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

What is Solar Energy?

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

Solar Energy Fighting Poverty

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

European Investment Bank (EIB)

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

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

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

Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL)

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

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

– Sarah Kirchner
Photo: Flickr

Electricity in VenezuelaOn March 7, 2019, Venezuela entered the worst power outage in the country’s history. Plunging all 23 states into darkness, the blackout lasted over five days in majority of the country. The economic losses triggered by this event exceeded $800 million and led to the deaths of an estimated 46 people. Electricity in Venezuela has since become a huge cause of concern for people.

Blackouts in Venezuela

Regrettably, this blackout was not an isolated incident, although it was the longest. Blackouts have become a routine aspect of Venezuelan life, dating back to as early as 2010. In a country where 96% of the Venezuelan population lives in poverty, these blackouts serve only to exacerbate the struggles of a vulnerable population. They strip people of access to basic necessities like water, food and fuel. Their root causes are often unclear although the key contributing factors are widely agreed-upon.

Understanding the Power System

In 2007, Venezuela’s private power companies were nationalized and transformed into one state-run monopoly known as Corpoelec. The company is underfunded, rife with corruption and unable to recover its own operating costs. The factors creating this untenable situation for Corpoelec date back even further to 2002 when national electricity rates were frozen. In Venezuela, “consumers pay only 20% of the real costs of producing power, delivering Venezuelans the lowest electricity prices in Latin America.” The drawback to these low rates is that energy is extremely overused and that Corpoelec is unable to generate sufficient revenue to fund infrastructure investments or even basic maintenance of its facilities.

Overdependence on Hydropower

The aforementioned problems are exacerbated by Venezuela’s near-complete reliance on hydropower from just one dam. The Guri Dam located in the eastern state of Bolívar accounts for 80% of the country’s electricity production and its systems are woefully neglected. The dam currently operates at a capacity considered unsustainable, “jeopardizing the machine room in the case of a flood,” according to experts. In a region where flooding is common, this is cause for concern.

Whereas other countries that rely heavily on hydroelectric power like Brazil and China have made large investments into other forms of energy, Venezuela’s ability to shift away from hydropower is crippled by underfunding, a lack of engineering power from within the country and corruption.

Corpoelec has stagnated progress as well. The company, “paid millions of dollars in no-bid contracts to political connections,” to maintain its dominance. Projects to build new dams and other forms of electricity production like thermal or wind have routinely been stalled due to a lack of funding and inadequate staffing.

The Cause of the Blackout

The March 7 blackout that heavily circulated the news was caused by a system failure at the Guri Dam. It was initially painted as a terrorist attack by president Nicolás Maduro, who tweeted, “The electrical war announced and directed by the imperialist United States against our people will be defeated.”

The Venezuelan president’s claim was that the U.S. had caused the power outage through a cyberattack on the hydroelectric plant. However, engineers who worked on the dam later clarified that the plant’s electronic monitoring system is not actually connected to the internet, proving a foreign attack to be an unlikely root cause. The plant has been poorly maintained and neglected for a very long time. In actuality, failure to properly manage the electricity grid may have caused a fire has been deemed the likely cause, and unfortunately, there is no quick-response system in place at the facility to protect its systems from damage.

The Future of Electricity in Venezuela

To ensure the return of consistent electricity to the people of Venezuela and protect against future blackouts, massive overhauls would be beneficial. However, such agendas seem unrealistic given the current economic and political climate in the country. Rather, a focus on increased upkeep and basic maintenance of power plants offers a more realistic path forward. This requires access for NGOs to bring in engineers and consistent revenue toward infrastructure repair. Without this basic funding and commitment from the government, the Venezuelan people will continue to suffer through blackouts.

– Scott Mistler-Ferguson
Photo: Flickr

South Africa’s Transition to SolarDespite having the 33rd largest economy in the world, South Africa ranks among the top 15 countries worldwide in greenhouse emissions, both total and per capita. Currently, the country mostly relies on coal for energy. However, the last decade has seen frequent and lengthy power outages that have convinced South African cities and companies to search for alternative energy sources. South Africa’s transition to solar has already started and both companies and cities strive to be less reliant on the national power grid within the next 10 years.

