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Energy Vault
“Energy poverty” is a term that describes the lack of reliable, affordable sources of energy. More than one-seventh of the world’s population still lacks electricity, and in countries where it is available, it is often very expensive or unreliable. Access to energy is essential to people’s health and wellbeing, and it is instrumental in reducing poverty. Countries will not be able to engage in economic activities without modern, efficient energy. This in turn slows economic growth, which is a necessity for countries to pull themselves out of poverty. The poor will remain outcast and unprosperous, shut out from the high technology world if energy poverty persists. Here is some information about renewable energy and the Swiss startup Energy Vault that is providing low-cost energy to developing countries.

Renewable Energy

Renewable energy has the potential to help the developing countries that are struggling to provide power. It is sustainable and efficient, and the more efficient the energy technologies are, the more energy a country can save to use elsewhere. Renewable energy may seem like the perfect solution to energy poverty. In practice, however, the familiar forms of renewable energy like wind and hydropower pose various challenges.

Barriers to Renewable Energy Use

First, renewable energy has a high initial cost. In order to harness renewable energy, countries must build specific structures to capture it and convert it into electrical power. If using hydropower, a country must build a hydropower plant; in the case of wind energy, a country must build wind turbines. Furthermore, energy generation is dependent on the climate and geography of the area and it may be unstable. Wind does not blow incessantly, and the turbines will not generate any energy when there is no breeze.

In the example of hydropower, areas may not have water to spare to power hydroelectric plants. More than 40% of the world’s people still do not have access to clean water, and it would be unwise for countries to use the little they do have on hydropower when their own people are still struggling. While renewable energy seems like the best option for developing countries, it presents several challenges when implemented.

Energy Vault

In response to this issue, Energy Vault, a Swiss startup, developed a method to provide reliable energy by utilizing the force of gravity. It operates by lifting composite bricks, then lowering them back to the ground. The brick has kinetic energy as it goes down, which the structure converts into electricity. It uses similar principles to hydropower but replaces the water with a system of bricks. This makes the system more implementable than hydropower since it does not divert water away from the population, who need it for drinking. Any area can implement Energy Vault easily because it does not depend on geographical or climatic factors. Unlike hydropower, wind power or solar power, it can generate electricity under any conditions. Energy Vault is extremely low cost and affordable to developing countries that need it.

In addition to its reliability, Energy Vault is sustainable. It can last for more than 30 years, and its performance will not degrade at all throughout its life. Recycled waste and landfill materials make up the bricks that Energy Vault uses, and as such, they are readily available anywhere.

The affordability and sustainability of Energy Vault make it a good energy source for struggling countries. Though energy poverty is still a major issue in many areas of the world, startups like Energy Vault offer innovative solutions to combat it.

Alison Ding
Photo: Flickr

The Success Story of Ghana's Electrical System Ghana’s electrical mini-grids have made the country a leader in capacity and access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa. Ghana’s government and international institutions like the World Bank have worked together for over two decades to bring light to more than 30 million people. A major part of the success in the region is due to its focus on increasing reliability, distribution and renewable resources. Ghana is an example of what is possible when international forces come together to give aid to developing nations, transforming the countries into industrialized global partners.

Electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa

As of April 2020, USAID found that Ghana had 4,3999 MW of installed energy capacity. However, only 2,400 MW of energy is available due to Ghana’s reliance on hydroelectricity, fossil fuels and ailing power infrastructure.

On the other hand, Cameroon only had 1,558 MW of installed electrical capacity in 2017 and a population of more than 25 million. Moreover, Cameroon’s electricity access rate was only at 61.4% at this same time. Urban regions and rural regions have a massive disparity in access with 93.2% and 21.3% respectively. As such, Ghana’s electrical grids are improving at a much faster rate than those around them.

Creating Solar Mini-Grids in Remote Communities

In 2007, Ghana, in partnership with the World Bank, approved the Energy Development and Access Project. As of January 2021, the project has financed more than $210 million to Ghana. By September 2020, 1.73 million people in Ghana have gained access to electricity. The 2022 target is for a total increase in access for 1.95 million people. The international resources provided have helped Ghana’s government implement its national electrification plan and is the reason for its successful electrical system.

The Ghanaian government in 2018, through its National Electrification Scheme (NES), identified 11,000 communities connected to the national grid. The Ghana Ministry of Energy in 2019 stated that it cost $2 billion to reach this number. The Ghana government also estimates that about three million citizens lack access to the electricity grid.

