renewable energy sources in VietnamOn November 25, 2015, the Vietnamese government adopted the Renewable Energy Development Strategy by 2030 with an outlook to 2050, in effect approving renewable energy as a viable and necessary plan. At its core, the strategy shifts Vietnam’s energy policy from focusing on fossil fuels to renewable energy by setting specific goals. After five years, the strategy has resulted in some profound successes: renewable energy sources in Vietnam have gone from non-existent to growingly important.

Renewable Energy Sources in Vietnam

The main driver of this shift comes from Vietnamese electricity demand outpacing its supply. Due to Vietnam’s incredible economic growth, its energy needs have grown significantly. For example, in 2020, Vietnamese electricity needs were 7.5% higher than they were in 2019. Overall, its electricity demand has increased by an average of 10% per year for the last five years.

Vietnam’s Plans for Renewable Energy

The 2004 Electricity Law is the prime legislation governing Vietnam’s energy sector. The Electricity Law requires the establishment of national power development master plans for 10-year periods. As the law instructed, the Vietnamese government released its National Power Development Plan for 2011 to 2020 in 2011. One can sum up the plan’s goals as securing Vietnam’s energy needs, improving connectivity in rural areas and increasing the national reliance on renewable sources of energy. The plan estimated that $150 billion in renewable energy investment was necessary to meet Vietnam’s rising energy demand.

The Vietnamese government, in a bid to promote the goals set out in this plan, issued a decision in 2015, approving Vietnam’s renewable energy development strategy up until 2030. In 2016, the government further revised it. The revised version guaranteed that 10% of the Vietnamese energy (excluding hydropower electricity) would come from renewables. The decision reassured the government’s commitment to a reduction of coal-fired energy.

In addition to issuing guarantees, it also laid out some new incentive-based policies to promote investment in the renewable energy sector. For example, it promises:

  • Import duty relief on imported materials used for renewable energy projects
  • A reduced corporate tax rate for companies working on renewable energy production
  • Land use incentives such as reduced or waived fees

Improvements and Progress in the Energy Sector

As a result of these plans and strategies, Vietnam has made significant inroads in increasing wind and solar energy contributions to its overall grid. In 2014, solar, wind and biomass gasification made up only about one-third of 1% of the country’s total installed capacity. Fast forward five years and these renewable energies now make up about 10% of the total energy supply.

In addition to developing solar and wind power, hydropower is already a renewable energy source that constitutes a substantial component of Vietnam’s energy sector. In 2019, it accounted for 46% of the electricity mix.

The government expects to build on this success by announcing the new 10-year National Power Development Plan 2021-2030 which will lay out the next steps and policies to further entrench renewable energy. The government has set renewable energy targets of 15-20% of total energy share by 2030 and 25-30% by 2045.

Even so, expectations have determined that coal will continue to be the dominant source of energy in the country. Although solar and wind power are a growing share of Vietnamese energy production, they have yet to grow faster than energy demand. Additionally, wind and solar energy are dependant on weather conditions and therefore only present intermittent solutions.

The Limitations of Hydropower

Additionally, although hydropower does generate more power than coal, its growth potential is stunted. Hydropower in Vietnam is mostly reliant on the Mekong-Delta, a river that many countries have access to. As a result, it is vulnerable to how other nation-states utilize the river with infrastructure projects that restrict the river’s flow and intensity. Hydropower projects are inherently limited because the government has only so much river access.

Meanwhile, coal presents a cheap and short-term solution to its supply deficit problem. In 2019, coal was 36% of Vietnam’s energy mix and is expected to remain around that proportion for the new National Power Development Plan 2021-2030.

The US as an Invaluable Partner

The United States is proving to be an invaluable partner in Vietnam’s transition to renewable energy as it has provided support, investment and guidance to the Vietnamese government. Specifically, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has committed to multiple projects to help Vietnam’s transition. These projects include:

  • Low Emission Energy Program (I): Providing support to the government in developing and implementing long-term renewable energy strategies (2015-2021, $16 million)
  • Low Emission Energy Program (II): Further support the government in transitioning to renewable energies (2020-2025, $36.25 million)
  • Urban Energy Security: Working with Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh cities to improve enabling environments for distributed energy deployment, mobilizing private investment and supporting the government in adopting innovative energy solutions (2019-2023, $14 million).

