Margaret Kariuku is a Kenyan woman who has not had the easiest path to success. As a mother of four, she has struggled to find a stable income to provide for herself and her children.
“Three times, I have had to start again. Three times, I have had to rebuild my livelihood. It all begun in 2005, when I stopped working as a secretary in Nakuru town. I thought that I would get my life sorted, but as fate would have it, this would not be.”
After she finished working as a secretary, she moved to her father’s farm, hoping to re-establish herself as a farmer. At first, her maize crops yielded well. However, as the days passed, her crops went down. By the third year, there was nothing left to harvest, and Margaret needed to decide what to do next.
“I picked up the pieces and decided to set up a milk collection centre. I bought milk from the farmers and sold it to the residents. I also decided to buy a motorcycle. When it was not used to collect milk, it would be a taxi. That way, I had two income streams.”
In the beginning, Margaret’s new business did well. Two income streams guaranteed a stable income. Sadly, after couple months, she realised that her employees were embezzling money from her. She needed to close the business. “I almost got disoriented when I lost my second business. But I collected myself again and set up once more.”
This time, she decided to establish a business on her own. She opened a grocery store which provided just enough income to keep her going. One day, she overheard her neighbour talking about a new source of energy called briquetting. This sparked her interest. She participated in a conference, organised by Practical Action Eastern Africa and SCODE (Sustainable Community Development Services), where she saw a demo of the production process. After the conference, her neighbour suggested a visit to the briquetting production site in the neighbourhood.
Although reluctant at first, she accompanied her neighbour to the site – pretending to be an entrepreneur. At the site, she quickly learned, that she could earn better income as a briquetting entrepreneur than owner of a grocery store. Meanwhile, the costs and availability of the raw materials made it easy to enter the market. She went back home feeling energised and thoughtful.
“My hope was that even if my grocery store was not performing well, I had briquettes. I knew that if I’d start producing them, I would be able to make a better income. So I started to produce them manually. I thought to myself, this is really hard! However, Practical Action and SCODE helped me. They rented me a machine to aide production. I had found my salvation.”
Margaret launched her briquettes business in 2015 and has increased her sales ever since. She has also participated in Practical Action’s training programmes, aimed to enhance women’s energy enterprise opportunities in Kenya. In 2017, she won the Energia Women Entrepreneurship Award – A prize that recognizes individuals that have done outstanding work in the sector.
In the future, Margaret wants to further expand her business and create jobs in the community. “Many young people are jobless, and many women are frustrated because they have no way of getting income. So I can use the prize money to give them a chance, to teach them, and to give them skills so that they can benefit the way I have.”
Did you enjoy this story? If yes, go to our Mother’s Day site and meet other inspiring women just like Margaret!
Want to help women like Margaret this Mother’s Day? Our Practical Presents Charity Gift shop offers some amazing Mother’s Day gifts that are designed to transform lives. More information here.2 Comments » | Add your comment
Globally, 1.3 billion people have no access to energy and it’s this lack of access that is keeping people living in poverty. Energy has the power to transform lives, it enables clinics to offer 24 hour care, for school children to study at night and it enables farmers to irrigate their land with reliable water pumps.
Practical Action has been working with people across Malawi and Zimbabwe to bring clean and sustainable solar energy to their communities. This project is called Sustainable Energy for Rural Communities and I recently travelled to Zimbabwe to see how energy is changing lives.
I met Miss Mumpande, who works at the Mashaba Primary School in the Gwanda District. She has taught at the school for eight years and teaches 12-13 year olds. The school now has access to solar power, which means they have electricity for lighting.
Sadly, it hasn’t always been this way. For years, the school had no access to electricity and they struggled to attract teachers because of it. Teachers would also have to prepare lessons by candle light and the students couldn’t stay late to study because the school was in darkness.
“Before solar, it was difficult, I wouldn’t prepare the school work well. I had to light candles and prepare. It took two hours, now it only takes one. My eyes would hurt. I wouldn’t prepare my work well, sometimes I made mistakes and had to buy candles myself.”
