chile border. Argentina’s largest wind farm, called the Madryn Wind Farm, is located in this region. It has the capacity to produce 987,000 MW of energy per year. The wind farm became operational in 2019 and is home to 62 wind turbines, each 117 meters high.

Solar Energy

Many, but not all, of Argentina’s solar panels can be found on farms in the province of Entre Rios. Some of the farmers in this province raise rice and are reliant on water pumps to water their crops. Previously, these farmers had often gone out of business because they could not afford the fuel to power these necessary pumps; with the installation of solar panels, however, farmers can now rely on cheaper solar energy for power. This is an especially important development, considering that 13% of Argentina’s GDP comes from agriculture. The installation of solar panels has helped farmers keep their livelihoods and contribute to national economic growth.

Solar panels have also contributed to safety in the Puna Highlands of Argentina. A village located in the highlands, called San Francisco, used to be difficult to traverse at night. But thanks to the installation of 40 solar panels that power LED lights within the village after sunset, that is no longer the case. The village can now be easily spotted at night, and travelers no longer have to wait until sunrise to leave the village.

These examples are just a few ways in which renewable energy in Argentina can benefit people living in poverty and improve the economy. This technology must be pursued and perfected in years to come to guarantee further progress.

Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Wikimedia

Renewable Energy in the Caribbean
For years, nations around the world have derived electricity from centralized energy grids. These grids often originate from powerful political hubs such as the USA or the Middle East and incur substantial transportation costs due to the large geographic areas which they serve. These centralized grids are a product of industrial-era fossil fuel energy, harvested at specific locations such as coal mines or oil fields. The high delivery costs incurred by centralized grids create systemic fragility, especially when faced with natural disasters that can force the shutdown of large swaths of energy grids and prevent the delivery of resources.

The multiple island nations populating the Caribbean have depended on these imported energy sources for decades, often leading to high energy transportation costs and long blackout periods during natural disasters. Thus, the Caribbean has become a critical region for developing sustainable microgrids that generate and disseminate localized electricity harvested from abundant renewable resources such as sunlight and wind. Microgrids allow regions to be self-sufficient when it comes to electricity consumption and thus gain increased resilience when it comes to recovering from disasters such as hurricanes, making renewable energy in the Caribbean an attractive option.

The Rocky Mountain Institute

One significant company operating within the Caribbean is the Rocky Mountain Institute. The institute is a U.S.-based organization focused on sustainability research and aid. The company has many partnerships and projects in progress in the Caribbean, including building multiple solar panel arrays, microgrids generators and wind turbines throughout the islands.

The Rocky Mountain Institute primarily advises governments and utility providers on how to best build and maintain sustainable energy infrastructure. Throughout the Caribbean islands, the institute oversees projects ranging from microgrid development and electricity storage to sustainable streetlights and floating solar arrays.

Economic Impact

The shift to sustainable energy and decentralized microgrid architecture presents not only an environmental opportunity but an economic one as well. The rapid expansion of renewable infrastructure in the Caribbean can add a projected 1,750 jobs to the economy over five years by focusing on building solar and wind energy generators and refitting traditional cars into electric cars. The Rocky Mountain Institute is also projecting 80% energy cost savings with the implementation of energy-efficient updates to current buildings.

The introduction of sustainable energy can also lower electricity prices significantly within this region. The Caribbean Development Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank have given $71.5 million in grants, distributed by the Sustainable Energy Facility, to eastern Caribbean countries in order to expand the geothermal infrastructure within the islands. Eastern Caribbean countries currently have an average electricity price of $0.34 per kilowatt-hour (for those using 100 kWh or less per month) with the highest prices existing in Grenada at $0.42 and the cheapest prices seen in St. Lucia at $0.34 per month.

Conclusion

The introduction of renewable energy in the Caribbean is increasing competition in regional electricity markets and driving down prices. The regional investments in renewable energy in the Caribbean, driven by the organizations described above, act to stimulate job creation and increase economic independence by generating energy cost savings, expanding local energy production and developing greater resilience to natural disasters by way of sustainable microgrids. With further adoption of this technology, the Caribbean could continue its strides toward sustainability.

Ian Hawthorne
Photo: Unsplash

renewable energy in NicaraguaLocated in Central America, between Honduras to the north, and Costa Rica to the south lies Nicaragua. Over the past few years, the country has taken steps to further its already growing renewable energy sector. In 2015 alone, the country was able to produce 54% of its electricity from renewable energy sources. Growth in this sector is notable and is expected to continue.

The Emergence of Renewable Energy in Nicaragua

Nicaragua’s government has turned to renewable energy for a few key reasons. One is the country’s natural abundance of renewable resources. Nicaragua experiences powerful winds and large amounts of sunlight on a regular basis. The country is also home to 19 volcanoes—a reliable source of geothermic heat.

The second reason for turning to renewable energy resources is to become energy independent. Nicaragua itself does not produce oil. As a result, Nicaragua has historically relied on imports of fossil fuel resources. While the country still imports foreign oil, the increased production of renewable energy, like geothermal energy from Nicaragua’s volcanoes, has reduced that dependency.

These two reasons have led Nicaragua to increase its consumption of renewable resources over the past few years. Much of the renewable energy that is produced in Nicaragua is sugarcane biofuel, which accounts for 33.2% of the renewable energy sector. The second most used form of renewable energy is geothermal, which comes in at 24.6%, followed by wind energy at 22.5%. The least used forms of renewable energy are solar energy at 0.5% and hydroelectric energy at 0.25%. As the percentages show, Nicaragua is using more renewable energy leading to a diversification of its energy sector. Nicaragua also has the potential to expand the amount of renewable energy produced, particularly from wind. Wind alone produces over 1,000 megawatts.

Benefits of Renewable Energy in Nicaragua

Nicaragua is an extremely poor country with high poverty rates, especially in rural areas. Fortunately, renewable energy has the potential to help the impoverished people of Nicaragua and provide a model for other impoverished nations.

People who live in poverty tend to have a harder time gaining access to electricity because of their inability to afford it. Some forms of renewable energy are becoming more affordable than fossil fuels. Take geothermal energy for example—the second largest form of renewable energy in Nicaragua. This form of energy is 80% cheaper than fossil fuels. Solar energy is on its way to becoming cheaper than fossil fuels as well. While installation of the technology needed to produce renewable energy is initially expensive, once installed, it lowers the cost and increases the accessibility of electricity for impoverished people.

Nicaragua is continuing to develop its renewable energy sector. The reward of this action will be a cleaner environment and cheaper electricity for its impoverished citizens.

– Jacob E. Lee 
Photo: Wikimedia