On 25th March 2013 Practical Action Sudan launched a new report titled ‘Poor People’s Energy Outlook (PPEO) 2013’. The third edition of the publication of the PPEO series prioritises energy issues from the point of view of poor people to meet their needs and achieve universal energy for all by 2030.
On 3rd April I attended an energy programme review in our North Darfur office that involved numerous stakeholders participating in our Low smoke stoves project. The review was attended by members of community based organisations, government representatives, and the private sector. I feel that the E.F Schumacher’s phrase “Small Is Beautiful” is applied to its fullest in this project. The project started in 2008 with the main goal of ‘Contributing to poverty alleviation through improving the livelihoods of poor families by switching to a clean energy source, LPG, for cooking purposes. Recently the Low smoke stove project team has been awarded the gold standard and has been officially registered as the first greenhouse gas emission reduction project in Sudan.
In the Darfur region fuelwood (firewood and charcoal) is the main energy source used in the household, services and industrial (bricks, bakeries, oil) sectors. At the household level firewood and charcoal are burnt in traditional inefficient stoves, such as the three-stone stove and traditional metal stove which causes indoor air pollution and serious health and environmental problems.
The most enjoyable and useful part in the discussion was when Izdehar Ahmed Mohamed (Project Manager) asked the attendees what lessons they had learned and the positive impacts of the project? I found their answers impressive:
The Forest National Cooperation representative said that ‘less deforestation in the project areas compared with the past, and the culture of afforestation is increased which will have a positive environmental impact. We just need enthusiasm to continue what we have started together’.
The Women Development Association Network (WDAN) representative answered ‘there is less indoor pollution as the result of low smoke in the kitchen, which has led to a noticeable improvement in the health of women and children’.
The Civil Defense representative said that ‘community awareness has increased about the correct and safe use of LPG’.
The Nile Petroleum representative who supplies the LPG to WDAN added ‘the WDAN are a valued customer through which we apply the principle of Social Responsibility.’
I’m really proud of our team in North Darfur and the achievements they have made. We will continue to adhere to our principles to reach technological justice, a world free from poverty, and find a solution to climate change to reach a sustainable urban environment.1 Comment » | Add your comment
How many PhD students does it take to change a lightbulb? I don’t know but I heard plenty of suggestions last week!
Attending the Micro perspectives for decentralized energy supply conference, I engaged in discussions and listened to presentations, many by postgraduate students, about ways to address the energy access in the developing world.
I experienced frustration and inspiration in equal parts. On the one hand, hearing so many bright young minds focused on this important issue was wonderful. But I was baffled to hear each one repeating the same apparently surprising outcome from their research – namely that technology interventions were more successful when they had been developed in consultation with the community and with the energy needs of the users taken into account at the design stage.
Why was this a research finding? Working at Practical Action this is the approach we start from every time. Doesn’t everyone? Apparently not! Maybe it’s something people have to discover for themselves? But it does seems a waste of effort when we should be concentrating on the best ways of improving energy access for the 1.3 billion people who don’ t have any.
While there is no one single solution for the world’s energy problems , it’s encouraging to know that there are plenty of people and organisations out there finding their own solutions – community by community.No Comments » | Add your comment
One of the questions that was asked the other day was whatever happened to the hydrogen economy?
It was a popular subject about a decade ago when it was thought that we would all be powering industry with hydrogen energy but things seemed to have gone very quiet since then. The problem is that the infrastructure change will be huge; it will take lots of money and time to achieve so here we are still waiting. So are there things that we can do now that will work and provide us with clean and convenient energy?
Is locally produced hydrogen on demand a realistic alternative to massive infrastructure development for industrialised economies or could this technology be used for developing economies? Some people are promising this new technology will sidestep some of the difficulties faced by other hydrogen technology. Will innovations such as this make clean energy accessible to everyone on the planet?
Innovation in the energy sector is abundant at the moment but many of these developments are still in the research stage and are some way from becoming used on a large scale. Which technology will win out and make a real impact on a significant scale is hard to tell at this stage.
One of the technologies that is under development, as reported in New Scientist & at EPFL, at the moment is turning solar energy directly into hydrogen without first generating an electrical current using rust as one of the main components. It seems like a strange approach when we are constantly trying to eliminate rust from technologies but a thin layer of iron oxide could be just the thing to generate hydrogen directly from sunlight in a more effective way than the traditional photovoltaic cell and electrical cathode.
