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Rise of Solar Energy in AfricaThe future is bright for Africa. The continent is beginning to tap into an energy source that is plentiful, clean, renewable and self-sustaining. Unlike other energy sources such as coal or oil, solar energy is a path to energy independence for African nations developing their economies. This desire for energy independence has led to the rise of solar energy in Africa.

Growth Potential

Since sunlight is the most intense closest to the equator, Africa has a great opportunity when it comes to solar energy. The equator runs through the center of the continent, earning Africa the nickname, “The Sunshine Continent.” Companies such as Kenyan-based M-KOPA are tapping into the abundant resource. M-KOPA has, so far, created 2,500 jobs in East Africa. Although the rise of solar power is relatively new, Africa’s access to sunlight could fuel the future.

Independence

Other energy sources are often imported and therefore create a reliance on other nations, whereas solar energy is often independently operated. Nations with vast oil reserves are able to consolidate control over the resource, but not all citizens benefit from the nation’s wealth. The average citizen is not able to drill for oil and process it. Although oil and coal provide money for the nation, only a few wealthy people can control the resource. Individuals cannot build dams or nuclear reactors, but they can install their own solar panels and power their homes. M-KOPA helps foster self-reliance by supplying 750,000 homes and businesses with solar panels to produce electricity.

Additionally, 46% of households that are powered by M-KOPA solar panels generate income from their solar panels. They can essentially sell their excess energy back to the grid. Solar power empowers individuals because they have control over their energy. The ability to sell excess energy allows the people of Africa to collect passive income and invest in their future. Most importantly, electricity is a requisite for many activities and is necessary to live a more autonomous life. Access to electricity allows people to be more productive with their time, as they can see and work at night. Unfortunately, only 43% of Africa has access to electricity.

Companies such as SolarNow provide solar power systems for people that live off the grid. Considering 60-80% of people in Uganda and Kenya live off the grid, companies like SolarNow have an enormous market to serve. SolarNow has sold more than 50,000 units in East Africa. The rise of solar power in Africa will continue to grow the economy of African nations and allow people to take control of their lives and energy.

Clean and Renewable

Unlike other resources, solar power is clean and does not pollute the atmosphere. Solar power is renewable, utilizing energy from the sun, which is relatively infinite. Since much of Africa lacks electricity, it is important that the continent develops sustainably. This way, people do not suffer from the harmful effects of pollution. The rise of solar energy in Africa has been successful so far, considering M-KOPA has conserved 1.7 million tonnes of CO2 since 2011. Although solar panels are expensive, they are a cleaner and more sustainable option than the coal that is currently burned to produce electricity.

A Bright Future

Despite having room for further improvement, the future is bright for the people of Africa. Investing in solar power is a key component to reducing poverty because it empowers individuals to harvest their own energy and potentially profit from it. Far too many African people lack access to the electrical grid, and solar energy is a viable path to powering the continent. The rise of solar energy in Africa will continue to create jobs and produce clean, renewable energy that can help grow the economies of African nations.

– Noah Kleinert
Photo: Flickr

Today, 70 percent of Africans and 95 percent of those living in rural areas do not have access to electricity. Although many countries are still lacking access to electricity, there are some inspiring leaders making a difference in establishing electricity in Africa.  Particularly, George Mtemahanji has spearheaded the movement towards implementing solar energy in Tanzania.

Bringing Solar Energy to Tanzania

Mtemahanji was born in Ifakara, a Tanzanian village located in the Kilombero District of Morogoro Region. In his village, poverty rates are very high and education completion rates are very low. As a young adult, Mtemahanji was able to pursue his education in Italy. Mtemahanji’s passion for clean energy grew throughout high school and technical college, where he studied to become a renewable energy technician. Upon graduation in 2012 from IPSIA Ferrari, Manuel Rolando and Mtemahanji co-founded SunSweet Solar Ltd. The company designs and installs Solar Hybrid Microgrid Systems that supply electricity to rural communities in Africa, and more specifically, in Tanzania.

