Solar-Energy-in-India
In the developing world, when reliable power sources are not available, the poor may use relatively archaic, expensive and dangerous methods of cooking and illuminating their homes, like burning coal or kerosene. According to the World Health Organization, these practices kill up to 2 million people per year. Providing basic energy services to the poor is both a developmental and public health goal. It is also a huge, untapped market that requires a creative combination of financial innovation, social enterprise and old-fashioned legwork in the form of solar energy.

In India, up to 400 million people lack access to reliable electricity. Selling solar energy in India would help alleviate this problem but would be a huge leap forward in terms of economic development. In 2009, then-prime minister Manmohan Singh proposed a plan to increase Indian solar energy capacity to 20 gigawatts by 2020, where almost none had existed before.

While the plan was somewhat overly ambitious, it brought attention to the idea that international support is necessary to help develop the energy sector in low-income countries. The idea is that already-developed nations had the advantage of polluting, using coal and oil during their growth, and should now subsidize the clean energy projects of the developing world to help them keep pace with clean energy requirements, such as those set forth in the Kyoto Protocol.

International backing (in the form of foreign aid) would thus be a huge boom to India to escape what has been a developmental catch-22 for some of the poorest countries: assuaging accusations that it is not doing enough to curb emissions, while still providing critical infrastructure and basic energy services to its poorest citizens.

The first draft of the aforementioned solar energy plan involved a $20 billion subsidy by the Indian government, which Prime Minister Singh envisioned would be at least partially financed by international donors. Leena Srivastava of the New Delhi-based TERI energy research institute pointed out that the “Indian government expects international financing as well as technology at an affordable cost.”

International financing is relatively cut-and-dry; funding solar energy projects in India and elsewhere might take the form of traditional developmental aid. The U.S. might pursue such a strategy with the Electrify Africa Act of 2015, which is currently being discussed in the House. This plan directs the president to develop a strategy to increase the energy capacity of sub-Saharan Africa in order to drive economic growth and lift people out of poverty.

So, if aid is one pathway to providing basic energy needs to relieve poverty, what would a commercial solution look like? The answer might just be businesses like Ajaita Shah’s Frontier Markets. Frontier Markets, established in 2011, aims to sell solar energy products to rural, impoverished Indians who lack basic power services; it has moved about 20,000 solar units since its inception. The challenge is providing solar panels and lighting systems at price points that the poor can afford, as well as convincing them of the usefulness of clean energy and the health risks of traditional forms of energy. Shah points out that many other poverty reduction efforts are not possible without basic energy services, saying that “you cannot study at night without a light, you cannot run a shop without power, you cannot run a clinic with power [and] you cannot use innovative tools.”

The market potential for selling to those at the base of the economic pyramid is substantial, and so are its challenges. Bringing solar power to the estimated 114 million poorest customers in India is no easy task, and requires some socially conscious business practices. Traditionally, selling to the rural poor involved employing itinerant salespeople, which Shah argues isn’t sustainable or scalable. Rather, Shah distributes products to local retailers on credit and also employs microfinance techniques to make her products affordable for her customers.

If broad international poverty reduction efforts and socially conscious businesses such as Shah’s can find a way to reach the poorest in the developing world, they might turn them into the next largest emerging market for clean energy products.

Derek Marion

Sources: The Guardian 1, Frontier Markets, The Guardian 2, Ogunte
Photo: Freedom

world_globe_borgen_africa
Green WiFi, a nonprofit organization based in California, uses solar power to create WiFi to help fix the gap between the digitally literate and people who do not have access to digital educational materials. Formed in 2010, the organization has successfully helped many people living in poverty gain control of their education and advance toward the digital world.

There are about three billion people under the age of 15 living in developing nations, which amounts to 42 percent of the world’s population living in developing nations. Green WiFi was created on the idea that the welfare of our future is dependent on providing these children with access to the internet, or, in other words, access to the world’s information.

The organization challenges the high costs of supplying people with WiFi by relying on natural energy. Combining low-cost components, solar power technologies, Java and open-source software, Green WiFi has been able to create a WiFi grid network that is self-sustaining and easy to set up. The biggest issue with deploying free WiFi in developing nations has been electricity, an obstacle that the organization overcomes with solar energy. Green WiFi requires no power or system integrations.

