Impacting Investing
Investing in the right organizations has the potential to change the world. Impact investing is a type of investment that focuses on social or environmental benefits as well as financial or capital returns. Impact investing can be done through for-profit or nonprofit organizations that are looking to improve the world. It can be done in emerging or developed markets anywhere in the world as part of a growing market that provides capital to address global issues in sectors like “sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, conservation, microfinance and affordable and accessible basic services including housing, healthcare and education,” as the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) says. The market is estimated to be at around $502 billion as of April 2019.

According to GIIN, there are four primary characteristics of impact investing:

  1. Intentionality – The intention is one of the main things that differentiates impact investing from regular investing. The intention behind impact investing must be the desire to create measurable social or environmental benefits.
  2. Use evidence and impact data in investment design – Investments must have evidence or data that indicates the investment will have social or environmental benefits.
  3. Manage impact performance – Investments must be managed toward the specific intention of the investment. This would mean having feedback loops and means of communicating performance information to ensure that the investment is working toward the intention of the investment.
  4. Contribute to the growth of the industry – Impact investors must use shared industry terms to communicate their goals, strategy and growth. They also share information so that others may learn from their experience and adjust their investments accordingly.

Examples of Impact Investments

  • The Omidyar Network – Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay, and his wife Pam obtained large quantities of wealth after the company went public and wanted to do some good with it. He set up a limited liability company (LLC) to make investments in early-stage innovations that are able to generate profits. He also set up a 501(c)3, a tax-exempt nonprofit, to provide grants for public goods and assistance to disadvantaged communities as well as subsidize the production of beneficial goods. The use of both of these allows the Omidyar Network to use for-profit capital and nonprofit grants to benefit society.
  • Actiam Impact Investing – Actiam Impact Investing invested in Pro Mujer Bolivia, an organization that provides training and financial services to women in Bolivia. Janeth Villegas is one of many women who benefited from the program. Pro Mujer taught Villegas a number of skills including accounting and business management which empowered her to start her own chocolate company that she is now teaching her kids to run.
  • Salkhit Wind Farm – Impact investors invested capital in Salkhit Windfarm, the first renewable energy generator connected to the central grid in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. The installation of this wind farm has reduced coal burning by 122,000 tons annually and has created over 3,000 local jobs.
  • General ElectricGeneral Electric (GE) provides impact capital through its Ecomagination Accelerator to finance energy conservation efforts. Ecomagination investments totaled $1.4 billion in 2014. “We want to inspire more companies to work together and tackle the world’s greatest resource problems,” Ecomagination’s global executive director Deb Frodl said. With this goal in mind, the company also aims to decrease reliance on fossil fuels in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • d.light – This for-profit company invests in and manufactures solar energy and distributes its products through the developing world. d.light’s mission is “To create a brighter future by making clean energy products universally available and affordable.” The focus here is on providing clean energy to the developing world which helps reduce dependence on fossil fuels and provides electricity to people who might not otherwise have it.

– Sarah Faure
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Sustainable Energy In JamaicaIn 2013, the Prime Minister of Jamaica made an announcement that would change the future of the tropical island nation. He and his government declared that, by the year 2030, the Island nation of Jamaica would produce 30 percent of its power from renewable sources. At the time, this was an important stride for not only the worldwide movement towards greener and cleaner energy but also an important step for the national security of Jamaica. At the time the Prime Minister made this announcement, 90 percent of Jamaica’s energy needs were imported. As of 2018, sustainable energy in Jamaica was on-track to becoming a reality.

The majority of the oil used by the country was imported from Venezuela. Not only does Jamaica’s carbon footprint put it in danger but its reliance on a foreign energy source also has the potential to give the providing country sway over the domestic affairs of Jamaica, especially when 9 percent of its total GDP is spent on imported petroleum for the energy sector.

Solar Power

The government is determined to set an example for its people to follow. In 2018, the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Andrew Holness unveiled the finished project that the government and the non-profit organization, Solar Head of State, had been working on. It was a conversion of the Prime Minster’s office to solar power. On this same day, Prime Minister Holness also announced that he believed Jamaica could surpass their 30 percent sustainable energy goal and aim for a 50 percent energy goal. Only eight other nation-states in the world are aiming higher than Jamaica for their sustainable energy targets.