Can these technologies be applied to less developed regions of the world? Well, it is too early to tell as they have not been proven in any situation. However we move ahead the demand for energy is on the increase, it enables people to have a better quality of life.
It seems that future energy options are going to be more divers and generally more complicated than they are now.
I was looking at some of these options while editing the book A Handbook of Small-scale Energy Technologies which looks at the more established technologies such as micro hydro and solar thermal technologies. These approaches have been have been tried and tested and can be implemented now with predictable results.
Of course, each technology needs to fit the particular circumstances but a little analysis of any situation will determine what is required. For many the hydrogen economy is a distant future but energy access is much closer.
“ …..unless action was taken to combat global warming, the next generation would be “roasted, toasted, fried and grilled.”
Not a pleasant prospect – and this prediction comes, not from an environmentalist but from the head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, at the meeting of world financial leaders at the swish Swiss ski resort, Davos.
I have a very low level of understanding of economics – despite the best efforts of my economics student daughter to explain the basics. But even I can grasp the essential point that if we carry on emitting carbon at the rate we are we will destroy the very basis on which our economic wellbeing depends – the earth itself and people, lots of people will suffer.
The global downturn has had the effect of reducing carbon emissions for many nations simply because industry is not making as much, which seems like a golden opportunity to reform our energy supply.
1.3 billion people in the world lack access to any form of modern energy and 2.7 billion still cook over open fires using biomass. While in the developed world energy companies invest in environmentally damaging ‘fracking’. Reducing our carbon emissions and redirecting investment to renewable energy for people with no energy would stimulate growth in the developing world, pulling millions out of poverty without destroying the planet - surely a win-win situation.
It doesn’t sound so hard, does it?
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Energy literacy is a relatively new term being used to describe knowledge of the basics of energy. It has strong associations with sustainability and the efficient use of energy by consumers.
Every practitioner wants to install a energy scheme that is sustainable and wants that energy to be used efficiently, rationally and productively. A number of different approaches, tools and guidelines have been developed over time to facilitate this.
The energy team in Practical Action Latin America began to use the description ‘energy literacy’ back in the early 2000s in our project in rural Latin America called “Sustainable energy options for poor isolated communities in Latin America.” This work was building the capacity of rural and isolated communities in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, to understand, assess and articulate their energy needs. It involved providing information on energy options and issues to rural communities to help them make appropriate energy choices.
Right at the start we realised that people in those communities had no idea what we were talking about, when we used the terms “renewable energy” or “sustainable energy.” They could hardly identify electricity and had no understanding of the terms “efficient cooking” or “clean cooking.” We realised that to get their attention we needed to provide very simple information and simple explanations with practical, visual examples.
Our objective was that when we left the communities, local people understood the basics: Energy sources, small scale renewable energy technologies, micro hydropower, solar PV, micro wind systems, tariffs, reasons for tariffs, life span of the energy systems; they could also recognise the difference between grid and off-grid electricity and others. We applied the term “energy literacy” to this process of providing simple information to communities with little or no knowledge on energy
Once people know the basics about energy and understand that implementation costs are high and that every energy scheme requires operation and maintenance, they become more responsible for these aspects their energy generation system as well as its replacement when it ends its life span. And this makes a vital contribution to its sustainability.
We also learned from this project that, “energy literate people” can assess their needs and can engage more effectively with local and regional authorities and demand their needs in a more organised and coherent manner. Several communities who benefited from that project with “energy literacy”, they had been able to fine tune their demands and already have energy access.
I’d be interested to hear what you think about the concept of energy literacy. Could it be useful and how could it contribute to the sustainability of off-grid systems?3 Comments » | Add your comment
Access to energy, climate change, weird weather, renewables and technology justice
Listening to the news last night 4 out of 5 of my list were covered –fierce floods, devastating droughts in the USA, melting sea ice, how can people afford to pay their energy bills, the need for renewables (or not) to power the UK and drive down the rampant rise in CO2 levels.
Missing was technology justice.
What struck me was how the UK discussion mirror global issues and those that are vital for poverty reduction.
Climate change is impacting on poor communities – years ago now I spoke with poor farmers in a remote Andean region whose crops had been destroyed by unseasonal frost, I’ve heard from women in East Africa devastated by drought and recently returned from Bangladesh where floods are an annual event made worse by the fear of sea rise.
