Low-Cost Batteries
The University of Strathclyde in the United Kingdom (U.K.) has developed and tested a new low-cost battery that promises to reduce the production prices of current batteries by almost 70%. These new cheaper, low-carbon power batteries could make it easier to supply more homes in sub-Saharan Africa with electricity, as well as businesses and hospitals, currently in need of power.

Working alongside Scotland-based StorTera, the researchers found that the new battery could support infrastructures such as telecommunication towers and replace the current expensive fossil-fuel-powered batteries which are keeping them active. The two groups came together on this project following the supply of a grant from the U.K.’s Faraday Institution, which is part of the institution’s Transforming Energy Access (TEA) initiative.

The testing of the low-cost battery took place in the U.K. during the nationwide heatwave in 2022, in which temperatures exceeded 40 degrees Celsius, making the researchers confident that the batteries could withstand the hot temperatures in Africa.

No Change in Recent Years

Currently, more than 578 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are without electricity. An International Energy Agency (IEA) report estimated that there will be more than 600 million people without electricity access in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030.

Despite the increase in population, the IEA report showed that nearly 400 million people will gain electricity access in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa if they meet investments of $6 billion by 2030. According to the agency’s findings, the largest part of the continent which will see a lack of improvement in their access to electricity will be central Africa

Lack of electricity in sub-Saharan Africa has affected the countries’ national health care systems massively in recent years, as nearly 60% of the health care facilities do not have access to reliable electricity in order to power their refrigerators.

With no electricity, hospitals are unable to keep bags of blood, insulin and other medicines in their facilities, as safe refrigeration storage systems need electrical power. Similarly, there are no working MRI machines, x-ray scanners and heart rate monitors in most healthcare facilities in sub-Saharan Africa. These issues highlight the importance of the newly developed low-cost batteries.

Maternal and New Born Deaths

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the lack of electricity has a large effect on maternal women and children, as they both need constant care in health care facilities that have stable electrical power supply. More than 4.5 million women and babies die every year during pregnancy, childbirth or within the first month after birth. All of these are linked largely to the lack of power keeping health care facilities’ lighting and operating tables at a minimum.

Director of the Technical Division at the U.N.’s Population Fund (UNFPA) Dr. Julitta Onabanjo said “The death of any woman or young girl during pregnancy or childbirth is a serious violation of their human rights.”

WHO also revealed that there has not been much success in reducing these numbers since 2015, as last in 2022, there were nearly 290,000 maternal deaths, 1.9 million stillbirths and more than 2.3 million child deaths within the first month of being born.

Director of Maternal, Newborn and Child Health at WHO Dr. Anshu Banerjee, commented on the lack of progress saying “If we wish to see different results, we must do things differently. More and smarter investments in primary healthcare are needed now so that every woman and baby have the best chance of health and survival.”

Powering Up

Investments and initiatives such as Power Africa and Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL), are currently at the forefront of the battle to supply the whole of Africa with electricity. Power Africa established more than 18 million new power connections to homes in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa. It also plans to add an additional 60 million power connections by 2030.

Similarly, in 2022, SEforALL in partnership with Power Africa and USAID guaranteed a two-year $1 million grant which supports African governments in providing electricity to the continent’s health care sector alone. This effort is also an attempt to provide more hospitals with power.

With the invention of new low-cost batteries, grants like these could have a better use to supply more buildings with electricity from the same amount of money, as the supply costs per building reduce substantially.

Power Africa’s coordinator Mark Carrato, commented on the initiative saying, “This grant supports stronger and more resilient health systems in Sub-Saharan Africa by accelerating the development and deployment of clean energy and sustainable investment in health facilities.”

Looking Ahead

Innovations like the low-cost battery developed by the University of Strathclyde in the U.K. offer a glimmer of hope for improving access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa. By significantly reducing production prices, these batteries could pave the way for supplying more homes, businesses and hospitals with reliable power. Investments and initiatives like Power Africa and SEforALL are already working toward expanding electricity access, and with the introduction of affordable energy storage solutions, their impact can be amplified, leading to improved healthcare outcomes and a brighter future for the region.

– Sam Kalantzis
Photo: Flickr

Sustainable Energy
Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) initiative in 2011 with three goals in mind.

He aimed to secure universal access to energy services, to double the global improvement rate in energy efficiency and to double the amount of renewable energy used globally.

Through doing so, he hoped to work toward the U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 7. This goal aims to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. The initiative focuses largely on bringing together groups from different sectors to collaborate on a common goal.  

Sustainable Energy for All Forum

With partners from different governments, the private sector and civil society, SEforAll is able to use a multi-pronged approach to tackle the issue of sustainable energy access.

Partners of the program come together each year at a Sustainable Energy for All Forum, where attendees from over 80 countries discuss the progress that has been made and what still needs to be done.

Partners can present their work for the previous year and announce plans for the next one. Different organizations have the opportunity to meet together and potentially collaborate on new projects.

They give evidence and ideas in various working sessions that cover topics such as maximizing the impact of energy, city-level action, gender equality in sustainable energy and challenges that countries are facing.

This information ultimately helps countries who have aligned with SEforAll fulfill their pledges to improve sustainable energy access. After each forum, numerous follow-up meetings and events are scheduled.

Examples of these events are People-Centered Accelerator, Sustainable Energy in Somalia and other. Partners come together to apply the information from the forum to their individual projects.

Forum Topics

While the forum discusses a variety of issues, SEforALL also provides targeted accelerators with specific topics. Participants discuss energy efficiency in terms of appliances, building efficiency, district energy, among other topics.

These meetings are also focused on action, so participants can talk about policies, business models and solutions.

Many initiatives have come out of these accelerators, including the U.N.-coordinated District Energy in Cities Initiative. It works toward increasing the adoption and funding of district energy, a sustainable way of heating and cooling buildings.

Other Sustainable Energy for All Projects

SEforAll also works towards projects of its own, including improved data collection. They created a website with “heat maps” that tracks which countries are making progress and which are not.

They use collected data on clean cooking, electricity access, energy efficiency and renewable energy to identify trends in different countries. With this information, countries can evaluate the success of their policies and SEforAll can target countries that need more progress.

To further evaluate the progress of different countries, SEforAll and The World Bank Group launched Regulatory Indicators for Sustainable Energy  (RISE), a set of indicators used to thoroughly assess each country and the manners in which they address sustainable energy access. It covers 111 countries, which roughly makes around 96 percent of the global population.

It categorizes each country into three zones, according to how much progress they are making. Each country is also given scores based on their performance in energy access, energy efficiency and renewable energy, based on specific indicators in each of the categories.

Sustainable Energy for All ultimately encourages countries to take action towards improving sustainable energy access. It provides them with evaluations of how well their current policies and efforts are working and information on how they can improve their work.

Through collaborations with other groups from different sectors, countries are given the tools to make progress and to develop in the right way.

– Casey Geier

Photo: Flickr