To create a solar powered WiFi grid, Green WiFi puts together a 10-watt solar power grid, router, solar charge controller and communication links, plus a solar gel battery for each grid.

Green WiFi has completed global projects in Haiti, Hawaii, Senegal and multiple regions in Latin America. The organization is formed entirely by volunteers, including CEO and founder Bruce Baikie, vice president of engineering Parag Mody and a group of advisors who come together to help increase education around the world. Along with providing impoverished communities with WiFi, these volunteers also work toward providing them with computers and other technology.

In 2011, Green WiFi worked together with a group of students from the Illinois Institute of Technology to provide children in Haiti with WiFi and computers. They were able to successfully get 500 laptops up and running at a school in Lascahobas, Haiti.

Green Wi-Fi also participates with One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), a collaboration project involving the UN and Massachusetts Institute of Technology that is dedicated to raising money and providing affordable computer technologies to those in need. It works by providing children with low-cost, low-powered and rugged connected laptops. These laptops are designed by members of OLPC with the hopes of giving children the power to enhance their education in a joyful and self-empowered way. Another initiative Green WiFi collaborates with is Intel’s World Ahead Program. Similar to OLPC, this program works to donate computers to developing regions.

An article in the Chicago Tribune details the need for WiFi and computers in developing nations. Green WiFi is currently tackling that need and is working on projects in Africa and Latin America.

– Julia Hettiger

Sources: Chicago Tribune, One Laptop per Child, Green WiFi
Photo: Facts and Details

Solar-Energy-System-Ultimatum
This year, Massachusetts broke its record for the amount of snowfall, a full 108 inches. With every winter storm came the threat of power outage and the thought of the 650,000 people living in Boston losing power all at once was terrifying. Through advanced technology and some luck, the energy grid in Boston withstood the nine feet of snow that fell. Though the interconnectedness of the grid system works for the United States, it might not reasonably work for the rest of the world.

According to the International Energy Agency, 19 percent of the global population lives without electricity. In Africa, it is closer to 58 percent. Is it a reasonable goal to get the last 19 percent of the world on the grid system?

The problem is, in many countries such as Tanzania, the population is predominantly in rural villages, which are scattered far apart. Interconnecting all these places would be a huge challenge. The areas of Africa that have energy are using coal, charcoal, and wood. All these energy sources produce indoor air pollution that causes over 4 million deaths a year.

This is where solar energy kicks in. The Utility In A Box idea is “a bundled package of mini-grid components that can be easily integrated and installed” (Fast Company). This package would allow individual households to use and store solar energy; it would give families a single unit that could provide energy for low-power appliances. It is safer for users than coal or charcoal, as well as cheaper and faster to build.

However, Utility In A Box is not universally supported, despite its clear advantages for developing countries. Utility In A Box will allow developing countries to leapfrog the grid system and go straight to renewable energy, cutting the grid companies right out of the equation. If the technology is made and becomes successful, developed countries will adopt it too, running the large energy companies out of business.

In fact, this is already in motion. Tesla has made a home battery system that will store solar energy for an individual household, a product that will allow people to be partially or fully off the grid. In a report by the Rocky Mountain Institute, big cities in the United States could partially rely on both individualized solar energy and the grid system within the next 10 to 15 years.

The increased reliance on solar and battery systems like Utilities In A Box would decrease the capital going into grid companies and increase the price of electricity in developed countries. So then the question is: Is it worth creating a solar-plus-battery system for developing countries that could change our own multi-million dollar corporations?

– Hannah Resnick

Sources: Fast Company, Mother Jones Rocky Mountain Institution
Photo: Wikipedia

 

solar-powered_iShack
In 2012, South Africa’s subsidized housing program had built about 2.8 million houses since 1994. As impressive as that is, the country still faced a backlog of nearly 2 million homes. Facing these numbers, the government decided to shift its focus from providing new-made homes for every household to improving current living conditions. Approximately 1.2 million households, or 3 million people, are still living in informal homes today. These shacks have no electricity or running water. Many are uninsulated and poorly ventilated, creating unhealthy environments for those inside.

