SELF
Many developing nations struggle with energy poverty, which is defined as “a lack of access to modern energy services.” According to Energypedia, “access to energy is a prerequisite of human development.” Electricity is also essential for the “provision of social services such as education and health.” Energy access also links to the economic growth and development of a nation. The Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) is a nonprofit organization with a mission of harnessing solar energy to support social and economic development in disadvantaged communities.

Benefits of Solar Power

According to ZenEnergy, the use of solar energy helps to decrease the effects of climate change by reducing fossil fuel reliance, air pollution and water usage. Solar energy does not burn fuel, eliminating the harmful gas emissions that stem from fossil fuel energy production. Additionally, unlike the finite nature of fossil fuels, solar energy is abundant. Furthermore, solar energy does not require water to generate electricity. Solar power is a cost-effective and sustainable renewable energy source that can help reduce energy poverty throughout the world.

Addressing Energy Poverty

SELF implements solar projects to sustainably create energy, which provides for basic human needs and economic development. When SELF was first established in 1990, the organization began by fitting individual home solar-powered systems. However, the company yearned to make a larger impact with more long-term benefits. As a result, SELF adjusted its goals to include the creation of a business model “that could be self-sustained in communities” in developing countries. Thus, the Whole Village Development Model was born.

This “all-encompassing approach” utilizes solar energy from the sun to power entire villages while improving “healthcare, education and food security.” In 2001, SELF celebrated the opening of its first “solar-powered computer lab” in a high school in Maphephethe, South Africa. Due to these solar-powered capabilities, student enrollment at the school increased by 40% and graduation rates rose by close to 15%.

Solar Power in Developing Communities

Although the entire world can benefit from solar energy, impoverished countries are especially targeted to improve air quality and reduce health issues linked to the burning of fuelwood, reports Science Direct. Solar photovoltaic is a type of technology that can provide renewable energy in impoverished communities. This particular solar source eliminates the financial burden of grid extensions. Grid extensions are not viable options in communities with scarce traditional energy sources. For many developing countries, solar energy provides the opportunity for a better life, and, environmental sustainability is a bonus.

Overseeing Vaccine Refrigerators

Among other projects, in partnership with PATH, “an international nonprofit global health organization” located in the U.S. state of Seattle, SELF recently pledged to enlist evaluation teams to ensure vaccine refrigerators are functioning effectively in vaccination sites around Haiti, Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Developing countries often lack proper mechanisms to monitor the efficiency of vaccine refrigerators. The goal of the partnership is to provide this assurance.

Two solar technicians from SELF are responsible for visiting 42 sites in Haiti to evaluate refrigerators on a monthly basis. After a one-year evaluation, SELF analyzes the data and reports on it to the World Health Organization. As inadequate refrigeration can have adverse public health implications, the vaccine cold storage monitoring project is just one example of the important work SELF does to support global communities aside from solar energy projects.

SELF’s Commitment to Disadvantaged Communities

Presently, SELF is working on several different projects with the main objective of improving living conditions in developing countries. Some of its projects include bringing clean water to West Africa as well as expanding micro-grids and providing solar training in Haiti. SELF continues to light up communities in need with new projects and approaches that harness the sustainable power of the sun.

Jessica Barile
Photo: Flickr

Electrifying the Rural Amazon
In the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, communities of people currently live on islands with no electricity. The Tucuruí hydroelectric dam on the Tocantins River in the Amazon provides electricity to countless people but not to those living in the area. In 2013, nearly a quarter of those living in this region lived in “favelas” or slums and 12,000 people were without electricity. Electrifying the rural Amazon could improve the conditions of those living there.

Bringing Power

The Brazilian government’s original plan was to connect isolated communities to the national power grid. However, this was not feasible due to Brazil’s difficult terrain. The landscape made it very challenging to reach certain remote regions. Oftentimes, these remote areas have plenty of renewable resources, such as the sun, wind and water. This means that off-grid solutions, such as individual solar panels, can be much more effective in reaching these areas. Thus, a new plan emerged.

