An estimated 1.5 billion people have no access to electricity. Countless more have limited access or are unable to use it with any regularity. Electricity may seem like a modern luxury, and to some not a necessity, but a lack of electricity has a large number of negative consequences. Much of the developing world and the communities without proper electricity rely on the burning of wood and fossil fuels as a source of heat and to cook. This practice of open-fire and kerosene usage leads to health risks, increased greenhouse gas emissions, and deforestation. However, with recent advances in technology those lacking access to electricity, otherwise known as energy poverty, is on the decline.

Solar power is the leading solution to energy poverty. It is renewable, readily available, and the devices used to generate solar power are becoming less and less expensive. Companies like Goalzero and WakaWaka have already developed compact solar panels for the use of charging small devices like mobile phones and laptops. But these devices cannot power a house, or aid in the cooking for a whole village. That’s where SMILE comes in. SMILE stands for Solar Mobile Independent Low-cost Energy System. It is currently being designed and tested by Norwegian company Heliac. Heliac CEO, Heinrik Parnov states that the developing world needs “a cheap, robust, and self contained” device to be used to generate power.

SMILE is a large piece of specialized foil that, when used with companion devices like a stove or heating unit, generates large amounts of energy. SMILE is cheaper to manufacture and more durable than glass framed solar panels. While not meant to replace large power grids or increased infrastructure, SMILE is being developed to create safer, smarter, and healthier developing communities and by extension a healthier world. Currently, the project is seeking funding on Kickstarter and has met about a quarter of its $44,000 goal.

– Joe Kitaj

Sources: IEA, Waka-Waka, Kickstarter, Engineering
Photo: Kickstarter

“Africa’s greatest growth challenge is energy, and there’s a serious need to quickly get additional generation capacity in place to meet increasing energy demands,” says Luc Graré, senior vice president EMEA at REC Solar. In a renewed effort to meet the vast demand for economically sustainable energy resources within developing regions, REC, a U.S. solar panel producer, recently announced ambitions to increase program investments and product installation within Africa.

A total of 621 million people – over two-thirds of Africa’s population – currently live without basic access to electricity. With large-scale power scarcities proving to reduce a developing nation’s economic growth rate by an estimated 2 – 4 percent annually, it is essential to note the multitude of costs associated with energy deficits across Africa.

Last month, a new report published by the Africa Progress Panel estimated that the 138 million African households living on less than $2.50 per day spent over $10 billion last year on energy resources such as firewood, candles, kerosene and charcoal. The report also claims that such impoverished homes annually pay on average 70 times more for energy than a household within a developed city such as Manhattan.

While the North African nation of Nigeria remained a top-10 global producer for oil last year, nearly 100 million Nigerian citizens still rely annually on the burning of charcoal and firewood to provide light and heating within their homes. With toxic byproducts released from the burning of such resources killing an estimated 600,000 people per year – nearly half of them children – it is imperative that we find a more sustainable and economical energy solution for Africa.

While the energy crisis within Africa seldom garners significant media attention, a comprehensive solution to this problem is necessary in order to guarantee successes within other forms of regional development. Researchers of the Africa Progress Panel have noted the potential efficacy of off-grid solar power installments, which would provide both infrastructural support to various development programs and stronger attention to other important socio-economic issues such as health and education.

Energy development experts have noted the largely untapped potential of sub-Saharan Africa, which maintains an admirable environment and landscape for the construction of low-cost, off-grid solar power systems. REC now offers a SolarBox installation kit for a 20-50kW off-grid solar system, which is comprised of multiple solar panel arrays, an inverter, a diesel generator and a deep cycle battery bank, all of which are contained within a single shipping container and exercise immediate deployment capabilities.

These units have been praised by numerous sustainable energy researchers for their efficacy in low costs, ease of transport and off-grid capabilities. REC recently donated a 20kW SolarBox unit to Bantayan Island in the Philippines, a community that was severely affected by the impact of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. REC has predicted the installation of over 100 GW of off-grid solar panel systems by 2030 within developing residential areas of Africa.

James Thornton

Sources: The Guardian, Energy Matters
Photo: Awake Africa

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) works to advance globalization and bring positive effects, economic development and new opportunities to areas in need. In March of 2015, JICA installed a solar power microgrid system in Tonga.

Tonga is comprised of 177 small islands, separated into 3 main clusters, about 1,000 miles northeast of New Zealand. Largely, Tonga is doing well, having a literacy rate of over 98 percent and a generally stable political environment. However, the island’s power system is outdated.

