Renewable Energy in China
In June 2017, the world witnessed a feat in the energy industry unlike any other. For an entire week, the five million citizens in the Qinghai Province of north-western China relied entirely on renewable energy. According to state media, the week-long run, organized by China’s State Grid Corporation, illustrated the potential of renewable energy in China as well as the rest of the world.

June’s event is an emblem of the increasing presence of renewable energy in China. The government announced that it plans on spending $360 billion on clean energy investments by 2020. This will offset the detrimental and life-threatening pollution, as well as push forward its economy by creating an estimated 13 million new jobs. Numbers released by Greenpeace suggest that one wind turbine was installed every hour in 2015.

Increasingly, China and renewable energy are becoming more intertwined. As an energy behemoth, China’s mass manufacturing of solar panels made widespread, household renewable energy more of a reality. Responsible for manufacturing four out of five solar modules installed presently, China made solar energy cost-competitive against fossil fuel energy.

Pitting China against other nations, its accomplishments become even more glaring. In 2016 alone, China added 35 gigawatts of solar generation, which is almost equal to Germany’s entire capacity. Meanwhile, solar power in the U.S. is not nearly as productive.

Notably, China is the largest consumer of coal consumption responsible for half of global usage. Since domestic coal miners generate 70 percent of its electricity, the Chinese government has strong incentives to continue developing and investing in renewable energy. Domestically, scientists say that China’s pollution, caused by the mass-use of fossil fuels, accounts for 1.1 million deaths a year. Its pledge to the 2014 Paris climate agreement has also been an international push towards more effectively incorporating renewable energies into its state infrastructure.

Particularly venerable is China’s efforts to develop solar panels and applications for renewable energies that can survive in environmentally diverse urban and rural areas. This will make renewable energy viable in varying landscapes around the world.

Have China and renewable energy become the pillars of the future of sustainability? Only time will tell as other nations lean toward incorporating renewable energies to compete against China’s growing market hegemony. China’s remarkable journey towards sustainable future has been an exciting one to watch, but it is far from over.

Sydney Nam

Photo: Flickr

The African Renewable Energy Fund (AREF) was created in March 2014. The US and Denmark committed $100 million dollars to the fund, which was created to diversify Africa’s energy portfolio through funding and providing technical support for renewable energy projects.

The fund invests in hydro, wind, geothermal, solar, biomass and waste gas projects that connect to the greater African energy grid or local energy grids. Berkeley Energy manages AREF and has successfully doubled the initial investment, reaching an operational budget of $200 million. This was made possible through multi-lateral partnerships and investments from the African Development Bank (AfDB), African Biofuel and Renewable Energy Company (ABREC), Nederlandse Financierings-Maatschappij voor Ontwikkelingslanden N.V. (FMO), the Calvert Foundation and many others.

In the past few years, the Sustainable Energy Fund for Africa, (SEFA) has committed one million dollars to Green Mini-Grids in Gambia, one million dollars to a community-owned hydropower project in Kenya and $870,000 to Tanzania’s Renewable Energy Investment Facility. In addition, they funded the first-ever Biomass Gasification Project in Uganda.

Access to energy is arguably the only true equalizing catalyst for development. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), there is a direct correlation between the amount of energy used per capita and the average life expectancy in a country. As energy consumption increases, life expectancy rates increase in turn.

There is currently a race to implement clean energy in Africa among development contractors and development banks. This is in order to raise the quality of life without adding greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Every year, 5.5 million people die prematurely from air pollution-related illnesses. If Africa diversifies its energy portfolio at this early stage of energy infrastructure development by installing renewable energy technologies instead of traditional coal-fired power plants, it could save millions of lives on the continent from pollution-related deaths, and continue to benefit economically from its carbon credit cap and trade practices.

Josh Ward

Photo: Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peyton Jacobsen

Photo: Flickr

Renewable Energy in China
Environmentally-friendly sources of renewable energy have been championed for years not only for their benefits to the environment but also in terms of long-term cost-effectiveness and population health. China is particularly known for its commitment to clean energy, which is evidenced by its vast usage of solar energy and hydropower fueled resources.

Despite its usage of clean energy, China is heavily reliant on coal-powered activities. Recently, an analysis published by The Guardian outlined the effect of building “coal power plants in China” — the plants contribute to environmental pollution and exacerbate poverty. The unexpected effect of coal power plants is primarily explained by their inability to reach individuals in remote, rural areas and the fact that poor households often have insufficient access to electricity.

It is worth noting that despite increasing amounts of clean energy in China, the country has very high carbon dioxide emission rates. Significant carbon dioxide emissions can accelerate the effect of global warming. Global warming has undesirable effects on global poverty by increasing the frequency of radical weather changes, which can have a disproportionate effect on poorly built homes and farming prospects. A report by the World Bank suggests that an additional 100 million people can be afflicted by poverty by the year 2030, mainly as a consequence of climate change.

