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Solar Power in the Fight Against PovertyHunger, lack of education, conflict, disease, war; these human calamities have a common factor: poverty. One word to define a worldwide phenomenon which unfortunately hits 2.8 billion people on earth, or near half of the total entire population.

So, what are the solutions to fight this burden? Investment, innovation, technology and education are all viable options. But more and more multinational companies, associations and even simple citizens are now engaged in the fight against poverty, using a very special tool: solar power. As a source of renewable energy that is good for the environment, solar power can also help people get out of poverty by giving them access to electricity.

Today, most inhabitants of developing countries rely more on kerosene than on electricity for their basic needs such as household lighting. This is not only because the cost of electricity is extremely high, as the poorest people in the world pay 40 times more for the same energy services, but also because, most of the time, the nearest outlets are located miles away from where poverty is striking.

Because of this poor resource distribution, 15 percent of the global population still lives without access to electricity, and it is this inequality that solar power is attempting to balance by giving people easier access to electricity, information and education. For example, in Bangalore in India, families using solar panels can save $100 a year, money they tend to invest in their children’s education.

According to Simon Bransfield-Garth, Azuri’s CEO, a leading company in solar power in emerging markets in Africa, “a child spends an extra [two] hours per day doing homework if he has electricity.” But giving people access to electricity, and thus to information and education, is only one advantage this form of energy has to offer developing countries.

First, using solar power requires only one natural resource: the sun. This free, nonpolluting and unlimited
generator makes solar power one of the most environmentally friendly energies in the world. Furthermore, green energy is reliable and cheaper in the long run than kerosene or generators. It is also safer and easier to preserve in case of natural disasters, as solar panels are detachable and can be put indoors.

Helping in both the fight against poverty and climate change, solar power seems to be the perfect solution for those who still don’t have access to electricity. But there is much more at stake here: every year, more than four million people are killed by indoor air pollution, more than AIDS and malaria combined. Developing clean energy is, now, a matter of life or death.

As concluded Justin Guay, associate director of Sierra Club’s International Climate Program, “Just providing a few hours of solar lighting alone improves the human condition.”

– Léa Gorius

Photo: Flickr

Solar Power in MalawiMalawi’s Ministry of Health has several ongoing efforts in developing its healthcare system and facilities. After experiencing continuous long-term power outages which interrupted the healthcare systems, the Ministry decided to start a solar power project to solve the issues in the healthcare facilities. Solar power in Malawi can change the future for the country’s hospitals and the overall healthcare system.

Not only have the power outages affected Malawi’s healthcare facilities throughout the years, but they have also affected many businesses and factories. For manufacturing companies, most of the production has stopped due to the lack of electricity. This interruption of work has threatened the growth of these businesses. Further, the generators that some businesses and buildings use are expensive to run, which has resulted in an increase in the retail price of goods and has hurt the economy in Malawi.

The power outages have been reported to last up to 8 hours at a time. As such, many of the machines required to save lives in hospitals, such as oxygen machines, are unable to run. These machines require constant power and with an unstable power source, it can have detrimental effects on many lives of the Malawi people.

The Ministry of Health, along with the Global Fund Project Implementation Unit, has decided to ensure solar power in Malawi. With a focus on the health facilities, the Ministry is installing solar power units at 85 health facilities throughout the nation. Its goal is to save lives with solar power by preventing disruptions, especially in important areas of hospitals such as the maternity wing, intensive care unit and the area for children under five. The solar panels being installed will provide 100kW of power for the hospitals.

Healthcare centers in remote areas have been affected by power outages the worst. While being affected less by power outages, the hospitals in the larger cities have still had to rely on generators to keep the hospital running, which tends to be expensive.

Malawi’s power outages have cost the country a lot of money as a result of relying on generators to keep many hospitals working. With the installation of solar panels, the country hopes to use the saved money to develop its healthcare system and facilities in other ways.

– Chloe Turner

Photo: Flickr

infrastructure in IndonesiaIndonesia is a nation of 260 million people spread over 17,000 islands in the Pacific Ring of Fire. The country’s geography poses enormous challenges for the development of infrastructure, but the government of President Joko Widodo is betting big on large infrastructure projects. By bringing new highways and rail lines to islands across the archipelago, Jokowi — as the president is commonly known — aims to connect the country and lift millions out of poverty.

When it came to power in 2014, the Jokowi administration pledged to invest almost $10 billion per year in new infrastructure until the next elections in 2019. Signature projects include a new subway and light rail system in Jakarta, the traffic-choked capital with a metro area home to over 30 million people, and a high-speed rail line connecting it to the city of Bandung.

Beyond the refurbishment of aging airports that will help improve connectivity in a country dominated by air travel, the government’s energy infrastructure projects have the potential to generate considerable renewable energy and connect more Indonesians to the electrical grid. Thermal energy and hydropower plants are being built in a number of islands, including on Borneo.

The Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry recently announced the country was adding renewable capacity faster than expected and is on track to meet Jokowi’s goal of producing 25 percent of Indonesia’s energy from renewable sources. This would be a landmark achievement for Indonesia, a former member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries with a deadly air pollution problem.

Most of the major infrastructure in Indonesia is concentrated on the heavily populated island of Java, home to the capital and the largest cities. New infrastructure projects are aiming to change that, with a rail line under construction on the island of Sulawesi and a new highway being built across the island of Sumatra. New railways will link cities to ports, enhancing maritime transport and trade in a country surrounded by water.

The pace of construction is only going to increase, with 247 infrastructure projects planned through 2019. The Jokowi administration hopes that beyond the creation of new jobs in construction, the massive investments in infrastructure in Indonesia will spur economic development across the country and eliminate poverty.

– Giacomo Tognini

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

Solar Panels in Refugee CampsEscalating conflicts around the world, particularly in nations such as Yemen, Nigeria and Somalia, has led to a global refugee crisis. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there were 65.3 million displaced people around the globe as of December 2015, a number which includes refugees, asylum seekers and those internally displaced within their own countries of origin. Addressing the needs of refugee camps, which include medicine, food, clean water and electricity, is no small task. Renewable energy in the form of solar panels in refugee camps, however, can help to address one or more issues surrounding dire conditions in these makeshift communities.

Jordan’s Zaatari camp, which houses over 100,000 refugees and asylum seekers, recently installed solar-powered street lamps in and around sanitation and toilet facilities, with the help of Oxfam Canada. Not only do these lamps use a 100 percent environmentally friendly source of power to operate, but they also make these facilities safer to use at night.

The Zaatari camp is by no means the only, or even most prime, example of solar panels in refugee camps providing help to tens of thousands of people.

The Azraq camp, also located in Jordan, is powered completely by renewable energy derived from solar panels. A two-megawatt solar plant, funded by the Ikea Foundation, supplies electricity to over 20,000 refugees living within Azraq’s shelters free of charge. Its energy is used to power fridges, fans, televisions and cell phones. Not only is the solar plant capable of immediately saving the UNHCR $1.5 million per year, but a planned output upgrade from two to five megawatts means that soon electricity will be available to all 36,000 residents in Azraq.

Solar panels in refugee camps also show a promising, optimistic future for the non-refugee population of Jordan as well.

According to Ala Qubain, the head engineer at Mustakbal (the firm that constructed Azraq’s solar plant), once the camp is no longer needed by refugees and asylum-seekers, the power plant “will remain as a contribution to Jordan to reduce its dependence on foreign fuel supplies.”

Unlike its neighbors, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, Jordan does not have an abundant supply of oil reserves to power homes and businesses and has struggled with electricity supply in the past. Now that solar panels in refugee camps have proven to be both effective and cheap, the push for renewable energy practices in Jordan, and possibly the wider Middle East, have been reinforced.

It is often difficult to find a positive message in the world’s refugee crisis, with figures and statistics of those displaced and struggling continuously rising. The effect of solar panels in refugee camps, however, has both short- and long-term benefits.

Neighborhoods are made safer at night for women and children thanks to solar-powered lamps. The energy source’s cheap implementation and maintenance is economically viable for businesses and the implications of the future use of solar panels are nothing short of positive and promising.

Brad Tait

Photo: Flickr

Refugees SheltersThere are about 59 to 67 million refugees and asylum seekers around the world, forced to leave their home to pursue freedom and security. In this journey, shelter alternatives are short; the only real options are refugee camps that organizations have helped establish. In addition, given the geographic and demographic conditions of some camps, the facilities are not adequate to maintain minimum safety requirements.

To resolve this issue, different architecture companies have begun designing modern refugee shelters that can fulfill important needs in tough environments. The following companies have invented innovative shelters that provide basic services such as water, power and protection from extreme weather.

The Better Shelter

Ikea Foundation and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) developed the Better Shelter in 2015. It is a safe, long lasting and efficient home that can be built with just four people.

The Better Shelter’s base is made from a galvanized steel frame. The roof and walls are made of polyolefin panels, to protect refugees from strong sunlight exposure. An innovative feature of the facility is the PV System, which is a solar panel installed on the roof that charges an LED light inside of the shelter. The power that the PV obtains during the day can be used for a total of four hours at night. In addition, thanks to a USB port located on the LED light, refugees can charge their cellphones and other electronics with renewable electricity.

The adaptable characteristics of the Better Shelter redefine the space in refugee shelters since it can be placed in different locations. Sections can be added and removed in order to create longer structures or even hold medical equipment.

In 2015, 16,000 units of the Better Shelter were deployed for humanitarian operations world-wide, especially in Nepal and Iraq where there are a considerable number of refugees.

