PowerGen’s Revolutionary Microgrid is Empowering Kenya
On January 27, 2015, PowerGen, among three other innovative companies, won a global competition in which 30 total participants enter four categories: education, health, energy, and cities.

PowerGen Renewable Energy developed a microgrid that powers homes and businesses at a low cost. This environmentally sound and accessible energy source is making life easier for many residents of Kenya.

The competition was overseen by 1776, a U.S. tech incubator. Winning in equal status with PowerGen were Health E-Net, which connects patients to medical facilities, tasKwetu, a project management tracker and eKitabu, an online East African bookstore. Though, with a majority of Kenyans relying on diesel generators, kerosene lamps and charcoal as power sources, PowerGen is an important and extremely useful life-changing alternative.

Originally called WindGen Power, PowerGen is a micro-utility company working in East Africa. Their renewable energy products are dominantly solar-powered though wind is still utilized as a resource.

Solar-power products are cheap and simple to maintain. Powered by fuel cells and solar panels, micro representations of electricity grids are local. They have 1.4kW of solar panels, 9kWh of batteries and 3kW converters. These are known as a “PowerBoxes” to locals.

There are 600 million people without electricity in sub-Saharan Africa. PowerGen supplies micro-grids to people in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, and Somalia. This system is utilized by lower income customers who run small businesses such as hair salons, restaurants, and guest houses. Rural villages and towns benefit the most from their micro-grids.

Take Lillian Muthoni, for example, and her transition to the micro-grid featured by TED Talks. She manages a “PowerBox” in Nkoilale, Kenya, which is 250 kilometers West of Nairobi. She replaced solar lights and a diesel generator with the “PowerBox.” She once paid $130 a month, but the “PowerBox” now only costs her $22 a month. She owns a restaurant and likes to entertain her customers with music and television. Since the switch to the cost-effective micro-grid, she has even managed to buy a refrigerator.

PowerGen’s objective is to connect customers with the outside world. Since Africans are becoming more familiar with mobile phones and online access, PowerGen has begun to train new users how to handle mobile devices powered by the micro-grid.

This further connects them to information and the outside world. Most Africans typically use their phones to access credit accounts and to prepay for their energy use online. People can keep track of payments more easily too.

In 2014, PowerGen partnered with KIVA in a seven-year-loan plan. They first tried to improve conditions in Oloolaimutia Village by installing a micro-grid. Lighting, television, refrigeration and a medical clinic were supported by its energy output. The company raised $9,780 within two days.

According to a January 2015 TED Talk, PowerGen makes $10,000 in revenue each month. To give some perspective, 10 micro-grids were powering Kenya in 2014.

Competition has sparked among other micro-grid marketers. Recently, a power connectivity project was initiated in Kenya, funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the Kenyan government in order to benefit 314,200 households. An accumulation of $150 million funds this project.

The goal of the Last Mile Connectivity Project hopes to add 1.5 million Kenyans to the national grid and connect 70% of rural houses by 2017. The initiative, which begins in September 2015, would require each customer to pay $165.

SteamaCo joined grid-building innovators like PowerGen, supporting 30 grids—26 of which are in Kenya and 4 in Tanazania, Renin and Nepal—with even cheaper offers, but a similar operating system. Predicting that internet use will double in 5 years, they take pride in their over-the-phone online monitoring systems.

Though PowerGen is neck-in-neck with other competing systems, their goal remains the same. The increase in competition breaches the gap between unconnected customers and connected ones. With 1.2 billion still without energy, PowerGen and companies like it are connecting less fortunate families who can then experience a richer and easier life.

Katie Groe

Sources: 1776, Disrupt Africa, PowerGen Renewable Energy, TED, GVEP International, African Review, The Guardian
Photo: Ted

Over the last 10 years, the quality of renewable energy has steadily increased. According to the European Commission, between 2003 and 2013, the quality increased by 83.4% – an average of 6.3% per year. Throughout 2013, the European Union (EU) produced 192 million tons of oil – about 24.3% of all energy used.

Biomass and renewable waste are the primary clean energy sources in the EU. Hydropower, which uses water as a renewable energy source, closely follows.