Omexom, through its Brazilian branch (VINCI Energies), plans to install mini photovoltaic power plants to bring electricity to these isolated communities. From January 2019 to January 2020, Omexom was supposed to install 1,361 solar panel systems to the islands surrounding the dam. Each of these solar panels has a capacity of 1.8 MWp, which is enough power to run lights and household appliances on the farms. This is all part of the Brazilian government’s program “Luz Para Todos.” This endeavor aims to provide electricity to more than 10 million people living in the rural areas of the country without access to the grid. Electrifying the rural Amazon and other rural areas in Brazil can help the country in a multitude of ways, including poverty.

How Electricity Helps Poverty Reduction

Very few farms on these islands have access to diesel generators for power as they are expensive. Many families use oil lamps for light and preserve food using ice they must bring back from the mainland daily. Renewable resources could help increase the quality of living for these families through sustainable development. In turn, this could reduce poverty overall.

According to an environmental research letter, “Electrification provides a solid basis for development of local communities.” Access to electricity aids communities in accessing other vital resources. Safe potable water, improved health conditions and food security are all linked to available electricity. By-products, such as time saved and less pollution, also aid the community.

Electrifying the rural Amazon can help improve Brazil’s Human Development Index (HDI) score. Studies have shown a clear connection between HDI and electricity consumption. One study even concluding that electricity consumption promotes human development. In the case of Brazil specifically, the states with the highest HDI score were also the states with the highest electrification levels in the country.

Lighting Up the Future

Brazil can help improve the lives of the rural populace by simply giving these communities access to electricity. Electrifying the rural Amazon will help the people isolated by the Tucuruí dam and many others across the rainforest. With increased access to electricity, inhabitants can obtain a higher quality of life and have more opportunities in life. Electricity for those who live off-grid can help to decrease poverty levels. It is time to bring poverty-reduction efforts to the rural areas; it is time to electrify the rural Amazon.

Courtney Roe
Photo: Flickr

Ghana's Solar Taxi ProjectThe African country of Ghana is making significant gains in the realms of sustainability, female empowerment and poverty reduction. The Solar Taxi initiative is a project that focuses on producing solar-powered electric vehicles for use across the country. Started in September 2018, Ghana’s Solar Taxi project was launched by Kumasi Hive in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation. The initiative aims to alleviate poverty, create employment and protect the environment.

Solar Taxi’s 3 Main Benefits

  1. Environmental Benefits. Ghana’s Solar Taxi project is all about using clean, renewable energy to solve problems. Utilizing solar power is a perfect fit for Ghana because the country receives 1,800-3,000 hours of sun annually. In addition, electric vehicles produce fewer carbon emissions than standard vehicles. Solar Taxi assembles a variety of vehicle options, including motorcycles, tricycles, sedans, hatchbacks and SUVs. All of these vehicles would typically require an electrical charge in order to function. However, the existing national electricity grid in Ghana is extremely unreliable. Solar Taxi instead designs solar hubs to provide an alternative source of power independently. These charging hubs can be found in four key Ghanaian cities. The progress of Solar Taxi brings Ghana closer to its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 15% by 2030.
  2. Social Benefits. Solar Taxi strives to uplift Ghanaian women through extensive training programs and employment opportunities. The project set up the Solar Taxi Female Engineering Academy that teaches young women to assemble solar vehicles. The Academy has instructed 60 women so far. Academy facilitator, Erica, says that it is “a place of mentorship” giving women “the exposure to be confident.” Ghana’s Solar Taxi project actively empowers women in a society that places limitations on what women can achieve. The training gives students valuable problem-solving skills and engineering experience. The Female Driver Training Academy teaches local women how to safely operate and maintain electric vehicles. The academy also provides women with the support and education to obtain a driving license and become drivers for Solar Taxi.
  3. Financial Benefits. The Ghanaian startup also proves to be financially viable. Fuel prices in Ghana are already high and recent price increases only put more strain on companies and vehicle owners. The solar-driven technology completely cuts out fuel expenses. The cars that Solar Taxi assembles are used in the driving services it provides and others are made for sale to the public. In doing this, Ghana’s Solar Taxi project is expanding the reach of electric cars and bikes to members of the community. Those without a vehicle can conveniently request a ride with the Solar Taxi app at an affordable price. By making transportation readily available, this service has the potential to reduce poverty rates in Ghana. Whether someone needs to get to a job interview or buy clothes for a new job, Solar Taxi is playing a key role in energizing Ghana’s economy.

