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  Microgrid technology in African countriesIf you take a trip to Google Earth’s nighttime view of the world, you’ll see areas like the United States, Europe and Japan bursting with light. In these countries, electricity freely flows through a massive electrical grid, whirring through power plants and millions of electrical wires. Alternatively, satellite images of the African continent’s 54 countries show vast dark areas with a few scattered hotspots. However, this unequal spread of electrification may change in the near future. Microgrid technology in African countries is powering thousands of community’s electrical needs. The African continent’s electrification illustrates the broader trend of sustainable energy’s emergence in the developing world.

What is Microgrid Technology?

In simple terms, microgrid technology is a decentralized version of the massive electrical grids that exist in most developed nations. More definitively, a microgrid is “a local energy grid with control capability” that can work autonomously to both produce and supply power to small communities. The autonomy of microgrids limits the negative aspects of larger power grids, such as rolling blackouts.

In developed countries, certain essential businesses use microgrids to ensure a stable power source. For example, hospitals use microgrids in case a natural disaster would cut off power to large scale power grids. In many developing nations, governments are eagerly implementing microgrid technology in areas without pre-existing infrastructure.

Another benefit of microgrid technology is the easy integration of renewable energy sources. Presently, companies building microgrids in developing nations tend to rely on solar or wind energy due to their growing cost-efficiency. Peter Ganz, who studied microgrids through his master’s program in environmental management from Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment and currently works as Senior Energy Storage Analyst at EDF Renewables North America, said that “The idea that many businesses have in developing countries is to make these microgrids sustainable. This is so that, as developing countries gain energy access, they’re not stuck with this large fossil-reliant grid that we’re dealing with here in the United States, the EU and other large, developed nations.”

Africa’s Need for Electricity

Many companies like PowerGen, Energicity and Tesvolt are installing microgrids in several African nations to power homes, schools, hospitals and businesses. Many regions of Africa provide the ideal environment for sustainable solar energy. In addition, the overall cost of installing microgrids has dropped an estimated 25 to 30% since 2014.

Centering on Africa for microgrid technology development is necessary for worldwide electrification. Today, 13% of the world’s population does not have access to electricity. In particular, sub-Saharan Africa accounts for almost two-thirds of the world’s population without power.

In the mass movements for sustainable energy around the world, developing nations without existing electricity infrastructure see some advantages. Due to this lack of infrastructure, developing communities can begin to electrify local homes, businesses, and services with renewable sources. The integration of renewable energy into the grid will effectively prevent any future need to rely on fossil fuels.

PowerGen’s Work in African Nations

Founded in 2011, PowerGen is one of the main organizations serving on the frontlines of microgrid development in African nations. With a mission striving to provide “cleaner, smarter” and “decentralized” energy to Africa, PowerGen has installed sustainable energy utilities for more than 50,000 Africans who previously lacked electricity. The organization is far-reaching, deploying microgrids in Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia, Uganda, Rwanda, Benin and Niger. PowerGen has also set up offices and planned projects in several other African countries The company also develops commercial and industrial (C&I) solar power for more widescale, sustainable electricity.

According to a statement by PowerGen CEO Sam Slaughter, the organization’s microgrids “typically serve 100-500 connections” and “have a geographic radius under one kilometer.” The grids can power anything running off electricity including refrigerators, TVs, electric cars and mobile phones. The payment is affordable for African users who use an easy “pay-as-you-go” system via “mobile money telecoms services” or cash.

PowerGen hopes to expand energy access to one million more Africans by 2025. One of the biggest challenges in installing new power in the continent is government cooperation and acceptance of microgrids, but the organization is actively working to broaden its microgrid coverage everywhere.

Importance of Smart Power in Developing Nations

In the mass movements for sustainable energy around the world, developing nations are actually at an advantage; since many developing communities have no or unreliable access to electricity, they can begin their energy journey with renewable sources, effectively cutting off reliance on fossil fuels in the future.