Ford Motor Company: Solar Car Park

The automotive industry is one of South Africa’s largest sectors, consisting of more than 13% of all exports and employing over 100,000 people. The Silverton Ford factory is among the country’s largest, employing 4,300 people. Due to the unreliability of the power grid, Ford announced its new solar project, named “Project Blue Oval” on November 14, 2020. Ford, in partnership with SolarAfrica, will install a 13.5 MW solar system that will supply about 30% of the plant’s power. It will contain more than 31,000 solar panels and provide coverage for more than 4,000 cars, making it the largest solar car park in the world. Ford will also install other green energy systems in the coming years, with the goal of being completely carbon neutral and off the grid by 2024.

Eskom: South Africa’s Electricity Supplier

South African cities are also transitioning to solar energy. City governments cite the sometimes weeks-long power outages as concerns and worry about the steadily rising cost of electricity. Currently, Eskom supplies most of the country’s power through coal power plants. Eskom is by far South Africa’s largest polluter, accounting for 40% of the country’s greenhouse emissions. Both the Cape province and Johannesburg have plans in place to move away from coal energy. The Northern Cape will complete a photovoltaic solar plant in 2023 capable of producing electricity for roughly 75,000 homes. Johannesburg has not yet committed to a specific plan for a solar or other green energy plant but has expressed interest.

Eskom is currently in $30 billion of debt and the large-scale transition away from the electricity provider will threaten Eskom’s financial stability even more. Eskom has announced on November 8 its goal to be carbon neutral by 2050. This will threaten the livelihoods of the 120,000 people who work at its 15 coal plants so the transition will be intentionally slow to lessen economic hardship.

Solar Energy in Agriculture

The agriculture industry is also starting to shift to solar energy. The periodic blackouts affect farmers’ abilities to freeze goods and irrigate crops, among other issues. Power from the grid is also expensive. Sun Exchange is a major player in bringing solar power to farmers across southern Africa. Its funding model of providing free equipment and installations while profiting off the energy usage allows agribusinesses to immediately lower energy costs by 20%. The market for solar energy in agriculture strong. GreenCape, a nonprofit green energy advocate, expects yearly solar market growth of 10% as companies like Sun Exchange continue providing low cost, reliable energy to farmers.

The Future of Solar Energy

The rise of solar and green energy in South Africa has less to do with environmental concern and more to do with issues of cost and reliability. Even energy giant Eskom will eventually switch over to renewable energy in the coming decades. South Africa’s transition to solar energy could make it a leader as the world slowly starts moving to green energy.

– Adam Jancsek
Photo: Flickr

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

Electricity in Gaza

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

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

SunBox Solar Kits

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

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

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

Female Entrepreneur: Majd Mashhawari

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

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

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

Local Inventions Address Poverty

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

– Sarah Brinsley
Photo: Flickr

Cool Roofs

First researched in the 1980s, cool roofs only became a reality around 2001. This cooling technology naturally cools the house, while being cheaper and more energy-efficient than traditional roofs, prompting many parts of the world to consider shifting towards them. The world will benefit financially, environmentally and even comfort-wise from the addition of cool roofs.

The Problem

Over 1 billion people in developing countries face significant risks from extreme heat, with no access to electricity for cooling. Another 2.3 billion can only afford inefficient, unhealthy air conditioning models that use HFC gases that are thousands of times more polluting than carbon dioxide. The energy demand from developing countries is predicted to climb more than 33-fold by 2100. Americans alone consume the same amount of electricity for air conditioning as the total electricity used for all the needs of 1.1 billion people in Africa. The introduction of cool roofs, though a seemingly insignificant change, would not only help people in developing nations but those in developed countries as well.

How it Works

Cool roofs are created by using cool roof coatings, which are thick, white or reflective paint applied to the roof, it covers or shingles to protect the roof from UV light, chemical and water damage, maintaining and restoring the roof itself, making it last longer than traditional roofs. The paint reflects the sunlight, keeping the house cooler than can a traditional roof, which absorbs the sunlight instead. In so doing, cool roofs can reduce indoor temperatures by 3.6-5.4 degrees Fahrenheit (2-3 degrees Celsius) and can reduce the internal temperatures of individual rooms by 20 percent. As for urban heat island effects, they can reduce urban temperatures up to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius).

Benefits

In addition to reducing cooling costs and increasing roof life, cool roofs are environmentally friendlier than traditional roofs. They reduce air temperature, retard smog formation and decrease power plant emissions (carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides, mercury) and reduce electricity demand in the summer. When the house itself is already cool during the summer, people do not need to use as much air conditioning, thus reducing the usual strain on the electricity grid.

