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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

Energy Projects in MozambiqueOn September 9, 2020, the United States International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) approved two energy projects in Mozambique. The recent decision resulted in a loan of $200 million to Centra Térmica de Temane for a power plant and $1.5 billion in risk assurance to support the commercialization of Mozambique’s natural gas reserves. The purpose of these projects is to create access to energy and an opportunity for economic growth fueled by Mozambique’s natural gas reserves. The DFC energy projects in Mozambique constitute a substantial investment by the U.S. that will make good on the Prosper Africa pledge which aims to increase U.S. investment in Africa.

Keeping its Promise to Africa

The Prosper Africa initiative serves to create business opportunities in Africa and increase two-way trade and investment with the intent to benefit companies, investors and workers in the U.S. and Africa. Dennis Hearne, U.S. Ambassador to Mozambique, spoke highly of the two projects stating, “These projects will have a significant development impact in Mozambique, improve lives and create a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the country to build a more prosperous future for all Mozambicans.”

Jumpstarting Economic Growth

Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a GDP per capita of less than $500. It is the job of the DFC to prioritize projects in areas that are low income. DFC investment for energy projects in Mozambique could create a lot of private capital in the country and jumpstart economic growth.

The DFC will provide up to $1.5 billion in political risk insurance to advance the development, construction and operation of an onshore liquefaction plant that will commercialize Mozambique’s natural gas reserves in the Rovuma Basin. This project could turn the country into a major energy exporter and increase the GDP by an average of $15 billion per year, creating long-term economic growth. The development will envelop the entire country, boosting sectors aside from oil and gas.

Diversifying Power Resources

Those in Mozambique who are lucky enough to have electricity rely almost entirely on one colonial-era dam called Cahora Bassa. The dam provides more than 2,000 megawatts out of the approximate 2,800 megawatts installed capacity. Due to extreme weather conditions, the Zambezi River, which powers the dam, flows irregularly, “putting the country’s entire power system at great risk.” The DFC’s proposed power plant will be powered by Mozambique’s natural gas reserves, providing a different source of electricity that is also reliable.

Creating a Power Infrastructure

Only 29% of Mozambicans have electricity in their homes, making it an energy-poor country. Companies with a grid connection still rely on diesel 17% of the time and biomass (wood and charcoal) accounts for 60% of the country’s primary energy use.

In order to develop, construct and operate a 420-megawatt power plant with a 25-kilometer interconnection line and 560-kilometer transmission line, the DFC will loan Central Térmica de Temane up to $200 million. Not only will the power plant diversify the country’s power resources but will also reduce the cost of electricity. Furthermore, it will allow Mozambique to use its own natural gas supply to increase power generation and support the government’s plans to develop the national electricity system.

Balancing Exports and Domestic Use of Natural Gas

Mozambique’s natural gas reserves are abundant and will provide the country with an incredible income. However, Mozambique is uninterested in exporting all of its natural gas to Europe and Asia. The DFC will help Mozambique attain the generation infrastructure that will allow the country to use natural gas to power its homes and businesses and it will support large-scale liquified natural gas export facilities in order to bring revenue into Mozambique.

The completion of the DFC energy projects in Mozambique will take Mozambique from one of the poorest countries with regard to revenue and energy to a major energy exporter with long-term economic growth. These projects will help the economy grow, provide the country with a diverse power infrastructure and balance its natural gas usage. These investments will also fulfill the Prosper Africa pledge in which the U.S. vowed to increase investment in Africa. Overall, U.S.-Africa relations will benefit, and more importantly, a prosperous future will lie ahead for the people of Mozambique.

– Mary Qualls
Photo: Flickr

energy, poverty and politics
Americans are burning through fossil fuels at historically high rates. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that the U.S. ranks number one in top energy producers and consumers as of 2019. While the domestic effects of oil, gas and coal consumption may feel familiar, the industry’s impact reaches beyond U.S. borders, influencing energy, poverty and politics.