Access to energy is vital for poverty reduction – to power hospitals so operations can happen at night and women don’t have to give birth by candlelight, to open up economic opportunities for small business people, to pump clean water, mill grain, lets kids study in the evening, prevent the more than a million deaths each year from diseases causes by deadly kitchen smoke…
We can tackle all of these problems separately – Practical Action takes a very practical approach to poverty reduction – helping people get the tools they need to grow crops, access clean water through solar pumps, reduce the smoke in their homes through clever locally built cook stoves etc.
However we also need a more systemic change in our thinking – the technologies that are needed to feed the world, to tackle climate change and ensure everyone has access to the basic services required for a reasonable quality of life already exist. We are just not using them in the right way – we need to move from a state of technological injustice to one of technology justice where we care for people, our planet and our future. The debate is about poverty reduction but it’s also about how we shape the future for us all.
Wouldn’t it be great if Radio 4 and others could start to talk about technology justice?
Schumacher said to talk about the future is only useful if it leads to action now. We seem to love to talk about the future. Isn’t it time to deliver technology justice?No Comments » | Add your comment
If, like me, you’re filled with excitement at the thought of tonight’s final of The Great British Bake Off, I think you’ll enjoy this story of how the fortunes of Peruvian baker Luz Marina Cusci Cáceres have been transformed, with a little help from Practical Action.
It is a Thursday morning in September 2012, and visitors are gradually arriving at a huge food festival that is a highlight for many Peruvians. Within a few hours, the place will be packed with hungry diners and long queues will form at the myriad food stalls. There is no respite for Luz Marina Cusi Cáceres, who has just returned to her stall after she has run out of stock. Her stall is to be found among the organic producers section, where delicious home-grown Peruvian goods are sold.
But what is so special about Luz Marina? And what does her story have to do with Practical Action?
Several years ago Luz Marina participated in Practical Action’s project ‘Development of productive uses of electricity in the Cusco region’. During her participation in this project, she developed her baking knowledge, and learnt how to bake traditional kiwicha [a traditional Peruvian cereal] biscuits in a more efficient manner.
Luz Marina used to make kiwicha products by hand until Practical Action came to her town, San Salvador, and worked with the community to introduce a variety of electricity-generating technologies such as solar panels.
“We knew nothing about electrified machinery before, but with the help of Practical Action engineers we began using kitchen appliances, like the electric whisk, which need electricity to operate.”
Luz Marina had always sold kiwicha, but she did not do anything to the raw kiwicha to add real value to it. An Italian woman in the town who knew how to make biscuits shared her baking skills with Luz Marina.
“She taught me that I could sell biscuits made out of kiwicha, which would fetch higher prices at market than raw kiwicha products.”
Once Luz Marina learnt how to bake the biscuits, rumours of her delicious culinary treats spread across town, and people started asking for more.
“People would eat them and then buy them. So I kept making the biscuits better, and although there is still room for improvement, I am now a much better baker than I was before. In 2009 I decided to start a baking business with three of my friends who also cook with kiwicha. It is very helpful to work as a group; we have a lot of confidence, we know each other, and we are united.”
The real turning point came when Luz Marina met a customer named Hugo. He was so impressed by the biscuits and the commitment of Luz Marina and her friends he helped the bakers to obtain the official hygiene certification they needed in order to sell their products in larger markets.
“Now we sell our biscuits in Ayacucho and San Gerónimo. We have to stock the stalls with 1000 packets every two weeks! What would we do without electricity? We use an electric whisk to make our biscuits. It saves us time and means we can make better quality biscuits that sell in their thousands! We still need more encouragement from the council though – it would help if they advertised and promoted our products.”
In addition to the biscuits, Luz Marina and the bakers are now selling kiwicha-based pastries and honey. At the bustling food festival these have been hugely popular.
“We have sold 6000 packets of biscuits in three days! I am very grateful to Practical Action – without electricity we could not have made a productive or profitable living from baking. The electricity has transformed our baking. And baking has changed our lives”.No Comments » | Add your comment
Today I had the privilege of receiving an email from a very excited University Professor at Kathmandu University in Nepal, Professor Bim Prasad Shrestha, regarding the start of the SCORE stove in their Laboratory.
Prof. Shrestha told me:
“It has been great day for us yesterday, we managed to get resonance in our system and we could make electricity generated from the stove which was first installed by the EWB and the modified by our Engineers….
It has been great moment for our engineers Mr. Bijendra and Mr. Binaya for successfully lighting the LED bulb with the help of wood fired stove and boiling water on the stove simultaneously.”