The people who would likely benefit first from the addition of cool roofs are the estimated 630 million people that may already have access to electricity, but have poor quality housing and may not be able to afford a fan or the money to run it. Regions with the highest population of these people are China, India, Nigeria, Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sudan and Iraq.

Regions That Are Shifting To Cool Roofs

Mexico is participating in the Global Superior Energy Performance Partnership (GSEP) and is working towards installing more cool roofs. Mexican authorities are not yet aware of the advantages of cool roofs, thus the goal is to communicate the impact on energy efficiency, economy, health and comfort that cool roofs will have on the population. This technology saves energy and saves money on air conditioning as well.

South Africa is also part of the GSEP and has begun a Cool Surfaces Project, a collaborative agreement between the American and South African Departments of Energy. People in South Africa need technology that will provide them with the benefits that cool roofs provide (fire retardancy, passive-energy usage, waterproofing, low cost, low maintenance, cooling), making it a perfect fit for them. This project will save them a lot of money and energy, as well as influencing nearby regions to follow suit. Kheis, a rural community of about 15,000 in South Africa, is one of the leaders in developing this cool roof approach to provide a respite from the heat.

Globally, when less money and energy is devoted towards air conditioning either in the first or the third world, more can be done to confront other problems. The installation of cool roofs creates jobs, reduces the strain on electricity grids, naturally cools buildings and even lowers the net temperature of local areas.

Nyssa Jordan
Photo: Flickr

In 2012, the Emergency Infrastructure Renewal Project was approved in Cote d’Ivoire. The project’s goal is to create easier access to infrastructure in Cote d’Ivoire in the rural and urban areas. The project is set to run until 2020 and will create new all-weather roads through many rural areas as well as other advancements to help further Cote d’Ivoire’s economy. The bulk of the project, around 30 percent, will focus on urban transport.

In the last five years since the Emergency Infrastructure Renewal Project began, many Ivoirians have already begun to reap the benefits of the project, especially those in the rural and impoverished areas. The following are five positive consequences that have directly resulted from the project.

  1. Access to Electricity: By 2017, over 9,000 people in urban areas were granted access to electricity by household connections.
  2. Potable Water: The project has helped bring healthy drinking water to more citizens of Cote d’Ivoire. In 2017, 3,735,000 people had access to improved drinking water, versus only three million in 2012.
  3. Access to Primary Education: The new infrastructure in Cote d’Ivoire has also increased access to primary education in the rural areas to over 18,000 people in 2017.
  4. Better Health Care Centers: Thanks to the advancements made by the Emergency Infrastructure Renewal Project, 1,400,000 people now have access to adequate health care centers in the rural and impoverished urban areas.
  5. Increased Employment: The new infrastructure in Cote d’Ivoire has increased employment opportunities across the country and lowered the unemployment rate to 9.32 percent in 2016.

Unfortunately, despite these advancements in infrastructure in Cote d’Ivoire, the country has still had many setbacks. In 2015, statistics showed that nearly 46 percent of Cote d’Ivoire’s population lived below the poverty line. Many of these people live in rural areas where the advancements from the project have not yet reached.

Ultimately, the infrastructure in Cote d’Ivoire is slowly helping advance the country’s economy. Most of the major benefits will take years to come into full effect. The maturity limit on the Emergency Infrastructure Renewal Project is set for about 40 years, giving Ivoirians plenty of time to help contribute to the project and start harvesting their benefits.

– Courtney Wallace

Photo: Flickr

What the Solar Energy Market Growth Means for the World's PoorSolar energy was the fastest-growing source of energy in 2016, surpassing the net growth for coal. Times have changed; new governmental policies and technological developments have propelled the growth of the solar energy market and expansion is expected to continue. Developing countries near the equator are uniquely situated in ideal solar environments. As the market for solar energy grows, developing nations are benefiting from solar farm investments and solar energy power.

Solar Photovoltaic (PV) was invented in 1954, with the aim of converting sunlight into electricity. Solar PV is the most commonly used source of solar energy in today’s market and exists mostly as monocrystalline, polycrystalline or thin-film solar panels. Advances in the solar energy market are using different materials such as cadmium telluride to build less expensive and more efficient PV panels. In the past five years, PV system pricing worldwide has dropped an average of $1.50 in Watts direct current. The drop in cost has contributed to the market’s growth.