Renewable Energy Transition Progress

Vietnam still has a long way to go before renewable energy governs most of its energy sector. Still, it has made significant progress toward that goal. Renewable energy sources in Vietnam are growingly significant in energy policies and are a sustainable answer to electricity needs in developing countries.

Vincenzo Caporale
Photo: Flickr

Solar Energy in UgandaAs of 2016, it was estimated by the World Bank that only 26% of Uganda’s population has access to electricity. In urban areas, the percentage is higher, at about 60%. However, in rural areas, the amount of people with electrical access is limited to only 18%. The use of solar energy in Uganda hopes to bring increased access to electricity, specifically in rural areas, as well as make electricity more affordable for the population.

What is Solar Energy?

Solar energy is energy from the sun that can be used electrically or thermally. It is a renewable energy source that provides a sustainable and clean alternative. Through photovoltaics (solar thermal collectors) solar power is collected and then converted into an energy source that can be used as a heating system or for electricity.

Solar Energy Fighting Poverty

Solar energy in Uganda can bring poverty reduction. It is an affordable and reliable source of energy that rural areas can depend on. It can also produce jobs within the community. Since solar energy makes household chores easier, women and girls have more time available to search for jobs or pursue education and development opportunities. Overall, renewable energy is a valuable component to provide electricity access, financial empowerment and sustainable economic and social development.

European Investment Bank (EIB)

With solar energy, more of the country will have access to electricity. The European Investment Bank (EIB) is using its finances to help people without electricity in Uganda. As it is the rural communities that are more affected by a lack of electricity, programs are more focused on maintaining reliable resources for those areas.

Through EIB’s efforts, more than one million people in Uganda will have access to electricity for the first time, making for easier cooking and the ease of many other household activities. Families will also be able to save money since the household will not be using as much kerosene, candles or charcoal. Indoor pollution will decrease from less kerosene usage and fire hazards will be reduced.

Reliable electricity has many benefits, with access to health opportunities being one of them. With access to phones, radios and televisions, farmers will be open to markets that can increase their income. EIB has given a loan of $12.5 million to build 240,000 solar home systems throughout Uganda, increasing economic and social opportunities.

Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL)

Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) created an agenda that was adopted by Uganda’s government to help provide an increase in accessibility. The goal is to provide more than 99% of the population with access to electricity by 2030 and improve the energy efficiency of power users by at least 20% by 2030. SEforALL plans on accomplishing this ambitious goal by building energy savers throughout the country in households, industries, commercial enterprises and more.

It is clear that Uganda is in need of more access to electricity throughout the nation. Solar energy is one of the sources that hopes to increase those numbers. There is still a lot to be done to raise access to electricity from 26% to 100%, but with efforts from Sustainable Energy for All and the European Investment Bank, the situation looks exceptionally hopeful.

– Sarah Kirchner
Photo: Flickr

Solar Energy in MoroccoIn 2018 and 2019, Morocco became a powerhouse in renewable energy, exporting an increased 670% of energy and decreasing imports by 93.5%. This can be attributed to the nation constructing the largest concentrated solar farm in the world. The solar plant, known as the Noor Complex, has the capability to power one million homes and greatly reduce the use of fossil fuel.

Solar Energy in Morocco

Prior to this renewable attitude, 97% of Morocco’s energy was produced by fossil fuels. The construction of solar farms is able to offset the nation’s energy usage, lessening the demand for energy imports and creating opportunities for more exports, ensuring a self-sufficient nation.

The decrease in energy consumption in the country has saved funds on energy costs. In 2018, the Moroccan Government decided to move to the GMT+1 timezone resulting in less electricity consumption by citizens. This shift toward sunnier days allows Morocco to overproduce energy and afford to export energy.

The advantages of solar energy in Morocco extend into multiple areas, creating a positive impact for not only Morocco but the African continent as a whole.

Poverty Eradication Benefits

In past years, poverty in Morocco has seen a significant decrease. While an optimistic stride for the nation, the decline in poverty was disproportionate between rural and urban areas.

This disparity between the living areas is often attributed to the difficulty in distributing energy to the rural regions. The hope is that the efficiency of solar energy in Morocco will allow for energy distribution to residents living outside the city to be feasible.

In 2016, poverty in Morocco was reduced to 23% from 45% in 2014. As solar energy in Morocco becomes more efficient, the living conditions of the average resident should improve as solar power makes electricity more affordable and easier to access. The solar farms popping up across the country also create jobs for the population to earn a living wage.