SunSweet Solar

Connecting rural areas to the power grid is an expensive process. However, solar energy has the ability to cut these high costs in the long-term. SunSweet allows customers to purchase energy via mobile phones, expanding energy access to schools and hospitals. Families who live in rural areas can also connect to power easily for a mere 15 cents per day. As of 2016, the technology has been implemented throughout six villages and provides energy to about 25,000 people.

One system, the Eco-Friendly Village Solar system, can meet the energy demands of a village 24 hours a day. This system is durable, where it can roughly last 20 years before needing to be replaced. Additionally, there are systems in place to help communities avoid electrical blackouts. This is especially meant for villages that are not connected to the national electrical grid (off-grid).

Impact on Medical Dispensary

With the collaboration of the Kilombero District Council, SunSweet has designed a solar photovoltaic system that has the capacity to satisfy the energy demand of an entire medical dispensary. Further, the system will provide energy each day for more than 25 years.

Called the RuDEK (Rural Dispensary Energy Kit), this kit has the ability to store energy for emergency dispensaries in less than three hours. First installed in 2016, the system stores additional energy for rainy seasons and cloudy days. By supporting dispensaries, more people will receive high-quality health services. Some of the direct benefits include women giving birth with more than candlelight, vaccination and medication storage in a refrigerator, and doctors having clear visuals of ailments.

Educational Benefits of Solar Energy in Tanzania

SunSweet’s first major contract was installing a solar power plant at the Benignis Girls Secondary School. The system aimed to support 236 lights, dozens of computers and fans in a majority of the classrooms. Though this was logistically challenging, SunSweet was successful in the project. With the installation of the solar power plant, students’ testing performance increased from 81 to 94 percent.

Looking Forward to a Bright Future

Two years after the company’s inception, SunSweet Solar was nominated for the prestigious Anzisha Prize, an award for young entrepreneurs in Africa. The exposure given to the company has attracted many opportunities that will support energy development throughout Africa. Further, support from Denmark, Brazil and Sweden will launch the company to take on greater projects.

Mtehamanji has since spoken with the Tanzania private sector foundation, the Tanzania investment center, the Tanzanian rural electrification agency, and many others to implement sustainable energy. With an official FuturaSun partnership, an Italian company, and a contract for a future partnership with Trine, a Swedish company, the future of SunSweet Solar looks as bright as ever.

Janice Athill

Photo: Flickr

Energy Use in Sub-Saharan Africa

Energy demand is estimated to increase by 85 percent in Africa between 2010 and 2040. To compensate for growing infrastructure and population, the cheapest and most environmentally-friendly energy sources are in high demand as well. Countries within sub-Saharan Africa have taken numerous measures to improve affordable living through receiving aid and implementing programs to promote efficient energy use. However, challenges hinder the implementation of efficient energy use in these countries. For example, the trained workforce that could take on massive energy projects is very small. There is also very minimal awareness of the benefits of efficient energy use so many people prefer to stick to traditional sources. Governments and global organizations are combating these challenges as they work to advance energy efficiency and indirectly reduce poverty and over-spending in sub-Saharan Africa.

Energy Efficiency in Emerging Economies Training Week

The International Energy Agency and the Department of Energy of South Africa hosted the very first Energy Efficiency in Emerging Economies (E4) Training Week for sub-Saharan Africa in Pretoria, South Africa from Oct. 14 to Oct. 17, 2019. The objective of the training was to educate junior policymakers from all over sub-Saharan Africa to model future politicians into environmental activists. The week included courses on the ability of energy-efficient sources to reduce extra expenses and, therefore, improve living conditions. The courses taught participants about energy efficiency policy in buildings, appliances, equipment, industry, cities and indicators and evaluation. E4 Training Week also made a key point to encourage women to apply for the program.