Hydropower is a clean energy source that has yet to be used to its full potential. It “captures electricity by using water that flows through a pipe to turn micro turbines in a line, or by harvesting energy from stream flows in irrigation canals and streams,” as explained in a CNBC report.

At Columbia University, researchers looked at water energy in a different way – they used evaporated water as the source. The researchers took bacterial spores that contract and expand based on the humidity of the environment and placed them in rows on tape that were then put together. This created a mass of rows that contracted and expanded together based on the environment. The bacterial spores had enough power from the air to move a toy car.

The technology is not yet powerful enough to work in a real life scenario and cannot compete with solar energy in efficiency. However, researchers believe it could harness enough energy to power a phone, even if it will not change the transportation industry.

Over in the Pacific Ocean, the U.S. Navy is sponsoring another way to use hydropower – using waves and ocean currents. This is exactly what the Azura Wave Energy Device is testing in Hawaii. Azura is a 63-foot-long, 10-foot-wide, 45-ton device that rotates as the incoming wave approach to extract energy.

CEO and co-founder Steve Koft explains, “the wave energy is much more predictable than solar or wind.” They are hoping this is the future of clean energy, but Azura is still a prototype. By harnessing the energy of waves, they have potentially found a way to capture predictable, consistent and clean energy to use.

Water energy is being explored more in depth everyday, and has huge potential to reduce the use of nonrenewable energy sources.

– Hannah Resnick

Sources: CNBC, European Commission, KITV, Quartz
Photo: Institution of Chemical Engineers

The spate of ethically driven decisions to pull money out of fossil fuel companies, known as divestment, has been widely publicized. From universities across the world to Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream and most recently, Norway’s massive Sovereign Wealth Fund which divested in May, an estimated $50 billion in investments has been withdrawn from fossil fuel companies. While the debate continues on the effectiveness this will have on fighting climate change, this $50 billion, already ethically tinged, could have a serious impact on helping the world’s poor.

There are some definite challenges in making divestment money work for the poor. First, all of this money belongs to thousands of different organizations and governments, and each has their own rules for what can be done with the money. Additionally, these funds are generally not liquid and need to be reinvested.

A second challenge is organizing all of the “divesters” to try and plot out a common course to ensure that these investments could have the most impact. Perhaps the divestment campaign should be followed up with a reinvestment campaign, in which business, civil society and governments openly discuss what to do with the money.

One obvious area is research and development for renewable technologies. Not only does this form of investment dovetail with the goals of the divestment campaign, it is much needed. Recently, Bill Gates voiced the need for “high risk investments in breakthrough technologies.”

This rationale is solid. When Japanese and American researchers were able to make gallium nitride to glow blue, they unlocked a world of possibilities for rural Africans. Their achievement made possible the most efficient LED lighting, allowing batteries and solar panels to be downsized and sold for less than $40. In turn, this increased access to cheap energy for many rural Africans, saving them substantial amounts of money on kerosene (which costs over 80 times the average cost of electricity in the U.S.) and affording them with a light to read at night or a cell phone charging station.

Alternatively, and certainly not exclusively, the money could be invested in Indian healthcare, a sector that has been recognized to be in dire need of both public and private investment. In India, startups with access to investment have been “driving down costs for eye care, dental care, preventive screenings” and other basic health necessities, which places them in reach of India’s many poor.

This type of investment is especially effective in reducing poverty. It pumps money into developing countries while fortifying their capacity for education and research, which works to close the knowledge gap, which accounts for much of the difference in per capita income between developed and developing countries.

Investment in these Indian healthcare startups is just one example of the many ways in which the divestment movement could be tooled to reduce poverty from two sides: working to mitigate climate change and investing in the ability of poor people to learn to help themselves.

– John Wachter

Sources: Arabella Advisors, EIA, Fossil Free, The Guardian, The Guardian, Impact Alpha, NPR, NPR, Social Story, Joseph Stiglitz
Photo: Flickr

The United Nations warned on March 22 that increases in energy production through tar sands and fracking for natural gas may serve as a considerable threat to freshwater supplies.