Having no electricity also affected her student’s education, she explained how they couldn’t study outside of school, but now they are able to stay late and study in the light. Their grades have improved and they’re now excited to come to class. The school has even started offering night classes for older members of the community.
Having electricity has had a huge impact on Miss Mumpande, her students and the rest of the school. She said, “Some teachers left because of the problems but now many want to come here because of the electricity.”
Mashaba Primary school is proof that electricity really can change lives.
To find out more about the project, click here.No Comments » | Add your comment
Bimala lives in a small village in the Makwanpur District of Nepal. She lives with 10 members of her family and cooks their meals on a three stone stove which is little more than a pile of bricks.
“It takes me up to three hours to cook a meal and I do this three times a day.”
The family knows just how dangerous the smoke from the stove is to their health, Bimala has suffered from breathing problems and eye complaints her whole life. “Everything was black, it was so smoky and we couldn’t sit in the house.” To try and stop the home filling with the thick, black smoke, Bimala has moved the stove outside the home but during the rainy season it becomes even harder to cook for her family.
“Sometimes I have to cook with an umbrella, it’s difficult but I have to prepare the meal. Sometimes the food is half cooked.”
Bimala has two young granddaughters who are now beginning to help their grandmother to prepare meals but she worries about their future. “I am worried about my grandchildren but what can I do.”
An improved stove and smoke hood would completely change Bimala and her family’s lives. They would spend less time cooking and would be able to spend this time earning an income, looking after cattle and studying. It’s a simple solution that has the power to transform lives forever.2 Comments » | Add your comment
Terrence McKee, CEO of Interlock, writes on the organisation’s innovative approach to tackling the issues of poverty and rural-to-urban migration. Read how their alternative development strategy is providing clean and reliable energy to rural India and improving the health of the poorest communities.
To lift millions of people out of poverty and to avoid migration to cities, the development of rural economies is of key importance; in this regard the access to energy is a critical component.
Solar energy is on its way to becoming the most cost-efficient option for rural electrification, beating the conventional energy options, such as diesel-based power systems and the extension of the grid. Interlock believes that the time is right for piloting new opportunities, models and partnerships posed by solar energy. In fact, a new initiative has recently been launched by the organisation to pilot stand-alone solar plants in Vadad Hasol, in the rural Ratnagiri district of India. By testing the design, construction and operation of the technology will build a working model which will be used at scale across the country.
Access to solar electricity has many health and educational benefits, in addition to giving opportunities for new income generating activities. Stand-alone solar plants have allowed Interlock to pioneer their new telemedicine programme. Access to solar energy interlocks doctors in urban hospitals with rural solar clinics allowing the provision of health to rural communities. Getting medical treatment to rural areas has always been difficult, doctor visits are costly and the lack of infrastructure (road access, accommodation and communications) causes obvious setbacks. Yet, now with the introduction of solar energy it is possible to interlock the rural communities with the urban. With internet connectivity, powered by the alternative energy, doctors can visit the most remote villages ‘virtually’. Solar resources will be able to give power to community centres with IT facilities to resource the medical facilities needed.
As well as using alternative energy, Interlock promotes and uses an alternative development strategy through the use of ethical tourism. Tourism has been proven by the organisation to be a sustainable factor in rural village development. at the Interlock HQ there will be a small rural hospitality and catering school where people from the village can be trained to staff their paying guest units. This Catering school will be built in conjunction with a small ecology hotel of 25 + rooms, developed at the Interlock centre.
The Hotel and Catering College will provide much of the funding required for the expansion of the telemedicine programme. Tourism in India is growing at a rate of 15-17%, Interlock have recognised the opportunity of this and believe that hotel guests can be the commercial footing for the telemedicine programme. Interlock Clusters are to be the hub of the rural villages, giving access to knowledge and communication to large numbers of individuals.
The project will impact the lives of thousands of individuals. Not just in the future but now. The technology is there, all that is required is the will to make it happen.
Read more about the work of Interlock or get in touch with Terrence McKee to find out more- Terrence@interlock.co.uk . Interlock aims to facilitate sustainable development solutions to poverty-related issues within rural communities.No Comments » | Add your comment
Have the global negotiations for a new climate agreement switched from a marathon to an egg and spoon race?