In an interview with The Borgen Project, Dr. Bret Gustafson, professor of sociocultural anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis and author of “Energy and Empire: Bolivia in the Age of Gas,” explained the interplay among energy, poverty and politics.

Socioeconomic and Ecological Consequences of Fossil Fuels

Gustafson views the connection between fossil fuels and poverty as a paradox. Large profits bolster the wealth of companies and their owners rather than those living and working near industrial hubs of fossil fuel extraction. Similarly, many of the resource-rich countries that source of much of the world’s fossil fuels seem to benefit far less than the countries they supply.

The regions involved in fossil fuel production exist as “sacrifice zones.” These zones are so named because the social and environmental rights of people nearby are forfeited for profit. Gustafson argues that corporate heads of fossil fuel companies realize their industry’s detriment. However, the “logic of the corporate CEO is that anything that is negative can be paid for.”

Fossil fuels also wreak environmental and social destruction. From extraction to transportation, drilling and mining may lead to accidents, toxic spillage and water/air pollution. Moreover, fossil fuel production involves human risk. In fact, between 2008 to 2012, 34 fatalities and more than 1,400 injuries resulted from offshore oil rigs.

The Industry’s Role in US Politics: Subsidies and Lobbying

Energy, poverty and politics intersect in the U.S. as well. Despite evidence of socioeconomic and ecological harm, fossil fuel industries enjoy favorable political support in the U.S. Credible estimates of annual domestic fossil fuel exploration and production subsidies range between $10 billion and $52 billion per year. These estimates are likely to remain high with the current administration’s goal of “energy dominance,” a term synonymous with President Trump’s efforts to ramp up fossil fuel production and end the “war on coal.”

The fossil fuel industry and some U.S. politicians maintain a symbiotic relationship. The oil and gas industry was the fourth-largest industry spender in the U.S. for political lobbying in 2019.  In addition, from 2017 to 2018, companies tethered to fossil fuels spent nearly $360 million in campaign donations and lobbying. Koch Industries, ExxonMobil and Chevron were the leading spenders. In comparison, renewable energy industries spent $26 million during the same period of time.

A Sustainable Future in Energy, Poverty and Politics

Successfully addressing issues tied to energy, poverty and politics will likely require parallel streams of infrastructural change and public pressure. Experts at the Environmental and Energy Study Institute advocate for more efficient reconfigurations of the energy grid, such as a shift to electric transportation and renewable-powered buildings.

Gustafson believes awareness and protest will catalyze the political action necessary to make these changes mainstream. “It won’t happen by itself,” he says. “We need people in the street, marching, demonstrating.”

Though the fossil fuel industry operates within complicated socioeconomic and political contexts, individuals can walk, bike, vote or protest in the short-term for just, sustainable energy.

Maya Gonzales
Photo: Flickr

Light in the Philippines

Kerosene lamps are used all throughout the developing world as a way to have light at night. Unfortunately, these lamps produce carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide which harms the lungs and could cause asthma and even cancer. These lamps also produce black carbon, a major contributor to global warming. The harmful effects of kerosene lamps are why Sustainable Alternative Lighting (SALt) is focused on bringing light to the Philippines.

Aisa Mijeno, engineer, co-founder and CEO of SALt, lived in the Philippines and through her time with the tribes, she found that they relied heavily on kerosene lamps to see at night. She knew that these lamps are harmful to your health, which is why she looked for a solution that could work easily for tribes in the Philippines. Mijeno realized that the Philippines have an abundance of saltwater, which allowed her to create a lamp powered by the saltwater surrounding the Philippines or through a glass of water and two scoops of salt.

The technology behind the lamp is actually quite simple, and it allows for less maintenance than a typical kerosene lamp. The lamp has two metal rods inside that are the electrodes, and when saltwater, the electrolyte, is added to the lamp, it creates light and electricity for eight hours. SALt lamps only last for six months, because the metal rods will wear out, but once these are replaced, the lamp is back to its working function.