Numerous organizations supported the E4 Training Week, including Global Environment Fund (GEF), United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), East African Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (EACREEE) and SADC Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (SACREEE).

The Domestic Energy and Rural Access to Basic Sources Project

The World Bank’s Domestic Energy and Rural Access to Basic Sources Project (PEDASB) worked to install a 52-kilowatt plant in Zantiébougou, south of Bamako in the Sikasso region. The plant has provided electricity to 765 people and allows women to carry out other economic activities and trades as they are no longer concerned about gathering fuel, such as wood. PEDASB also implemented a hybrid electricity system that combines solar photovoltaic and diesel power in Niena. The system improved the quality of health care in local clinics and increased school performance in students. This energy sector as a whole is contributing to the economy of sub-Saharan Africa and increasing the wealth of its people.

Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs

Ethiopia’s government is taking the initiative to improve efficient energy use. Through a collaboration with the World Bank Project, the Ethiopian government introduced compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL), which help rural families save money. 80 fewer megawatts of electricity is used by distributing 2.5 million CFL bulbs, which quantifies as $100 million saved. Through a $4 million investment, 5 million CFL bulbs were distributed all over the country. Households under the poverty line were able to reduce their energy usage by 55 percent which significantly cut utility costs for families. Beyond lightbulbs, 2.5 million efficient cookstoves were distributed in Ethiopia, reducing 40 to 60 percent of wood fuel. This not only helps the environment but also boosts families’ lifestyles all over the country.

The Electrify Africa Act

In 2016, President Barack Obama signed the Electrify Africa Act (S.2152) into law. The Electrify Africa Act ensures that the Obama Administration’s Power Africa initiative remains in effect, providing millions of sub-Saharan Africans with access to electricity which in turn, increases economic growth and development.

So far, the Electrify Africa Act is a great success. As of January 2019, Power Africa, with the support of the Electrify Africa Act, achieved the following results in sub-Saharan Africa:

  • 20.5 billion invested in Power Africa transactions
  • 58,552,435 beneficiaries gaining access to electricity
  • 10,095 megawatts (MW) reaching financial close
  • 2,652 MW moved from financial close to operation

In conclusion, sub-Saharan countries are breaking the cycle of poverty through creatively implementing efficient energy sources. From educating young policymakers to governments distributing free equipment and implementing laws, numerous countries are able to benefit from efficient energy use in sub-Saharan Africa.

Haarika Gurivireddygari
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

What the Solar Energy Market Growth Means for the World's PoorSolar energy was the fastest-growing source of energy in 2016, surpassing the net growth for coal. Times have changed; new governmental policies and technological developments have propelled the growth of the solar energy market and expansion is expected to continue. Developing countries near the equator are uniquely situated in ideal solar environments. As the market for solar energy grows, developing nations are benefiting from solar farm investments and solar energy power.

Solar Photovoltaic (PV) was invented in 1954, with the aim of converting sunlight into electricity. Solar PV is the most commonly used source of solar energy in today’s market and exists mostly as monocrystalline, polycrystalline or thin-film solar panels. Advances in the solar energy market are using different materials such as cadmium telluride to build less expensive and more efficient PV panels. In the past five years, PV system pricing worldwide has dropped an average of $1.50 in Watts direct current. The drop in cost has contributed to the market’s growth.

In 2016, 1.3 million people around the world were living without electricity. Solar energy is emerging as a way to provide affordable and reliable electricity access to the populations forced to live in the darkness as soon as the sun goes down. At Swamy Vivekananda High School in India, for example, solar panels are used to charge batteries during the day while stored energy is used to power lanterns when students return home.

Solar energy solutions are the key to solving global poverty among populations without access to electricity. The availability of light can save families up to $100 a year and gives children more time for work, thus an opportunity to rise out of poverty.

