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

Solar Powered BusOnline news outlet Quartz Africa reports that engineers in Uganda have built the first-ever solar-powered bus in East Africa.

The Kayoola, this 35-passenger solar-powered bus, can run up to 80 kilometers (approximately 50 miles) on two power banks. According to BBC, the bus will primarily transport residents of urban areas due to its travel restrictions.

Kiira Motors Corporation (KMC) built the Kayoola prototype with funds provided by the Ugandan government. The bus houses solar thermal panels on its roof that can be used to recharge its power banks.

“Uganda being one of the 13 countries located along the equator, gives us about eight hours of significant solar energy that can be harvested,” said Paul Musasizi, CEO of KMC.

Musasizi predicts that 7,000 people will be employed either directly or indirectly in the building of the Kayoola by the year 2018.

A survey conducted by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research found that only eight to nine percent of American respondents owned alternative fuel cars in 2014 — and only five percent lived in homes with solar thermal panels.

Even though solar energy has yet to catch on in America, emerging market success suggests a growing interest in renewable energy.

The PEW Charitable Trusts reports that the solar industry led in all sectors of renewable energy, bringing $12 billion of total clean energy investments in the leading 10 markets from 2009 to 2013. The same report predicts an expected increase of 594 percent in the amount of installed renewable energy worldwide between 2012 and 2030.

“As we continue developing concepts, we are also studying the market. We want to see that we don’t make vehicles for stocking but for production on orders,” said Doreen Orishaba, an engineer of the project.

KMC hopes to attract investors by producing buses for mass-market sale by 2018, at a price of $58,000.

According to the PEW Charitable Trusts, only 26 percent of Kenya’s citizens have access to modern energy services. The developing world can thus benefit greatly from projects created via solar power, like the solar-powered bus that uses solar thermal electricity to generate power.

Kelsey Lay

Sources: BBC, Bureau of Business and Economic Research, PEW Charitable Trusts, Quartz Africa

India's solar goalsThe Indian government wants to produce more than 10 percent of all energy from solar sources within the next seven years and more than 25 percent by 2030, according to Global Post. India’s solar goals are in response to the Paris agreement, which it signed last month in order to work towards reducing emissions.

India is also one of the founders of the International Solar Alliance, which consists of 120 countries committed to expanding and improving solar power technology use.

Currently, India relies on coal for 61 percent of their power consumption and one-fifth of the population lives in poverty. How does India plan to implement their solar power goals?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi raised India’s solar goals to 100,000 megawatts by 2022. This is more than 20 times current production. If India is able to meet this solar power goal, it will be one of the biggest solar powerhouses in the world, according to Global Post.

A Senior Official in the Ministry of Power said, “With about 300 clear, sunny days in a year…the solar energy available exceeds the possible energy of all fossil fuel energy reserves in India.”

According to Samarth Wadhwa, founder of Sun Bazaar, it is not just middle or upper-class India that will benefit long term from solar power, but poor and rural India will also benefit from “off-grid” solar projects. Solar power projects have found great success in remote villages.

Strengthening transmission lines and improving grid infrastructure will be crucial in implementing effective solar power units. The government is working to help and provide in any way they can. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy offers 30 to 40 percent funding for the cost of solar lanterns, home lights and other small systems, according to Global Post.

A group of experts from Stanford University are calling India’s solar goals a global priority in a report they released on Tuesday. They call for the international community to support Prime Minister Modi’s “audacious solar ambitions” that present opportunities for India and the world, according to the Economic Times.

The Stanford report claims Modi’s solar target is feasible saying, “From a climate perspective, India’s solar ambition is the bright spot in an energy landscape that will likely be dominated by carbon-heavy fuels in the foreseeable future.”

The report urges global support and financing for India’s solar dreams. Varun Sivaram, one of the report’s authors said, “It is the in the world’s interest if India meets its solar targets. Development banks, agencies like USAID, World Bank, ADB, must support a diverse mix, and governments and bilateral agreements must offer India technical and policy support.”

Jordan Connell

Sources: Global Post, The Economic Times
Photo: Flickr

The Pay-As-You-Go System That Makes Clean Energy AffordableTechnology company Angaza is offering a Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) system to manufacturing and distribution companies to make clean energy devices accessible for the more than 1 billion people worldwide still off the grid.