Economic Benefits

Solar energy in Morocco helps the nation be less reliant on energy imports and capable of exporting more energy, boosting the economy and relationships with other nations.

As Morocco’s economy strengthens with its excess of energy, it looks to make connections with European countries. In 2016, the construction of the Morocco-Nigeria gas pipeline project was announced. This pipeline perfectly positions Morocco to become an energy hub for the Mediterranean, African and European nations.

These connections to other nations allow Morocco access to flourishing markets and new business opportunities. As Morocco forms these foreign connections, it is becoming a greater political power in Africa.

Political Benefits

The continent of Africa currently has a leadership vacuum that Morocco is preparing to fill. As it produces more energy and builds stronger relationships with European nations, it is seen as a serious economic and political figure for the continent.

In 1984, Morocco left the African Union (AU) because of a disagreement over the recognition of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). After many years, Morocco now seeks to rejoin the AU and strives to make the continent of Africa a robust, independent continent.

Now, the country is setting an example for the other nations of Africa to become self-sufficient and gain economic ground with foreign countries. Morocco has invested 85% of its foreign funds to other countries in Africa in an attempt to boost its leadership role as well as improve the struggling African economies.

The current Moroccan King, King Mohammed VI, has confidence in the continent’s abilities and wishes to lead Africa to success. He has made Morocco the second largest investor in African affairs.

Environmental Benefits

The positive environmental impact is often considered when looking at renewable energy. Morocco is heavily invested in combatting climate change and the environmental crisis the world is facing. Along with many green policies, Morocco is implementing the Green Generation 2020-2030 plan to help farmers conserve water and energy and grow crops more efficiently.

In addition to its pivot toward solar energy, Morocco is developing an environmental code to reduce pollution and work toward a greener society.

A Brighter Future

Morocco’s turn to solar energy is improving the living standards of its residents and empowering the country in the political arena all while reducing the harmful effects fossil fuels have on the planet. While Morocco has seen hard times, it is propelling forward and bringing the continent of Africa along with it. As Morocco constructs more solar resources and spreads its influence to other African nations, it plays a significant role in poverty reduction.

– Veronica Booth
Photo: Flickr

Energy in EgyptThe poverty rate in Egypt rose to 32.5%, or 32 million people, in 2018. Energy use is rising in Egypt by 6.5% per year, but a disproportionate reliance on finite gas and other conventional energy resources has placed the future of Egyptian energy sustainability and environmental goals at risk. Under the Egypt Vision 2030 initiative, the country has recognized an important need to reduce carbon emissions. This, along with the country’s abundance of sunlight and wind, means that Egypt could very well move toward dependence on renewable energies. This is increasingly important as the growing demand for electricity has exposed the lack of access in Egypt, especially in rural areas. Lack of access to electricity is an issue that the world’s poor face and renewable energy in Egypt could be key to alleviating poverty in the country.

Shifting to Renewable Energy

The Egyptian Government began its shift toward energy security through increased renewable energy in 2014, when it partnered with the World Bank to institute energy sector reforms and attract $2 billion worth of investment for renewable energy sources. Before that, the government had large, inefficient fuel subsidies that outweighed expenditures on social protection, health and education and did not even target the Egyptian poor. This time period also saw frequent power shortages, which contributed to overall social unrest.

By committing to generating 20% of electricity through renewable energy sources by 2022, the Egyptian government showed a comprehensive commitment to energy sector reform. This has helped to create a welcoming political and economic environment for private sector investment, strengthening the shift toward renewable energy in Egypt, which creates the spillover effect of helping the country’s poor, whom energy shortages are likely to more severely affect.

The Benban Solar Park

The result has been several large deals with international banks to finance projects like the Benban Solar Park, which will be the largest solar project in the world once completed. The government received over $650 million in funding from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, to construct the 13 solar power plants that are part of the project. This new initiative will provide power to more than 350,000 Egyptians and generate more than 6,000 for building greater renewable energy in Egypt.

Other Benefits of Energy Reform

The partnerships with the World Bank and the IFC have other benefits, like freeing government spending to go toward social initiatives. By instituting energy reforms, the Egyptian Government was able to double spending on social protection for the poorest 20% of the population. So, while projects like the Benban Solar Park will themselves contribute to a cleaner, more efficient energy security that will benefit those living in poverty, the means by which these projects are funded also enable the government to focus more of its spending on alleviating poverty.