Looking Ahead

Though the startup is only a few years old, it is creating significant benefits for citizens. Solar Taxi gives Ghanaian women the opportunity to break gender norms and enter the solar-powered vehicle industry. In addition, the cost-effective energy source is relieving financial burdens in an environmentally conscious manner. Solar Taxi is certainly contributing to a brighter future for Ghana.

– Lucy Gentry
Photo: Flickr

Renewable Energy in IndiaThe development of sustainable energy has many benefits for citizens in India. In addition to economic growth, it also creates new job opportunities which can lower poverty rates. In 2017, 10.3 million renewable energy jobs were available globally. Renewable energy in India has the potential to significantly boost the country’s economic standing and lift many out of poverty.

Renewable Energy in India

With the implementation of 160 gigawatts (GW) of solar and wind energy, India projects to create more than 330,000 new jobs by 2022. In 2017, the solar and wind energy sectors of renewable energy have already employed 151,000 people. People living in poverty in rural areas will benefit from job creation and increased energy will provide children with more time to work on their education after dark, increased productivity for families and increased health benefits.

Types of Renewable Energy in India

  • Solar Energy: The Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (NSM) was created by the Government of India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy to develop 100 gigawatts of solar power from grid-connected and off-grid solar energy by 2022. NSM’s implementation of photovoltaic (PV) cells has created more jobs per unit of energy than any other energy source, making it an important factor in lowering unemployment rates in India. Solar energy is most commonly sourced from PV cells that can be installed on rooftops of houses or commercial buildings and absorb sunlight throughout the day.
  • Wind Energy: One of the largest sectors of renewable energy in India is wind energy. India is the fifth-largest wind energy producer and has the potential to grow even larger with a target of 60 gigawatts by 2022. Further expansion in the wind energy industry can be a major source of jobs for both unskilled and skilled workers in India. Wind energy is created in India through the development of wind farms, created through the installation of wind energy generators in rural areas that have ample amount of land. The installation of wind farms in rural areas creates job opportunities for rural citizens living in poverty.
  • Biomass Energy: Biomass has the potential to become a large source of renewable energy in India. Biomass is sourced from municipal waste, solid material and liquid material. India is rich in biomass resources. One of the most successful sources of biomass comes from sugar cane in agriculture and manure from livestock. Farms stand to benefit largely from the implementation of biomass energy development, in turn, benefiting rural people living in poverty.

Continued Development

Though large strides have been made in renewable energy in India, further development could bring significant benefits. India plans to quintuple current wind and solar energy capacity and could potentially become the world’s third-largest economy by 2030.

Renewable energy has improved the lives of many citizens living in India, however, more than 600 million people still use firewood for cooking and many have unreliable energy sources. Expanding renewable energy across India will further improve the quality of lives of citizens and bring many out of poverty through the creation of jobs in renewable energy sectors and increased opportunities for education and training in the sector.

Simone Riggins
Photo: Flickr

Electricity Access in the SahelOn March 11, 2021, the World Bank approved $22.5 million of funding for the Regional Off-Grid Electricity Access Project (ROGEAP) in the Sahel region of Africa. This region is one of the most impoverished areas in the world and few residents have access to electricity. However, the funding expects to increase electricity access in the Sahel by turning to a new source of energy — solar power.

Electricity Access in Sahel Region

The Sahel region stretches across the Sahara desert and includes the countries of Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad, among others. Besides having arid climates, the common denominator for countries in the Sahel region is poverty. None of the countries mentioned above have a GDP per capita of more than $3,000, and with this lack of capital, comes a lack of electricity access. Furthermore, approximately 50% of the 340 million people living in the Sahel region do not have access to electricity, representing one of the lowest modern electricity consumption rates for any region on Earth. Insufficient generation, high petroleum prices and lack of financing for large electricity grids have all contributed to the area’s low connectivity.

This lack of electricity access in the Sahel has had destructive physical and economic effects on regional residents. Several public health centers lack sufficient energy generation, which puts the lives of patients requiring electricity for survival at great risk. Furthermore, rural areas of the Sahel often lack any electricity, forcing residents to use firewood in traditional stoves for cooking, which has led to adverse health effects from smoke inhalation and the dangers of cutting trees for fuel. Even if the electrical grid reaches some rural areas, most families cannot afford the cost. Many countries in the region currently generate more than 90% of their energy from expensive diesel or heavy fuel, which results in high energy costs for both the urban and rural impoverished. Without any policy changes, energy poverty will continue to ravage the Sahel region for the foreseeable future.

