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

USAID's Power Africa Initiative

Within the entire continent of Africa, 57 percent of people have no access to electricity. In places like South Sudan, that percentage skyrockets to 97 percent. Power Africa, an initiative started by the USAID, is working to change this.

Power Africa has the goal of adding over 30,000 megawatts of clean energy capacity to African homes and businesses. These goals are achieved through partnerships with American private businesses. Power Africa works to facilitate private sector transactions and cultivate optimal investment climates. These partnerships help to further African development while saving U.S. taxpayer dollars and creating jobs here at home.

More specifically, as Power Africa notes in its annual report, “Applying U.S. Government resources in support of U.S. business growth in Africa, Power Africa has a hand in developing multi-million and billion dollar projects that are producing returns for U.S. investors and supporting job growth at home.”

So, far Power Africa has added 7,200 megawatts of energy. This means that 53 million people have access to electricity today who did not have access prior to the launch of the initiative. By 2020, that number is expected to more than double.

The work Power Africa is doing is vital. Access to electricity can be viewed as a stepping stone to lasting development. With electricity, people can run more efficient businesses, provide better health care and improve education for citizens. And the simple act of providing a community with electricity can be hugely empowering.

This is especially apparent in the story of Regina Tembo, a Zambian woman who is the manager of her local micro-grid. Members of Tembo’s community can purchase electricity from her. Tembo makes sure that her neighbors and local businesses are provided energy tailored to their needs. Not only is she providing her fellow Zambians with much-needed electricity, but Tembo also feels empowered. “Being a Standard Microgrid Manager has increased my status in the community and enabled me to share knowledge with people in different countries,” she told USAID.

Of course, Power Africa still has a long way to go. In the near future, Power Africa hopes to provide larger systems, like micro-grids and solar home systems. These systems allow people to power larger appliances.

USAID’s Power Africa goals may be ambitious, but they’re achievable. Building a brighter Africa will help to reduce poverty, increase development and create jobs here at home.

Adesuwa Agbonile

Photo: Flickr

End World HungerResearchers in Finland have introduced their hopeful and ongoing work to improve life by creating food out of electricity — a development that could end world hunger. Researchers created a protein out of an electric shock and a few ingredients. The results of this experiment may be successful in helping to feed a large amount of people in regions where food sources are threatened by climate change or other conflicts. It could also perhaps introduce a food technology that could change the food and agricultural industry.

The protein was created as a Food from Electricity Project with the Lappeenranta University of Technology and the Technical Research Centre of Finland. The protein is a single-cell protein large enough for a dinner meal. The protein includes electricity, water, carbon dioxide and microbes. The ingredients go through a system powered by renewable energy and then researchers enhance an electric shock into the ingredients, creating a result of 50 percent protein, 25 percent carbohydrates and 25 percent fat and nucleic acid. This concept has introduced a new, cheaper way to address and end world hunger.

About 800 million people suffer from malnourishment and about 20 million people are undergoing famine in their countries. So far, the concept has allowed the creation of one gram of protein in about two weeks with the nutrition of basic food. Researchers predict that there will be a full effect of the electric protein in about a decade, which allows for a wider use of the protein. For now, researchers are introducing this hopeful initiative, and will continue developing the concept.

Electric food has life-changing potential. This process could not only provide a protein to resolve the hunger crisis, but it could also develop nutritious food that furthers solving and ending world hunger.

Brandi Gomez

Photo: Flickr

A 2016 study done by World Energy Outlook found that 16 percent of the world’s population (1.2 billion people) is still living without electricity. Communities primarily in sub-Saharan Africa and rural Asia lack modern electrical resources and rely on dangerous and physically harmful resources. Relying on biomass for the majority of their energy, health risks such as poor ventilation and open fires are routine in many households. Providing solutions for energy-impoverished areas requires a change in mindset, infrastructure, economic strategy and inventiveness. Here are 10 of the best:

  1. Make electricity a human right
    Electricity may seem less important than other issues when addressing global poverty. While basic human needs such as food, water and shelter should obviously be of top priority, one solution for energy-impoverished areas is making electricity a human right. Having electricity helps highly-impoverished regions improve hospitals, school systems, industrial work, and other critical aspects of modern society.
  2. Focus on public health
    A key component of human rights is individual health. Economic and technological factors often come second to issues like health care. However, having electricity can greatly improve the general health of a community. The United Nations estimates that dirty household air is responsible for more than 40 million premature deaths. Access to resources such as air purifiers could all but eliminate issues like this and greatly incentivize establishment of power.
  3. Changing attitudes of world leaders
    To make electricity a basic human right, world leaders must become cognizant of its benefits and utter necessity. Often, obstacles such as cost, providing infrastructure and general planning can be seen as insurmountable when establishing power in areas without electricity. However, programs like one in Uganda that provides pre-paid power and can be topped up with a mobile phone may persuade other world leaders to follow suit.
  4. Create economic incentives for power companies
    Many entrepreneurs and startup companies have found great success in developing cost-efficient and accessible solutions for energy-impoverished areas. Solar batteries, LED lights and other inventive energy sources have been met with great economic success and growing market shares. Developing technology that works can be a great economic incentive for global power companies.
  5. Increase global funding
    The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have diverted funding to establish electricity in power-impoverished areas because as organizations, they recognize the long-term economic benefits of so doing. Many countries lack the basic resources to begin projects of this caliber. Organizations that emphasize human rights and economic aid can provide these countries with the initial resources that will eventually create economic success stories.
  6. Think local
    Small, local and even personal electronic grids are the recipients of recent research and funding. Why? The difficulty of spreading existing power to distant, rural communities can prevent areas from ever gaining electricity. Rather than trying to connect these areas to the main grid, many companies have suggested providing these regions with small, localized, off-the-grid solutions.
  7. Reduce energy theft
    Along with influencing government and international-level organizations, convincing people that electricity is a worthy investment can be a challenge. Many communities have found methods of stealing electricity from the main grid, which makes leaders wary of investing in further power. In New Delhi, a program was instituted for local women to discuss the benefits of wide-scale electricity with their neighbors. Social programs such as this are extremely effective in changing attitudes.
  8. Invest in solar power
    When discussing solutions for energy-impoverished areas, climate change is a key factor to consider. Many world leaders and emerging technology companies have considered the benefits of solar energy. While it can be expensive and difficult to implement, the long-term benefits of sustainable energy are important to consider when compared to short-term, non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels.
  9. Explore emerging natural energy sources
    Although solar power is an extremely clean and renewable source of energy, it can be unreliable for large-scale energy production. To create solutions for energy-impoverished areas, various regions in Africa have begun to implement other natural energy resources such as geothermal, natural and hydropower. These are just as environmentally-friendly as solar energy but more consistent and easy to maintain.
  10. Think small
    With international energy access being the long-term goal, there are still many new tech firms selling simple gadgets that greatly improve the way of life for communities lacking large-scale power. Voto, for example, creates personal solar-powered outlets that can charge devices like phones and batteries. While it may seem small, conveniences such as this can make the most basic tasks more simple.

Though these changes may require time, small steps towards improvement can have a great impact on individual households and villages living without power. In making small, tangible efforts towards providing electricity to these areas, global mindsets and policies will gradually be affected.


Julia Morrison

Photo: Flickr

U.S. Commitment to Increasing Access to Electricity in Africa
Over one billion people around the world still have no access to electricity. Statistics show a direct correlation between low energy use and low Gross Domestic Product. Through developing energy grids in Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East, these regions would see phenomenal economic, educational and humanitarian benefits.

What parts of the world are in most need for energy grid development projects? The most significant deprivation is in sub-Saharan Africa, where at least 50 percent of the population in the majority of countries are without electricity access. A total of 94.7 percent of the populations Liberia, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Chad, Sierra Leone and Malawi do not have electricity.

In Asia, 622 million out of the population of 3.6 billion still have no access to electricity. Half of those individuals live in India, where 304 million or 24 percent of the population lacks access to electricity. Smaller countries are affected as well. Seventy-three percent of North Koreans, 32 percent of Pakistanis, 40 percent of Bangladeshis, 69 percent of Burmese people and 67 percent of Cambodians have no access to electricity.

The Middle East is an outlier due to its vast wealth of petroleum resources. Out of the one-tenth of the population that has no access to electricity, 80 percent live in Yemen, which is currently experiencing a deadly civil war.

In 2015 the United States Congress passed the Electrify Africa Act, which aims to address energy poverty throughout the continent by prioritizing energy projects within our development finance agencies such as the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Millennium Challenge Corporation. This monumental new law will streamline the approval process for the financing of energy-related projects in Africa, potentially lifting millions out of energy poverty.

Josh Ward

Photo: Flickr

In early February, Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced a plan to apply the use of solar power to the 7,000 railway stations located across the country. The plan will be implemented as a part of the country’s federal budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Solar power in India is now the main focus of industry and infrastructure in the country.