SURI

SURI is a refugee shelter that is easy to ensemble with a low-cost architecture modular system. These features make it faster to transport in many types of emergencies. Suricatta Systems, the creator of the shelter, defines SURI as a Shelter Unit for Rapid Installation.

One of the most important characteristics of the shelter is that each unit can be joined in different directions, providing flexibility in order to create distinct building forms. Moreover, SURI is lightweight, as its walls are designed to be refillable with local materials like sand or debris. Like the Better Shelter, SURI also employs solar panels that provide light inside the home.

An essential advantage of shelter for refugees is the water recollection system. SURI can store rainwater in a tank after it has passed through a filter, in order to convert it in drinkable water. It is expected that SURI will be used in emergencies such as earthquakes and flooding.

Shigeru Ban Architects

Shigeru Ban is a Japanese architect that uses principally recycled materials for his constructions. In 1992, when Rwanda fell into a violent civil war, Shigeru developed a refugee shelter made of cardboard to host Rwandan families that were affected by the war. The structure was convenient given its reusable features, as the buildings made from paper can be easily removed from certain places, and can be easily built again.

After the events in Rwanda, the architect has focused his research on creating facilities built by low-cost materials that can be used in emergencies. Shigeru’s shelters have been implemented in disasters such as the 2011 earthquake in Japan.

With continued philanthropic advancements from companies like these, it may be possible to completely reinvent the space within refugee shelters. In the near future, perhaps all refugees around the globe will have access to clean water, running electricity and a warm shelter.

Dario Ledesma

Photo: Flickr

Renewable Energy in Africa: UgandaRenewable energy in Africa has made great strides in recent years—but, as the poet John Donne once wrote, “No man is an island entire of itself.” Building the infrastructure for green energy is an international project, generally reliant on international conglomerates with wide-ranging, specific technical knowledge and the funds to move large projects forward.

According to the International Energy Agency, Chinese firms were responsible for 30 percent of the utility power-generation capacity built in sub-Saharan Africa between 2010 and 2015, and 56 percent of the capacity they have built (or will build) this decade comes from renewable sources, including wind and hydroelectric power.

Still, Africa’s utility-scale energy infrastructure is notoriously underdeveloped, which means localities and individual consumers often opt for smaller, more independent means of generating energy and their associated programs.

GET FiT Uganda is one such program. Its goal is to increase the country’s energy production by 20 percent by stimulating private investment in smaller green energy projects. The program draws funding from the Norwegian, German, and United Kingdom governments as well as the EU-Africa Infrastructure Trust Fund. It culminated in late 2016 with the unveiling of the 10-megawatt solar power plant in Soroti, capable of powering 40,000 homes, businesses and schools in the town and surrounding district.

The plant’s operations manager, Phillip Karumuna, has said of the plant, “The abundance of the solar resource in Eastern Uganda makes it perfect for solar power generation. The sun shines throughout most of the day, there isn’t too much rain here, and this means the plant will produce lots of power for years to come.”

The new plant means the district will enjoy access to computers and the Internet, and activities like cooking will no longer be relegated to the dim light of lanterns. Achom Naomi, director of a local nursery and primary school, says that once the schools gain access to power, more students will enroll and school standards will improve—a result of access to light for reading and homework at night.

The Soroti solar plant—the largest of its kind in East Africa—follows the launch of a power plant in Kakira in 2015, and a third plant will be coming to Tororo. All three plants were funded through GET FiT.

The situation in Uganda is a snapshot of what renewable energy in Africa is achieving—and can achieve—on the continent itself and across the developing world. And the United States should not be content to let China and Europe dominate the investment sphere. By ramping up spending on renewable energy in Africa and other developing nations, America stands to build instrumental alliances and partnerships in trade and for national and global security.

Chuck Hasenauer

Photo: Flickr

Benefits of Solar Power
Solar panels are making a major impact on the lives of rural families in Botswana. About 80 percent of people in Botswana have been utilizing firewood for sources of light and heat. Unfortunately, many acres of forest have been destroyed due to the loss of trees used for their light and heat. Now that the UNDP-supported Rural Electrification Program is in place, life in Botswana has changed for the better. The goal of the program is to provide 65,000 homes with solar power.

A benefit of solar power is the time saved by women and girls. Retrieving wood and constantly tending to the fire to maintain light and heat in the home can be a time-consuming task. Newer wood-saving stoves being used in Botswana can cook a four-person meal with only a kilogram of wood, which reduces the wood gathering time and intensive work. This gives people more time to invest in other needs.

There are many benefits of solar power compared to other forms of fossil fuel energy. For example, solar power does not release any pollutants into the environment. Solar panels are a good investment because they are cheap and can supply power indefinitely with no ongoing costs. For countries struggling with poverty in Africa, cheap energy is a smart, long-term solution.