Turning to Solar Power Solutions

Thankfully, solar power presents an exciting new possibility for expanding electricity access in the Sahel. Experts see the Sahel as an area with massive solar potential, as many people living there, especially those in rural communities, have access to vast areas of flat land needed for solar panels. Furthermore, off-grid (individually owned) solar power systems present the lowest-cost energy option for 65% of the rural population in the Sahel region. Off-grid power sources are already becoming regional hallmarks as many residents live a significant distance from the power grid. According to the International Energy Agency, about 70% of Africa’s new rural power will come from off-grid power sources by 2040.

Seeing this potential, the World Bank increased funding for the Regional Off-Grid Electricity Access Project (ROGEAP) by $22.5 million. Grants from the International Development Association and the Clean Technology Fund have made this funding possible. The main goal of ROGEAP is to support the development of stand-alone (off-grid) solar products and the advancement of the solar market in a unified effort to boost electricity access in the Sahel. This project will assist in accelerating the deployment of stand-alone solar products, provide credits and grants for off-grid solar home systems and coordinate policies and standards to develop a prosperous regional solar market.

How ROGEAP Will Help

  1. It will provide electricity for public health centers and schools, which will, in turn, improve health and education in the region. The projected increase in the standard of living will likely lead to more people being able to secure well-paying jobs to support themselves and their families.
  2. It will create jobs within the blossoming solar market for people of all skill levels. Transitioning to solar power creates the need for jobs in installation, transportation and infrastructure industries. Additionally, entrepreneurial ventures in solar power will likely sprout from the new funding.
  3. It will improve the output and ease of production for many different jobs. For example, farming communities can use solar water pumps for easier irrigation and milling communities can use new solar milling equipment for more efficient production.

Lighting the Way Forward

By supporting the advancement of stand-alone solar products, ROGEAP aims to enhance electricity access in the Sahel for more than a million residents. The project will increase the use of solar power across the region and subsequently provide electricity for homes, schools, hospitals, farms and small businesses that previously lacked connection. The new funding will likely have a positive impact on health, education and employment in the region for decades to come. If the World Bank and other international agencies hope to continue this endeavor of expanding electricity access in developing regions of the world, projects supporting stand-alone solar power sources like ROGEAP seem to be a winning solution.

Calvin Melloh
Photo: Flickr

Renewable Energy in Palestine
The Palestinian territories are in the midst of a devastating energy crisis, leaving millions of people without stable access to electricity. However, the natural features of this region may hold the key to solving this crisis and improve the livelihoods of millions. Unlocking the potential of renewable energy in Palestine will help alleviate the growing carbon footprint of areas like Gaza, as well as fill holes in the already strained power grids that support Gaza and the West Bank.

Energy in Palestine

Palestine has a significant dependence on Israel and neighboring Jordan and Egypt for the majority of its energy demands. However, this system is not viable as a long-term solution. Political instability, population booms, rapid industrialization and increasing demand for higher living standards have put tremendous stress on Palestine’s energy supply. In fact, the cost of energy in Palestine is the highest in the region and the scarcity that growing demand has caused has had a devastating effect on the quality of life and poverty levels in the territories.

Rolling blackouts are now commonplace in both Gaza and the West Bank, denying residents access to essential household appliances, like electric stoves and air conditioning. It also hinders access to means of modernization, such as telecommunications and the internet. According to the United Nations, the average citizen of Gaza has, at best, access to electricity for 12 hours per day when the grid is at its most stable, but political instability can diminish access down to only two hours per day. During the summer and winter, when the strain is higher, residents often experience only three to four hours of electricity per day.

As the population of Palestine grows, especially in dense urban zones along the Gaza strip, the Palestinian authorities will need to find new ways to satisfy rising energy demands. The environment around the Palestinian territories could potentially hold the key to mitigating the existing energy crisis, as well as reduce Palestine’s energy dependency on its neighbors and bolstering the economic viability of Palestine as a more self-sufficient nation. The options for renewable energy in Palestine are plentiful and readily available on the domestic level.