We are now in the final leg of the marathon negotiations for a new climate agreement. At the last meeting in Bonn, the negotiators were expected to intensify their pace, but by the end of the meeting it was clear no one had sped up, if anything the pace had slowed. We are now entering the final sprint to the line. In 5 days the 21st Conference of Parties (COP) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will take place in Paris. Without a sprint finish it is unlikely that an effective Paris Protocol will be signed.
The Great Climate Race is just one example of what communities around the world are doing to tackle climate change. A fund raising run/walk to raise money for community solar power, because climate change is a race against time!
So what are the core stumbling blocks in the way of delivering a Paris Protocol?
The first barrier is a long standing one around whether developed and developing nations should be treated differently. The issue known as “differentiation” remains a significant hurdle. To be effective the new agreement must build on the original convention text around common but differentiated responsibilities. But it must update the text to match today’s reality and be dynamic to evolve as the world changes. Historical emissions must not be ignored, but the changing dynamics of global emissions means that the text must be flexible enough to respond to changing circumstances.
The second barrier is around finance. For poor and developing nations allocating sufficient resources will be vital to deliver the agreement. At the Copenhagen COP in 2009 developed countries committed to mobilise jointly USD 100 billion dollars a year by 2020. A lack of clarity around these contributions, double counting of existing development assistance and the role of the private sector all continue to hinder progress in this respect.
Thirdly, Loss and Damage continues to divide parties. Some countries hope to see it embedded within the heart of the agreement, while others suggested it should be removed. Lack of action to reduce emissions will lead to a greater need for adaptation. Lack of finance for adaptation will lead to accelerating Loss and Damage. The logic is clear, but still Loss and Damage fails to receive the recognition and importance it deserves.
The Paris COP is supposed to light the way for governments to finally deliver an effective global response to the threat of climate change. However, to avoid another failed UN sponsored global conference it will be vital for politicians to put in the additional legwork to make the Paris Protocol a reality.
We don’t just want an agreement, we need a robust agreement that delivers. Human rights, gender equality and the issue of a just transition must be central to the agreement. A human rights centred agreement offers a holistic approach that makes the connections between the economic, social, cultural, ecological and political dimensions, and links what we are doing to tackle climate change with the Sustainable Development Goals and the Sendai Framework for Action on Disaster Risk Reduction. Is this too much for our children to ask for?
The place is not safe as it is said to be an extremist area. It takes around two hours to reach the village of Badamanjari from Koraput by a hired field vehicle. I have never used a road of such kind, earthen and muddy one, going through the hills where the vehicle can slip if there is rain. But I decided to go there as I was not able to control my anxiety to see a successful micro hydro project. The previous day I had tried to see one which is near to the district headquarter but I could not go there because of heavy rain. The vehicle got stuck in the mud and the driver was not ready to take us uphill.
Badamanjari village can be termed one of the remotest, having no roads, electricity or mobile network. It is a tough place to stay. On the other hand, the scenic beauty of the village cannot be expressed in words. Surrounded with hills and forest and small hill streams the village can contribute to tourism in the state. The village is mostly inhabited by the indigenous communities with around 91 households. Agriculture is the main source of income.
Practical Action is working with a broken micro hydro which provided electricity to the villagers for 6-7 years. The people have a taste for electricity but remain deprived of it as it was damaged. With the support of a local NGO partner, Koraput Farmers Association (KFA) Practical Action took up the task of rehabilitating it and ensure a community based management system. The project aimed at providing electricity to the villagers along with establishing rural enterprises with the use of electricity.
The following inputs were provided for the better management of the micro hydro;
- Skill development around enterprise development such as business plan development, market research through PMSD
- Rehabilitation of civil components and electro-mechanical components
- Renewal of power-based enterprises and installation of new enterprises.
Now the system produces more than 30kw of electricity – just as before, this electrifies around 110 households in two villages; Badamanjari and Phulpadar. Besides this two enterprises have been established by the community members with our technical support – rice hulling and turmeric processing.