Energy Reform and Poverty in Egypt

The Egyptian Government has partnered with international institutions like the World Bank to reform its energy sector. Past overdependence on gas and oil along with inefficient fuel subsidies placed Egypt’s future energy security at risk while exacerbating problems the nation’s poor faced daily. The country has shown a commitment to clean energy initiatives, which benefit Egyptians living in poverty in two main ways. First, they increase access to power and electricity. Many of those living in rural communities do not have consistent access to electricity, so this reform directly benefits them. Additionally, it benefits the impoverished indirectly by freeing up government spending for increased expenditure on social protection programs. Thus, the future of renewable energy in Egypt is bright and it has the potential to alleviate the struggles of millions of Egyptians.

– Connor Bradbury
Photo: Flickr

Solar Power to IndiaElectricity will be one of India’s largest concerns in the next few decades. The population is both increasing and urbanizing. The International Energy Agency predicts that India will have almost 600 million more electricity consumers by 2040. Currently, India’s power grid coverage is inconsistent. About 360 million people live without electricity because the grid does not extend to their homes, while another 20 million people have only an average of four hours of electricity per day. With India in desperate need of new, efficient sources of energy, solar power is in demand. The Indian government encourages solar power and offers subsidies for small businesses and individual homes. For India’s poorest citizens, solar is still a major investment that can be difficult to afford. SELCO offers solar power to India that is affordable and made for India’s poorest citizens.

SELCO Solar Power

Harish Hande and Neville Williams co-founded SELCO in 1995. Headquartered in Karnataka, India, SELCO has more than 500 employees in operates in rural areas of Karnataka and surrounding southern states. SELCO offers a range of off-grid, completely solar-powered machines targeted toward rural Indians.

Its unique, localized financial model also means that it is able to provide products to people who traditionally would not be able to afford them. As stated on its website, a key myth that SELCO wants to dispel is that poor people cannot afford or maintain sustainable technology.

Affordability of Solar Power

To successfully bring solar power to India, SELCO argues that poor people cannot afford the traditional financing necessary to pay off these technologies. It has seen success from customizing payment plans to individual situations, which allows people to pay installments in sync with their own schedule instead of a bank’s set schedule. Today, Hande lobbies banks to allow for greater financing flexibility and international institutions including the United Nations now provide financial assistance after seeing the success of SELCO’S unconventional financing methods. This has allowed SELCO to grow at an annual rate of 20%, providing 450,000 “solar solutions” in the region.

It operates 25 satellite branches and a technician is less than two hours away from every customer. Technicians speak local languages to foster trust. Limiting its reach allows SELCO to adhere to its mission while making a profit. While institutions such as the World Bank have doubted whether providing solar to the rural poor can turn a profit, SELCO’s model allows it to defy expectations.

Flexible Solar Solutions

Just like its financing, SELCO’s products are successful because of flexibility. For example, Hande learned that many people needed light in multiple rooms but could not afford that many lights. So, SELCO devised a plan where it installs multiple electrical points but provides only one or two lights. The idea is that they don’t need lights on in every room at once and can move the bulbs from room to room. Sales soared. Being in tune with community needs allows SELCO to understand the needs of India’s rural poor and tailor solutions that other companies might not consider.

Besides lights, SELCO offers a range of solar-powered commercial and home products, from water heaters and sewing machines to milking machines and photocopiers. SELCO’s goal is to provide a new solar option every month. With the solar industry only expected to grow in the foreseeable future, expect SELCO to be at the forefront of bringing solar power to India.

– Adam Jancsek
Photo: Flickr

SunBox Solar Kits For the 1.9 million Palestinians who live in the Gaza strip, electricity is a privilege. Due to a lack of available energy, people experience regular blackouts that disrupt their daily lives. These blackouts keep residents from fully enjoying the benefits of electricity, such as regular internet access and lighting. Fortunately, local engineer and entrepreneur, Majd Mashhawari is bringing cheap electricity to families through her new invention, SunBox. Mashhawari’s SunBox solar kits provide clean solar power to households, providing off-the-grid energy and internet access.

Electricity in Gaza

One diesel power plant produces almost all electricity for Gaza but it is not able to produce enough electricity to power the region at all times. Because of restrictions on exports and imports in Gaza, the plant only has access to a restricted amount of imported fuel. As a result, it has been forced to implement a system of rolling blackouts. According to SunBox founder, Mashhawari, hospitals in Gaza receive 10 hours of electricity a day, which the hospitals can afford to supplement with private generators. Everyone else lives on three to five hours of electricity a day unless they can pay for a generator.