Solar and Geothermal Energy

The two most viable options for renewable energy in Palestine are solar and geothermal energy. With over 300 days of steady sunshine a year, residents of Gaza and the West Bank have increasingly turned towards solar energy as a way to power small, everyday appliances, such as electric fans and other forms of air conditioning. This is especially important during the summer months when temperatures soar. Even relatively simple installations of small solar panels have had an extraordinary effect on living conditions, as residents of Gaza often endure roaming blackouts and inconsistent power access. According to an interview conducted in 2018 by the Reuters news source, one resident of the Nusseirat refugee camp in Gaza reported having no access to electricity in her family’s home until installing solar panels. Now her family is able to keep the air cool in their home with electric fans that solar energy powers.

Organizations and NGOs Helping Provide Solar Energy in Palestine

Several groups and NGOs have already paved the way for the broader use of solar energy in Palestine. Sunshine4Palestine is a great example of how a group can utilize solar energy to help alleviate symptoms of poverty. The project designed and installed a modular plant that provides solar energy to the Jenin Hospital in Gaza, upping its hours of operation from four to 17 hours per day. Sunshine4Palestine has also spearheaded the Tree of Light project, using solar-powered “trees” to harness clean energy and turn it into a way to illuminate public spaces at night, creating safer streets in Gaza.

Comet ME is an Israeli NGO that has been providing solar panels to villages in the West Bank. The village of Shaeb al-Buttim is one such village where panels that Comet installed have supplied electricity to 34 families, who, otherwise, would have no means of accessing the power grid. Such efforts, as in this instance, have revitalized otherwise dying villages, granting them access to television and other forms of media, offering villages such as Shaeb al-Buttim a chance to feel connected to the international community.

Other groups, such as PENGON, Ma’an Development Sector and the Palestinian Hydrology Group have supplied solar panels to over 650 farms and homes in Gaza. They have also helped educate members of the community on ways to participate in creating a sustainable Palestine.

Geothermal Energy

Other methods of harvesting renewable energy in Palestine are also on the horizon. In the last decade, geothermal energy has come to represent an innovative solution for saving on the energy costs of heating homes in the winter and cooling homes in the summer. This method relies on harnessing the natural difference between ground and air temperatures that occur in the summer and winter months.

Despite the conflict and struggles that those advocating for a more energy-independent and sustainable Palestine face, both public and private sectors are actively implementing solutions for the region. The players involved have the determination to push past political boundaries to deliver a more stable Palestine for future populations.

– Jack Thayer
Photo: Flickr

Makes Seawater Safe
A finalist in the 2021 Lexus Design Award, Henry Glogau created a skylight device that has the potential to solve water shortages worldwide. Glogau has utilized natural resources like sunlight and seawater. With these resources, he created an indoor desalination system that makes seawater safe to drink. The system has already provided drinking water and indoor lighting to homes in Antofagasta, Chile.

How the Skylight Makes Seawater Safe to Drink

Someone has to hand-pump the salty seawater into the skylight. From there, the solar panel absorbs sunlight, which heats the water to the point of evaporation. The evaporation turns into condensation. The condensation drips down to the bottom half of the skylight. There, a spout controls the release of the desalinated drinking water. The skylight can produce up to 440 milliliters of water a day. It takes the salinity of the seawater from 36,000 ppm, past the minimum drinkability at 500 ppm to a miraculous 40 ppm. The skylight leaves behind salty brine in the water. The device, however, lets nothing go to waste. Salt batteries generate a diffused light from the leftover brine.

Free Lighting

Not only does the device provide drinking water, but it also provides free natural lighting to many lacking it. Power lines generate life for many families in settlement homes in Chile. The boarded windows of the homes block out natural light, unfortunately. The boarded windows increase privacy and security. The natural light from the skylight, along with the salt battery-powered light strip for the nighttime, is a great, cheap alternative that allows families to not have to live in the dark. The skylight creates soothing light patterns on the floors and walls during the evaporation to condensation processes.

Implementing the Skylight in Antofagasta

Antofagasta, a city in Chile, utilizes the skylight. Antofagasta is a very dry, coastal region where there is a limited flow of surface water. A water sustainability study in 2016 found Antofagasta to have the most severe water scarcity index of five main Chilean regions. This region possessed a value of 24.4.  This value excludes the ecological flow requirements. The value rises to 51.6 with the inclusion of the flow requirements. The mean annual runoff for this region is 930 liters per second. Demand for this region is 22,704 liters per second.