Intensive consumption of freshwater supplies has already caused a concern for water scarcity. Moreover, the global population is expected to rise to eight billion people by the spring of 2024. In the 20th century alone, the world’s population increased from 1.64 billion to 6 billion. To make matters worse, the environmental concerns of a changing climate also make freshwater access more volatile.

The 2014 World Water Development Report on Water and Energy also reported that serious tension between power generation from the fossil fuel industry and environmental considerations will only get worse as time progresses. By 2050, water demand is expected to increase by 55%; however, water use for energy production (through fossil fuel exploitation) is set to increase 20% by 2035.

The report stated that, “Water is used, in varying quantities and ways, in every step of fossil-fuel extraction and processing.” Considering the changes in society coming into the 21st century, the fossil fuel industry has become outdated. Apart from being economically viable in some regards, the pressure that the industry places on the environment goes on to extend to other areas of society, which has sparked considerable public opposition.

For these reasons, the United Nations and most environmental groups assert that a decline in the fossil fuel industry and growth of the renewable energy industry will be necessary for the human race to sustain itself.

Sustainability is becoming more and more necessary over time, and with the expansion of environmentally damaging entities, such as the fossil fuel industry, the problem of climate change might be exacerbated and water resources could become more scarce. Only 3% of all of the water on Earth is from freshwater sources and currently, nearly 1.2 billion people live in areas faced with freshwater scarcity. This number will continue to grow with continued use of large amounts of freshwater within industrial processes.

According to the World Water Development Report, “40[%] of the global population is projected to be living in areas of severe water stress through 2050.”

The issue raises substantial concern for our energy needs. Although our need for energy supply is growing, environmental risks produced by the fossil fuel industry place humanity in a tough position. Though the fossil fuel industry has become considerably active in the political process to be able to sustain itself, the world insists on sustaining the environment moving into the 21st century.

– Jugal Patel

Sources: Common Dreams, Pacific Institute, United Nations, World Odometers
Photo: Money and Markets

Renewable_energy_developing_countriesA new report by the World Bank, Sustainably Energy for All Global Tracking Framework, is advising middle to high-income countries to invest more in renewable energy as part of the effort to end world poverty. The report suggests wealthy countries to invest an additional $600 billion a year in energy efficiency until the year 2030. This number is $200 billion more than the current estimate.

The World Bank is calling on the top 20 “high-impact” countries that use about 60% of the world’s energy consumption to double the amount of renewable energy they use as well as energy efficiency. When this happens, these countries will increase their renewable energy consumption to 36%.

This report also discloses that wealthy countries have made “only ‘modest’ progress” in terms of increasing renewable energy usage since 1990. In fact, there has been a negative 1.3% energy improvement rate between 1990 and 2010. If the world’s wealthiest countries are to reach the doubling energy efficiency by 2030, efforts must dramatically improve.

In addition to the World Bank suggesting a $600 billion renewable energy investment, the organization also recommends utilizing $45 billion of this money in expanding electricity and $4.4 billion towards improving cooking standards. Of the remaining funds, $395 billion should be invested in energy efficiency and $174 billion in renewable energy.

As demand of electricity continues to increase, it is prevalent that energy costs decrease and countries find a way to use more sustainable energy. One in five people, about 1.5 billion people, currently do not have access to electricity. Once the world’s wealthy countries embrace renewable, efficient energy, poor countries have a better chance of growing economically and developing.

– Mary Penn

Source: Greenwise Business
Photo: WMO

Abu Dhabi at the Forefront of Solar Energy DevelopmentAbu Dhabi has used its oil profits to open the largest solar power plant in the world. The United Arab Emirates is among many Middle Eastern nations, including Saudi Arabia, to focus on solar energy development. The plant cost about $750 million and will provide 20,000 residences with electricity.

The energy produced by the plant, called Shams 1, will increase Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy source consumption to 7% of its total energy consumption. The plant is part of what the head of Abu Dhabi Future Energy Co., Ahmed al Jaber, called a “strategic plan to diversify energy sources in Abu Dhabi.” It is the first of several plants scheduled for development in the coming years.

Shams 1 has a similar design to California’s Solar Energy Generating System (SEGS). Even though Shams 1 is the largest single plant, the nine SEGS plants combined generate three times as much energy.