If people in Gaza had reliable access to electricity, they would be able to cook, refrigerate food, run businesses effectively, access the internet and study after dark. The first two activities boost health, while the latter three increase earnings and success. Access to electricity has a strong impact on reducing poverty.

SunBox Solar Kits

SunBox solar kits could be the key to ending Gaza’s electricity crisis. SunBox has provided solar energy for 300 families since the company’s launch two years ago. Its solar kits have produced 600,000 watts of energy so far. As a small business, it employs 35 people, helping to combat Gaza’s high unemployment rates.

SunBox solar kits consist of one or two solar panels, a battery and a solar device. The panels are attached to the roof of a building and the solar device provides internet access and a plug-in for electrical devices. These kits provide 1,000 kilowatts of solar energy to consumers in a region where most days are sunny. The battery typically takes only three hours to recharge fully.

Business-wise, SunBox has profited from its “sharing is caring model.” People who cannot afford to pay for the $350 kits can buy the kit with other families, sharing the costs and the electricity. SunBox has also installed kits at desalination plants, helping to power the creation of clean water.

Female Entrepreneur: Majd Mashhawari

SunBox is the brainchild of Mashhawari, who understands the need for better electricity in Gaza because she grew up there. The territory began conducting electrical blackouts when she was 12. Mashhawari went on to attend the Islamic University of Gaza, where she majored in civil engineering. She has put her degree to good use, developing two products so far that help tackle Gaza’s unique infrastructure needs. These products are GreenCake and SunBox.

Mashhawari’s first product, GreenCake, was a building block made from ash and rubble. The Israel-Hamas war in 2014 had damaged many buildings in Gaza and rebuilding was difficult because of limits on cement imports. Mashhawari saw the need for cheap building materials that could be made from domestically available substances. Her team conducted experiments, eventually designing a cheap, durable building block made from ash and rubble, two elements that were abundant in Gaza. After her success in launching GreenCake in 2016, Mashhawari went on to create SunBox in 2018.

Mashhawari’s work has come to wider attention because of a TED Talk she gave in 2019 about her inventions. During her TED Talk, Mashhawari touted the success of her products and the need to find creative solutions to difficult problems. She also recalled that when she attended university, her school’s civil engineering program had a female-to-male ratio of one to six. Mashhawari stressed her devotion to supporting other female scientists, proudly describing how SunBox was hiring and training both female and male engineers.

Local Inventions Address Poverty

Mashhawari’s products show the inventiveness of local entrepreneurs and their ability to create solutions that are tailored to their region. She developed her products to address the specific needs of her fellow people, granting them a better way of life. Her designs are cheap and environmentally friendly and because of her dedication to hiring female engineers, her company supports female education and economic empowerment. In the fight against global poverty, it is encouraging to be reminded that there are locally developed, environmentally friendly and cost-effective solutions.

– Sarah Brinsley
Photo: Flickr

BECO’s Solar Power, Bringing Cheaper, Cleaner Energy to SomaliaIn June 2020, Somalia’s largest electricity provider, BECO, announced the opening of a new solar power plant in the capital city of Mogadishu. BECO is the only company that provides electricity for Mogadishu, Afgooye, Balad, Barawe, Kismayu, Marka, Jowhar and Elasha. Although the company turned to solar power primarily to cut down on the cost of diesel fuel, its decision will have the added benefit of lowering air pollution. Additionally, BECO’s solar power plant will grow in capacity over time and lower electricity bills. BECO’s solar power plant could have a significant impact on Somalis, lifting many out of poverty.

Electricity in Somalia

Lack of access to electricity is widely cited as a large contributor to poverty. Without electricity, families don’t have a non-polluting source of energy for cooking. Refrigerators are unusable. Children can’t do their homework after dark. Communities can’t access all that the Internet offers for education and upward mobility. Hospitals and schools can’t offer full services. As a result, increasing access to electricity is often a goal of development efforts.

Somalia has particularly struggled with a lack of access to electricity. Before the civil war broke out in 1991, Somalia had a national power grid that produced 70 megawatts (MW) of electricity for the whole country. But the power grid was destroyed during the war and private corporations now provide any electricity available to residents. Currently, BECO produces 35 MW of power for eight cities, which is much less than its demand of 200 MW. Many Somalis avoid using electricity in order to avoid the monthly costs as 69% of Somalis are currently living in poverty.