As the villagers may not be able to pay a big amount towards the user charges for the consumption of electricity, the plan is to collect somewhat a good amount (as per meter) from the enterprises which can sustain the system. Still the villagers have decided to collect Rs. 30/- per month per household towards the charges. All the enterprises have started but it will take little time to make those fully functional in terms of market.
I am not sure if the village will get a grid connection in near future, but this micro hydro is definitely going to change the fate of the two villages in coming years. The children can now study in the evening. A few people have already purchased televisions. Both of these will help to educate the children and community as well.
The doors are open for them to see the wider world now.2 Comments » | Add your comment
During the aftermath of massive disasters like an earthquake, life becomes chaotic. Lack of access to energy becomes one of the alarming problems immediately after the disaster as well as in the long term. Instantly after the disaster, mobile networks, phone lines, water as well as electricity supply gets cut off making people more desperate and vulnerable. Not having electricity has its own series of consequences. Without electricity it is impossible to lift/pump water resulting in problems related to health and sanitation. Having no electricity also means having no power on the mobile phones, blocking off the very vital communication. It also means not being able to watch television or listen to radio for any news or information that could be life-saving.
As a result of the April quake, apart from other areas, the energy sector in Nepal suffered a significant damage, putting the already energy poor country more at crisis. According to Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) prepared by the Ministry of Energy, “Nepal’s energy sector has sustained loss worth NPR 18.75 billion following the April 25 earthquake and continued aftershocks.” According to the report, 600,000 households were directly affected with loss of access to electricity. The impact is either due to damage to electricity facilities, on-grid and off-grid, or loss of houses.The PDNA report has stated that various hydropower facilities with a combined capacity 115 MW out of the total installed capacity of 787 MW in the country (on-grid as well as off-grid) have been severely damaged, while facilities with a combined capacity of 60 MW have been partially damaged. The PDNA report also indicated that this will further challenge the government’s goal of universal access to modern energy services by 2030 in Nepal.
In most of the places in Kathmandu Valley, electricity came back after hours or days or a week at the most after the quake. People appreciated Nepal Electricity Authority’s effort to act promptly and do their best to repair the damaged lines and get electricity supply back to people at the earliest. But same was not the case for many of the remote villages not connected in the national grid for electricity supply but dependent on small Micro Hydro Plants. A significant number of Nepal’s Micro Hydro Plants too were damaged, putting the people of the affected areas in darkness. In Kavre District alone, six Micro Hydro Plants were totally damaged. Micro Hydro plants of the epicentre district Gorkha too suffered substantial damage at places including Barpark, Gyachhok, Lapark, and Muchhok among others. The Muchhok Village Development Committee (VDC) used to get the electricity supply from Jhyalla khola Micro Hydro Plant which got damaged and will take a considerable amount of time before it gets working again.
It has been more than two months now, the people of Muchowk have been living without electricity. “We have gone back to the old dark times. We light traditional oil lamps during the night time. But not being able to charge our mobile phones is a real problem,” says Kamala Gurung (23) who is a health professional in a local health post. “There is a backup system at the health post for the functioning of major equipment but not enough power for anything else. I have to report the status of the health post here to the district headquarters, but I have been facing problem to do so as there is no power in my mobile phone. During emergencies, I have to walk or send someone to a place with a diesel generator to charge my phone. It takes two hours to walk to that place and costs NPR 30 to fully charge a phone at a time. Life is surely difficult without electricity,” adds Kamala.
Without access to their basic energy source – electricity, many others in the community faced difficulties similar to that of Kamala. There is a team of Nepal Army security personnel camping at the premises of VDC building after the earthquake. They had been involved in rescue and relief efforts immediately after the earthquake and are still helping out the communities as per the need. This team too face challenges due to lack to electricity.
One of the officers shares, “We use many battery operated equipment but still many of other things needs to be charged. We send all the required devices and mobile phones that need charging to be charged at a place about two hours away from here.”
Recently, Practical Action installed a solar powered charging system in the VDC office building at Muchowk. The 100 watt system was specifically designed for the community by experts at the organisation with assistance from a private solar company Surya Power Pvt. Ltd.
“It has been very easy for us after the installation of this system. We can easily charge our phones as well as emergency lights now. This has made carrying out our work much easier”, the officer adds. The system can charge 15 mobile phones and light 5 led bulbs for 4 to 5 hours.