This year, solar PV additions surpassed the growth of any other energy form. Last year, for the first time ever, developing countries like India, China, and Mexico invested more in renewables than developed countries. This trend towards a more affordable and efficient solar energy system has seen a rise in investments for off-grid solar systems and the emergence of new organizations focused on building energy solutions in developing countries.

Off.Grid:Electric is a startup that supplies customers in Tanzania a solar panel, metered battery storage and electrical accessories installed in their home. In Tanzania, specifically, 84 percent of the country is living without electrical connectivity. Off.Grida:Electric allows its customers to connect to their own electrical grid for about the same price per month as Tanzanians would spend on a night’s worth of Kerosene. Off.Grid:Electric recently received $7 million worth of investments to hopefully expand to countries like Uganda and Kenya.

The world is moving into an era of renewable technology. Costa Rica is on its way to becoming the first developing nation to have 100 percent renewable electricity. Costa Rica’s location supports the collection of sun rays for electricity and their hydro and wind energy sources are growing.

Afghanistan and Albania are also capitalizing on their geographic capabilities to build a renewable energy market. Albania’s government is encouraging renewable energy growth with a law that requires 38 percent renewable energy sources by 2020. The race to renewable energy is promoting the growth of solar energy and motivating countries around the world to focus on growing the solar energy market.

Investors and organizations around the world recognize the connection between electricity and poverty and focus on installing energy solutions in off-grid locations. As more parts of the world gain access to electricity, more individuals are able to contribute to the globally connected economy. In rural areas without electrical wiring, a simple light in the evening could lead to higher efficiency in the morning and provides the potential to start an in-home business. As the market for renewable energy sources grows, so do the initiatives to bring energy to rural communities and reduce poverty.

Eliza Gresh

Photo: Flickr

New Tech InfrastructureThe recent ravaging of the island territory of Puerto Rico, first by Hurricane Irma, then by Maria, is a reminder of the sheer destructive mayhem Mother Nature can wield—but also of the ability of individuals, businesses and governments across the globe to come together to solve problems and help those in need. Although the storms undoubtedly caused major problems, they also offered opportunities for change and innovation.

One such possibility is the chance to build a new tech infrastructure from the ground up. Many U.S. companies are stepping up to join in on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Under the direction of Elon Musk, Tesla is sending its Powerpack battery system to Puerto Rico to help homes, businesses, hospitals and schools use their existing solar panels by providing energy storage. Google’s parent company, Alphabet, is sending special balloons to help restore cell phone connectivity in areas where the infrastructure is down. Meanwhile, Facebook pledged $1.5 million in relief money to various charities and sent employees to Puerto Rico to work toward restoring internet connectivity to the island.

In an interview with USA Today, Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló spoke about talking with Elon Musk. He affirmed that they were looking into batteries and solar panels as a long-term solution to transform energy delivery and bring down costs for the island.

The new tech infrastructure is direly needed. As The New York Times notes, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) was already $9 billion in debt before the two hurricanes hit. PREPA declared itself insolvent in 2014 and ceased making debt payments, forcing a debt restructuring deal that has yet to be finalized. To make matters worse, PREPA has been at the center of a corruption scandal, making it harder to unify the public behind its mission and importance.

But, according to Puerto Rico resident Gabriel Rodriguez, tech company aid to the island has been very polarizing. In his words, “People are really for it or against it. There are the people that say that of course it’s going to be a great improvement for us… but then there’s a lot of people that are very mad because they say we are selling the island to outside interests.”

Ina Fried of Axios speculates that the American companies currently volunteering side-by-side on the island will eventually compete with each other for larger-scale rebuilding contracts. The heavy lifting won’t come free, and this is likely the source of some Puerto Rican worries.

One of the challenges of rebuilding will be to do it in a way that respects Puerto Ricans’ autonomy and independent identity. These fears of selling out to foreign interests are similar to the ones that inspired the Cuban Revolution in the 1950s that toppled Fulgencio Batista and put Fidel Castro in power.