What it Takes to Create Solar Mini-grids in Remote Communities

Ghana and its partners have been successful in providing more than 90% of Ghana with electricity access. However, funding has been a challenge. Extending electric grids to connect the remaining communities could cost up to $900 million. The country also faces a shortage of funding due to “strict conditionalities of development partners and the rising cost of borrowing.” In order to deal with this issue, the government has established a unique initiative.

Mini off-grid electricity was implemented by NES to meet the rising cost of connecting rural communities to the national grid. This initiative brought light to these remote regions by installing 20 mini-grids in 2019. The average cost of connecting a household to a mini-grid is $2,000 and have set aside funds for many more.

The Benefits of the Mini-Grid

Ghana’s infrastructure, which its national energy grid relies on, is often unreliable in remote areas. While Ghana’s electrical mini-grids have more upfront costs, it offers more reliable electricity. Pediatorkope is a small island town in Ghana and one of the first regions to receive a mini-grid in Ghana. The World Bank’s report outlined that while the costs of the grid were more significant than if they had connected the town to Ghana’s national grid, the solar mini-grid provided a more reliable system for the town. Ghana’s national grid is under a lot of stress. These mini-grids offer reliable energy distribution systems for remote communities, providing tangible benefits to Ghana’s rural population.

The World Bank stated that mini-grids would “provide wider economic benefits to the community.” Solar power is one of the renewable resources that play a significant role in these mini-grids. Native Ghana companies, international energy corporations and governmental agencies supply, maintain and operate these mini-grids.

Naomi Dagrey, a Ghanaian citizen with a mini-grid has been financially saved by her community having consistent access to electricity. “Once we got connected to electricity, I invested in a refrigerator which I use [for] frozen beef and chicken,” she stated in a World Bank promotional video. The success of Ghana’s electrical mini-grids has changed the way people are able to live and has opened the doors for future possibilities.

– Jacob Richard Bergeron
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

Plant Powered Lamps Light Up Peruvian VillagesPeru is a developing country in Latin America. It has one of the region’s best economies with a 50% growth in per capita income in a decade. Despite the country’s growing success, there is a considerable gap in electricity access between rural and urban parts of the city. Only about 62% of people in rural areas have access to electricity. Fortunately, a group of students and professors from a Peruvian university are developing a solution to combat the issue. The plantalámpara is a lamp powered solely by plants that will light up Peruvian villages.

How Did the Idea Come About?

A hurricane occurred in the Amazon rainforest area of Peru that left 173 inhabitants of the Nuevo Saposoa region without electricity. Also, about 42% of the rural population did not have electricity at all. The Nuevo Saposoa village is remote and isolated from nearby cities. It is a five-hour boat ride from the nearest town, so the village could not receive reliable access to electricity after floods from the hurricane destroyed power lines.

Consequently, the inhabitants could not perform daily tasks after sunset, like studying and cooking. A professor and group of students at the UTEC University in Lima developed the plantalámpara to solve the issue of the lack of electricity. The plantalámpara lights up Peruvian villages. The developers encourage people to get back to their normal lives.

The plantalámpara is made in a box filled with a grid of electrodes and a plant growing inside. Photosynthesis, or the capturing of sunlight energy by plants, powers the box. When the plant goes through photosynthesis, its waste decomposes in the soul and produces electrons. As a result, the lamp captures those electrons and converts the energy into battery power. It can light up a 50-watt bulb for up to two hours.

Benefits of the Plantalámpara

The lamp provides clean and sustainable energy to forest villages without using gas, oil, or dirty fossil fuels. The plant-based light is entirely pollution-free. Additionally, plants offer 100% renewable energy at a low cost. According to a lead professor of the project, any plant can be used for the lamp, though some work better than others. The plantalámpara protects the beautiful rainforest, lights up Peruvian villages, and provides the Nuevo Saposoa community with more opportunities and a better quality of life.

It also gives Peruvian residents the possibility to work on schoolwork and other tasks past sunset. UTEC intended to put the digital community in the shoes (or eyes) of a forest dweller to understand how a lack of light can affect daily actions. The team originally provided 10 of the lamp prototypes to Nuevo Saposoa. The hope is that these lamps will eventually replace gas and oil lamps.