Power companies in Somalia heavily rely on imported fossil fuels for diesel-powered generators. These generators are CO2 emitters and can heavily pollute the air. Despite the widespread use of generators, Somalia has only 106 MW of power nationwide, according to the United States Agency on International Development. The World Bank reported in 2018 that 64% of Somalis didn’t have access to electricity.

BECO’s Solar Power Plant

Because Somalia struggles with a lack of electricity and high electric costs, BECO’s new solar power plant has the potential to positively impact many people’s lives. When it opened, the power plant had the capacity to produce 8 MW. The solar power plant is only in use four hours a day, with BECO’s preexisting generators providing the rest of the electricity that the city needs. But residents’ electric bills have already gone down.

With the addition of the solar power plant, electricity costs in Mogadishu have already dropped from $0.49 to $0.36 per kilowatt-hour. BECO had originally decided to invest in solar power because of the high cost of importing diesel fuel for generators. By cutting costs, the company can offer cleaner energy at a more affordable price.

BECO plans to invest $40 million to bring the plant’s capacity to 100 MWp by 2022. This increase would enable the power plant to produce more electricity than twice its current output. However, the success of the solar plant will depend on battery storage.

Somalia’s Potential Future with Renewable Energy

BECO’s solar power plant is just the first step in Somalia’s possible path toward renewable energy. The African Development Bank reported in a study that Somalia had a greater potential for renewable energy than any other country in Africa. Onshore wind power could produce up to 45,000 MW of electricity. Solar energy has the potential to produce 2,000 kWh/m². If other Somali electric companies follow BECO’s example, Somalia’s electrical production could increase many times over.

It’s fortunate that in Somalia’s case, solar power is more affordable than the alternative. Simple market forces might solve Somalis’ lack of access to electricity. Although constructing facilities to produce solar power is expensive, companies would be able to provide electricity more cheaply and easily if they switch from importing fossil fuels to renewable energy. As a result of this cost decrease, electric bills would drop considerably as well. Once electricity becomes significantly cheaper, more Somalis will be able to access its benefits. BECO’s solar power plant is already reducing costs, and there’s no reason to believe that this trend won’t continue.

– Sarah Brinsley
Photo: Flickr

solar microgridsThe United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) helped establish three solar microgrids in rural Yemeni communities. Earlier this year, the British charity Ashden honored the scheme as one of 11 recipients of its prestigious Ashden Awards. These annual awards recognize initiatives whose efforts to deliver sustainable energy have produced important social and economic advantages.

Solving a Fuel Shortage and Economic Crisis

Yemen’s energy infrastructure cannot transport power to rural towns and villages. Thus, many of these communities depend upon highly-polluting diesel generators. However, longstanding conflict and crippling embargoes have made fossil fuels scarce and expensive. Moreover, oil prices have fluctuated in recent years, and poverty has skyrocketed. This crisis has affected approximately three-quarters of Yemen’s population. Current estimates indicate that more than two out of five households have been deprived of their primary source of income. It’s also been found that women are more acutely impacted than men.

Now, the energy situation is shifting. The UNDP has provided funding and support to three different groups of entrepreneurs that own and operate solar microgrids. The three are located in Abs in the district of Bani Qais in the northwest and in Lahij Governate in the south. Their stations provide clean, sustainable energy to local residents and at a much lower price. The solar microgrids charge only $0.02 per hour as opposed to the $0.42 per hour that diesel costs.

Such savings for households and businesses have greatly impacted the local economies. Not only can people work after sunset, they also possess more disposable income. According to Al Jazeera, approximately 2,100 people have been able to save money and put it toward creating their own small businesses. These include services for welding, sewing, grocery stores and other shops. So far, a total of 10,000 Yemenis have benefitted from the energy provided by the three solar microgrids.

Empowering New Leaders in Business

The entrepreneurs who founded and now run the microgrid facilities in Bani Qais and Lahij Governate are young men. However, the power station in Abs is completely owned and operated by women. These Abs women receive training in necessary technical skills and study business and finance.

Some expected the scheme to fail due to the sophisticated knowledge it required and the relative inexperience of the facilities’ operators. Well, one year has passed, and the solar microgrids are running at full capacity. The project thus offers a valuable model for creating jobs in a country where civil war has shattered the economy and hobbled basic infrastructure.