You don’t often see such excitement in a senior academic in a developing country about a technology for the poor, simply because they are seldom involved in the development of technology to help the poor.
University academics in developing countries generally know very well the problems of the local poor but are powerless to help them. This isn’t because they can’t help or don’t want to, but mainly because they operate under a permanent situation of shortage of facilities and budget. They are able only to witness the suffering of their poorest co-citizens.
The special feature of the SCORE stove is that it can both cook and generate electricity. It is under development by a consortium of UK Universities and Practical Action. The University of Kathmandu and research institutions in Bangladesh have become involved in the final phase of development and adaptation of this technology to local needs.
Kathmandu University, with the support of a group of young graduates from Nottingham University, installed a SCORE stove in their Laboratory. After several days of work to adapt to local fuels and operating conditions, they managed for the first time to see it operating both to cook and generate electricity.
Successes like this do not happen frequently in universities in developing countries. I know, because I was previously a lecturer at a University in Peru. So I share the excitement. I want to congratulate Professor Shrestha and wish him more success in the future. Partnerships like this, with the active involvement of academics and non-academics from north and south, with effective exchange of knowledge and know-how contribute not only to excitement but to real solutions to help the poor to use technology to challenge their poverty.
Today my daughter starts 6th Form. A fully fledged, almost grown up, teenager with great ambitions for the future, a pragmatic approach to school work and a huge capacity for friendship. I am a very proud mum.
I’ve just been looking for an image for a report cover and, given today I am thinking slightly anxiously about my daughter and school, one of them touched my heart. It showed a group of school boys, their work spread out all around them, parents standing rejoicing in the background all because the school had electricity for the first time. It was a very happy image.
Energy is a facilitator of change.
Talking a while ago with Helen Clark former Prime Minister of New Zealand who now runs UNDP she expressed hesitancy about energy either as a Millennium Development Goal (which it’s not – but is recognised as an enabler) or as part of the new Sustainable Development Goals to be agreed from 2015 onwards. Her argument was that access to energy helps people do things rather than being an end in itself.
While I have great respect for her as an international leader and can understand the logic of her argument the reality of MDGs and hopefully the SDGs is that they focus attention. We need to focus attention of energy access for poverty reduction. So energy access needs to be a sustainable Development Goal. Or at least that’s my logic!
I was going to write a long list of why access to decent energy is important – but thinking about it I’ll ask you to do two things instead
• Think about your life and what it would be like if you didn’t have electricity, if you had to walk 5 miles a day to collect firewood, if every time you cooked your kitchen filled with potentially lethal smoke – yet you and your kids had to stay there while you cooked – if you knew the value of education as a route out of poverty but you couldn’t find a way for your kids to study in the evening, and if sometimes your children had to miss school as they took grain on the day long trip to the mill (you couldn’t leave the younger children or the farm), if you had no car, no hair dryer, no gas cooker, no hot water for tea!
• Think about the picture I described earlier – the boys rejoicing in electricity coming to their classrooms
David Cameron is a co-chair of the High Level Panel that will advise on the global development agenda post 2015 – we need to find ways to remind him that energy is vital for poverty reduction. Anyone got any great ideas – I’d love to hear!No Comments » | Add your comment
I was woken abruptly at 5.30 am today by the shrieking of next door’s burglar alarm. This had been triggered by a power cut I realised when I saw the flashing light on our clock radio. Sunshine was streaming through the gap in the curtains and I was wide awake, with time to reflect on the nature and consequences of power outages.
Power cuts are not unusual but can have dramatic consequences. This was seen in Northern India earlier this week when 700 million people were cut off, traffic came to a stand still and hundreds of miners were trapped underground.
But for one third of India’s population, lack of power is nothing new, they have no access to electricity at any time. This makes it very hard for people to develop businesses that can help them to work their way out of poverty and for children to study in the evenings. And the lack of alternative forms of energy means that people use cooking fuels that emit toxic smoke, such as wood, dung or charcoal. These cause ill health and often death from respiratory infections, especially for women and children.
Solutions exist to this problem. Practical Action works with communities to help improve poor people’s access through small-scale, low-cost, off-grid electricity supply and through improving the efficiency of cooking stoves.
While Indian politician struggle to shift blame to each other for its electricity supply problems, a lack of capacity is likely to continue to trigger cuts. Energy investment, not only in India but throughout the world, must consider the needs of the poorest as well as the increasing demands of the energy hungry middle classes.No Comments » | Add your comment