In the Antofagasta area, there are approximately 110,000 families without access to clean water. The skylight innovation makes seawater safe, providing clean water to many families. Many people in Chile live in compartimentos. Chile categorizes compartimentos as eight or more houses lacking legal property and having access to one basic service. For many people, the service they lack is water. The privatization of resources such as water makes clean water difficult to afford. This is why the work Glogau has done is so important for these communities. To increase the impact of this system, the people of Antofagasta are participating in local workshops on desalination that uses renewable resources. Hopefully, more communities around the world suffering from lack of access to clean drinking water will utilize this system.

– Samantha Fazio
Photo: Flickr

Renewable Energy in Nigeria
With more than 80 million citizens living without electricity, renewable energy in Nigeria helps fight energy poverty. Demand for electricity rose throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but the country’s notoriously unreliable energy grid struggled to accommodate the strains of remote work. The Nigerian government’s new Economic Sustainability Plan solves this problem and promises to deliver renewable energy to 25 million Nigerians.

The Nigeria Economic Sustainability Plan (NESP) is Nigeria’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The country first passed it in July 2020 and it outlines 12 months of government spending in the 2021 fiscal year. The government created this plan to stimulate the Nigerian economy through strategic investments in sectors that it hopes will bring the most lasting growth. This is why Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil and gas producer, is choosing to invest in renewable energy. Here are five ways this plan helps to reduce poverty in Nigeria.

5 Ways the Economic Sustainability Plan Reduces Poverty in Nigeria

  1.  Powering Businesses and Homes: The World Bank estimates that Nigeria loses $26.2 billion in economic production due to insufficient electrification. Renewable energy in Nigeria has the potential to change that. Off-grid sources in particular, such as solar panels that directly power homes and businesses, circumvent the frequent power outages that plague Nigeria’s energy grid. The Economic Sustainability Plan helps promote off-grid renewable energy in Nigeria by committing $619 million to the installation of new solar panels directly onto homes that do not currently have a connection to the power grid. The government is also providing subsidies for private firms in the solar industry to encourage even more off-grid solar energy. Not only will this plan give new electricity access to millions of Nigerians, but the government hopes more jobs in the renewable energy sector will give citizens permanent paths out of poverty.
  2. Reducing Dangerous Power Sources: The Economic Sustainability Plan replaces household power sources that endanger Nigerian homes with more efficient renewable solutions. Many who remain disconnected from the energy grid in Nigeria rely on kerosene lanterns for light, which poses toxicity and fire risk to those families. With a plan to install solar in more than 5 million homes, the Economic Sustainability Plan provides safer ways to lift Nigerians out of energy poverty.
  3. Creating Jobs: Nigeria’s plan creates 250,000 new jobs in the booming energy sector to grow the country’s economy. Not only will renewable energy in Nigeria empower communities that do not have access to the energy grid, but this plan stimulates the domestic manufacturing industry. These jobs have the potential to pull thousands of Nigerians out of poverty.
  4. Growing International Partnerships: While the Economic Sustainability Plan focuses on improving the lives of Nigerians, the formulation of the plan strengthens Nigeria’s ties to the international community. Approximately 15% of the funding for this plan comes from external sources, primarily from the World Bank. Making use of foreign aid strengthens the ties that the Nigerian economy has with international partners and generates more opportunities for future projects that help battle global poverty. An example of this is the States Fiscal Transparency, Accountability and Sustainability (SFTAS) program that Nigeria signed with the World Bank. This program gave $750 million in credits to Nigerian states in 2018, and now the federal government is encouraging states to negotiate additional funding from the World Bank to supplement the Economic Sustainability Plan in 2021 using the guidelines of the SFTAS.
  5. COVID-19 Economic Recovery: Due to the country’s dependence on oil and gas exports, the pandemic severely weakened Nigeria’s economy. The Brookings Institute estimates that the oil sector alone accounts for half of all government revenue in Nigeria, but the impact of COVID-19 led to an approximately 30% drop in oil prices. This means that Nigeria’s oil GDP has consistently declined over the past year, leading to significant damage to the Nigerian economy overall. The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic requires the Nigerian government to stimulate the economy. Part of the Economic Sustainability Plan targets assistance to renewable energy companies in hopes that the Nigerian economy will become less dependent on oil. Low-interest government loans, equipment financing and revenue-based repayment plans will grow the industry and contribute to the broader Nigerian economy.