Rising carbon dioxide emissions have also been linked with numerous health risks. Carbon dioxide released from coal combustion can increase the risk of premature deaths due to air pollution. Through increased formation of ozone in the atmosphere, individuals are predisposed to conditions such as emphysema and cardiovascular disease, which can severely impair their quality of life.

In areas that are distant from mainstream sources of electricity, it is more pragmatic to build independent sources of renewable energy. Another important feature that characterizes developing countries is high unemployment rates and these can be addressed to some extent by the establishment of local renewable energy providers. Recently, it was estimated that approximately 8.1 million individuals globally are employed by the renewable energy industry.

With the multitude of benefits that renewable energy offers, what makes it so difficult for China to transition to a society that is completely reliant on clean energy? With coal comprising approximately 70 percent of China’s energy reserves, it is logistically difficult for the country to completely switch to renewable energy as this would cause a dramatic rise in unemployment. The costs of building new hydropower plants, solar powered systems and wind turbines also need to be factored.

In summary, the benefits of renewable energy sources outweigh the drawbacks by a significant margin. The objective to increase clean energy in China can be fulfilled by financial planning of involved costs, a thorough cost-benefit analysis of renewable energy and greater investment in sources of energy that facilitate a reduction in harmful carbon emissions.

Tanvi Ambulkar

Photo: Flickr

According to Sri Mulyani Indrawati, Managing Director of the World Bank, energy poverty implies that “poor people are the least likely to have access to power, and they are more likely to remain poor if they stay unconnected.” The key to solving energy poverty likely lies in the choice of power, with renewable resources being both the cheaper and environmentally cleaner option.

Misconceptions of Renewable Energy

The term renewable energy often conjures up images of developed, wealthy nations experimenting with different resources while using the most modern, up-to-date technology. However, renewable energy is now spreading to the farthest corners of the earth, achieving goals of environmental and economic sustainability. Renewable energy is often thought of as a luxury, but in some parts of the world, it has become a necessary way of life.

According to World Bank data, a large number of poor countries rank as some of the top users for renewable energy. Joining the ranks of eco-friendly Albania, Paraguay and Iceland are Kenya, Zambia, Mozambique and many other African countries. Falling at number 16, three-quarters of Kenya’s electricity production is derived from renewable resources, especially hydropower. In fact, developed countries, in general, lagged behind poorer countries in their use of renewable resources.

Renewable Resources: Budget and Environmentally Friendly

Utilizing renewable resources to create energy is not only environmentally friendly but also budget-friendly for many communities. The U.S. based nonprofit EarthSpark recently set up a solar microgrid in Haiti, which is an affordable energy solution for homes and businesses. Microgrid users pay for the service in advance, ensuring that customers only use the energy that they are able to afford.

Another benefit of renewable energy is that new technology often brings along new employment opportunities. In Haiti, 109 entrepreneurs were trained to work with and market microgrid technologies.

Countries still bypassing the usage of renewable resources for coal need to realize that solving energy poverty requires, as Huffington Post writer Edward Cavanough notes, the “pragmatic use of local and sustainable energy sources to meet immediate and long-term demand while fostering sustainable growth.” Renewable resources are the energy of the future, and it’s in the world’s best fiscal and environmental interest to utilize them.

Carrie Robinson

Photo: Flickr

Energy poverty
Energy poverty is a global issue. Access to energy, especially in developing areas, is severely lacking. Globally, an estimated 1.2 billion people have absolutely no access to electricity, and an additional 2.7 billion rely on the use of traditional biomass to cook.

Burning traditional biomass, which includes wood, agricultural by-products and dung, causes respiratory diseases that kill over 3.5 million annually, which is twice the amount of deaths caused by malaria every year.

Solving the problem of energy poverty is central to the goal of eliminating global poverty, but there is an extensive and politically-charged debate on the best way to approach solutions.

Tensions can run high in renewable sources such as hydro, solar and wind energy versus fossil fuels such as coal and oil. The potential role of nuclear power is also a significant consideration in the mix. Even beyond issues of energy sources, questions remain about whether energy generation should be largely centralized, or be more locally distributed?

This aspect of the question was highlighted in a recent debate held by the Brookings Institute. Ted Nordhaus is the co-founder and Research Director of the Breakthrough institute that is in favor of a more centralized model of energy development.

Nordhaus pointed out that in the past no country has had universal access to energy without the majority of the population moving out of agriculture and into cities, pointing out that growth in off-farm employment is crucial to this development.

In response, Daniel Kamme, Director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at UC Berkley described the numerous technology innovations such as micro-grids and improved batteries that make a more distributed energy model more viable.

He emphasized that both centralized and distributed grids can coexist, and that rejection of smaller grids in favor of larger centralized ones is “to bet on the past, not bet on the future.”

A centralized model is more in line with coal-fired power plants and other fossil-fuel reliant methods, while a more dispersed approach has a higher reliance on renewable resources.