The plantalámpara serves as a crucial part of reducing the gap between rural and urban areas of Peru. Its amazing eco-friendly technology helps to light up Peruvian villages while not harming the environment at the same time. With this invention and more, Peru will continue to grow and expand, as more opportunities become available to all.

Shveta Shah
Photo: Flickr

Rise of Solar Energy in AfricaThe future is bright for Africa. The continent is beginning to tap into an energy source that is plentiful, clean, renewable and self-sustaining. Unlike other energy sources such as coal or oil, solar energy is a path to energy independence for African nations developing their economies. This desire for energy independence has led to the rise of solar energy in Africa.

Growth Potential

Since sunlight is the most intense closest to the equator, Africa has a great opportunity when it comes to solar energy. The equator runs through the center of the continent, earning Africa the nickname, “The Sunshine Continent.” Companies such as Kenyan-based M-KOPA are tapping into the abundant resource. M-KOPA has, so far, created 2,500 jobs in East Africa. Although the rise of solar power is relatively new, Africa’s access to sunlight could fuel the future.

Independence

Other energy sources are often imported and therefore create a reliance on other nations, whereas solar energy is often independently operated. Nations with vast oil reserves are able to consolidate control over the resource, but not all citizens benefit from the nation’s wealth. The average citizen is not able to drill for oil and process it. Although oil and coal provide money for the nation, only a few wealthy people can control the resource. Individuals cannot build dams or nuclear reactors, but they can install their own solar panels and power their homes. M-KOPA helps foster self-reliance by supplying 750,000 homes and businesses with solar panels to produce electricity.

Additionally, 46% of households that are powered by M-KOPA solar panels generate income from their solar panels. They can essentially sell their excess energy back to the grid. Solar power empowers individuals because they have control over their energy. The ability to sell excess energy allows the people of Africa to collect passive income and invest in their future. Most importantly, electricity is a requisite for many activities and is necessary to live a more autonomous life. Access to electricity allows people to be more productive with their time, as they can see and work at night. Unfortunately, only 43% of Africa has access to electricity.

Companies such as SolarNow provide solar power systems for people that live off the grid. Considering 60-80% of people in Uganda and Kenya live off the grid, companies like SolarNow have an enormous market to serve. SolarNow has sold more than 50,000 units in East Africa. The rise of solar power in Africa will continue to grow the economy of African nations and allow people to take control of their lives and energy.

Clean and Renewable

Unlike other resources, solar power is clean and does not pollute the atmosphere. Solar power is renewable, utilizing energy from the sun, which is relatively infinite. Since much of Africa lacks electricity, it is important that the continent develops sustainably. This way, people do not suffer from the harmful effects of pollution. The rise of solar energy in Africa has been successful so far, considering M-KOPA has conserved 1.7 million tonnes of CO2 since 2011. Although solar panels are expensive, they are a cleaner and more sustainable option than the coal that is currently burned to produce electricity.

A Bright Future

Despite having room for further improvement, the future is bright for the people of Africa. Investing in solar power is a key component to reducing poverty because it empowers individuals to harvest their own energy and potentially profit from it. Far too many African people lack access to the electrical grid, and solar energy is a viable path to powering the continent. The rise of solar energy in Africa will continue to create jobs and produce clean, renewable energy that can help grow the economies of African nations.

– Noah Kleinert
Photo: Flickr

access to electricityA common joke in Nigeria is that the acronym NEPA, for the National Electric Power Authority, actually stands for “Never Expect Power Always.” Indeed, less than half of people in Nigeria have access to electricity, and even people who do have power frequently get it for only a few hours per day. The government has estimated that lack of access to electricity costs the economy more than $29 billion each year.

“I cannot help but wonder how many medical catastrophes have occurred in public hospitals because of ‘no light,’ how much agricultural produce has gone to waste, how many students forced to study in stuffy, hot air have failed exams, how many small businesses have foundered,” writes Booker Prize-winning Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. “What greatness have we lost, what brilliance stillborn?”

Post-Colonization and Lack of Electricity

Nigeria is not the only African nation to suffer from electricity shortages. In the last few months, Ethiopia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe have all rationed electricity due to shortages. Difficulties with providing access to electricity are common in post-colonial countries. Colonization made countries poorer in general, due to the exploitative relationships between colonized nations and their colonizers. For instance, on the eve of its independence from Britain in 1945, India’s GDP per capita was lower than it was in 1600. This theft of resources has made it more difficult for post-colonial nations to invest in electrification. And even when colonial powers did implement electric grids, they frequently only bothered to electrify areas populated by colonists and settlers, rather than the native population, according to a 2018 study by Ute Hasenöhrl, a professor of history at the University of Innsbruck.