This public example of green power positivity can be seen in the Jamaican classroom as well. At Hampton school, an all-girls school, nearly a quarter of the budget goes towards the energy bill. So, the headmistress takes the time to educate her young women about the importance of sustainable energy by replacing the lightbulbs in the school with energy-saving LEDs.

Wind Power

Wind is another source of income and power for sustainable energy in Jamaica. South of the Hampton school, 11 wind turbines can be seen. These are only a small portion of a larger project headed by BMR Jamaica Wind Limited. The United States and Canada are also sending financial aid through respective government institutions. By the end of the project, the turbines are expected to provide power for 15,000 people and reduce carbon emissions to the equivalent of removing 13,000 cars off of the road.

There is money in sustainable energy in Jamaica. The Jamaican government is willing to work with investors and companies in the private sector to help reduce their reliance on non-renewable sources. David Delaire, managing director of the German firm MPC Captial, said that the reason for the fast growth of the sustainable energy market in Jamaica is due in part to its location, stable market and a robust regulatory framework.

Nicholas Anthony DeMarco
Photo: Unsplash

Solar Technologies in AfricaGlobal hunger has risen in each of the last three years. In 2018, the UN determined that the undernourished population had increased to nearly 821 million in 2017. Africa has the largest number, almost 21 percent of the population (more than 256 million people). The UN points to climate variability making agriculture more vulnerable as the main culprit. In countries like Malawi, where 80 percent of labor is agricultural, the entire country suffers from the advent of a flood or drought. Solar technologies in Africa could stabilize agricultural production.

Solar Power and Agriculture

However, solar technologies often require electricity, and in many countries, electricity is still a luxury. A World Bank report released in 2018 said that even by 2040, there could still be half a billion people in sub-Saharan Africa without power. Further, in many locations, the power grid is unreliable. Tanzania, for instance, has so many power outages in 2013 that the World Bank calculated it cost businesses 15 percent of annual sales. But if electricity could extend its reach to more people at a lower rate, irrigation systems, refrigerated storage and remote sensors that can help with storage and water-management could become possible.

Improved Efficiency

The development of solar panels has offered hope, but the first wave of solar installations in the 1990s was fraught. Units were expensive, broke easily and were hard to fix. But over the last four decades, solar panels have improved. Increased cell efficiency has resulted in a 99 percent reduction in module costs since 1980. The cost of solar power has fallen from .35 USD per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in 2009 to less than 10 cents per kWh in 2016. In 2009, a single, fluorescent bulb and a lead-acid battery cost 40 dollars. Since 2017, using L.E.D. bulbs and lithium-ion batteries, light capacity is four times as strong. Add to that the World Bank stepped in with Lighting Global, an agency that tests and certifies panels, bulbs, and appliances to make sure that they work as promised. With the reduction in the cost of solar panels, there is renewed interest in the potential of solar technology in remote areas of Africa.

Employing Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus’s microcredit model, African solar companies like Off-Grid and Black Star are working to deliver solar panels and electrical service to remote areas of Africa through “distributed solar” plans. Using phones for payment, service networks, microloans and less costly solar units, these companies are entirely sidestepping an electrical grid.

Solar Investments

Aid from USAID joined with investments from Silicon Valley and European companies are flooding Africa in what the New Yorker deemed, “The Race to Solar Power Africa.” In 2016, the Guardian estimated investment had grown from 19 million in 2013 to two-hundred million in 2016. Nicole Poindexter, the founder and C.E.O. of Black Star, told the Guardian that with her model, one million dollars in venture capital delivers power to seven thousand people, and she expects it to be profitable by 2020. The International Energy Agency released figures showing that last year, half a million solar panels were installed around the world each day. Better technology is making investment possible.

Increased access to solar technologies in Africa presents a massive opportunity for countries with chronic food insecurity. Though by far the greatest number of solar panels being installed in Africa provide enough electricity for basic light, cell phone charging and television, some efforts are experimenting with agricultural interventions. Off-Grid held a contest for most efficient refrigeration units. A few countries have already undertaken experiments to see if cheaper solar power may improve agricultural stability in Africa.