The island’s power has been supplied from an imported diesel generator, resulting in expensive electricity. Electricity bills were 2.5 to 3 times higher in Tonga than they are in Japan, which is why renewable energy became a priority for the islands. With the solar power grid, installed by JICA, fuel costs and electricity bills can be significantly reduced.

The micro-grid is a small-scale power distribution system that can operate alone, or as part of a network. These micro-grids provide stability. After a storm or sudden climate changes, a stable supply of electricity is still accessible and reliable, which was not possible with the diesel fuel system.

The goal of this project is to improve the daily lives of Tonga’s habitants and to make Tonga more energy efficient. Annually, the solar energy system saves about 460,000 gallons of diesel.  By 2020, they hope to reduce Tonga’s reliance of fossil fuels by 50 percent.

Japan is not the only country helping Tonga. The New Zealand Aid Programme has also involved themselves in these changes, as well as the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development. Why the interest in Tonga?

Tonga’s population is fairly educated, and it is classified as upper middle class based on the gross national income per capita, updated recently by the World Bank; however, Tonga needs power. Because of Tonga’s location, the prices of fossil fuels fluctuate, supply routes are costly and the energy market is small. Tonga is the perfect location to start up new solar energy and hybrid solutions.

With potential to succeed and a demand for renewable energy, Tonga is suspected to become increasingly reliant on solar energy systems in the upcoming years.

Hannah Resnick

Sources: The Borgen Magazine, Japan International Cooperation Agency, Photovoltaic Magazine, Sustainable Energy For All, Tonga Chamber of Commerce, Tonga Power Limited, The World Bank
Photo: Flickr

Cottage Industry Weave
Cottage industries have faced many challenges over the ages from, at the time, the industrial revolution and now, globalization. Yet people living in rural areas even now often engage in small scale manufacturing activities like weaving, sewing and other artisanal crafts, to supplement their income. These activities need little investment and are usually conducted at home, sometimes passed on from generation to generation.

The benefits of cottage industries and other small scale enterprises are a no-brainer. Apart from productive income activities, they create an environment of lower income inequality and allow people to take control of their lives and bring earnings into their community. Most importantly, they generate gainful non-agriculture based employment for those who cannot find jobs elsewhere. They can play a surprisingly large role in improving a nation’s economic standing. In addition to general poverty alleviation programs, developing cottage industries is an approach that can boost the rural economy and diversify its production.

In spite of its benefits, cottage industries struggle to survive under the pressure of globalization. Their products are unable to compete with the cheap goods of efficient production. Lacking the marketing savvy to advertise their products and safeguard their interests, these entrepreneurs lose out on the global playing ground. On the flip side, globalization also opens new markets and increases demand for products of all kinds, ranging from tourism to uniquely embroidered textiles and crafts. Indian handicrafts export alone has grown from Rs. 10 crores in the fifties to over Rs. 4000 crores in the post globalization era in 1991.

What can be done to help the cottage industry thrive, even in the face of globalization? The main issues that face cottage industries in most countries are the same—lack of finance, infrastructure and an easily accessible method to advertise and sell their products. In Myanmar (Burma), 80 percent of cottage and small enterprises mentioned access to finance as a major roadblock to their operations. Microfinance and development banks play a critical role in alternative financing. In India, the MSME Act of 2006 was launched specifically to improve the development of such industries. They manage cluster development where groups of cottage industries can train and sell their products together, in addition to mandating stricter penalties for delays in payment by banks to cottage industries.

Cottage industry clusters promote employment, local capacity and collective power for small entrepreneurs. UNIDO cluster development program in India addresses all these issues, increasing productivity of the units by 15 to 20 percent by providing basic machinery, increasing market linkages, profit margins and empowerment of women artisans. Fluency in English, improved marketing skills, vocational training and access to raw materials can help small domestic business broaden their customer and product base. The scope for involvement of community service organizations and business associations in working towards this goal is large. The U.S. Food and Agriculture Organization supports women’s cooperatives in the war torn West Bank and Gaza strip in training in food processing, providing small equipment to aid their manufacturing and a centralized point of sale where they can get a constant market.

So far cottage industries have been focusing on products and services that have high demands and markets. However, the scope for such small community organizations in environmental, health and other sectors is also large. An exciting example of this is solar systems as a cottage industry. Dr. Richard Komp, Director of Maine Solar Energy Association, has been building solar cottage industries across South America and Africa. He teaches people how to build solar collector arrays from factory second photovoltaic cells that can be used for things like solar cookers and thermal systems. Cottage industries can accomplish so much given the right support and infrastructure.