India’s Desire for Solar Growth

During his speech regarding the budget, Jaitley informed the public that 300 stations across the country had begun to use solar energy. Indian Railways, the state-run organization that operates India’s trains, has been working for several years to set up a successful solar energy program. In 2016, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) partnered with Indian Railways to generate five gigawatts of solar power capacity into the system. To put this into perspective, global solar installations are expected to reach close to 70 gigawatts in 2017.

Now, with the joint commitment of the government, Indian Railways will be able to cohesively move forward in its mission to normalize solar power in India. By the end of 2017, India hopes to harbor at least nine gigawatts of solar energy. The plan to implement solar panels and production into rail stations is part of a larger goal to increase solar capacity to 100 gigawatts by 2022.

Plans for Funding Solar Energy Expansion

The Union Railway Master in Indian, Suresh Prabhu, has also publicly discussed the intentions of the proposal. The union government is funding research that looks into producing solar power in India from waste materials. In doing so, the cost of electricity and other expenditures will be reduced, leaving extra funding for expanding infrastructure and railway facilities.

In order to finance the technology it will take to harness solar energy for the railways, India has collected close to $8 billion in coal taxes. Approximately $1.8 billion of the funds will go into solar energy for Indian Railways. The money from this tax is focused on producing cleaner energy, forest conservation and sanitation efforts. Solar power in India is just one facet of the nation’s larger campaign to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. The nation has also produced the first airport in the world that runs solely on solar power. As Indian corporations and its government work together in the fight to create a greener world, solar power remains at the forefront of their mission.

Solar power holds endless untapped potential. The sun produces approximately 170,000 terawatts of energy per day. This is about 2,850 times the energy currently required by the Earth’s population.

Peyton Jacobsen

Photo: Flickr

This week, Saudi Arabia launched a renewable energy program that was outlined in late December. Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih announced that between 30 and 50 billion dollars will be invested into the program. Renewable energy in Saudi Arabia is currently somewhat non-existent, but the focus of the program will redirect the country to focus on aspects that will reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.

By 2030, Saudi Arabia aims to produce 70% of its power from natural gas and 30% from renewable energy. At an energy conference in late December, al-Falih expressed the country’s hope to generate approximately 10 gigawatts from solar and wind power by 2023. By the time the initiative is implemented, if fully executed, the country hopes to harness 700 gigawatts of alternative energy. The program will fund the construction of several wind and solar energy plants throughout the country.

Saudi Arabia is the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (OPEC’s) largest contributor and a top exporter of crude oil. Consequently, Saudis have struggled economically with budget deficits due to oil prices. The demand for power in the country is growing steadily, at about 8% annually. The renewable energy program can improve the economy by creating jobs and adding diversity to the country’s source of income.

Aside from economic benefits, Saudi Arabia recognizes the humanitarian benefits of investing in alternative energy sources and the environmental toll that total reliance on oil and gas can take. Renewable energy in Saudi Arabia will help the country meet worldwide sustainability goals and steer away from the exclusive use of crude oil.

Al-Falih has also spoken out about intentions to connect with energy initiatives in Yemen, Jordan and Egypt. Though he did not elaborate, a potential partnership between the countries in the region could be revolutionary for the production of renewable energy in Saudi Arabia and beyond.

Earlier in February, the energy ministry in Saudi Arabia announced the creation of The Renewable Energy Project Development Office to oversee the deployment of clean energy and monitor the progress of the project. The project also aims to direct funding into nuclear energy, which could cause controversy on the international stage in regards to domestic and international security topics.

Although the investment will create jobs in new sectors, funding for the program is said to be coming partially from cuts to welfare programs. Although it is too early in the project to draw any conclusions, there are questions about how these budget cuts will affect the Saudi people.

Renewable energy in Saudi Arabia has the potential to lay groundwork for surrounding nations looking to establish alternative energy programs. This is the hope of the international community as the country commits to reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

Peyton Jacobsen

Photo: Flickr

Sustainable Energy
A rise in population and an increase in new industries has created a demand for energy that Pakistan has been unable to handle. At its peak, the deficit in electricity was over 40% of the national demand. Despite having several energy sources including natural gas, hydroelectricity and coal, more than 140 million Pakistanis do not have access to electricity. Scientists are studying several solutions including biogas, a renewable and sustainable energy source.

The demand for the most utilized sources of energy — oil and gas — outweigh the supply. According to the Oil and Gas Development Company, Pakistan’s oil supply will be depleted by 2025 and natural gas will be depleted by 2030. Climate change and droughts have endangered the supply of hydroelectricity as well.

According to Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif, Punjab Chief Minister, Pakistan’s energy crisis is responsible for a massive loss in both the industrial and agricultural sectors. To meet growing demands, it is necessary to explore other possible power sources.