Kerosene lamps are harmful to people and to the environment, and they also don’t last very long. These lamps can provide light for four hours at the most, half the time SALt lamps can run for. SALt lamps also provide electricity for the eight hours, as it has a USB port that can charge any kind of device.

SALt has called itself a social movement, as it looks to empower others to donate. Through their website, you can learn about different communities needing light in the Philippines and see how many lanterns they are in need of. This allows for anyone to be able to impact an entire community by providing safe and more efficient alternative to kerosene lamps.

Although 93 percent of Filipinos have access to electricity, there are still millions of people in rural areas like Mindanao and other surrounding islands that are left without this crucial necessity. By making and providing saltwater powered lamps, SALt is providing a solution for millions of Filipinos that reduces emissions and is safe for their health. Through the use of these natural resources in the Philippines, it allows for less maintenance than a kerosene lamp that can last twice as long, allowing them access to light and electricity throughout the night.

– Ian Scott
Photo: Flickr

Ukraine has a history of attempts toward developing its infrastructure that have failed thus far. Infrastructure in Ukraine has great potential, but its development has been delayed for multiple reasons, including mismanagement during Soviet rule and periods of economic instability.

The local energy sector, in particular, is in a poor state. Earlier this year, radical politicians blockaded coal from the unrecognized People’s Republic of Donetsk region of Donbass from delivery to the rest of the country, exacerbating the issue of underdeveloped infrastructure in Ukraine. This threw the country into turmoil, as Ukraine does not have enough resources to serve its power plants without the coal, leading to a downward economic spiral and state of emergency.

Currently, Ukraine is working on modernizing its infrastructure with a focus on making it more energy-efficient. Konstantin Grigorishin, owner of Energy Standard Group and vast assets in the energy sector of Ukraine, stated in an interview with RealClearEnergy, “We should not reconstruct the old infrastructure but introduce complete modernization of the Ukrainian energy system in line with the latest industry trends.”

The World Bank ranks infrastructure in Ukraine at 80 out of 160 countries in its annual Logistics Performance Index. This is mediocre at best, and its transportation systems are out of date with respect to speed, safety, and efficiency. To remedy this issue, Ukraine came out with a plan, Ukraine’s Transport Strategy 2030, that focuses an updating all its internal transportation systems until it is on par with the rest of Europe.

Ukraine is strategically located between the E.U., Russia and the Black Sea, forming a critical point for maritime trade. Its position, and the Dnipro River linking its coast to the interior of the country, makes it uniquely capable of both international and regional trade. The only thing required to make this trade plan possible is a viable route along the Black Sea and the Dnipro River, and this is where issues arise.

Infrastructure in Ukraine requires an investment of at least $2 billion from private investors for maritime trade to be a viable option. To increase investments, the Ministry of Infrastructure intends to establish private-public partnerships (PPPs) with businesses. The Ministry signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) on November 14, 2017, declaring their intention of mobilizing infrastructure development through PPPs.

The Minister of Infrastructure, Volodymyr Omelyan, has stressed the importance of these partnerships, stating, “Ukraine’s infrastructure needs are enormous. We need to crowd-in private investment to modernize the country’s infrastructure and upgrade it. IFC’s support and technical expertise will help ensure we are implementing the best possible solutions efficiently and transparently.”

Ukraine’s economy is relying on the success of these investments and the jobs they will create. With continued cooperation between the government and the PPPs, the country will steadily overcome its obstacles to infrastructure development.

– Kayla Rafkin

Photo: Flickr

Energy in TanzaniaAlong the coast of eastern Africa sits Tanzania, home to the continent’s tallest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro. Beside Kilimanjaro resides a population of 45 million people; the majority of them live in a rural setting- a full 74 percent. Yet, despite this rural majority, only two percent of rural residents have access to electricity – an issue which has contributed both to the rise of environmental issues and the cementation of cyclical rural poverty. A disconcerting 93.6 percent of rural residents are forced to use wood as fuel for cooking, which is a time-consuming necessity that has enabled deforestation and robbed individuals of time that could be spent in other ways had there been a different and viable energy option. Consequently, the issue of energy in Tanzania is one which requires efficient and diverse solutions.