Mark Swilling decided to address this problem back in 2011. Swilling, the academic head of the Sustainability Institute in Stellenbosch, asked his students, “‘What can be done while people are waiting?’ We wanted to orientate [our research] towards what the average shack dweller could do while they are waiting for the state.”

His question led to the solar-powered iShack. The shiny metal walls of these ‘improved shacks’ stand out in shantytowns where wooden pallets and corroded sheets of zinc are the building norm. The shacks also feature insulation made of recycled plastic products, a layer of insulating bricks around the bases of the walls, windows designed to improve airflow, and a coat of fire-retardant paint.

The most popular feature by far, however, is the solar electricity. The shacks are equipped with a photovoltaic panel on the roof that powers a porch light and interior lights, as well as an electrical outlet that makes it possible for residents to charge their cell phones.

Damian Conway, manager and director of the Sustainability Institute Innovation Lab, the main team behind the implantation of the iShack, says that part of their research methodology was paying close attention to what they community really wanted. “Electricity is the number one thing that most people in Enkanini say they need,” Conway says. “The needs are all there: sanitation, water … but the main thing is energy.”

The iShack has been warmly received. Nosango Plaatjie, a mother of three living in one of the iShack prototypes, commented that the ability to keep her phone charged and her lights on has made a huge difference to her family.

“The solar [lights] are better,” Plaatije said. “Now we don’t need to go to sleep early anymore because now we have lights. My daughter must do her homework now, she doesn’t have any more excuses. And I like the light outside because we can see what is going on, I feel safer.”

The iShack model of incremental improvements to already-existing settlements has a lot of people excited. In 2013, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supplied the organization with a grant that would allow the project to roll out across the informal settlement of Enkanini.

With much success and steadily rising support from the local community, other groups are beginning to take notice. Slum Dwellers International, a global nonprofit that serves the urban poor, is watching iShack with an eye toward implementing the project across many countries in Africa.

The secretariat-coordinator Joel Bolnick gave the impression of hopeful patience when he said, “Our intention is to give the institute some time to develop the model. They’re almost there now.”

– Marina Middleton

Sources: Mashable, The Guardian iShack Project CNN Live Science Mail & Guardian
Photo: Street News Service

SunFarmer
After the devastating earthquakes in Nepal this past April, the co-founder of SunFarmer, Jason Gray, stepped into action. SunFarmer is a nonprofit organization that provides “robust solar energy” to communities removed from a major energy grid. They make solar energy systems called solar lanterns, to help individuals use sunlight as a key resource for renewable energy.

Gray believes that solar energy is leapfrogging the electrical grid in developing countries, just like the mobile phone leapfrogged the landline. SunFarmer offers affordable, risk-free energy for education, health and water projects. Their disaster relief in Nepal is focused on electricity generation systems for hospitals and relief centers.

In Nepal, an individual solar lantern can provide energy for a household, or better yet, three lanterns can power an entire hospital. These solar lanterns provide stable, constant energy to the hospitals, even though dramatic weather changes.

After the earthquakes, disaster relief came quickly to Nepal and medical supplies were donated, however, they could not be used until there was power, which is exactly what SunFarmer supplied. These renewable energy lanterns were essential in the disaster relief, as they supplied stability and reliability when it was most needed.

SunFarmer is focusing its attention on hospitals and water projects. When the earthquakes hit, they immediately mobilized 1,300 solar lanterns, 90 portable chargers and 2 water purification systems. In the following weeks, they raised approximately $3 million to allocate to Nepal for relief, mainly focused on providing water and electricity, but also helped import goods.

Back in 2009, Gray launched the first large-scale solar power project in Canada that proved to be successful, which showed him the possibilities for their use in developing countries. Gray is looking to expand his business to other developing areas, in hopes of helping before any disaster hits. Specifically, he is looking at rural agricultural areas that are stuck in the poverty cycle because they lack a reliable energy source needed for irrigation.