Biogas, a renewable and sustainable energy source, could be the answer to the energy and agriculture crisis. Being an agricultural country, Pakistan has a substantial number of cattle that produce a huge amount of waste. This waste could be used to generate electricity while also eliminating the waste disposal problem. Animal manure, industrial waste, agricultural residue and kitchen waste can all be converted to biogas and used to produce electricity.

Pakistan’s bio-gas technology company, PAK-Energy, has installed seven biogas tanks in Lahore and plans to install over 25,000 more in the next 3 years. Access to clean-burning fuel can reduce health problems, environmental degradation and poverty. Moreover, farmers can use bio-fertilizer as organic fertilizer.

Other projects include a plan for renewable energy sources — wind, solar and biogas — to provide at least five percent of the total commercial energy supply by 2030. Ultimately, officials are hopeful that at least 2.5% of energy will come from renewable and sustainable sources.

Mary Barringer

Photo: Flickr

African Solar Energy
The 22nd session of the United Nations Climate Conference announced a new financial investment plan totaling $4 million. The funding will be allocated among eight companies whose entrepreneurial endeavors aim to provide conduits for the development and accessibility of African solar energy.

Presented by the Scaling Off-Grid Energy: Grand Challenge for Development initiative, the investment reflects goals to increase the accessibility of electric power for households and businesses in Sub-Saharan Africa. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Power Africa, the U.K.’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the Shell Foundation collaborated to found the off-grid energy plan in June 2016. The plan has since become a $36 million initiative with hopes to establish 20 million new conduits for electricity.

Established as a program through the Power Africa initiative, private and public sector collaborators have committed $52 billion to African solar energy development, while over $40 billion in investments are from private sector associates.

According to USAID, 600 million people living in Sub-Saharan Africa live without access to electricity. The ability to utilize such resources is pivotal to an individual’s ability to engage in the global economy and impedes the ability of families to consume modern fuels.

Companies originating in countries such as Uganda, Ghana, Kenya and Zambia received grant funding for demonstrating exceptional responses to providing low-cost options in correlation to traditional methods, attaining meticulous records of success and practical plans to develop effectively proven products to scale.

USAID emphasizes that sustainable energy efforts will “improve payment and distribution processes”, while also being more cost-efficient for customers of African businesses. Product development goals range from modern technology – such as software that allows for eased methods of payment for electricity use – to the production of “pay-as-you-go” household solar tools. Companies like Village Energy are also establishing training facilities for young men and women to become technicians and manage retail shops to facilitate the development of rural service networks.

Amber Bailey

Photo: Flickr

SunSaluter: Energy, Water and Jobs Rolled Into One
There are upwards of 780 million people in the world who do not have access to clean water. On top of this, an estimated 1.2 billion people lack access to electricity — that is nearly 17 percent of the world’s population. Individuals living under such circumstances suffer chronic exposure to waterborne illnesses, and hundreds of millions more must walk hours each day to collect potable water.

SunSaluter, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to improving energy and water access in the developing world, aims to remedy these issues in a simple and affordable way.

The goal of SunSaluter is to make energy and water more accessible through one simple device. The SunSaluter device itself uses gravity and water, rotating a solar panel throughout the day. The device generates 30 percent more electricity, is 30 times cheaper and is far more durable than motorized solar trackers.

The SunSaluter has been deployed in 16 countries and has impacted nearly 8,000 people worldwide. By boosting solar panel efficiency by 30 percent, fewer solar panels are needed and the overall system costs are reduced by 10-20 percent. This lowering of cost alone has helped the impoverished families eliminate the use of kerosene gas.

How does it work? The SunSaluter enables solar panels to produce energy more consistently through the day, beginning earlier in the morning and lasting later at night. This is critical for rural families who often wake early in the day. It helps decrease the need for batteries to store energy that is usually produced mostly around high noon.

The SunSaluter also contains a water purifier within its system. Each day the device is capable of producing four liters of clean drinking water. By combining both energy and water collection into one simple device, the SunSaluter kills two birds with one stone. It improves consistent usage of the purifier as well, which tends to be the biggest hurdle to overcome for clean water programs.

Consequently, SunSaluter is not just working to help with the lack of energy and water in the developing world. “Our goal is to provide entrepreneurial opportunities for individuals in underdeveloped countries,” Eden Full told Business Insider in a recent interview. “We give them guidance, mentorship, and some funding, and the idea is to spread this technology.”

Currently, the company’s core manufacturing operations are in India. It is looking to move into Malawi as well. SunSaluter and its impact on the developing world have only just begun!

Keaton McCalla

Photo: Flickr