In 2016, 1.3 million people around the world were living without electricity. Solar energy is emerging as a way to provide affordable and reliable electricity access to the populations forced to live in the darkness as soon as the sun goes down. At Swamy Vivekananda High School in India, for example, solar panels are used to charge batteries during the day while stored energy is used to power lanterns when students return home.

Solar energy solutions are the key to solving global poverty among populations without access to electricity. The availability of light can save families up to $100 a year and gives children more time for work, thus an opportunity to rise out of poverty.

This year, solar PV additions surpassed the growth of any other energy form. Last year, for the first time ever, developing countries like India, China, and Mexico invested more in renewables than developed countries. This trend towards a more affordable and efficient solar energy system has seen a rise in investments for off-grid solar systems and the emergence of new organizations focused on building energy solutions in developing countries.

Off.Grid:Electric is a startup that supplies customers in Tanzania a solar panel, metered battery storage and electrical accessories installed in their home. In Tanzania, specifically, 84 percent of the country is living without electrical connectivity. Off.Grida:Electric allows its customers to connect to their own electrical grid for about the same price per month as Tanzanians would spend on a night’s worth of Kerosene. Off.Grid:Electric recently received $7 million worth of investments to hopefully expand to countries like Uganda and Kenya.

The world is moving into an era of renewable technology. Costa Rica is on its way to becoming the first developing nation to have 100 percent renewable electricity. Costa Rica’s location supports the collection of sun rays for electricity and their hydro and wind energy sources are growing.

Afghanistan and Albania are also capitalizing on their geographic capabilities to build a renewable energy market. Albania’s government is encouraging renewable energy growth with a law that requires 38 percent renewable energy sources by 2020. The race to renewable energy is promoting the growth of solar energy and motivating countries around the world to focus on growing the solar energy market.

Investors and organizations around the world recognize the connection between electricity and poverty and focus on installing energy solutions in off-grid locations. As more parts of the world gain access to electricity, more individuals are able to contribute to the globally connected economy. In rural areas without electrical wiring, a simple light in the evening could lead to higher efficiency in the morning and provides the potential to start an in-home business. As the market for renewable energy sources grows, so do the initiatives to bring energy to rural communities and reduce poverty.

Eliza Gresh

Photo: Flickr

Shell and GravityLight Illuminate Off-Grid Regions in KenyaWhile access to electricity does not yet span the globe, the force of gravity is universal. The GravityLight Foundation has taken advantage of Newtonian physics to create a cost-effective light source that runs on gravity. Simply by lifting a weight and letting it descend, GravityLight can provide light and transform impoverished homes.

In 2015, GravityLight’s inventive engineering earned it the Shell Springboard Award, a grant of nearly $200,000 used to fund innovative businesses with low carbon footprints. Together, Shell and the GravityLight Foundation have successfully put GravityLights into production and introduced them to 50 communities in Kenya.

Kenya, which has one of the largest economies in Sub-Saharan Africa, has expended considerable effort to create an impressive power sector. In just four years, Kenya has increased the amount of households with access to electricity from 25 percent to 46 percent. Kenyan companies such as KenGen are working to utilize renewable energy sources, and geothermal energy looks promising.

A capacity of approximately 2,295 MW is available on Kenya’s power grid. However, off the grid, in remote areas of the country, only 11.5 MW are currently available. The Shell and GravityLight partnership intends to provide electric light to those off-grid regions in Kenya.

Electricity is crucial to improving the lives of the world’s poor. Access to light alone improves education and the economy by allowing people to study and work after daylight hours. However, the resources required to produce light can be extremely expensive, especially for those living in poverty. The world’s poor spend an estimated 30 percent of their income on kerosene needed to burn in lamps. GravityLight eliminates the need for kerosene to produce light, which is not only cheaper but also safer. Kerosene fumes are known carcinogens that are toxic for both humans and the environment.

Because the GravityLight Foundation uses local people and businesses to organize the sale of its product, marketing for GravityLight supplies Kenyans with jobs. By providing employment, GravityLight is bringing bright futures as well as bright homes to off-grid regions in Kenya.

Shell and GravityLight are not the only groups seeking to improve energy accessibility in order to aid impoverished populations in Africa. In 2015, the same year GravityLight won the Springboard grant, the U.S. government passed the Electrify Africa Act. The act aims to provide 60 million households and businesses throughout Africa with electricity.