Success in Malawi

Malawi is one of the poorest countries, with a per capita income of US$ 290, less than a dollar a day. Only 12 percent of Malawi’s 18 million people are connected to the main electricity grid—and only 2 percent in rural areas. Agricultural insecurity is great. A flood or drought can set regions of the country into famine as there is little safety-net. While there currently are few viable proposals for how electricity can mitigate floods, many have looked to irrigation for watering crops—something that requires significant electricity. For instance, Community Energy has installed units in rural communities in 2018.

Irrigation projects are on the rise in Malawi—many powered by solar energy. In Mwambo and Ngwerelo, and at villages in the Ntcheu district, solar panels are being used to pump groundwater from borehole wells into reservoir tanks capable of storing at least 10,000 liters. These pumps provide water for household use as well as irrigation. In 2018, Sharp Electronics donated a solar pump on the Shire River for irrigation that can serve 600 farmers.

Solar technologies in Africa are recent and still being rolled out, so results are unclear, but the potential is great. Along with explorations of solar irrigation and refrigeration, there is also a need to keep resource-use balanced between short and long-term goals, agricultural and household uses for water.

– Heather Hughes
Photo: PxHere

How Kanpur's Pollution Is Being LoweredThe rising amount of pollution on Earth is something that almost everyone is well aware of. Pollution is something that continues to increase daily and can often remain in an area for years. It can be seen in the Arctic, the oceans, the forests and the most populated cities. In Kanpur, for example, the population is so dense that it has become nearly impossible to keep pollution to a minimum, especially in the winter time. Kanpur sees this pollution as a problem and is seeking out innovative solutions to help lower Kanpur’s pollution.

Health Problems From Pollution

Kanpur is home to 3 million people and contains a hazardous amount of pollution that is gradually killing the city. This can lead to health problems for its citizens as well as create a more difficult environment for the vulnerable population. Kanpur generates 400 tonnes of waste that often contaminates underground water sources, which leads to disease. In 2015, 40,000 patients were seen at the Murari Lal Chest Hospital, but in 2016 this number jumped to 64,000. The people seen are those who are able to afford healthcare, but many are not able to seek out medical help for pollution-related health problems.

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has recently come up with a solution to help lower Kanpur’s pollution. It’s called cloud seeding, it’s a process that involved a mixture of salt and silver iodide. These two substances are transported and dispersed through flares in an aircraft. Although these chemicals sound harmful, it actually is a very beneficial process that creates artificial rain. Artificial rain can be used in numerous ways, like providing relief during a severe drought, but in the case, it’s used to cleanse the air in a sense, thus reducing pollution.

Important Renewable Energy

Kanpur is working harder to put renewable energy to use. The city plans on ramping up clean energies daily through the use of solar energy. Clean energy is a great way to leave a smaller carbon footprint but have a bigger impact on reducing pollution. This power will be generated through a power grid to be used by the people on a regular basis. This method of reducing pollution is fairly new for those residing in Kanpur. Kanpur’s electric company, Kesco, will be taking the lead on this project with the solar power plants. This energy project will supply energy to 7.44 million homes and also improve employment in the area through the creation of new jobs in the solar energy field.

As we can see, Kanpur is finally taking the initiative when it comes to reducing pollution in the city. Not only is the city providing employment opportunities for its residents but it is also working to protect the environment by implementing a clean energy source. The CPCB is also working hard to create artificial rain to make sure that the air stays clean. These creative solutions are definitely working towards a major overall goal of making sure to help lower Kanpur’s pollution.

Emme Chadwick

Photo: Unsplash

solar powered hearing aidsThere are 466 million people in the world who are deaf or living with disabling hearing loss, which amounts to more than 1 in 20 people worldwide. The majority of these people do not have the funds to buy hearing aids and the batteries required to keep them going. Currently, there are two companies pioneering solar-powered hearing aids in order to help those living in poverty to afford and power hearing aids.

