Results tagged “energy poverty” from Bob Freling's Solar Blog

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In September 2000, world leaders came together at the United Nations Headquarters in New York to adopt the United Nations Millennium Declaration, committing their nations to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty and establishing a series of time-bound targets - with a deadline of 2015 - that have become known as the Millennium Development Goals, or “MDGs” for short.

 

The Millennium Development Goals, which all 192 United Nation member states and at least 23 international organizations have signed on to, include 1) eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; 2) achieving universal primary education; 3) promoting gender equality and empowering women; 4) reducing child mortality; 5) improving maternal health; 6) combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; 7) ensuring environmental sustainability; and 8) building a global partnership for development

 

When the Millennium Development Goals were first announced 10 years ago, I was surprised and disappointed to learn that energy access had not been included by the U.N. as one of the MDGs.  For without access to modern energy services, none of the MDGs are ultimately achievable. However, in the past few years, a growing number of institutions, including the United Nations itself and the International Energy Agency, have come to acknowledge and promote the fundamental importance of modern energy in meeting all of the Millennium Development Goals.

 

So how exactly does energy relate to the MDGs?   Let us take a closer look.  For each of the Millennium Development Goals, I have provided an example or two of the role that energy access can play in fulfilling that goal.  Please bear in mind that the list of examples included here is by no means exhaustive.

 

 

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Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger

 

 

 

 

  • Household lighting extends the productive work day.
  • Electricity facilitates the establishment of village-based micro-enterprises.
  • Energy for irrigation increases food production and access to nutrition.

 

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Achieve universal primary education

 

 

  • Household lighting enables children to read and study at night.
  • Energy services reduce time spent by school-going children on basic survival activities, such as fetching water and firewood.
  • Electricity enables the use of educational media, computers, and Internet access at schools.
 

 

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Promote gender equality and empower women

 

  • Modern energy services free women from extreme household drudgery, increase their employment opportunities, and allow them to participate more fully in community activities.
  • Energy access reduces girls’ burden to collect water and fuel, increasing their school enrollment.

 

 

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Reduce child mortality

 

 

  • Energy is a prerequisite for a functional health system, contributing, for example, to lighting operating theaters, refrigerating vaccines, sterilizing equipment, and providing communications.
  • Energy for water pumping and purification greatly reduces the risk of water borne diseases.

 

 

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Improve maternal health

 

 

  • Besides its centrality to the healthcare system, modern energy can lower maternal mortality by reducing the level of indoor air pollution, which kills 1.6 million people every year.

 

 

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Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases  

 

  • Modern energy services for power and communications in rural clinics and hospitals enable a quantum leap in health services.

  

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Ensure environmental sustainability 

  • Access to renewable energy technologies helps to preserve natural resources and lowers emissions, which helps protect the local and global environment.

 

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Build a global partnership for development

 

  • The global north can help achieve the MDGs by providing increased access to renewable energy technologies and finance to the least developed countries.

 

As a 10-year progress report on the Millennium Development Goals was presented at the United Nations during its general assembly in September of this year, Secretaty-General Ban Ki-moon hosted a dinner at the U.N. to kickstart an awareness campaign around the need for universal energy access.  I was delighted to be present at this dinner, and to see the growing consensus among world leaders that unless and until we find a way to sustainably deliver modern energy services to the quarter of humanity still living without electricity, we will never fully achieve the MDGs.

For the past 20 years, the Solar Electric Light Fund has worked to deliver solar power to rural villages in Africa, Asia, and Latin America by facilitating a new generation of “whole village” solar electrification projects.  In many of the countries in which SELF works, there is no other organization undertaking a similar, independent role in providing power to villages without existing resources. Our belief is that energy is a human right, and that without energy, community development becomes virtually impossible.

Working with government, industry and non-governmental organization partners, SELF has built a record of successful solar electricity projects in more than 20 countries, including Benin, Bhutan, Brazil, Burundi, China, India, Indonesia, Lesotho, Navajo Nation, Nepal, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Rwanda, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Vietnam.  Specifically, we have conceived and implemented projects serving the most pressing needs of the communities we are working with. With the needs of the community in mind, we see an obvious pattern emerging across the different projects we have undertaken. 