SunFarmer’s long-term goal is to power 4,000 hospitals, schools and water projects, impacting 7 million people, by 2020. They hope to make energy an affordable resource for people in developing countries.

– Hannah Resnick

Sources: CBC News, The Globe and Mail
Photo: Else Canada

Solar_Suitcase_Saves_Lives_in_Developing_Countries
Childbirth can present risks anywhere in the world. However, in developing countries, giving birth can often be lethal for both mother and child. The most common causes of infant mortality include infections, premature birth, or birth asphyxia, while maternal deaths are usually the result of severe bleeding or high blood pressure during pregnancy. Effective care before, during, and after childbirth is necessary to treat such complications, but many areas lack the basic resources to provide such care.

In 2008, Dr. Laura Satchel traveled to Nigeria to research possible methods of lowering the country’s maternal death rate, which currently stands at 630 deaths per 100,000 births. Nigeria also has the 10th highest infant mortality rate in the world, with 74.09 deaths per 1,000 births. While working in state hospitals, Satchel realized that many of these deaths were not simply due to illness, but unreliable electricity interfering with the doctors’ ability to treat their patients. Nighttime deliveries were often illuminated only by candlelight, cesarean sections were frequently cancelled or conducted by flashlight, and patients were forced to wait days for life-saving procedures that could not be performed without electricity. This resulted in many deaths from treatable conditions.

Satchel’s goal was to come up with an affordable solution. She contacted her husband, Hal Aronson, a solar energy educator in Berkeley, California. Aronson began designing an off-grid solar electric system, specifically intended for use in maternity wards and labor rooms. This resulted in the development of the Solar Suitcase.

The Solar Suitcase is a bright yellow pack containing high efficiency LED medical lighting, a universal cell phone charger, a battery charger, and outlets for 12V DC devices. The maternity kit also includes a fetal Doppler. The suitcase is designed to last between 10 and 20 years, only requiring a battery change every two years. When Nigerian health clinics began receiving the suitcases, doctors were immediately able to charge headlamps and walkie-talkies while they waited for larger solar installations at their facilities.

In 2009, Satchel and Aronson founded the non-profit organization We Care Solar, aiming to improve the design of the Solar Suitcase and distribute them to more clinics in need. In 2014 alone, the suitcases are estimated to have served 256,800 mothers. As of November 2014, approximately 900 suitcases had been distributed to 25 countries worldwide, from Sierra Leone to Malawi.

Although the suitcases are primarily used in maternal health clinics, they have also saved lives in the wake of natural disasters. We Care Solar sent the device to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake at the request of medical relief teams.

Currently, the organization is in the process of sending 100 suitcases to Nepal, where thousands of pregnant women are in need of medical care following the recent string of earthquakes. In the coming months, We Care Solar plans on expanding its programs in Ethiopia, Tanzania and the Philippines. In a world where mothers and newborns die each day from preventable causes, devices like the Solar Suitcase provide doctors with the tools they need to give women and their children a chance at life.

– Jane Harkness

Sources: CIA 1, CIA 2, Huffington Post, Issuu, We Care Solar, WHO 1, WHO 2
Photo: Flickr

carbon
According to the World Bank, renewable and efficient energy are key to overcoming global poverty. Researchers have recently found that carbon-based materials can offer some of the most effective sources of renewable solar energy.

The first source is an all-carbon solar cell developed by researchers at Stanford University. As the name suggests, the cell uses carbon to replace traditional silver and indium tin oxide, which are far more expensive.

What proves most beneficial about the cell is the consistency. The prototype is a thin film, and because of this, it can be placed on top of existing equipment to gather energy. This means new windows or panes do not need to be retrofitted to the new design. Instead the film can simply be placed on top and the energy will generate.

The product is still in the developmental stages, thus not yet reaching the levels of silicon solar panels. This is partially because the carbon-based material needs infrared light to function. While this is problematic, researchers are confident that they can adjust the material to make it a potent form of energy that can be used around the world.

Another carbon-based material has also been found as an excellent steam generator. Solar-powered steam is effective for electricity, but there are other uses that make it ideal for areas of the world whose only natural resource is sunlight. These include refrigeration, sterilization, chemical purification and waste treatment.