In the 21st century, more than 1 billion people still burn kerosene at night, a light source that is outdated, hazardous to health and pollutes the environment.

Over the course of a year, a family can spend 20 percent of its income on kerosene, which equals the total cost of a solar light.

The problem is not the access to solar options, but the barrier of upfront costs.

With the San Francisco start-up, Angaza is spreading payments out over a period of time. Now, people who cannot afford the total cost of a solar light have the option to PAYG. By working directly with manufacturers and distributors, the business model removes extra costs by selling their technology to third party manufacturers at a fraction of the cost.

This is how the PAYG solar energy system works:

  1. Before distribution, Angaza embeds its firmware into the green energy devices to provide internal energy metering.
  2. After making a down payment between $1 and $5, the consumer receives a lantern, solar panel and mobile device for tracking from the distribution company.
  3. Depending on the down payment, the lantern will only stay on for the amount of time paid for by the consumers.
  4. Similar to a pre-paid mobile phone, the lantern will deactivate unless payment using the mobile wallet is made.
  5. Depending on the size of the product, the consumer can pay between $1 and $2 per week until the lantern is paid off, typically a two- to 12-month timeline.

Currently, Angaza is the only company that offers a PAYG system to provide affordable clean energy products to consumers. As of now, Angaza’s PAYG system will be distributed to Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Zambia, South Africa, India and Pakistan.

According to the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association (GOGLA), the off-grid energy and appliance market is expected to be a $50 billion per year opportunity.

Alexandra Korman

Sources: Angaza, Tech Crunch
Photo: Flickr

D-Light Solar Energy
An estimated 1.3 billion people live without access to electricity globally. In the 21st century, access to electricity is almost as important as food and water; it is undoubtedly a lifeline for the economic and financial health of any nation.

Inaccessibility to electricity hinders economic growth, as well as impacts the standard of life in regions without electricity, crippling the human capital as well.

The link between access to electricity and poverty has long been established. Modern technology is, more often than not, dependent on electricity.

From successful farming and production of sufficient food to education resources and the creation of industry, electricity is the prerequisite for numerous facets of life. The United Nation’s Millennium Goals also identify the importance of electricity in eradicating global poverty.

Despite the significance of electricity in today’s world, many developing countries struggle to find solutions to the problem of accessibility of electricity. To address the problems of electricity shortage, we have to ask what the reason for this shortage is.

The primary cause of the unavailability of electricity in most regions is the lack of technology to produce electricity or the lack of resources used for its production, such as coal, gas and water dams.

Solar energy is currently being touted as the cure-all to the energy woes of the world. Solar energy is a renewable source of energy and is also ecologically sustainable.

Although it is by no means the most energy-efficient in terms of the ratio of available energy to harvested energy, solar power is abundant in developing countries and can be harnessed for generating electricity.

Recently, the development and provision of solar-powered devices to low-income countries have gained momentum. Programs like Solar Electric Light Fund and Solar Sisters work to empower the populations living in extreme poverty through the provision of electricity and related resources.

d.light is also one such initiative. Its goal is to provide electricity to people in developing countries. According to its estimates based on its customers’ feedback, d.light has helped more than 50 million people worldwide with its program.

d.light was initially developed as the brainchild of Sam Goldman, who saw the dangers of kerosene usage for lamps in East Africa. He partnered with Ned Tozun to find d.light in 2006, which operates principally in East Africa and India.

d.light manufactures solar lamps and solar chargers, which are compact, mobile, safe and incur no recurring costs. Its products are also designed to be efficient, yet inexpensive and long-lasting. d.light’s solar lamp, S2 — at $8 apiece — has the distinction of being the world’s most affordable, high-quality solar light.

The impact of these solar lights is not only financial but environmentally significant as well. Approximately 4 million tons of carbon dioxide production usage have been offset to date.

The solar lamps have cumulatively saved $275 million for families who previously spent 10 to 15 percent of their earnings on kerosene. The program has also created job opportunities by creating a local market for importing and selling d.light’s products.

d.light has sold more than 10 million solar lamps to date. Its goal is to reach 100 million people by 2020. With a dedication to providing affordable, efficient and safe electricity to millions of people in developing countries, d.light is set to realize its objectives and improve millions of lives.

Atifah Safi

Sources: D.light, Acumen, World Energy Outlook, Global Envision
Photo: Pixabay