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For now, let’s call this SELF’s Solar Integrated Development Maturity Model, our 5-level framework for understanding how energy poverty can be tackled at the local level, sustainably, one village at a time. The table below outlines our model:


 
1
 Water
2
Food
3
Health
4
Education
5
Enterprise

Description

Solar energy powers purification pumps and filters delivering clean water to communities

Solar energy powers water pumps which enable drip irrigation for critical crops

Solar energy powers health clinics allowing use of key equipment, lighting, & vaccine refrigeration.

Solar energy powers schools to enable computers and Internet access 

Solar energy powers local entrepreneurial and community activities

Process

SELF provides assessment, training, installation and follow-up 

SELF provides assessment, training, installation and follow-up 

SELF partners with a local health organization (e.g. Partners in Health)

SELF provides assessment, training, installation and follow-up

SELF provides assessment, training, installation, follow-up and micro-lending 







Governance

SELF projects are governed by local community members

SELF projects are governed by local community members

SELF projects are governed by local community members

SELF projects are governed by local community members

SELF projects are governed by local community members

Case Studies

Nigeria: Jigawa State; India: emergency relief for tsunami victims

Benin: SELF’s Solar Market Garden project 

Haiti, Lesotho, Burundi, Rwanda: Solar Healthcare Partnership with Partners In Health; also Tanzania with the Clinton Global Initiative

South Africa: schools in Eastern Cape Provnce

Nigeria: Jigawa State’s solar-powered micro-enterprise buildings

Results

In Jigawa State, solar-powered pumps supply villages with clean, fresh water from deep wells

a Stanford University study validates SELF’s Solar Market Garden project 

Partners In Health has committed to shifting all their clinics from reliance on diesel to solar

two thousand students and their families now have access to reliable lighting, new computer labs and the Internet

SELF’s micro enterprise initiatives create a variety of small businesses, from barbers and tailors, to peanut oil processing 


Level One: Water

Without access to clean drinking water, the standard of living in rural communities is always in “crisis” mode. Having a reliable water supply is the first priority of any village and this is especially true in the semi-desert of Nigeria’s Jigawa State where there are few rivers or other sources of water on the surface of the land. Typical methods of getting water range from open wells with rope and bucket, to hand pumps, to government supplied diesel-powered pumps that work only until they break down or until villagers run out of money to buy the expensive diesel fuel.


The powerful solar-powered pumps supplied with this project are designed to run maintenance free for eight to ten years or more and are currently supplying the villages with clean, fresh water from deep wells. Because the wells are tied into a village distribution system with numerous taps, the time that families used to spend getting water has been reduced as well. More >>

In India, SELF was involved in an emergency water purification project for Tsunami survivors.  This solar-driven project also proves that at the most basic level, solar power can be harnessed to provide clean water for people without basic utilities.

Level Two: Food
 

Vu du Ciel from Solar Electric Light Fund on Vimeo.


Food security is a critical issue in terms of stability and socio-economic development across the developing world. In November 2007, SELF partnered with Association pour le Developpement conomique Social et Culturel de Kalalé (ADESCA) to launch a remarkable pilot project, installing an innovative solar-powered drip irrigation system to pump water for food crops. SELF engineers developed a 2.1kW solar electric power supply that provides 100% of the energy for the pumps. SELF secured seed funding for the project by emerging as a winner in the 2006 Global Development Marketplace competition, sponsored by the World Bank.

See: Stanford University assessment validates SELF’s Solar Integrated Development Model

More information >>

Level Three: Health
Since 2006, SELF has been working in concert with Partners In Health (PIH) to provide solar power to their hospitals in Rwanda, Lesotho, and most recently, in Haiti.



In response to the devastating earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince on January 12, 2010, SELF is accelerating its commitment to power health clinics in Haiti with Partners In Health (PIH).  We have already provided solar electricity to the clinic in Boucan Carré, Hince, and Cerca La Source, and will now speed the process of solar electrifying all 10 PIH sites in Haiti.