Around the globe, 1.2 billion people lack access to electricity. If GravityLight’s debut in Kenya is successful, the foundation plans to continue spreading light throughout the world.

Mary Efird

Photo: Flickr

High-Tech Solution to PovertyElectric-powered food: it sounds too good to be true. And for now, it probably is. But, according to Business Insider, Finnish scientists with the Food From Electricity project earlier this year synthesized a nutrient-rich protein using only water, electricity, carbon dioxide and microbes. The high-tech solution to poverty is reportedly nutritious enough to serve as a meal, being 50 percent (or more) protein and 25 percent carbohydrates. It is a promising step, but the process must be much more efficient before it can be adopted on a grand scale.

This research is the result of a collaboration between the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT). VTT scientist Juha-Pekka Pitkänen has affirmed that, in practice, “all the raw materials are available from the air. In the future, the technology can be transported to, for instance, deserts and other areas facing famine.” As this method does not require a location with the appropriate temperatures or soil type for agriculture, desert conditions will have no effect on its viability.

Business Insider theorizes two possible ways the technology might be used: to provide food for starving people in areas inhospitable to traditional agriculture and to reduce the demand for food livestock and the crops necessary to sustain it.

The second manner of use would bring down global emissions of greenhouse gases, a large portion of which the livestock industry is directly responsible for. Studies show that poorer countries are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, not least because they lack the financial means to combat those effects. Poorer nations are disproportionately in low-lying areas vulnerable to sea level rises. The nation of Kiribati, spread out over many island reefs and atolls in the Pacific, is a good example of a place already wrestling with less fertile soil and frequent flooding.

As a high-tech solution to poverty, food from electricity has a long way to go. LUT reports that producing one gram of protein in this manner currently takes about two weeks. As researchers model and adjust the process to allow the microbes to grow better, the hope is that the total time required will be reduced. At the same time, researchers want to produce larger quantities of the protein so as to pilot a commercialization effort and eventually develop the process into a compact product for mass production and distribution.

Aside from addressing general poverty, food from electricity has the rare potential to address climate change from both sides of the equation, tackling it at its source while mitigating its impoverishing effects. It will be interesting to see how this technology develops in the future.

Chuck Hasenauer

Photo: Google

Bringing Power Back to Puerto RicoTowards the end of this past summer, a series of hurricanes swept across the Caribbean and Southeastern U.S., damaging communities in Houston, Miami and – in particular – Puerto Rico.

Not only was Hurricane Irma also followed by Hurricane Maria, another devastating storm, but the disaster response from the White House has been rather slow to provide relief, during a time when over one million people are struggling with – or even entirely incapable of – accessing electricity. Needless to say, bringing power back to Puerto Rico is no small task. However, Puerto Rico may have found an unlikely ally: Elon Musk’s Tesla Corporation.

Tesla is primarily famous for its manufacturing of electric cars and spaceship equipment (through its sister company, SpaceX). However, the company’s CEO, Elon Musk, has recently stated on Twitter that there may be a possibility of Tesla bringing power back to Puerto Rico. “The Tesla team has done this for many smaller islands around the world, but there is no scalability limit, so it can be done for Puerto Rico too,” wrote Musk on the social media site.

But are Musk’s goals realistic, or even possible at all? According to National Geographic, a solar panel-based subsidiary of Tesla – SolarCity – managed to single-handedly switch a small island in American Samoa from diesel fuel to solar power. The island, known as Ta’u, not only managed to switch over completely to an extremely eco-friendly energy source but did so in the aftermath of a Category 5 hurricane – and the solar panels in place on the island have been specially built to deal with such powerful winds and flooding.

Of course, Puerto Rico’s population of three million is far more than Ta’u’s modest population of less than 600, and therefore rebuilding the Puerto Rican infrastructure is a far greater task to undertake. Furthermore, the U.S. government has had a dubious past with intervening in Puerto Rican affairs, including early testing of birth control pills on women. Musk has, however, pointed out that any efforts made in solar power installation in Puerto Rico “must truly be led by the Puerto Rican people.”

After weeks of recovering from the devastating effects of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, however, Musk’s comments about not only bringing power back to Puerto Rico but reinforcing it both ecologically and structurally to withstand future storms, are ideas welcomed by many. Nevertheless, the plan is still in its embryonic stages and there is much more discussion that must take place before Tesla can spring into action.

Brad Tait

Photo: Flickr