Finding Solutions

Luckily, there are solutions to these problems. A study by a team of researchers, led by Dr. Samuel Ayokunle Olowosejeje, at University College Cork found that switching Nigeria’s electric grid to solar energy could make it significantly easier to distribute electricity by reducing costs. In particular, the study found that switching to solar could reduce costs by up to 132 percent.

Even if resources can’t be invested in traditional electric grids, new technology provides opportunities to electrify in new ways. Prof. Hasenöhrl gives the example of an initiative by the government of Bangladesh that has provided almost four million people in rural areas with home solar panel systems. These allow people to enjoy the benefits of electricity without requiring as much investment in infrastructure.

The initiative in Bangladesh, called Solar Home Systems (SHS), has had a big impact: 12 percent of the population – more than one out of every ten people in Bangladesh – have benefited from the plan, according to an evaluation of the program by the Centre for Public Impact. Before the beginning of SHS in 2003, a common method that some people in rural Bangladesh used to light their homes was kerosene lamps, which are expensive to power and produce relatively little light in comparison to electric lighting. The Centre for Public Impact report also highlighted how the program’s engagement with existing grassroots community organizations was key to providing legitimacy to the project. The organizations’ pedigree helped overcome initial skepticism on the part of many rural residents.

Harnessing the Sun

Dr. Olowosejeje also points to solar panels for individual households, in addition to more traditional grid-based solar energy, as a potentially beneficial move in Nigeria. “[S]olar-based power generation…is the most technically feasible and cost-effective solution to the challenge of extending electricity to 80 million people [in Nigeria] who are currently without access to energy,” he writes. In addition, solar panels could even be a source of income: “Renewable technologies could also help to develop an electricity market where those producing surplus energy can sell it to those who have a shortfall.”

The damage wrought by colonialism has made it difficult for many countries to create adequate electrical grids. The recent spate of electricity rationing in several African nations is just one example of this problem. However, the good news is that solutions exist. One of them is single-home solar electricity systems. These systems can provide access to electricity, overcome the limitations of traditional power grids, and even create an additional revenue stream to help struggling families by enabling them to sell electricity to others.

– Sean Ericson
Photo: Flickr

Ending Energy PovertyLarge portions of the developing world do not have access to electricity. Instead, they have to rely on energy sources that are inefficient, toxic and expensive. Financing universal energy access is urgent. Ending energy poverty is therefore in everyone’s best interest.

Here Are Five Reasons to Care About Ending Energy Poverty:

  1. Energy poverty is one of the developing world’s greatest struggles.
    Approximately one billion people around the world live in energy poverty. An additional one billion people have unreliable access to electricity. Of those living without electricity, 84 percent live in rural areas where resources are scarce. Nearly all individuals suffering from energy poverty, which is over 95 percent, live in sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia. In fact, only 14 percent of people living in rural sub-Saharan Africa have access to electricity.
  2. Energy poverty causes serious health problems.
    Much of the developing world lives in energy poverty. Billions of individuals each day are ingesting dangerous amounts of toxic chemicals from their cooking appliances. For instance, biomass-fueled stoves release pollutants in the air that can have serious health consequences. Women and children are the most exposed to these harmful pollutants. If the developed world provided energy access to all, they would be able to lower the premature death toll by 1.8 million people per year.
  3. The burden of energy poverty falls disproportionately on women.
    Currently, many women in the developing world rely on biomass-fueled stoves in order to cook their meals. As a result, these women spend, on average, 1.4 hours each day collecting firewood and then several more hours inefficiently cooking on their biomass stoves. Due to the amount of effort it takes to simply cook a meal, many women do not have the time to go to school or obtain a job to become financially independent. In that sense, energy poverty fosters gender inequality. If the developed world invested in universal energy access so that impoverished women could use efficient and cost-effective cooking appliances, women would have significantly more time and money to invest in their futures.
  4. Renewable energy can end energy poverty.
    The price of renewable energy continues to decrease, making renewable energy an optimal investment from both a financial and sustainable perspective. Currently, much of the developing world relies on kerosene and candles. This is because these energy sources do not require installation costs. However, kerosene and candles are not cost-effective, long-term. In fact, they are quite expensive. If the developed world invested in the installation costs for the developing world, more people have access to electricity. Furthermore, people would pay less on energy than they currently do. Thus, financing renewable energy projects is a worthwhile investment because renewable energy reduces costs in the long-term. As a result, it creates opportunities for economic growth in the future.
  5. Ending energy poverty can lead to job growth.
    Financing renewable energy development would provide a new market in the developing world that would provide many new jobs for workers with undeveloped skills. These jobs would provide not only steady incomes and safe working conditions but also skill-building opportunities. India, for example, is working toward creating 330,000 jobs in the renewable energy market by 2022. India is doing this to provide electricity and jobs to its poor, rural communities while simultaneously combating climate change. By promoting job growth through the renewable energy market, the world can achieve its goal of economic and environmental sustainability. Furthermore, the sustainable economic development of the developing world would promote the global economy, serving everyone.