Poverty and Hearing Aids

Approximately 89 percent of those who are hearing impaired live in low and middle-income countries. However, the production of hearing aids currently only meets around 10 percent of the need worldwide. Because traditional hearing aids are expensive, the majority of these hearing aids are going to those who can afford them. This typically means that people in developing countries are going without.

Traditional hearing aids typically cost around $1,000 and have an average battery life of only one to two weeks. Because of this huge financial barrier, solar-powered hearing aids are dramatically changing the accessibility of hearing aids for low-income people in developing countries. Even more importantly, they are cheaper and last longer than traditional hearing aids.

Godisa Technologies was a Botswana-based non-governmental organization (NGO) that began research on the solar-powered hearing aid in 1992. Godisa Technologies aimed to manufacture hearing aids that were accessible to those with hearing disabilities in Africa and throughout the developing world. Godisa Technologies shut down in 2008 due to a lack of funding, but its research led to two companies pioneering solar-powered hearing aids. Solar Ear and Deaftronics provide inexpensive and long-lasting hearing aids all across the developing world.

Solar Ear

Solar Ear is a solar-powered hearing aid company based out of Brazil. Solar Ear’s hearing aid was designed by Howard Weinstein, a former Peace Corps volunteer at Godisa Technologies. These hearing aids only cost around $100 and have a battery lifespan of around three years, which is approximately one-tenth of the price of traditional hearing aids for 150 times the lifespan.

Solar Ear designs their hearing aids specifically for young children living in regions without access to deaf education. Their mission is to provide solar-powered hearing aids to children before the age of three so that they can learn to communicate and receive an education alongside their hearing peers. The hearing aids are manufactured and produced by people with disabilities in Brazil, Botswana and China. They are now available in more than 40 countries.

Deaftronics

Deaftronics is another company pioneering solar-powered hearing aids. Deaftronics was created in 2009 by Tendekayi Katsiga, another former employee of Godisa Technologies. Katsiga, like Weinstein, knew that Godisa’s hearing aids were still too expensive for many people to afford and wanted to build a company that took this technology a step further.

Deaftronics provides solar-powered hearing aids along with four rechargeable batteries for $200. These hearing aids have an overall lifespan of up to twelve years. By 2015, Deaftronics had already sold more than 10,000 hearing aids to people in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kenya, South Africa and Angola. But, Katsiga became convinced that solar-powered hearing aids alone could not be the only solution to hearing loss. In an attempt to provide a cheap and easy way to catch hearing loss early and prevent it from worsening, Deaftronics has also produced a mobile app that allows people to test for early signs of hearing loss.

Solar powered hearing aids have become readily accessible in many developing countries due to the dedication of Solar Ear and Deaftronics. These two companies pioneering solar-powered hearing aids have changed the world for those who previously could not afford them. The technology has been crucial in making hearing aids accessible to the world’s poor. Thanks to solar-powered hearing aids, children who would otherwise be unable to learn to talk or communicate are able to go to school and learn regardless of where they live or how much money their families have.

Macklyn Hutchison

Photo: Flickr

Solar power in Developing countries
Since its inception 45 years ago, the Barefoot College has trained 1430 people from poor communities to install and maintain solar-powered electrical systems. This was mainly started with the aim of introducing solar power in developing countries.

The most remarkable fact of this program is that all of the students in the solar engineering program are women and they enter with absolutely no prior formal education. These solar engineers return to their villages with a sense of opportunity and independence not only for themselves but also for the community at large.

The founder of the program, Bunker Roy, recognized that the people living in the poor communities are immeasurably knowledgeable about the world around them and the needs of their people. Roy’s vision to bolster the use of solar power in developing countries started with the construction of the first Barefoot College in Tilonaia, India in 1977. It now operates in 100 countries around the globe and 15 states throughout India.

Impact of the Barefoot Program in Afghanistan

According to ALCS 2016-17 survey, only 26 percent of the population in Afghanistan had access to the electrical grid in the years 2011-12. In five years, that number got increased by five percent with around 31 percent of the population enjoying access to the grid. Yet, this access was heavily concentrated within urban areas. The majority of the people living in rural regions of Afghanistan were still yearning to come out of the dark.