Despite its many beneficial uses, it will be hard to pass these on at a commercial level. While it might take a while, it seems that the researchers at MIT are confident about solar energy.

The verdict on both of these carbon-based materials seems to be similar: they can be quite effective but are still in nascent stages. However, the research that has happened up to this point has proven to be very promising. Researchers have looked into several different solutions to each of the unique problems posed.  The big incentive backing it should be enough cause to act.

– Andrew Rywak

Sources: The Economist, Scientific American, Gizmag
Photo: Gizmag

solar power
The Abu Dhabi Fund for Development announced a new loan program that would provide Sierra Leone with Dh 33 million, or about $8.9 million, to construct a new solar power plant near Freetown, the capital and a major urban area. Called Solar Park Freetown, the project would provide an extra six megawatts to Sierra Leone’s already burgeoning solar power networks.

In addition to providing manufacturing jobs to people who need it, Solar Park Freetown will bolster Sierra Leone’s shaky central power supplies. Much of Freetown’s power comes from the Bumbuna Dam, which, according to a 2011 World Bank report, produces less than 20 megawatts of power during the dry season. Sierra Leone’s grid only provides 13 megawatts per million people, about 3.5 times less than nations with similar socio-economic conditions. The weak electrical grid forces many citizens to purchase expensive oil and gas, and electric power remains scarce.

New central solar power initiatives will help solve this problem. Adding to the grid’s capacity with works like Solar Park Freetown will help satisfy energy demands and improve quality of life in Freetown. Dr. Kaifala Mara, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Finance, believes that the project will help people “overcome the difficult economic conditions by improving the performance of the main economic sectors, leading to advancing sustainable development” for the nation.

Centralized power, however, is only part of the story. For the 97 percent of rural Sierra Leoneans who lack access to the grid, individual solar home systems and decentralized generators can provide crucial electric power for a multitude of purposes. In town centers, street lamps run on solar power, and solar radios help citizens communicate and learn about current events. Both homes and community buildings like churches and schools can purchase individual solar energy systems to generate electricity.

The usefulness of solar energy in Sierra Leone creates economic opportunities. Open-air markets selling solar components are common, and installation companies can profit from the demand for new systems. Other entrepreneurs have built solar recharging stations and charge small fees for people to power their smartphones and other mobile devices. Using Sierra Leone’s cell network, which uses solar-powered relay stations, businesses can communicate and share data more easily and optimize earnings.

Despite the explosion of solar technology, obstacles hinder greater national access to electricity. Not all solar panels are created equally, and not all vendors can tell the difference between low-quality and high-quality panels. Moreover, some dishonest manufacturers will claim that their products are better quality than they are or even sell non-functioning parts. Even if everything works, not all Sierra Leoneans have the technical skills to properly install solar systems, making progress slower.

Financing more decentralized solutions can be difficult. Sierra Leone does not offer subsidies to people looking to buy solar home systems, and many people in rural areas are not close enough to banks to get loans. For these reasons, not everyone can afford all of the components needed to generate electricity. Centralized power, especially in urban areas, will need to offset the shortcomings of off-grid systems.

Solar power has the potential to greatly increase energy access in Sierra Leone and accelerate its economic growth. Both internationally financed central power systems like Solar Park Freetown and private solar setups in rural areas will create jobs and provide a stable source of energy for millions.

– Ted Rappleye

Sources: Gulf News, Awareness News Sierra Leone, The World Bank
Photo: Forbes

solar_cookers_international

Solar Cookers International aims to provide thermal cooking technologies to those who most need them. Over three billion people eat food cooked over an open fire, and burning organic matter instead of returning it to the land causes soil erosion and a decline in crop production.

Solar Cookers International has already distributed 155,000 units worldwide.  They teach individuals how to cook during sunny weather, at night and during severe weather. They also educate the users on how to use a water pasteurization indicator so that they may produce safe water to drink.  Moreover, Solar Cookers International has recently made it their goal to provide 20 percent of families with access to solar cooking technology by 2030.