More info: Rwanda, Lesotho, Burundi, and Haiti >>

Level Four: Education
In 2000, SELF began a project to bring solar electricity to Myeka High School, in the Valley of a Thousand Hills, a poor, backwater region in KwaZulu, South Africa. Within the first year, the school was equipped with an overhead projector, two television sets, a VCR, a photocopier, a copy printer, and 20 computers marking the beginning of a new school experience for these youngsters. The enthusiasm in the school has been contagious throughout the teachers, students, and community. Teaching has become interactive using videos, TV programs, and overhead projectors to augment the learning experience. Students can now spend their time discussing topics and reading texts instead of hand-copying notes off the chalkboard. After receiving solar electricity at Myeka High School, not only did enrollment soar by 40%, but pass rates (the percentage of seniors who graduate with a diploma) jumped from 55% to 69%.

Then, in 2008 the Solar Electric Light Fund solar-electrified three schools in the Eastern Cape Province, the birthplace of Nelson Mandela. Funded through the generosity of the Kellogg Foundation and the JP Morgan Chase Foundation, with laptops provided by Dell Computers, two thousand students and their families now have access to reliable lighting, new computer labs and wireless Internet.

More >>


Level Five: Enterprise
In Nigeria’s Jigawa State, the power of economic transformation is captured in this footage from the CNN archives:



The solar-powered micro-enterprise buildings are the project centerpieces in each village. Each center provides electricity to 6 very small businesses that would otherwise not have access to electricity. The shared PV system, much less expensive than individual systems for each shop, allow tailors to move up from manual sewing machines to electric; barbers, from manual clippers to electric, and similar improvements in productivity for other types of businesses.

This project has introduced home lighting systems to each village. Compared to the kerosene lights that they replace, solar lighting offers a better light without the inherent fumes and fire danger of the old lamps. System users report that it is now easier for children to do their studies and home businesses are thriving under the better lighting conditions. And of course, families appreciate going about their normal activities with good lighting. With about 20 systems in each village, we have created demand and a great deal of interest in home systems. Our local partner will be able to continue electrifying houses using a micro-credit scheme where the payments for each system will be used to purchase additional systems for more homes.

One of the project villages, Wawan-rafi, has a lake nearby that is used to irrigate cash crops during the rainy season. However, many of the poorest farmers are limited in their growing ability by only being able to water their fields using a hollowed-out gourd – a slow and labor intensive process. For these farmers, we developed a cattle or person pulled cart with fold-out unbreakable solar modules powering an efficient pump that can be moved from field to field. More efficient irrigation will enable farmers to produce and sell more to provide greater income for their families.

The only source of income for most village women is the production and sale of peanut oil. Traditionally, small amounts of oil are made in a process taking great amounts of time and strenuous labor. In Wawan-rafi, we have incorporated a solar-powered oil expeller that will save time and labor while earning more income for women.

Info >>

The way forward for SELF is based on this 5-level solar integrated development maturity model. We view total village development as a unified whole, combining the various needs - at every level - with our capability to deliver scalable, sustainable development projects to serve the entire community.

cop15.pngI’ve just returned from the COP15 talks in Copenhagen.

One of the events I attended was a CNN/YouTube–sponsored debate that featured the following panelists: Yvo de Boer, Exec. Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, NY Times Op-Ed columnist and Pulitzer-prize winning author Thomas Friedman, actor/environmentalist Daryl Hannah, and Bjorn Lomborg, Director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center.


Mr. Lomborg, an environmental skeptic, says he believes in the concept of anthropogenic (human-induced) climate change, but unlike the vast majority of people and organizations who attended COP15, he doesn’t think that cutting carbon emissions is the best approach to dealing with the problem. Instead, he argues, we should invest our time and money helping those who are most vulnerable to the adverse affects of global warming.

In an article (“Time for a Smarter Approach to Global Warming”) that appeared in the Dec 15, 2009 edition of  the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Lomborg states that “money spent on carbon cuts is money we can’t use for effective investments in food aid, micronutrients, HIV/AIDs prevention, health and education infrastructure, and clean water and sanitation.”  