The idea of Barefoot College – to enhance the use of solar power in developing countries – became a boon for many in the rural areas. In 2007, merely 2 percent of the households in Afghanistan were powered using solar panels. Today, that same figure has reached 59.4 percent at a national level and 73.2 percent in rural areas. While it’s impossible to tell how much of this success can be attributed directly to Barefoot College, Bunker Roy and his colleagues have undoubtedly made a significant impact.

In his 2011 TEDTalk, Roy shared the story of three illiterate Afghan women who had never left their homes. They came to India and trained to become solar engineers. On returning to Afghanistan, they electrified 100 villages, set up workshops and trained 27 more women to follow their footsteps.

One of the three women, a 55-year-old named Gul Bahar, provided solar electricity to 200 houses herself. She also took the opportunity to educate the head of a large engineering department in Afghanistan on the difference between AC and DC.

Today, more than 84 engineers have been trained by the graduates from Barefoot College to provide a fundamental service to thousands of Afghans in need. Afghanistan is now well on its way to becoming a fully electrified country with 97.7 percent of households having access to electricity. The difference between the electrification of rural and urban homes is also quickly disappearing.

Impact of the Barefoot Program in Honduras

Access to electricity in urban areas of Honduras has reached 100 percent, but one-quarter of the people living in rural areas are still living without it. These same areas are also subject to extreme poverty, severe droughts, and increasing uncertainty in the agricultural industry. Without access to electricity, families are dependent on kerosene lamps that provide poor light, emit toxic chemicals when burned and increase the risk of fire outbreaks.

With help from the Indian Government and the Small Grants Program (SGP), Barefoot College sought to improve the dire situation that the agrarian communities of Honduras find themselves in. Four women from different corners of Honduras were chosen to travel to the original Barefoot College campus in Tilonia, India. Iris Marlene Espinal, Carmen Lourdes Zambrano Cruz, Alnora Casy Estrada and Ingrid Miranda Martinez came to the campus without knowing how to read or write. However, through their practical knowledge, strong will and rugged resourcefulness, they returned home as solar engineers.

These four women have successfully installed 207 85-watt solar panel systems that power lamps, televisions, radios and cell phones for 54 families across Honduras. Without this new technology, the children of a small village called Los Hornos were unable to study indoors even during the day and were showing signs of respiratory issues. To further improve the quality of education for young children in Honduras, the engineers are installing solar systems in schools. The teachers there can now utilize modern technological tools in their lessons.

Seemingly small, incremental changes, like the introduction of solar power in developing countries, have massive implications for the quality of life in poor communities. As Alorna Casy stated in an interview with the UNDP, “We brought back a lot of knowledge to benefit our communities and, in a sense, to help them to escape from poverty”.

Enhancing Access to Solar Power in Developing Countries

In 2016, Barefoot College began the Pacific Island Solar initiative and is still working toward the initial goal of providing new technologies to 2,800 houses across 14 Pacific Island Countries. To date, 10,000 solar installations have already been completed and the construction of a Barefoot College located in Fiji has been approved. The institution is, thus, unstoppable in its mission to revolutionize the use of solar power in developing countries.

The new campus will provide solar engineering training alongside courses in Digital Technology Skills, Financial Literacy and Inclusion, Environmental Stewardship, Women’s Reproductive Health and Nutrition, Micro-enterprise Skills and much more.

Bunker Roy built his first college with the help of 12 “barefoot architects” who couldn’t read or write. Since then, the institution continues to empower those who lack resources but are intelligent enough and in desperate need of a future that fully utilizes their potential. Thus, the idea of enhancing access to solar power in developing countries will definitely spread light in many more dark corners of the world.

John Chapman
Photo: Flickr

Solar Energy in Bangladesh
Solar energy in Bangladesh is becoming more and more mainstream. In a country reliant on fossil fuels to produce most of its energy, solar grids and solar-powered water pumps are helping farmers save money and economy to develop in the right way.