Looking Ahead

Renewable energy in Nigeria provides a foundation for economic growth that includes underserved parts of the country. The Economic Sustainability Plan capitalizes on this potential and expands energy access, jobs and economic recovery with the power of renewables. Nigerians who could not benefit from the economic advantages of electricity access due to systematic exclusion from the grid should be able to leave poverty as a result.

– Viola Chow
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Renewable Energy in Mexico
Renewable energy in Mexico is facing a crisis. On December 28, 2020, Mexico saw a two-hour power outage that affected 10.3 million people. Mexico’s National Center for Energy Control (CENACE) reported that the blackouts were due to an imbalance in the National Interconnected System (SIN).

SIN is Mexico’s state-owned power grid. During the blackouts, Mexico experienced a loss of 7,500 megawatts due to complications with Mexico’s fossil fuel power plants. CENACE blames the blackouts on renewable energy, although renewable energy currently accounts for only 28% of SIN’s power supply.

Following the blackouts, CENACE sought to consolidate the SIN system. Representatives from the CFE (Federal Electricity Commission) said the current SIN grid system does not have the mechanical inertia and capacity to support renewable energy sources. CFE Communication Director Luis Bravo stated that renewable energy damages “the reliability of the national system” and that CENACE will exclude renewable energy from the SIN. This will not only set back Mexico’s environmental progress, but it will also drive up electricity costs for families and businesses that the pandemic has already left struggling.

Higher Electricity Costs and Reduced Investment

Expensive electricity has long been a hindrance to Mexican households and businesses. In 2020, the state-owned electric company’s generation costs were over three times the generation costs of private renewable energy businesses. In February 2021, when the company cut power to two Oaxaca communities where many residents had unpaid electricity bills, local residents traveled to the state’s CFE headquarters to protest the company’s unreasonably high rates.

Nevertheless, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is fighting against cheaper renewable energy in Mexico in favor of government-owned fossil fuel plants. On February 2, 2021, he proposed a bill that mandates that SIN plants be the first source of statewide power. The bill also requires that the government approve all renewable energy usage.

Not only are many Mexican businesses voicing opposition, but many foreign companies, like Iberdrola, a huge Spanish producer of wind power, have stopped investing in Mexican energy projects. In June 2020, Iberdrola suspended a $1.2 billion project to create a power plant in Tuxpan that would have been an economic boon to the area. Reduced usage of renewable energy in Mexico could also damage the country’s standing in international arrangements, such as trade agreements or the Paris Climate Accord.

Renewable Energy Opportunities

Despite what their president claims, renewable energy in Mexico is affordable. While wind energy is growing within Mexico through international means, solar panels are helping domestically in rural areas.

Many businesses are starting to use solar energy. One region, in particular, Querétaro, is wholeheartedly embracing the economic benefits of renewable energy. The Federation of Producers of Corn Flour and Tortillas said solar cells currently power more than 40% of the state’s 389 tortilla shops. This organization helps shop owners take out low-interest government loans, allowing businesses to get off the SIN grid. Federation president Arthur Campos Novoa said, “Over three years, they have to pay [monthly] for the [solar panels], but after that, it will be a benefit to the business.” Businesses that receive the loans save 20,000 pesos every two months. The goal is to get 100% of Querétaro’s tortilla shops off the SIN grid.

Iluméxico

Iluméxico is another company using renewable energy to benefit everyday citizens. Its mission as a social enterprise is to empower rural communities that are living in energy poverty. Iluméxico specializes in installing small solar panels in areas with poor infrastructure. The company designs and distributes solar panels, creates affordable energy access plans and trains people in the solar panel trade. Iluméxico is Mexico’s largest provider of off-grid solar energy. It has installed nearly 25,000 systems and should reach 1 million people by 2025.

For example, Iluméxico helped Nereo Cruz of Chichicuastla, Veracruz along with his wife and four children out of energy poverty. Cruz and his family used to have to stop most activities at sunset because of their lack of electricity, but with a microloan from Iluméxico, Nereo purchased a solar home system that he slowly paid off using savings and income.

Renewable energy in Mexico is revealing political divisions. However, those fighting for a greener and more affordable future are persevering through the current crisis to continue alleviating energy poverty.

– Matthew Martinez
Photo: Flickr

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