While the two situations are not politically analogous, the tales of government corruption and fears of foreign influence are, and those U.S. companies interested in helping would do well to approach the situation with sensitivity. There is room for all parties to share in the profits and rewards that a new tech infrastructure in Puerto Rico can yield.

Chuck Hasenauer

Photo: Flickr


Approximately 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, or two-thirds of the population, are living without access to proper electricity. However, there is a possible solution. Solar energy has the power to reach rural areas and costs less than fuels like diesel or kerosene. African families could potentially cut their spending on electricity from nine percent of household income to two percent by replacing kerosene with solar energy. Zambia is taking the first steps in making the switch to solar power and eradicating poverty in sub-Saharan Africa.

Nkandu Luo, the higher education minister of Zambia, wants to provide clean and renewable power to rural communities to lift people out of poverty. Off-grid solar power helps improve and enhance education through access to computers and the internet.

The clean energy movement is called the Lundazi Green Village project, after the first village that will benefit from the new energy source. Egichikeni primary school in the Lundazi Green Village is the intended site for phase one of the program.

In addition to improving education, the project will improve safety, healthcare and agriculture in rural communities. This will facilitate people in escaping poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. Parts of the Lundazi Green Village project include new security technology, street lighting, medical equipment and irrigation methods.

Luo’s long-term goal is sustainability. The use of solar energy addresses the specific needs of rural communities and grants them financial independence. About 300 households plus public buildings like schools and hospitals will benefit from the project. New access to electricity makes job creation and higher incomes inevitable.

Another plus? Access to solar power in sub-Saharan Africa tackles climate change. It also connects people to the global network, allowing them to increase their economic prospects.

Zambians are not the only ones attempting to solve poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. Azuri Technologies, a global organization, has introduced ‘entry-level solar systems’ that give people eight hours of electricity each day. Customers pay an initial installation fee and then pay weekly or monthly through pay cards or with their phones.

Access to power encourages people to buy and use more technology, especially resources that connect them to the rest of the world via the internet. The pay-as-you-go format is successful because it allows people without bank accounts to use their phones to operate their finances.

Upfront costs of solar energy are high compared to fuels like kerosene or diesel, so some are hesitant to make the switch. However, the cost of installing off-grid power is expected to decrease by 60 percent in the next 20 years and has already fallen in cost by about 80 percent since 2010. Renewable energy could be the solution to ending poverty in sub-Saharan Africa and millions of communities around the world.

Rachel Cooper

Photo: Flickr


In early February, Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced a plan to apply the use of solar power to the 7,000 railway stations located across the country. The plan will be implemented as a part of the country’s federal budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Solar power in India is now the main focus of industry and infrastructure in the country.

India’s Desire for Solar Growth

During his speech regarding the budget, Jaitley informed the public that 300 stations across the country had begun to use solar energy. Indian Railways, the state-run organization that operates India’s trains, has been working for several years to set up a successful solar energy program. In 2016, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) partnered with Indian Railways to generate five gigawatts of solar power capacity into the system. To put this into perspective, global solar installations are expected to reach close to 70 gigawatts in 2017.

Now, with the joint commitment of the government, Indian Railways will be able to cohesively move forward in its mission to normalize solar power in India. By the end of 2017, India hopes to harbor at least nine gigawatts of solar energy. The plan to implement solar panels and production into rail stations is part of a larger goal to increase solar capacity to 100 gigawatts by 2022.

Plans for Funding Solar Energy Expansion

The Union Railway Master in Indian, Suresh Prabhu, has also publicly discussed the intentions of the proposal. The union government is funding research that looks into producing solar power in India from waste materials. In doing so, the cost of electricity and other expenditures will be reduced, leaving extra funding for expanding infrastructure and railway facilities.