“I don’t have to walk two hours just to get my phone charged and that saves a lot of my time. I can now easily communicate with the district headquarters and report about the situation in our health post”, says Kamala.
The charging system is open to the community, who take turns to charge their devices. “People take turns to do the charging and give priority to people involved in emergency services like health and security,” says the VDC secretary of Muchowk, Bheshnath Acharya, who was busy distributing NPR 15,000 (£94) to help the earthquake survivors build temporary shelters.
“The charging system is definitely a great help. This will help the community stay in communication with each other with is very crucial during the time of crisis like this,” he opined. “Though it is a great help in a difficult time like this, we still face energy crisis until the micro-hydro plant gets repaired, and it seems like it will be quite some time before that.”
Without access to energy it is not possible for the poor communities to build back their lives and re-start their livelihoods. Apart from addressing people’s other needs during the post-disaster situation, it is also necessary to give priority to energy access which is vital to help sustain their livelihoods.
(The post was originally published in the Spotlight Magazine, Nepal)2 Comments » | Add your comment
It was not an easy job for the communities benefiting from the Himalaya Micro Hydro Scheme, in Zimbabwe’s Manicaland province, but their sweat will soon yield results.
The Himalaya project started in 2011 under the Rural Sustainable Energy Development in Zimbabwe (RUSED) project which is being implemented by Practical Action and Oxfam. On 8th April 2015 the project was officially opened by the Minister of Energy and Power Development in Zimbabwe, Dr.Samuel Undenge. This has indeed marked a new era for the community of Himalaya situated 35 km from the city of Mutare in Manicaland province in Zimbabwe.
“I have been waiting for this day since day one, and today it has been made possible. I am so happy with all the progress that has been made so far. Our hard work has finally paid off. This official commissioning is a blessing from the government of Zimbabwe we can now start working on producing results,” said an ecstatic Constance Mawocha, a 54 year old Himalaya resident.
Access to electricity by rural Zimbabwean small-scale agricultural communities is very low as electricity is largely confined to the energy-intensive sub-sectors of commercial and industrial enterprises as well as high-income urban households. The only power utility company, Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) has suffered immensely under the current global economic recession and the Zimbabwean economic meltdown since 2000 and is struggling to deliver on its mandate. It has thus not been able to provide a constant electricity supply to urban areas let alone scale up the rural electrification programme, which has managed to supply less than 25% of rural communities with electricity.
For the Himalaya community having access to electricity was a fantasy. The area is located in a mountainous area and is very far from the national grid. Having seen the predicament of most rural communities in Zimbabwe, two international development organisations, Practical Action and Oxfam with funding from European Commission saw the potential for addressing the energy poverty using the abundant water resources and feasible terrains through facilitating the establishment of hydro- electricity mini grids.
This Himalaya micro hydro system generates 80kw and 150kw of electricity at full capacity. The electricity generated at this scheme will be used to power an irrigation scheme, a grinding mill, a saw mill to process timber, and an energy centre which houses a hair salon, lantern charging kiosk and refrigeration just to mention a few.
“As women we have been empowered, I can’t wait to buy my electric machine and start sewing clothes for sale. I enjoy farming and the coming of electricity has made our farming very easy, from the training that we have had I am now taking farming as a business and this will come to reality with the electricity in use. Also I have 6 children and 8 grandchildren that I live with meaning I have to frequently visit the grinding meal so that I put food on the table for these little kids. Before this was so difficult for we had to travel quite long distance to get our maize pounded. But now I walk less than 500m to get my mealie meal and I am so grateful.” Grace Muyambo 45.
The coming of electricity also meant diversified possibilities for value addition in agriculture and agro-processing.
“We used to lose a lot of fruits and vegetables whenever there was a glut due to absence of refrigeration facilities but now the shelf lives will improve for usually perishable goods. Besides that, the social life of families is going to improve since we will be connected to the global village through the Television and internet.” said Eutias Chirara secretary of the Himalaya Micro Hydro Association.