While I appreciate Mr. Lomborg’s concern for the poor—and yes, it is true that the world’s poorest citizens will, in fact, suffer the greatest from climate change even though they are least responsible for causing it—I do not agree with his reductionist way of thinking.  It’s the same old false dichotomy of “the economy versus the environment” argument, repackaged in a different form and for a different audience.
 
According to Mr. Lomborg, people who are dying of AIDS or malaria, or who are worrying about how they’re going to get their next meal, could care less about global warming.  That may well be true, but dealing with their individual plights while ignoring the causes simply perpetuates and compounds their problems. He fails to recognize that unless the rural poor gain access to modern energy services, they will have little hope of ever dealing effectively with the host of ills and injustices that plague their lives.

This point was certainly not lost on Tom Friedman who, sitting right next to Bjorn Lomborg at the CNN/YouTube debate in Copenhagen, astutely countered Mr. Lomborg’s specious argument with the following remarks:

…every problem Bjorn referred to is an energy problem. The school that has no light, that’s an energy problem. A clinic in a remote part of Africa that doesn’t have the capacity to refrigerate medicines, that’s an energy problem.  These are all energy problems, and if we, the developed countries, take the lead in driving down the cost of distributed energy, we are solving both problems (climate and poverty).

Watch:


Needless to say, I concur with Tom Friedman, and I am also pleased that I had an opportunity to contribute to his thinking on the subject of energy poverty, a topic to which he devotes a full chapter in his book, Hot, Flat and Crowded.  I am grateful to Mr. Friedman for having quoted me in his book, and more importantly, for having articulated to a global audience the indispensable role that modern energy must play in meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Thanks to Hot, Flat, and Crowded, people around the world are now familiar with the concept of energy poverty.

Had I had the opportunity to interject in yesterday’s CNN/YouTube debate, I would have described to Mr. Lomborg my recent trip to northern Benin, where I witnessed a dramatic improvement in food security thanks to solar power and its ability to pump water for drip irrigation.  Or, I might have cited the example of Dr. Paul Farmer whose organization Partners In Health is now using solar as the primary source of power for its rural health centers in Rwanda, Lesotho and Haiti — where tens of thousands of poor patients are being treated for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and other diseases.  Or, perhaps I would have mentioned Zwelenqaba High School in rural South Africa, where students are now able to gain computer skills and access information via the Internet thanks to a solar-powered computer lab that was installed last year.

These are perfect examples of how investing in clean, renewable energy for the developing world can not only help mitigate against climate change but also improve the health, education and economic security of some of the poorest people on earth.

At the CNN/YouTube debate in Copenhagen, and again in the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Lomborg calls for an increase in R&D in the cleantech space as the best way to counter global warming.  While I agree that basic research is important, the fact is, a number of renewable energy solutions, including solar and wind, have already benefited over the past couple of decades from dramatic reductions in cost and improvements in efficiency.  Solar cells are now being produced for under $1.00 per watt, and new breakthroughs are being announced on a regular basis.  Interestingly, the innovations are being driven by business opportunity as much as anything.

Even without further technological breakthroughs, however, solar energy today represents the least-cost option for generating electric power in parts of the world that are not connected to a conventional utility grid. 

We don’t need to wait any longer before we help those most vulnerable to the impact of climate change by enabling them to adopt clean energy solutions in their own lives and communities.

It’s time for a smarterand more holisticapproach to combating climate change.  Let’s turn to the sun to help people and the planet.

Watch the full debate here >>

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2008 was an extraordinary year of accomplishment and transition for SELF. The projects you’ll find described in our annual report have taken our work to new levels:

  • In Benin, West Africa, our Solar Market Gardens – solar-powered drip irrigation systems – have vastly improved villagers’ nutrition and income;
  • Building on our collaboration with the Clinton HIV/AIDS Initiative, SELF has begun solar-electrifying clinics across Rwanda and Lesotho through our Solar Health Care Partnership with Partners In Health, the organization co-founded by Dr. Paul Farmer; and
  • In the Eastern Cape, South Africa, our Solar Rural Schools Project – installing and powering computer labs, Internet access and learning software – is bringing the world to one of its remotest corners
We’re glad to report that our support came from both individuals and institutions; thank you for your help:
selfcontributions.gifOur focus is on our projects. Download our annual report and learn more about SELF. Find out how we:

  • Installed more than 32 kilowatts (kW) of solar electric systems in 5 health clinics and 3 schools;
  • Impacted more than 55,000 people in Rwanda, Lesotho, Benin and South Africa;
  • Bridged the digital divide for over 3,000 students and their families in the remote Eastern Cape province of South Africa;
  • Continued monitoring and evaluating the success of our multi-phase solar drip irrigation project in Benin; added training and introduction of new seed varieties;
  • Began design and installation of solar electric systems for 5 additional health centers in Rwanda to be completed in January 2009;
  • Completed assessments and site planning for the electrification of 10 health clinics in Haiti, 6 clinics in Rwanda and 1 clinic in Burundi; and
  • Began preparations for the “whole village” electrification of two villages in Benin; this phase will supply power for drinking water wells, home and street lighting, schools, health clinics, and microenterprise centers.

selfefficiency.gifOn the verge of our 20th anniversary, we are now poised to harness the rising tide of awareness and fight two of the greatest challenges of the century: climate change and energy poverty.

Will you join us once again?


“Energy is a human right.”   We use the phrase daily at the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF), a Washington, DC – based nonprofit organization whose mission is to bring solar power to rural and remote villages in the developing world.

But what does the phrase really mean?  After all, people talk about human rights; they talk about social and economic rights; and some folks – like Dr. Paul Farmer, famed “physician to the poor” and co-founder of Partners In Health, – even talk about health as a human right

But “energy” as human right?  Now that’s a new one! 

It’s precisely because this notion of “energy as a human right” may strike many as being a bit odd or abstruse that I’ve decided the time has finally come for me to sit down and start this blog as a way to educate as many people as I can about a subject I care deeply about and which has huge implications for the future sustainability of  the planet.

I’m talking about the fact that some two billion people—almost a third of humanity—still live  without access to electricity.  Located mostly in rural villages in the developing world, these people are forced to retreat each evening into homes that are illuminated, if at all, by the dim light of candles or smoky, polluting kerosene lanterns. 

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The problem is especially acute in sub-Saharan Africa, where in many countries as much as 80-90% of the population is without power.  If you look at satellite image of the earth at night, Africa appears, literally, as a “dark continent”. 
 
This is an issue in which I have been personally involved for the past 15 years, ever since I first got involved with SELF.

At the time, I was living and working in Taiwan.   I had read about China’s first “solar village”, a tiny hamlet in the hard-scrabble mountains of Gansu Province.  I wrote to SELF and requested to visit Gansu, and perhaps write a story about how solar energy had impacted the lives of those  poor farmers who had been living in darkness for centuries. 

One thing led to the next, and before I knew it, I was hired to spend two months in Gansu, overseeing the solar household lighting  initiative that had been launched by SELF, with support from the Rockefeller Foundation and the W. Alton Jones Foundation.

There, in this isolated, dirt poor corner of China, I got to observe families turn on a light bulb for the very first time in their lives.

The following passage is an excerpt of a letter from a farmer who had just installed a solar home system:

As the fixtures were about to be plugged in, we waited breathlessly. In a flash, the lights came on, and as they did, an old man from the village rubbed his eyes in disbelief, and exclaimed, “I have long heard that city folks do not need oil to generate light, but in all my seventy years, this is the first time to actually see such a phenomenon with my own eyes. What a beautiful sight to behold!”

Over the course of the next decade and a half, in my work with the SELF, I have witnessed, in village after village, the heavy toll that “energy poverty” exacts on the health, education, and livelihoods of people who do not have access to electricity.

I have also been fortunate enough to see and document the numerous benefits that even modest amounts of electricity, generated by the sun, can deliver to previously unelectrified households and communities.

The purpose of this blog is twofold: first, to inform and educate the general public about energy poverty and its deep relevance to virtually every aspect of sustainable development; and second, to chronicle the many examples of how solar energy has been, and continues to be, harnessed for improvements in the health, education, and economic well-being of rural villagers who have, for far too long, been deprived of what should be a sine qua non of civilized life in the 21st century.

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