“Our electric grid is very much the product of a time before renewables when most, if not all, generation was from carbon-intensive fossil fuels,” said Ganz. “Now that we have developed technologies that are carbon-free or carbon-neutral, it would be great to help these [developing] countries achieve the levels of grid resiliency and electric reliability that we [in developed countries] have without the carbon intensity.”

– Grace Ganz
Photo: Flickr

Sustainable TechnologyTechnology is constantly evolving in the 21st century and through it, MPOWERD is alleviating the ailments that impoverished communities face. In 2016, 1.6 billion people across the globe lived without energy access. MPOWERD’s mission to bring sustainable technology to all points of the globe through practical, portable and affordable solar power impacts millions of lives each year. A dramatic reduction of communities without electricity as of 2019 suggests that 13% of the world’s population currently live without power. In addition, MPOWERD hopes to eradicate unaffordable energy costs and provide clean solutions to all of the world’s poor by 2030.

Form, Function, Empowerment

Since 2012, MPOWERD has reached over 3.7 million lives through sponsorship with community programs, disaster relief and health initiatives. The patented design of the “Luci” inflatable solar light reduces exposure to toxic kerosene fumes and provides light to those in crisis after storms. It also promotes healthy environments for the administration of medication, urgent health care and completion of schoolwork after sunset.

Moreover, MPOWERD focuses on helping women being more involved in their community and family decisions. Through a partnership with the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, local ethnic groups in Kenya participate as resellers of the sustainable technology Luci lights in conjunction with E³Merge to stimulate investment in the local economy. The Maasai women cultivate spaces of undeniable empowerment where issues of Female genital mutilation, domestic violence and other inequalities are discussed. Additionally, alternative practices such as dance and song are now permitted in place of FGM due to newfound empowerment as business leaders.

Impact on Poverty

The distribution of the sustainable technology Luci lights fosters economic and social empowerment. Local craftsmen and women may work in the nighttime to create products for sustainable income without the worry of daylight. Furthermore, with a Luci light, children can study at night. This ensures the completion of homework and health clinics in rural areas can stay open late. In addition, workers who commute in the dark run less of a risk of injury. Women can feel safe from predators with MPOWERD’s compact light-source technology.

To put it simply, markets and businesses that stay open past daylight have the potential to earn more capital. As local markets thrive and expand, employment opportunities arise. Rural communities with limited trade commerce have more capital to exchange when electricity is not a concern. Thus, it allows freedom to invest in other pressing issues. According to the World Economic Forum, education is one of the most efficient steps to reduce poverty. In turn, reducing the need for basic electricity infrastructure allows for higher funding of various social programs. This includes agriculture, healthcare and education. As a result, it diminishes overall poverty.

Sustainable technology launches emerging nations into the global market through basic principles of infrastructure aimed towards poverty-reduction. The provision of portable solar lights in rural communities boosts local economies and establishes business expansion and stability. It also constructs safe environments where education and empowerment are centered at the forefront of improvement. MPOWERD is a force for good that does good through accessible sustainable technology in impoverished areas.

Natalie Williams

Photo: Flickr

SunSalutor: Providing Energy and Water to Impoverished Countries
Worldwide, there are about 1.5 billion people without electricity and about 750 million people who do not have access to clean water. These are life’s basic necessities and people are unfortunately lacking in these resources. Thankfully, there is a new piece of technology called the SunSalutor that is providing energy and water to impoverished countries.

Solar panels are a popular solution when discussing how to bring energy to those in poverty. Solar panels have been successful but they are not as energy efficient as many would like them to be. Eden Full Goh, the founder and creator of SunSalutor, has made it possible for solar panels to track the sun which allows for more energy to be collected.

How the SunSalutor Works

A single axis tracker with a water weight at the east end and a counterweight on the west end allows for a solar panel to track the sun. The tracking is powered by gravity and water. The water weight drips water throughout the day, making itself lighter.

As the water weight becomes lighter, the solar panel begins to shift thanks to the counterweight. With the appropriate adjustment on how quickly the water weight drips water, the solar panel will track the sun throughout the day and collect more energy than it would if it was standing still.