Proponents of fossil fuels such as Dr. Robert Bezdek, president of the consulting firm MISI, argue that the tried-and-true method of using coal is a much more reliable way to solve energy poverty, and that better scrubbing technology has improved the cleanliness of coal so that it is more sustainable.

Opponents of this viewpoint argue that this perception is an antiquated, one-size-fits-all model, and neglects to consider the level of innovation that exists now in contrast to the industrial revolution.

It is true according to World Bank data that least developed countries on average use renewable sources for 40.8 percent of their power generation, which is about twice as much as high-income countries.

Overall, the correct approach to solving energy poverty will continue to be debated until a solution is found. The answer to energy poverty must be sufficient to provide energy for both personal and commercial use in a sustainable manner.

Adam Gonzalez

Photo: Pixabay

KenGen Africa Energy Wind FarmKenGen is Kenya’s leading electric power generation company, producing about 80 percent of electricity consumed in the country. The company utilizes various sources to generate electricity, including hydro, wind, thermal and geothermal energy.

Last August, KenGen won two awards at the prestigious East African Power Industry Awards gala in Nairobi when the company was voted best in East Africa in the category of Excellence in Power Generation and was given the Outstanding Clean Power Project Award. Both awards are in recognition of the 280MW Olkaria Geothermal Expansion Project, according to the Aug. 28, 2015 KenGen press release.

“The project has helped the country save billions each month by displacing an equivalent amount of thermal electricity generation that use costly fossil fuels in favor of the much cheaper electricity from geothermal,” the press release states.

The judges who gave the award to KenGen said the geothermal power project was one of the largest in the world, with Kenya among the top 10 world leaders in geothermal energy. KenGen has contributed significantly to bringing down the cost of power in Kenya by directly offsetting thermal-based generation.

Geothermal energy comes from heat at the core of the earth. According to Clean Energy Ideas, “The earth’s core temperature is believed to be anywhere between 6000°C and 6500°C based on new research that came to light in 2013.” Previously, scientists believed the earth’s core to be somewhere around 5000°C.

“This intense heat is absorbed by the different layers of the earth, helping to heat our planet,” the website says. Geothermal power then refers to the electricity that can be generated from geothermal energy.

According to Conserve Energy Future, a website focused on climate change and alternative energy sources, geothermal power has advantages over other forms of energy. There can be significant cost savings, a reduced reliance on fossil fuels, no pollution and the potential for job creation.

In 2015, Kenya was rated by Forbes magazine as the third fastest growing economy in the developing world. With that, the demand for energy grew by about 5.5 percent in the last year and is predicted to continue growing.

The Africa Report claims that Kenya alone plans to increase its power generating capacity from about 2,500 MW to about 6,700 MW by 2017.

KenGen says that geothermal has surpassed hydro as the main source of electricity since December 2014, removing the need for rationing electricity in times of drought. KenGen’s push toward geothermal power is one important step toward solving Africa’s energy challenges.

Megan Hadley

Sources: The African Report, KenGen 1, KenGen 2, Conserve Energy Future, Clean Energy Ideas
Photo: Liberation

Renewable Energy to Light Up Rwanda
East Africa’s first solar power plant in Rwanda has created 350 local jobs and powers more than 15,000 homes. This use of renewable energy means that Rwanda is on track to achieve its goal of providing half of its population with electricity by 2017.

The $23.7 million project took only a year to complete. The Rwandan government partnered with Gigawatt Global, Norfund and Scatec Solar; all of whom were aided by the president’s Power Africa initiative.

The 17-hectare solar plant is compromised of 28,360 solar panels which are arranged to mimic the shape of the African continent. The panels are computer controlled and tilt to track the sun throughout the day which improves its efficiency by 20 percent, compared to stationary solar panels.

“The speed with which this project was completed is a tribute to the strength of the Rwandan government’s institutions and their laser-focus on increasing Rwanda’s generation capacity as well as to the nimbleness of our team and partners which spanned eight countries,” Chaim Motzen, managing director and co-founder of Gigawatt Global, said.

The plant is 60 kilometers east of the capital Kigali, on land owned by the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village (ASYV). The village is home to children who were orphaned before and after Rwanda’s genocide in 1994. The lease provided the village with significant income which was invested in schooling and extracurricular activities.

Gigawatt Global will also be implementing solar energy technology training to students at the Liquidnet High School in ASYV.

Rwanda relies on diesel fuel for electrical power which is expensive and highly polluting. It cripples the country’s economic growth and leaves more than 15 percent of the population without electricity.

The installation of the solar power plant has provided a better renewable energy source that has also increased Rwanda’s electrical capacity by 6 percent. Consequently, economic output, social welfare, employment conditions and standards of living have improved.

“We have plenty of sun. Some living in remote areas where there is no energy. Solar will be the way forward for African countries,” Twaha Twagirimana, the plant supervisor, said.

Marie Helene Ngom

Sources: The Guardian, Cleantechnica, Gigawatt Global
Photo: Flickr