Specifically for the women in Abs, though, a steady income and the ability to provide a much-needed service have increased their self-confidence. These women can feed their families and use the university educations they each worked for to a great extent. As the station’s director explained, their work has even earned them the respect and admiration of those who used to ridicule them for taking on what was once considered a man’s job.

Looking to the Future

The success of the UNDP’s project’s first stage shows a possible solution to Yemen’s problem of energy scarcity. The UNDP now works to find funding for an additional 100 solar microgrids. Since civil war began in 2015, both sides have tried to limit each other’s access to the fossil fuels that Yemen depends upon. Pro-government coalition forces have prevented ships cleared by the U.N. from unloading their cargoes in the north. On the other side, Houthi-led rebels have recently suspended humanitarian flights to Sanaa, the country’s largest city and its capital. This is all in the midst of hospitals struggling to care for patients during the pandemic.

The UNDP’s solar microgrids are a source of hope among the many conflicts plaguing Yemen. More still, it is likely others will soon follow in the footsteps of the three initial young entrepreneurs. These solar microgrids stations have empowered Yemeni communities to build better and more sustainable futures and will for years to come.

Angie Grigsby
Photo: Flickr

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

Engineers Without Borders
Engineers Without Borders (EWB) is a foundation that partners with poor communities to help provide them with basic human needs. Its mission is to build a better world with engineering projects that will help solve the world’s most urgent problems. It builds to save lives.

Building Safe Structures

Many people are without a home in poverty-ridden countries, often living without so much as clean water or electricity. Due to environmental disasters, forced refugees and internally displaced people, many must roam the streets. Back in 2015, estimates determined that there were 100 million people facing homelessness. The need for durable and permanent refugee camps and homes is more pressing than ever. This is where EWB-USA saves the day. It addresses the challenges in engineering associated with “transitioning emergency infrastructure to more permanent systems,” which helps boost host communities who take refugees in.

Engineers Without Borders often takes on villages’ needs for bridges to aid in safer and easier travel. It found that one Guatemalan village had to walk three hours on dangerous mountain roads just to reach the capital. Access to capitals or bigger towns can be dire as they encapsulate hospitals, schools, markets and so forth. So, the Engineers Without Borders project team and volunteers decided to create bridges for these communities. The foundation takes up to several weeks to construct these bridges to make sure they are sturdy, safe and dependable for these villagers.

Engineers Without Borders also discovered the need for schools. It found out that a native Guatemalan girl had biked over an hour to reach her school. As a result, the foundation started building schools and improving the schools’ infrastructures, making them safe and durable. It has brought education to places like Guatemala, Lat Cantun II, Santa Eulalia and more.

Installing Solar Panels

Electricity is a luxury that not many homeless or poor people get. However, it is a necessity for the safety and well-being of many people. This is why EWB-USA not only makes solar panels for villages in need but also introduces and installs them. The solar panels bring hot water, better food storage, increased phone access and light to homes and schools alike. Engineers Without Borders also installs solar street lights to help keep the residents and refugees safe.

University students in EWB-USA even built a solar charging station for villages. These stations could be used by all, specifically to charge phones. It found that cell phones were extremely important for youths to apply for jobs, apply for housing and communicate with friends and family.

Engineers Without Borders helps bring electricity to these areas by partnering with foundations like IKEA and UNHRC. Its partnerships have been a key way to faster and more efficient help for these communities. Currently, Engineers Without Borders is working on over 55 projects located in more than 20 states and two territories, trying to make a difference.

Providing Clean Water

Clean water is yet another widely inaccessible luxury in many poverty-stricken countries. In Uganda alone, over 23 million people must walk over 30 minutes a day to get water that is often contaminated, bringing disease and even death. Engineers Without Borders saw how water brings life and found creative ways of providing clean water for villages. The foundation has dug and repaired wells, built rainwater catchment systems and constructed water filters. Additionally, it has built gravity-based water supply systems in phases for those in the mountains.

In Cyanika, Rwanda, the villagers benefited from one of the Engineers Without Borders’ creative rainwater catchment systems that consisted of two single tank systems. It allows the villagers to save time as well as their lives. One villager even sent a letter of thanks, expressing their gratitude as it bettered many lives, health and well-being of all the villagers.

Engineers Without Borders continues to fight to provide people their basic rights and needs. It continues to live up to its mission of building to save lives through the power of engineering. For more information about this organization, check out its website.

Katelyn Mendez
Photo: Pixabay