Projects to distribute the cookers in Chad, Haiti, Kenya and Madagascar have been successfully implemented.  Solar Cookers International provided cookers in four refugee camps in Chad where many of the women have been teaching each other how to use the technology. Cookers were distributed in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake in an attempt to help preserve more of the forests.

Cookers were also distributed to refugee camps in Kenya and now provide food for over 15,000 families.  Cookers were distributed in Madagascar, also to help preserve the forests, and as a region that averages 330 sunny days per year, the cookers have become an extremely common means of cooking. Over 50,000 cookers are in use; as a result, deforestation has been reduced by around 65  percent.

Solar Cookers International operates on four basic principles: visibility, technology, training and conferences.  The goals are to “increase awareness about the life and earth saving power of solar cooking, to improve solar cooking designs, to promote and provide training in how to use solar cookers, and to expand [their] role in regional and international conferences on solar cooking and other fuel efficient cooking methods.”

Solar Cookers International’s ultimate goal, however, is to “change and save lives with solar cooking thermal technology.”

– Jordyn Horowitz

Sources: Solar Cookers International, SCInet Wiki
Photo: EPA

Climate_Change
A growing movement is spreading throughout the international community in regards to addressing the prevalence of climate change. Accordingly, thousands of organizations on a global scale have mobilized to spread awareness, understand key issues and articulate solutions.

In the United States alone, there are a plethora of organizations that have been able to make strides in addressing the issue. Here is a list of 5 prominent environmental organizations that are fighting climate change and reaching success.

1. 350.org: The influential global movement headed by author Bill McKibben works across nearly 200 countries. Much of their work specifically targets carbon emissions as the number 350 itself refers to the amount of atmospheric carbon (in parts per million) needed for a stable climate.

Currently, the number is nearly at 400 parts per million, which is quite overwhelming. In order to reduce the number on an international scale, 350 works on campaigns widely ranging from stopping the Keystone XL pipeline in the United States to fighting the development of coal power plants in India.

2. Chesapeake Climate Action Network: Focusing specifically on the Atlantic coast of the United States, the Chesapeake Climate Action (CCAN) is the first organization to address climate change impacts in the Maryland/Virginia region. The area is highly vulnerable as it is home to dozens of defense facilities, while also being low-lying and densely populated.

CCAN works at the grassroots level to spread awareness, introduce the general public into the political process and influence environmental legislation. More recently, their work has been focusing on making use of Virginia’s vast renewable energy potential in offshore wind and solar energy.

3. Sierra Club: As one of the oldest, largest and influential environmental organizations in the United States, the Sierra Club has been focusing on various environmental issues for the past century. They now have 64 local chapters nationwide, a network of 2.1 million supporters and an extremely dedicated team of individuals.

In the past, The Sierra Club was influential in the implementation of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act. Currently, they are focused on leading the world towards a clean energy economy and away from the heavy reliance on the fossil fuel industry.

4. Climate Reality Project: Both founded and chaired by Al Gore, the former Vice President and Nobel Laureate has led a growing global network of over 5 million individuals. The Climate Reality Project focuses heavily on spreading awareness by introducing the international scientific consensus on climate change to the general public.

Some of their promising initiatives are centered on revealing the truth behind the climate denial movement, providing information on the costs of carbon pollution and training climate reality leaders to have the skills to mobilize communities for action.

5. Energy Action Coalition: With student activism on the steep rise, organizations form and collaborate to be as effective as possible. The Energy Action Coalition is a group of 30 youth led organizations that address current environmental issues. With their level of diversity and broad organizational inclusion, the Energy Action Coalition is able to reach success in mobilizing campus communities.

The combined efforts of students across America have been successful in organizing national Power Shift Summits and campaigns to stop the development of the Keystone XL pipeline.

However, one of their prominent successes is embedded within their commitment to establishing carbon neutral college campuses. Ultimately, the Energy Action Coalition has been able to solidify almost 700 campus commitments to carbon neutrality up to 2012.

Jugal Patel

Sources: 350.org, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Sierra Club, The Climate Reality Project, Sierra Club, Energy Action Coalition
Photo: Scientific American