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Heat in developing countries
Earth is getting warmer every day and the heat in developing countries can be fatal. There are ways to take the edge off – air-conditioned rooms, pools and shade – and make even the hottest days bearable. This is not to say that Americans are completely safe from heat-related deaths – it kills 800 people per year, disproportionately affecting people of color and migrant workers. Although this number may seem small compared to the toll of cancer and strokes, any deaths from overheating are unacceptable. They are easily preventable with proper education and access to the right information and technologies.

The Dangers of Overheating

However, in countries like India and in the deserts of Africa, where temperatures can reach up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, the dangers of overheating are everyday realities. The effects of overheating on a population are difficult to measure because overheating exacerbates other diseases. Symptoms affect the heart (causing irregular rhythm), immune system (decreasing white blood cell count) and cause dehydration, which has innumerable other effects. Statisticians estimate that between 1998-2017, over 160,000 people died as a direct result of overheating and heatwaves worldwide. Technologies such as air conditioners would reduce deaths due to heat in developing countries and improve the livelihoods of people. Unfortunately, barriers such as high cost and the unavailability of electricity remain in developing countries. Luckily, several organizations are working to find ways to mitigate these barriers.

Reducing Heat-Induced Deaths

  • The World Health Organization (WHO): WHO already does much to help reduce poverty. It also takes on the challenge of reducing heat in developing countries. WHO looks at how to compactly design buildings with fewer levels to lower cooling costs. It investigates investment into insulation and the positive economic impacts of finding new markets for air conditioning companies. The Maghreb, a region of North Africa, could particularly benefit from an overhaul of cooling systems because of its rich natural resources. This would incentivize more workers to move there, bringing profit to all.
  • Rocky Mountain Institute: RMI aims to reduce the effect of air conditioners on the environment. These environmental effects often impact poorer communities in particular. Typical AC units run on electricity provided by fossil fuels. These fossil fuels warm the planet, creating a positive feedback loop. Providing everyone with access to air conditioners, therefore, as many organizations are doing, may not be enough. People also need to stop organizations from warming the earth and increasing demand even further. The institute concluded that the world needs units that are at least five times as powerful as they are now while using the same amount of energy, and electricity that comes from either solar panels or wind turbines.

Keeping people safe from the real danger of heat in developing countries is a necessary step to increasing productivity and saving lives. Fortunately, heat-related deaths are preventable if well-equipped countries assist third world economies to start producing the technologies that people need, such as air conditioners.

Michael Straus
Photo: Flickr

Renewable Energy in the Caribbean
For years, nations around the world have derived electricity from centralized energy grids. These grids often originate from powerful political hubs such as the USA or the Middle East and incur substantial transportation costs due to the large geographic areas which they serve. These centralized grids are a product of industrial-era fossil fuel energy, harvested at specific locations such as coal mines or oil fields. The high delivery costs incurred by centralized grids create systemic fragility, especially when faced with natural disasters that can force the shutdown of large swaths of energy grids and prevent the delivery of resources.

The multiple island nations populating the Caribbean have depended on these imported energy sources for decades, often leading to high energy transportation costs and long blackout periods during natural disasters. Thus, the Caribbean has become a critical region for developing sustainable microgrids that generate and disseminate localized electricity harvested from abundant renewable resources such as sunlight and wind. Microgrids allow regions to be self-sufficient when it comes to electricity consumption and thus gain increased resilience when it comes to recovering from disasters such as hurricanes, making renewable energy in the Caribbean an attractive option.

The Rocky Mountain Institute

One significant company operating within the Caribbean is the Rocky Mountain Institute. The institute is a U.S.-based organization focused on sustainability research and aid. The company has many partnerships and projects in progress in the Caribbean, including building multiple solar panel arrays, microgrids generators and wind turbines throughout the islands.

The Rocky Mountain Institute primarily advises governments and utility providers on how to best build and maintain sustainable energy infrastructure. Throughout the Caribbean islands, the institute oversees projects ranging from microgrid development and electricity storage to sustainable streetlights and floating solar arrays.

Economic Impact

The shift to sustainable energy and decentralized microgrid architecture presents not only an environmental opportunity but an economic one as well. The rapid expansion of renewable infrastructure in the Caribbean can add a projected 1,750 jobs to the economy over five years by focusing on building solar and wind energy generators and refitting traditional cars into electric cars. The Rocky Mountain Institute is also projecting 80% energy cost savings with the implementation of energy-efficient updates to current buildings.

The introduction of sustainable energy can also lower electricity prices significantly within this region. The Caribbean Development Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank have given $71.5 million in grants, distributed by the Sustainable Energy Facility, to eastern Caribbean countries in order to expand the geothermal infrastructure within the islands. Eastern Caribbean countries currently have an average electricity price of $0.34 per kilowatt-hour (for those using 100 kWh or less per month) with the highest prices existing in Grenada at $0.42 and the cheapest prices seen in St. Lucia at $0.34 per month.

Conclusion

The introduction of renewable energy in the Caribbean is increasing competition in regional electricity markets and driving down prices. The regional investments in renewable energy in the Caribbean, driven by the organizations described above, act to stimulate job creation and increase economic independence by generating energy cost savings, expanding local energy production and developing greater resilience to natural disasters by way of sustainable microgrids. With further adoption of this technology, the Caribbean could continue its strides toward sustainability.

Ian Hawthorne
Photo: Unsplash