– Mithila Rajagopal

Sources: FAO, Government of Odisha, Ministry of Economic Affairs, Bhutan, Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, Royal Thimphu College, Solar Array, Social Science Research Network, UNIDO 1, UNIDO 2
Photo: Wikimedia

Tanzania has some of the most talented artisans and technicians, but we use very old, outdated equipment, mostly from Italy, from the 1960s and ‘70s,” said Dotto Said, the supervisor at Yasir Ahmed a shop that makes windows, doors and gates.

Yet using outdated tools or “sawdust piled ankle deep” are not the biggest problems facing Tanzanians and Africans as a whole. Electricity has been identified, by many Africans, as the single biggest inhibitor of its success. Alex Adrian, a carpenter at Yasir Ahmed said. “All we need Obama [sic] to help us with is a reliable supply of electricity.”

While the President has made several trips to Africa, once to pledge 7 billion dollars to the energy relief fund, Tanzanians like Said and Adrian would like to be able to turn to themselves for help. Relief of this kind has come in the form of Helvetic Solar, a Tanzanian-based company whose goal is to supply solar panels to all those looking for electricity across Africa.

“The electrification issue was a major one and I just figured out that Tanzanians might be receptive to an alternative energy source,” said owner of Helvetic Solar, Patrick Ngowi. He discovered a love of solar power on one of his many trips to China. At this time, only 10 percent of Tanzania was on a power grid. Most companies, wealthy families and government agencies relied on generators.

In the beginning the idea struggled, but in 2007 the word spread of the benefits and Ngowi was contacted by several government, non-government agencies, and multi-national corporations to install solar panels. His company grossed 6.8 million dollars in 2012.

For a country whose GDP is low and poverty so high, is it even economically feasible for this country to convert to solar power? Forbes broke the numbers down and found it was economically more sound to install solar panels in Tanzania than Oregon. The average homeowner in Oregon will take anywhere from 15-27 years to recoup the initial investment solar panels require. This is due to a very large electrical grid already providing relatively cheap power.

When you take the same principles, apply them to Tanzania and compare the cost of fuel to run a generator in rural Tanzania to the initial cost of solar power, one find that Tanzanians can recoup their losses well enough to sell their generators.

Giant leaps in innovation like this have helped several in rural Tanzania. Lusela Murandika, a 76-year-old farmer who lives in Kanyala village in northern Tanzania, installed his solar panels for a little over 400 dollars. Murandika said that the hardest part was installation. He now runs a small side business, earning 12 cents for every cell phone he charges. Edward Buta, a solar power shop dealer, said business is booming in the Tanzanian town of Katoro. Electricity is slowly inching across Africa, but until the grid makes it into the outskirts solar power will continue to be king.

Frederick Wood II

Sources: Mother Jones, NY Times, Forbes 1, Forbes 2
Photo: Face2Face Africa

solar power in Cameroon
On June 2, Joule Africa announced a $200 million investment plan to develop solar power in Cameroon.

This announcement comes on the heels of another successful agreement between Joule and the Cameroonian government: the building of a hydroelectric plant on the Katsina Ala river. This project alone is expected to raise the country’s capacity to generate power by 40 percent, an increase of 450 megawatts.

Cameroon has the second largest hydroelectric potential in Africa. While working to harness more of this potential, the government of Cameroon is looking toward complimentary sources of energy. Predicting dry spells and rain shortages during hot summer months, they have turned to solar power.

The new deal with Joule Africa, set to supply an additional 100 megawatts of power, marks a confidence in the nation’s growth that is sorely needed. For the time being, there is little information on the accessibility of electricity in Cameroon, but some reports estimate that less than 20 percent of the population has a reliable power source.

It is hoped that higher outputs of energy, in tandem with the building of energy grids and roads, will reach a greater number of Cameroonians, though for many, it is first and foremost a development strategy upon which hinges economic growth. President Paul Biya has expressed his desire for Cameroon to achieve emerging market status by 2035. One of the avenues to this end goal is the improvement of energy infrastructure, and indeed, Cameroon’s energy needs are expected to triple by 2020.

Joule Africa is now working with a partner-engineering firm, Bethel Industrievertretung, and the government to determine five sites suitable for solar power facilities in Cameroon. The project will increase Cameroon’s capacity to generate energy by 15 percent. It will be constructed in two phases; the first stage being completed in 2015, and the second by 2017.

– Olivia Kostreva

Sources: Joule Africa, EBR, IT News Africa, Heifer International
Photo: IPS

Approximately 5% of the rural population in sub-Saharan Africa enjoys access to electricity. In an area where sunlight is abundant, solar power is an excellent alternative energy selection. Solar Sister, a registered nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering women through solar power, chose to develop the solar-tech industry in sub-Saharan Africa and is taking a unique approach in doing so.