Bangladesh Energy Sector

Bangladesh primarily uses fossil fuels to constitute their energy sector. Natural gas accounts for 75 percent of primary commercial energy supply. The country has become increasingly more dependent on natural gas. Natural gas consumption has increased by 300 percent between 1992 and 2012.

Bangladesh also relies heavily on oil, using primarily refined and unrefined petroleum fuels. About 45 percent of the country’s total oil consumption is consumed in the transportation sector and 21 percent is used for irrigation.

The total yearly production of power in the country is 423 megawatts. Out of this number, renewable energy sources only make up 3.5 percent of total energy production.

The country’s renewable energy policy aimed to achieve the situation in which 5 percent of the energy produced yearly would come from renewable energy sources by 2015. Only 3.5 percent of the energy produced in 2015 came from renewables. The country set up a new goal and plans to generate at least 10 percent of renewable electricity in 2020.

Solar Energy in Bangladesh

As of 2017, Bangladesh has the world’s largest Solar Home System (SHS), with about 5 million SHS in the country. The organization leading the charge in developing this technology is Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL), which has been developing SHS technology for Bangladesh since 2003.

The organization has been producing an estimated 65,000 SHSs per month. Since Bangladesh adopted SHS in 1996, over 30 million people have directly benefited from solar energy, resulting in 100,000 new jobs being created. Bangladesh has over 300 days of sunlight a year, making it a prime destination for solar technology.

Bangladesh has also been investing in solar irrigation pumps. The country plans on replacing the 1.3 million irrigation pumps currently running on diesel with solar, with 617 already been installed as of 2017. It is estimated that replacing all of the diesel water pumps will generate 10,000 megawatts of solar energy.

Improvements in Solar Energy

In 2015, SkyPower announced they would be investing $4.3 billion in utility-scale solar energy over the next five years. Over those five years, the company will also be gifting 1.5 million SkyPower Home solar kits to people living in Bangladesh. The Chief Commercial Officer of Skypower said that the investment will create more than 42,000 total job years and 500 MW of fabrication and assembly facilities.

It was announced in July 2017 that the Bangladesh Economic Zone Authority (BEZA) planned to develop a solar power zone in the Chandpur district, with the target of generating at least 1,000 megawatts of electricity. The plan will be implemented on approximately 4,000 acres of land that will be the country’s largest hub for solar power.

The BEZA chief said in an interview with the Dhaka Tribune that a major percentage of the electricity generated through this would be supplied to the national grid to help meet the growing demand for electricity.

Bangladesh currently produces 1,379 megawatts of electricity, and the government aims to generate 24,000 megawatts of power by 2021 and 60,000 megawatts by 2041.

Solar energy in Bangladesh is being developed at a rapid rate and will continue to constitute more of the country’s energy production. With year-round sunshine and cost-efficiency in mind, solar power is the answer to this country’s energy needs.

Casey Geier
Photo: Flickr

Solar Power in Kenya
Solar Power in Kenya is helping farmers in this Eastern African country sustain agriculture and save money. Solar-irrigation makes perfect sense in Kenya, considering the low rainfall and ample sunshine in the country.

Solar Project

East and Central Africa’s largest solar power plant will soon be completed in Kenya and will be producing 54.64 megawatts of electricity into the national grid. This is the first time Kenya will develop a major solar power plant to harness the abundant solar energy available in the country in order to reduce energy costs.

The objective of this project funded by the World Bank is to increase access to electricity services in underserved counties in Kenya. The solar project is intended to achieve the government’s objective under Vision 2030 that aims to transform Kenya into an industrialized middle-income country.

It is estimated that four out of five families in Africa depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, but only 4 percent of families utilize irrigation and instead rely on scarce rainfall. Switching to irrigated agriculture increases yields up to 90 percent when compared to rain-fed farms, but high diesel costs make irrigation unaffordable for smallholder farmers.

Solar-powered Water Pumps

In 2015, the USAID funded Kenya Smallholder Solar Irrigation (KSSI) project. Two solar-powered water pumps were distributed to two farmers over a three month period as a test for the project validity. The study concluded that one farmer could expect an increase in gross profit of 350 percent after paying off a 22-month loan, and the other farmer was projected to have a 235 percent increase after paying off a two-year loan.