In order to finance the technology it will take to harness solar energy for the railways, India has collected close to $8 billion in coal taxes. Approximately $1.8 billion of the funds will go into solar energy for Indian Railways. The money from this tax is focused on producing cleaner energy, forest conservation and sanitation efforts. Solar power in India is just one facet of the nation’s larger campaign to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. The nation has also produced the first airport in the world that runs solely on solar power. As Indian corporations and its government work together in the fight to create a greener world, solar power remains at the forefront of their mission.

Solar power holds endless untapped potential. The sun produces approximately 170,000 terawatts of energy per day. This is about 2,850 times the energy currently required by the Earth’s population.

Peyton Jacobsen

Photo: Flickr

African Solar Energy
The 22nd session of the United Nations Climate Conference announced a new financial investment plan totaling $4 million. The funding will be allocated among eight companies whose entrepreneurial endeavors aim to provide conduits for the development and accessibility of African solar energy.

Presented by the Scaling Off-Grid Energy: Grand Challenge for Development initiative, the investment reflects goals to increase the accessibility of electric power for households and businesses in Sub-Saharan Africa. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Power Africa, the U.K.’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the Shell Foundation collaborated to found the off-grid energy plan in June 2016. The plan has since become a $36 million initiative with hopes to establish 20 million new conduits for electricity.

Established as a program through the Power Africa initiative, private and public sector collaborators have committed $52 billion to African solar energy development, while over $40 billion in investments are from private sector associates.

According to USAID, 600 million people living in Sub-Saharan Africa live without access to electricity. The ability to utilize such resources is pivotal to an individual’s ability to engage in the global economy and impedes the ability of families to consume modern fuels.

Companies originating in countries such as Uganda, Ghana, Kenya and Zambia received grant funding for demonstrating exceptional responses to providing low-cost options in correlation to traditional methods, attaining meticulous records of success and practical plans to develop effectively proven products to scale.

USAID emphasizes that sustainable energy efforts will “improve payment and distribution processes”, while also being more cost-efficient for customers of African businesses. Product development goals range from modern technology – such as software that allows for eased methods of payment for electricity use – to the production of “pay-as-you-go” household solar tools. Companies like Village Energy are also establishing training facilities for young men and women to become technicians and manage retail shops to facilitate the development of rural service networks.

Amber Bailey

Photo: Flickr

Cheap Solar Power to Zambia
The World Bank has enabled three companies—First Solar Inc. from the U.S., Neoen SAS from France and Enel SA from Italy—to provide the cheapest solar power on the entire African continent to Zambia.

First Solar Inc. and Neoen SAS will jointly provide electricity to Zambian homes for 6.02 cents per kilowatt-hour, while Enel SA will be selling electricity for 7.84 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Through financial services as well as insurance and advisory roles, the World Bank, International Finance Corp. and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency have created a sustainable energy movement through the Scaling Solar program. In addition, these groups are also investing in solar power for other sub-Saharan countries, such as Madagascar and Senegal.

This comes at a time in which renewable energy markets are emerging all over the world and becoming increasingly important. Investing in these companies and projects will allow electricity to expand to homes across the globe. As individuals who can afford it begin to purchase electricity, they will join the international market as new consumers of power.

Set for construction in the capital city of Lusaka, the private companies plan to complete their projects by mid-2017. They will work with local Zambian organizations, such as ZESCO, the state-run utility mogul, to ensure seamless operative standards between these international powers.

In recent years, the South African region has shown economic promise. Debt levels across the entire continent remain low and there is a set spending cap in the region. Consequently, these fiscal improvements have yielded an environment in which projects like cheap solar power can flourish.

Investing in countries stricken by poverty is an ideal way to receive a return on investment in U.S. companies, as citizens of those regions become future consumers of U.S. goods and services as they escape the cycle of poverty.

In the quest to intersect sustainability and capitalist ventures, bringing cheap solar power to Zambia—and hopefully to the rest of the continent—is a step in the right direction.

Connor Borden

Photo: Greentechlead