Into this scenario walks a Dutch energy company called Devergy, whose innovative approach makes clean energy accessible to rural Tanzanians across the nation. Devergy works on a pay-as-you-go model, relying on mobile banking – a financial practice which is already widely used across many African nations.

This model allows consumers to control their energy consumption and their financials; one uses as much or as little as necessary based on his or her need and financial situation. It is a financially accessible option – energy “credits” cost as much as phone credits and less than kerosene lighting – that gives the consumer complete control. This ultimately empowers individuals by giving them the (literal) power to light their homes and businesses as much or as little as they need, all within the confines of their personally-dictated financial arena.

Importantly, the energy provided is also clean. Most rural areas do not have access to electrical grids, and the cost of expanding those grids is currently not economically feasible, which is why 90 percent of all energy consumption comes from biomass materials such as wood. Instead of trying to create access to the general energy grids already in place, the company instead installs solar micro-grids in villages. These micro-grids generate renewable energy, which is connected to homes by locally-trained technicians and accessed by the village inhabitants through the aforementioned model.

In the last two years, more than 150,000 lives have been impacted by implementing these micro-grids across the nation. Though there is still much work to be done to solve the energy issue in Tanzania, the future is looking bright as Devergy paves the way by providing clean, efficient energy to citizens of the country.

Kailee Nardi

Photo: Flickr

PoaPower Provides Energy to Rural CommunitiesAccording to the International Energy Agency, 1.2 billion people are without access to electricity globally. Over 95 percent are located in either sub-Saharan Africa or developing Asia, and 80 percent live in rural communities. Access to clean energy sources directly affects health, education and income, putting rural communities at a severe disadvantage.

The Global Innovation Fund is a nonprofit dedicated to investing money in new innovations that combat poverty issues in the developing world. One of their recent investments aims to combat the clean energy disparity in rural communities in Africa. PoaPower provides energy to rural communities at an affordable “pay-as-you-go” rate. The Global Innovation Fund has invested £150,000, or just over $191,970, in a pilot program based in Kenya that has brought energy to over 100 households.

In 2015, over 34 million Kenyans lived in rural communities throughout the country. Located in eastern Africa, bordering the Indian Ocean, Kenya’s primary energy usage is industrial. According to PoaPower, 80 percent of Kenyans lack affordable electricity, with data showing that 75 percent of families have children that require adequate lighting to finish homework. Another issue is the use of kerosene lamps in homes that have risks of indoor air pollution and fires.

By signing up with local PoaPower agents in their area, Kenyan households are able to receive enough energy to run their homes on an affordable “pay-as-you-go” model through the pilot program. The model allows for PoaPower to sell energy at a metered rate with no upfront costs. This allows even the lowest income households to receive energy quickly and when they need it. PoaPower provides energy to rural communities in Kenya that would otherwise be completely off-grid.

Testimonials provided by PoaPower include that of Samuel Mwangi, who stated, “Although power lines run over my house, I could not afford the connection fee. Now with PoaPower I have all the electricity I need – it’s even enough to run my laptop!”

In 2015, PoaPower received recognition for its efforts from Menorca Millennials, who invited the team to a 20-day focus program in Spain highlighting startup innovations that focus on tackling world issues on a global scale with new business models such as their pay-as-you-go program.

Riley Bunch

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

Examples of Sustainable DevelopmentAlthough sustainable development is defined in multiple ways, the most often cited definition of the term comes from the Bruntland Report titled, “Our Common Future.” According to the report, sustainable development is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” From this particular definition, sustainable development can be reduced to two key concepts: needs and limitations. Needs refers to those in need—the world’s poor.  The limitations are those “imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.” Though many examples of sustainable development exist, the leading models are discussed below.