Solar power in countries like Botswana allows families to focus on other important things in their life, as opposed to constantly retrieving wood just to fulfill their basic needs. Botswana is one of Africa’s more stable countries, mostly free of corruption. The country is the world’s largest producer of diamonds, making the country a middle-income nation. The benefits of solar power are an important move in powering the country in the right direction.

Chloe Turner

Photo: Google

Affordable Energy in Sub-Saharan AfricaFor decades, the notion of affordable energy in sub-Saharan Africa has been a pipe dream. The region is extremely poor, with the majority of the population simply unable to pay for the energy that could offer opportunities to raise them out of poverty. This may be changing, however, with recent technological developments offering the potential to turn this dream into a reality.

More than 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to electricity, with estimates suggesting that even by 2040, that figure is expected to remain at more than half a billion. The energy infrastructure across the region is chronically underdeveloped, meaning that even those who do have access to power are unable to rely on it. For instance, in 2013, Tanzanian business owners were suggested to lose 15 percent of their business as a result of the frequent power outages. Issues such as this have led many to believe that the electrification of Africa may be the largest development challenge facing our world.

Despite this, numerous suggestions have been made as to how to tackle the problem. While it has limited natural resources in many areas, sub-Saharan Africa has great potential for renewable energy. The most commonly suggested method of taking advantage of this is through solar power, something that has become more and more appealing as the associated costs have decreased in recent years. This being the case, a number of companies have entered the market, offering solar power as a solution to the energy crisis facing the region.

Off Grid Electric is one of these companies, with operations in Tanzania and Rwanda and soon in the Ivory Coast. At the moment, it powers 125,000 homes, gaining an estimated 10,000 new customers per month, and employs around 1,000 people. Although packages may differ, customers generally receive a solar panel, which will be installed on their roof, and a battery-pack that allows them electricity to power lights and small electronics. For customers it is affordable, with basic packages costing near the same per month as a supply of kerosene would, but with more utility and without the health risks.

Access to this type of energy source can completely change the lives of those who use it. In schools, the power sources offer the possibility of getting computers to assist with learning, while lighting at home allows children to study after dark. Farmers are able to receive accurate weather warnings, allowing them to protect for their livestock and crops. Business owners can earn more, whether through being able to stay open longer or being able to communicate with customers by being able to charge their phones. The opportunities that electricity offers for development appear to be almost limitless.

Due to its low costs and easy installation, solar power would seem to be the way forward in providing affordable energy in sub-Saharan Africa. Off Grid Electric, and similar companies, may not be able to solve the problem on their own; however, the initial progress made is promising. With future active investment from the developed world, electrification of the continent seems more a reality than a dream.

Gavin Callander
Photo: Flickr

Renewable Energy in China
In June 2017, the world witnessed a feat in the energy industry unlike any other. For an entire week, the five million citizens in the Qinghai Province of north-western China relied entirely on renewable energy. According to state media, the week-long run, organized by China’s State Grid Corporation, illustrated the potential of renewable energy in China as well as the rest of the world.

June’s event is an emblem of the increasing presence of renewable energy in China. The government announced that it plans on spending $360 billion on clean energy investments by 2020. This will offset the detrimental and life-threatening pollution, as well as push forward its economy by creating an estimated 13 million new jobs. Numbers released by Greenpeace suggest that one wind turbine was installed every hour in 2015.

Increasingly, China and renewable energy are becoming more intertwined. As an energy behemoth, China’s mass manufacturing of solar panels made widespread, household renewable energy more of a reality. Responsible for manufacturing four out of five solar modules installed presently, China made solar energy cost-competitive against fossil fuel energy.

Pitting China against other nations, its accomplishments become even more glaring. In 2016 alone, China added 35 gigawatts of solar generation, which is almost equal to Germany’s entire capacity. Meanwhile, solar power in the U.S. is not nearly as productive.

Notably, China is the largest consumer of coal consumption responsible for half of global usage. Since domestic coal miners generate 70 percent of its electricity, the Chinese government has strong incentives to continue developing and investing in renewable energy. Domestically, scientists say that China’s pollution, caused by the mass-use of fossil fuels, accounts for 1.1 million deaths a year. Its pledge to the 2014 Paris climate agreement has also been an international push towards more effectively incorporating renewable energies into its state infrastructure.

Particularly venerable is China’s efforts to develop solar panels and applications for renewable energies that can survive in environmentally diverse urban and rural areas. This will make renewable energy viable in varying landscapes around the world.

Have China and renewable energy become the pillars of the future of sustainability? Only time will tell as other nations lean toward incorporating renewable energies to compete against China’s growing market hegemony. China’s remarkable journey towards sustainable future has been an exciting one to watch, but it is far from over.

Sydney Nam

Photo: Flickr