But that is not all the SunSalutor does. The dripping water can also be filtered to create clean drinking water. So, not only is the SunSalutor providing energy to impoverished countries, it is also providing water.

Benefits of the SunSalutor

One of the great benefits that come with the SunSalutor is the low cost. At most, an entire SunSalutor costs around $10 to $15. The main frame is built from local materials such as bamboo or wood. Because of this, the SunSalutor can be maintained and fixed locally. The cost for a SunSalutor set is 30 times cheaper than traditional panels.

The SunSalutor also eliminates the need for kerosene gas generators. Buying kerosene gas can become expensive over time and generators can create a lot of noise. Furthermore, they produce CO2 emissions which can end up polluting the air. The SunSalutor eliminates all of these issues.

Providing Energy and Water to Impoverished Countries

According to the official SunSalutor website, in Mpala, Kenya, there was a village that did not have electricity. The inhabitants had to rely on kerosene gas to have electricity in their village. Villagers had to travel two hours round-trip to receive the necessary kerosene gas. They also had to do this to charge their cellphones. Thanks to the SunSalutor, these villagers can now stay within their village and produce electricity locally.

Providing energy and water to impoverished countries can have a lot of benefits. Thanks to the electricity gained, children can now study for longer and be prepared for school the next day. If these children do well in school, they can possibly break the cycle of poverty that they have been in. The SunSalutor is not only providing energy and water to impoverished countries, it can also provide people a way out of poverty.

– Daniel Borjas
Photo: Flickr

A study from NASA and the University of California – Irvine shows that the Middle East is losing its fresh water reserves. From 2003 to 2009, around 144 cubic kilometers of water have been lost from the Middle East. The study utilized observations from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission to evaluate trends of freshwater storage in the Middle East. The “lost water” comes from water resources below the Earth’s surface that are drilled for and relied on in times of drought. This recent news reminds us that water, like oil, is a finite resource. However, Qatar seems to have found a way to manage through this water crisis.

In a TED talk earlier this year in Doha, Qatar, Fahad Al-Attiya, Chairman of Qatar’s National Food Security Programme, delivered a talk on his job, maintaining food security in a country that has no water and imports 90% of its food. Qatar is a country that is rich in oil, boasts strong economic growth, and has a rapidly expanding population. And with a rapidly expanding population comes rising levels of water consumption. The population of Qatar has grown to 1.7 million in less than 60 years. Water consumption levels are at 430 liters a day, the highest in the world. Qatar has gone from having no water to consuming water to the highest degree. Regardless, the country has maintained consistent growth of 15% every year for the past five years without water. This, Al-Attiya says, is “historic.”

The answer to the question of how this was possible is desalination. The process of desalination consists of removing salt from seawater, allowing for Qatar to compensate for depleting water levels in the aquifers. This is a revolutionary change, leaving Qatar in a state of “structurally-induced water abundance.” Utilizing reverse osmosis and solar desalination technologies, desalination presents a very sustainable solution to a country that receives less than 74 millimeters of rain a year. Through desalination, Qatar is able to produce 3.5 million cubic meters of water. This water will go to farmers that will be able to supply the country with food. Al-Attiya calls it “the best technology that this region could ever have.” For the next year, this will be Al-Attiya’s work. His goal is for Qatar to become a millennium city.

March 22 marks World Water Day and the International Year of Water Cooperation. Around the world, many will participate in World Walks for Water and Sanitation, a global event aimed at addressing the world’s water crisis. More than 780 million lack access to clean water. More than 3 million die every year due to the scarcity of this resource. Qatar, along with the UAW and Saudi Arabia, are working on large-scale desalination projects. In India, farmers are looking into System of Rice Intensification (SRI) to reap record breaking harvests of rice. Through investing in projects and innovations like desalination and SRI, we can more efficiently and more effectively manage the world’s most important resource.

– Rafael Panlilio

Sources: CNNTEDWater.org