The Co-Operative Bank Foundation is partnering with the MasterCard Foundation on a program that will attempt to distribute loans to about 2,500 Kenyan farmers over the next three years. The initiative will be rolled out through some of the bank’s 12,000 cooperatives that distribute loans to members using a group repayment approach. The Co-Operative Bank Foundation will also use the program to educate farmers about financial literacy and how to utilize technology for their own financial needs. These funds will be directed toward pump fundings.

The world’s first solar-powered water pump with a five-year warranty was launched in October 2017, in Kenya. This pump is called SF2 pump and it is capable of delivering up to one liter of water per second. It is smaller, more powerful, more robust and remotely monitored in comparison to standard water pumps. The SF2 can deliver up to a liter of water every second, and lift it up 30 feet vertically. This provides a farm with over 21,000 liters of water per day, whilst avoiding any fuel costs.

Future Plans

Kenya is prepared to spend $2.1 billion on electrification in rural areas focusing on renewable powered mini-grids. As part of the nation’s 2016-2021 strategic plan, the Rural Electrification Authority (REA) aims to install around 450 mini-grids powered by solar sources. It is estimated that about 25,000 to 30,000 solar PV products are traded annually in the Kenyan market and that at least every household has owned at least one solar PV product.

Solar Power in Kenya is being implemented at a fast rate and will continue to save farmer’s money spent on irrigation and fuel costs. The efforts to give loans to farmers to buy solar-powered irrigation pumps is a smart investment to help thousands of farmers save money.

 – Casey Geier
Photo: Flickr

Solar-Powered
Limited access to clean water and sanitation lies at the center of a litany of poverty-related issues. Without adequate access to clean water and sanitation, low-income communities are at a severe disadvantage in the fight against poverty. Everyone, but especially their young and elderly fall prey to waterborne diseases, and countless school days are lost due to children being sick or having to fetch water.

In many low-income communities, this issue is only compounded by aging or inadequate water and sanitation infrastructure. Replacing or updating these intricate water systems requires both government initiative and an enormous amount of funding, which creates a difficult hurdle to overcome in the fight for adequate global access to clean water and sanitation.

The Gates Foundation Challenge

In response to this crisis, in 2011, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation issued the “reinvent the toilet challenge”, a competition where a variety of research groups vied to propose a new, self-contained wastewater treatment system design. A small team of chemists from Caltech was awarded first place, and, like the rest of the finalists, was awarded a $400,000 grant to continue their work in solar-powered sanitation solutions. 

This new toilet design relies on a series of electrochemical reactions to both sterilize and break down the waste, and in turn, produce hydrogen, which is released into the air. The entire system can effectively sterilize and recycle water so that it can be re-used for toilet flushing or hand washing while being powered only by solar energy. Overall, the solution combines both sustainability and reliability in one compact package.

“So it’s a closed loop system, and it can be powered by solar panel, so the whole thing can be off the grid. (…) because it can be off the grid, it’s really well suited for the developing world”, said Cody Finke, a Ph.D. candidate in electrochemistry working with the team.

The Future of Sanitation

This emphasis on independence bypasses the necessity of infrastructural support, meaning with the use of the technologies present in these futuristic toilets, the government of low-income nations could potentially provide sanitary bathrooms to its citizens without investing billions of dollars in a clean water infrastructure updates.

Although side-stepping billion dollar infrastructure investments is important, it’s not the only challenge at play when it comes to solar powered sanitation solutions. “One of the other things that’s a challenge is if you put a complex technology in the field, often the infrastructure and access to education and to skilled labor isn’t there to repair it when it breaks”, Finke said, in discussing the challenges that complex water treatment technologies face.

So, alongside the toilet’s self-sustaining construction, Finke and the rest of the team are committed to making the toilet modular easy to repair. In conjunction with developing improved electrochemical catalysts that aid in low-impact water sanitation, the team has been building an app “Seva” that works alongside the toilet systems. The app, which can be installed on low-cost smartphones, provides its users with easy-to-understand updates on the inner workings of the system, and step-by-step, pictorial repair instructions should the system malfunction.