Inspired by Avon cosmetics’ style of distribution system where one woman distributes products by contacting her network of family and friends, the Solar Sister program provides a unique, single-investment approach to social entrepreneurship in sub-Saharan Africa. Because the network is built on connections between women, the program can extend to rural communities, places traditionally untouched by energy companies.

The startup kit — the “business in a bag” — that each new entrepreneur receives includes everything each woman needs to start her own business in solar-powered innovation technology. The capital provided by Solar Sister gives each member of the community the funds to get started at only $500 a bag. Micro-financing from individual donors combined with corporate investments make up the organization’s capital for these investments and are eventually paid back by the women involved.

Being a part of the Solar Sister team provides much needed income to women and their families by investing in women on a micro-financing level. As indicated on the Solar Sister website, $1 invested generates $46 for the solar sister and her customers in the first year alone. And not only does the organization’s investment empower women to build both family and community, it also falls in line with the global green movement to move away from traditional energy sources, such as kerosene.

The Solar Sister program addresses two major issues in sub-Saharan Africa in their alternative energy-based solution to poverty. To support the initiative, help the environment, and invest in women’s empowerment, click here.

– Herman Watson

Source: Avon, Solar Sister
Photo: Kiva

10 Millions Homes Lit in 10 YearsIt is hard to imagine paying for electricity is like paying for a cell phone. Firstly, outside of the US, the majority of the world pays for their cell phones with ‘pay-as-you-go’ or prepaid plans. This way, companies can estimate their monthly profits and users can get as much as they need without overpaying. This issue is similar to what many living in rural areas or off-grid areas in Africa were dealing with when it came to electricity in their homes.

With 1.4 billion people living outside of the main grids, getting the lighting to their homes was often expensive and an inefficient chore. Many used kerosene or oil lamps. Connecting to the main grids is ridiculously costly, even for an average American.  Off.Grid:Electric has combined the business plan of the mobile industry with the use of solar power and mobile stations to help power homes in Tanzania.

Off.Grid: Electric was founded in 2011 by Xavier Helgesen, Joshua Pierce, and Erica Mackey. It sets up ‘M-Power Hubs’ which use solar energy to charge individual attachments that are placed on roofs of homes. The installation fee is $6 and the weekly charge to run two lights and a cell-phone charger is a mere $1.25. Customers can increase the types of services they want, be it adding a television, radio, or more lights. A major reason why the costs are affordable is that none of the actual products are owned by the customers, the products are rented.

Mackey, a UCLA graduate who also attended Oxford’s Saïd Business School, had spent a good part of her young adult life split between California and Africa. Understanding how companies and organizations must alter themselves to African customers is extremely important, she says. “There’s definitely an art to figuring out how to run a Western-style company in an African context.” She claims that mimicking the way cell phone companies in Africa managed to deal with the unprecedented 72 fold increase in cell phone users from 2000 to 2011 gave her company a good insight on how to market and handle a similar process with delivering solar power.

Off.Grid:Electric plans to extend its services out of Arusha, Tanzania and expects to reach 10 million homes in the next decade across Africa.

– Deena Dulgerian

Source: co.Exist

US Water Partnership Fights Water Challenges

It’s been one year since former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the start of the U.S. Water Partnership. The partnership consists of public and private sectors and “unites and mobilizes U.S. expertise, resources, and ingenuity to address water challenges around the globe.”

According to the fact sheet, “The USWP is an alliance of 18 U.S. government agencies and 29 U.S. private sector and civil society organizations.” However, the USWP has increased from 47 to 61 partnerships in the last year. They work together to improve water resources worldwide and focus primarily on developing countries.

The partners pledged $610 million dollars on June 20, 2012. Funded projects included: control or elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases, increased solar power pump stations, and improved desalination projects.

The success of the USWP depends on collaboration and flexibility. Partners are able to work in groups or individually. For example, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation revitalized water purification systems throughout Ghana by providing funds for the Ghana National Water Infrastructure Modernization Project.  World Vision helped boost rural and semi-urban schools in India through the “Support My School” campaign, whereas multiple organizations joined forces to provide WASH technologies. These technologies decrease infection and increase public health.

Hattie Babbitt, Chair of the USWP Steering Committee, led the USWP first anniversary event at the National Academy of Sciences on Mar. 21, 2013.  She discussed the numerous projects that could not have occurred without the help of the partnership and congratulated the ten new partners. The USWP continues to grow and progress and strives to bring each person safe drinking water.

Whitney M. Wyszynski

Source: U.S. Water Partnerships
Photo: US Water Alliance