The irony of Abu Dhabi’s use of its oil money cannot be overlooked: by investing in solar energy development for its own electricity needs, Abu Dhabi will be able to export even more of its bountiful oil resources. Shams 1 will eliminate 175,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year, the equivalent carbon dioxide production of 15,000 cars.

But how many more cars across the globe will the city’s oil reserves enable to run, even as Abu Dhabi cleans up its own energy usage?

– Kat Henrichs
Source: NPR
Photo:Giz Mag

Green Energy Can Fight Poverty and PollutionAccording to a new study, green energy is the only sustainable solution in eradicating poverty for a large number of the world’s poor and preventing “a climate disaster.”

The study, released by the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, warns that the widespread use of clean energy, as opposed to fossil fuels, is the only way to prevent further damage to the environment and to eradicate poverty throughout the world. The World Bank, International Energy Agency, and other major institutions have also given similar warnings.

The UN has implemented a program called the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative (SE4All) that aims to “double the rate of improvement in energy efficiency” by 2013, double the amount of renewable energy used, and bring electricity to more of the world’s poor. Joeri Rogelj, who worked on the study, says that meeting these goals and also preventing widespread deforestation is the only way to prevent a climate crisis.

Rogelj’s study confirmed that the SE4All initiative’s funding would actually cost less than the current subsidies the fossil fuel industry is given, which are estimated to be about $523 billion in 2011 alone. Comparatively, the funding for SE4All is slated to be around $30 to $40 billion per year. The study also asserts that the conversion to clean energy would also aid in making the Millennium Development Goals of downsizing poverty and promoting international development.

Thus far, several countries are on track to switch much of their energy sources to renewables – Iceland uses 81% clean energy and Scotland has a mandated 100% clean energy by 2020. Denmark is also following suit to become 100% dependent on renewable energy in the near future.

The study concludes that “achieving the three SE4ALL objectives could put the world on a path toward global climate protection,” and that getting rid of fossil fuels would eliminate the health hazards associated with pollution in many developing countries and low-income communities, as 1.5 billion people worldwide still live without electricity.

Christina Kindlon

Source: Business Mirror

In a new program, the World Bank is partnering with the Development Bank of Ethiopia to fund geothermal energy exploration in the country, which is extremely rich in geothermal resources that lay through the Great Rift Valley.

Up until recently, no geothermal energy projects have been pursued in Ethiopia due to high costs and lack of funding, but the new project will fund an initial $20 million to ignite such projects, with an additional $20 million to be given down the road. The agreement states that the World Bank will pledge $200 million towards developing Ethiopia’s energy infrastructure.

This is not the first energy investment the World Bank has made in Ethiopia; they gave $40 million to the country’s private sector for renewable energy pursuits last year. Initial funds will be put towards exploratory drilling to determine the potential of geothermal projects, and once more information is available, the World Bank will start accepting proposals from organizations and investors interested in developing geothermal projects and power plants within Ethiopia.

Other such geothermal projects have already been in the works by the African Development Bank, with geothermal programs slated for Kenya, Tanzania, and Djibouti. Professor Paul Younger of Glasgow University asserts that the promise for geothermal development in these areas of East Africa is great, with Kenya as the latest “success story.” Although projects in other areas are merely in the preliminary stages, Dr. Younger maintains that the energy industry in the region is developing quickly, and energy development in Eritrea and Uganda may even be possible in the future.

Along with rich geothermal resources, Ethiopia also has considerable hydropower potential of up to 45,000 MW, taking into consideration the great water and rainfall resources in the country. Hydropower already accounts for 86 percent of energy produced there, so officials recognize the need to diversify current energy sources and are aiming to harness the potential 5,000 MW of energy that geothermal technologies can offer. The country’s dependence on water resources for power are especially alarming in light of climate change issues, which include increasingly sporadic rainfall and drought conditions.

Although the country has come very far in energy development within the last few years, 85 percent of the population still lacks access to an affordable source of energy. The country is hoping to provide for the population and decrease dependency on hydropower through aggressive pursuits of renewable energy. As part of the five-year plan, Ethiopia is aiming to increase its energy portfolio fourfold by 2015.

Christina Mattos Kindlon

Source: The Guardian