Cost Concerns Are Causing Minor Setbacks

Today, somewhere between 30 and 40 prototypes are operational or being installed in low-income countries, which will have an impact on the lives of about 1,000 people, give or take. Despite growing interest in solar-powered sanitation solutions, the market is still small; therefore, production costs remain high. 

Regardless of some of the setbacks, this technology is a valuable contribution to the world of clean water technologies. “You can make the argument that there are different wastewater treatment technologies for different purposes, so I imagine that there’s definitely going to be a blend between our technology and other technologies [in the future]”, said Finke, in consideration of the future of his team’s technology.   

With the support of a growing number of business partners and The Gates Foundation, this treatment could still be the next big thing in renewable toilet technologies. With innovative people working together, we are coming up with ways to alleviate poverty by providing clean water and sanitation to developing countries. Hopefully, financial solutions will be made available to start implementing some of these projects on a larger scale.

– Ian Lloyd Greenwood

Photo: Flickr

Cryptocurrency provides access to energy
Access to energy is necessary for daily life in most countries in the world. Electricity allows for economic development and innovation as well as securing basic human rights such as health and security. However, there are more than 1 billion people living without access to energy.

Solar Power and Cryptocurrency

One negative effect of not having secure and affordable access to energy is the expenditure that goes into coal. This leads to impoverished people being forced to buy expensive coal which further leads to environmental and health problems.

As a response to the scarcity of energy, the International Energy Agency confirmed that decentralized energy systems such as solar power would be the lowest cost option for electrification across sub-Saharan Africa due to its geographical location as well as the accessibility and practicality of the solar panels. With solar power, impoverished communities could use the electricity from solar panels to improve education, healthcare and socioeconomic developments.

Crytoeconomy Fueling Solar Energy Initiatives

This is where The Sun Exchange, a solar micro-leasing marketplace, and Powerhive, a rural mini-grid solutions provider, are partnering up to use crypto-economy to create a fully decentralized, blockchain-based global economic system that could distribute the full potential of solar power to impoverished people.

Sun Exchange states its purpose as buying solar cells and leasing them to schools and businesses in areas with a lot of sunlight. Fortunately, this lines up perfectly with the sub-Saharan region of Africa. Powerhive states that its purpose is to develop off-grid utility solutions to create a future where everyone has access to energy.

“Together, we are working towards a world where no one is forced to cook with unsafe kerosene or wood-burning stoves, no child has to worry about how they will study after dark, and lack of energy access ceases to propel cycles of poverty,” said Abraham Cambridge, Founder and CEO of Sun Exchange. “Our partnership with Powerhive underscores the SUNEX token sale opportunity to support a crypto project geared directly towards reducing global inequality and climate impact.”

For example, the new joint initiative plans to fund up to 150 new Powerhive rural mini-grid projects which will provide access to energy for 175,000 people in Kenya.

“At the heart of our projects are the communities we serve,” said Christopher Hornor, Founder and CEO of Powerhive. “By providing the power platform first and then layering in productive use programmes, we create a virtuous cycle of economic and personal empowerment that provides steady profits for both our customers and our investors. Our partnership with Sun Exchange will now give almost anyone the opportunity to invest in innovative low-carbon development projects in Africa and beyond.”

This partnership allows for the international community members to help improve lives across the world and make a small profit. This is possible because through Sun Exchange, individuals across the globe are able to purchase and own remotely-located solar projects set up by Powerhive.

The buyer would now earn a return for the power generated by his or her solar asset while the energy would undeniably improve the life of whoever received that energy in rural Africa. Also, because the payments are done through cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin, there are no complications that result from international transactions.

Hornor sums up this partnership as a positive step towards the future for renewable energy and universal access to energy. “The crypto-economy is the best tool we have to fight poverty, hands down. Our customers are hard-working people who have been excluded from the global economy. Now, we are able to bring them onto a platform of modern, clean power and to offer support for new businesses and opportunities for personal and intellectual enrichment.”

– Jenny S. Park
Photo: Flickr