Looking Ahead

Although the UN has pledged to provide universal energy access by 2030, the current initiatives the UN has in place to promote this goal is insufficient. In order to achieve its goal of ending energy poverty, the UN would have to invest a total of $52 billion per year. The UN has failed to match even half of this goal in a given year. The importance of financing this mission, however, is essential for the long-term benefits of renewable energy projects in the developing world. By investing in universal energy access through global renewable energy development, women’s rights, world health, clean energy and economic development can all be better promoted. All of this can create a more sustainable world.

– Ariana Howard
Photo: Flickr

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

Solar Power and Agriculture

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

Improved Efficiency

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

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

Solar Investments

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

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

Success in Malawi

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

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

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

– Heather Hughes
Photo: PxHere

Winch EnergySierra Leone is located on the West Coast of Africa with a population of more than 7 million people. About 60 percent of the population in Sierra Leone lives under the poverty line, and lack of electricity is a huge contributing factor. Sierra Leone is in dire need of electricity. Companies such as Winch Energy, a global energy developer, have decided to step in and bring power to Sierra Leone. Here is how Winch Energy is paving a way to a brighter future in Sierra Leone.

Effects of Lack of Electricity

Sierra Leone’s power sector has been experiencing “decades of underinvestment.” Public health facilities cannot offer quality healthcare due to the lack of electricity. It was reported that Sierra Leone could reduce the infant mortality rate by 40 percent if clinics in rural areas had better “lighting for night time births.” Without improved access to electricity, Sierra Leone will continue to remain in the dark.

In 2014, Sierra Leone, along with the rest of West Africa, had experienced one of the biggest Ebola outbreaks. It caused devastating effects to many communities, economies and public health systems across West Africa. Due to the Ebola outbreak, the quality of public health worsened in Sierra Leone, especially in the areas with high rates of poverty and lack of electricity.

Winch Energy

Winch Energy is a global energy developer that creates sustainable solutions for off-grid distributed power. Its goal is to improve power generation and eliminate unequal telecommunications access.  It works to improve electricity distribution to people all over the world, especially to those who don’t have access to running water, communications and electricity. The Ministry of Energy in Sierra Leone has signed a contract with Winch Energy in efforts to bring direct electricity access to 24 villages and towns in Sierra Leone through the installation of solar-mini grids.

Winch Energy has already begun the first phase of the project. It has installed 12 mini-grids in northern Sierra Leone, and the company hopes to make them operational by June 2019. This first phase of the project is said to benefit 6,000 people. During the second phase of the project, another 12 mini-grids will be installed by October 2019, which will benefit another 24,000 people.

The installation of mini-grids in Sierra Leone can make electricity easily accessible and even better the quality of life. Things such as printing, television, internet and refrigeration can become common in these towns and villages. Electricity will also help public health facilities improve the quality of service, which will help better the quality of life among the people of Sierra Leone.

This project could help increase income within the community and improve the current socio-economic status of Sierra Leone. Providing access to electricity has the potential to create jobs and better the quality of life in rural areas of the country. Development and access to electricity come hand in hand. This is how Winch Energy is paving the way to a brighter future in Sierra Leone.

Jocelyn Aguilar
Photo: Flickr

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

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

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

Impact of the Barefoot Program in Afghanistan

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

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

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

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

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

Impact of the Barefoot Program in Honduras

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

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

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

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

Enhancing Access to Solar Power in Developing Countries

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

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

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

John Chapman
Photo: Flickr