Top 5 Examples of Sustainable Development

  1. Solar Energy: The greatest advantages of solar energy are that it is completely free and is available in limitless supply. Both of these factors provide a huge benefit to consumers and help reduce pollution. Replacing non-renewable energy with this type of energy is both environmentally and financially effective.
  2. Wind Energy: Wind energy is another readily available energy source. Harnessing the power of wind energy necessitates the use of windmills; however, due to construction cost and finding a suitable location, this kind of energy is meant to serve more than just the individual. Wind energy can supplement or even replace the cost of grid power, and therefore may be a good investment and remains a great example of sustainable development.
  3. Crop Rotation: Crop rotation is defined as “the successive planting of different crops on the same land to improve soil fertility and help control insects and diseases.” This farming practice is beneficial in several ways, most notably because it is chemical-free. Crop rotation has been proven to maximize the growth potential of land, while also preventing disease and insects in the soil. Not only can this form of development benefit commercial farmers, but it can also aid those who garden at home.
  4. Efficient Water Fixtures: Replacing current construction practices and supporting the installation of efficient showerheads, toilets and other water appliances can conserve one of Earth’s most precious resources: water. Examples of efficient fixtures include products from the EPA’s WaterSense program, as well as dual-flush and composting toilets. According to the EPA, it takes a lot of energy to produce and transport water and to process wastewater, and since less than one percent of the Earth’s available water supply is freshwater, it is important that sustainable water use is employed at the individual and societal level.
  5. Green Space: Green spaces include parks and other areas where plants and wildlife are encouraged to thrive. These spaces also offer the public great opportunities to enjoy outdoor recreation, especially in dense, urban areas. According to the UW-Madison Department of Urban and Regional Planning, advantages of green spaces include, “helping regulate air quality and climate … reducing energy consumption by countering the warming effects of paved surfaces … recharging groundwater supplies and protecting lakes and streams from polluted runoff.” Research conducted in the U.K. by the University of Exeter Medical School also found that moving to a greener area could lead to significant and lasting improvements to an individual’s mental health.


– Samantha Davis

Sources: World Bank , International Institute of Sustainable DevelopmentGreen Living, Science Daily, Project Evergreen, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Photo: Flickr

Energy Access in Doula
Caterpillar, the globally-recognized U.S. construction equipment company, is leading the fight against energy poverty in the Central African country of Cameroon. Priding itself on its commitment to sustainability and social change, Caterpillar has increased energy access in Doula, Cameroon’s largest city. The company plans to expand its reach by joining hands with Altaaqa Global.

Altaaqa Global is a rental dealer of Caterpillar products, and the company’s goal is to ensure that electricity is dependably supplied to vulnerable communities. Through its new customer development program, Altaaqa Global and Caterpillar plan to increase energy access by providing local employees with the technical knowledge needed to manage Doula’s natural gas power plant.

As Fahah Y. Zahid, the chairman of Altaaqa Global, explains, “We have always aimed to play an active role in spurring growth and progress not only by providing a reliable supply of electricity but also by transferring knowledge to locals. We hope that the Customer Development Program yields a globally competitive workforce that will drive the continuous growth of Cameroon.”

Plagued by a lack of energy access, Doula faces extreme poverty, which affects 13 percent of the city’s population, as well as a 30 percent unemployment rate. Caterpillar and Altaaqa Global’s work is thus crucially important because providing Doula citizens with electricity will lead to greater economic growth.

In May 2015, the Government of Cameroon announced that it wanted to achieve “economic emergence” by 2035. Thanks to Caterpillar and Altaaqa Global, the government’s target may be within reach.

While Caterpillar increases energy access in Doula with the help of Altaaqa Global, more people will use the newfound electricity to gain an education, start their own businesses or find jobs. As a result of these new opportunities, Doula’s residents can effectively contribute to Cameroon’s success and help the country become the economic powerhouse it has the potential to be.

Kristina Evans
Photo: Pixabay