The people of Himalaya may well celebrate, this was not an easy job. Men and women worked so hard to achieve the progress to date. Women assisted by carrying stones, river sand, cement, and digging of irrigation canals. Men were responsible for carrying heavy penstock pipes , laying the electricity grid and all other hard work.
”I almost gave up because the work was so hard, but as a community we had told ourselves that the project belonged to us and we had to contribute in any way we could so that we see the results. Here we are today, we are so happy to have reached this day and celebrate with the whole of Zimbabwe,” said Eutias Chirara secretary of the Himalaya Micro Hydro Scheme.
Once the project is completed communities in Himalaya will be able to use of the energy, to improve their livelihoods and therefore ability to pay and sustain the scheme through various enterprises.No Comments » | Add your comment
Having been to the amazing biogas plant at Gaibandha a while ago I decided ‘Marvellous Microbes’ would be a good title for the science video I am going to be producing for school pupils. The video will be one of three illustrating that access to technologies like biogas is important part of technology justice.
We could learn a lot from the engineers in Bangladesh, who have made good use of a by-product (the biogas) from a waste collection system designed primarily to reduce the hazard caused by kitchen waste being dumped in the street. The system is well managed, it is a definite benefit to the community and the staff are incredibly dedicated. Within the process itself the microbes are the star of the show! Microbes break down the kitchen waste from 1,000 households producing two really useful products, fertiliser and biogas. The biogas is used by 25 household to cook food and the fertiliser is in the form of slurry, some of which is then used to make compost.
If you are interested in more details please read on. The process goes like this!
- First of all you need buy in from the community, so a team of three lovely ladies go from door to door encouraging households to get involved in the scheme and pay a small fee to have their kitchen scraps collected. They told me that mostly people do this because they understand it is better for the community as a whole to not have waste dumped in the street, and the only other option is to walk quite a distance to larger bins. In this site just over 1,000 households have joined in. Like me (!) these ladies have their targets to reach and are constantly signing up more. The plant itself could manage waste from about 2,000 households in total so there is a way to go.
- Kitchen waste is collected every day by vendors. One vendor I spoke to has worked here for 4 years. He much prefers working here as he can look through the waste and if he finds anything that can be reused he can take it and sell it, this could be something like a small plate. By doing this he can increase his income by about 50% . He told me that most precious thing he found was a locket which he didn’t sell but gave to his daughter.
- Kitchen waste is also sorted by ladies at the landfill site. They spend up to 5 hours a day separating it out from general waste. Not a job many people would like but they said they were happy because they have work and the are given safety equipment.
- The kitchen scraps collected in these two different ways are then put into the digester and mixed with water where the marvellous microbes get to work. Conditions for these anaerobic digesters are perfect, The right pH, temperature, moisture and oxygen levels mean that in 15-20 days the kitchen scraps have changed to fertiliser that can be used as slurry and converted into compost, plus lovely biogas. Slurry is used in the plant itself and surrounding fields, in fact I was told the biogas plant is known as the ‘green garden’ because the plants in it grow so well. The compost is sold on to generate a small income for the plant.
- Biogas is piped out of the plant to 25 lucky households. They receive the biogas gas three times a day. Women who are lucky enough to get biogas for cooking much prefer it to the more traditional stoves because it is cleaner, and also food doesn’t have to be watched to the same degree, reducing drudgery as it allows the women time to do other things whilst the food is cooking. The plant has the capacity to provide biogas for up to 50 households, the limiting factor being the cost of building the pipes.
I came away feeling …what a great idea, basically a win win situation.
To find out more about Practical Action’s work on biogas go to www.practicalaction.org/biogas-fuel
For a technical brief on biogas to use with pupils go to practicalacton.org/technical-briefs-schools-energy
…And watch out for that Marvellous Microbes video coming soon on Youtube!1 Comment » | Add your comment
IRENA (the International Renewable Energy Agency) has just published a really fascinating report – REthinking energy 2014. It’s the first of a series exploring the changes that are transforming the way we produce and use energy and should be on the reading list of anyone interested in renewables.
The report kicks off by reconfirming that business as usual in the energy sector will not keep us below the CO2 levels necessary to avoid severe climate change, but that doubling the share of renewables in the global energy mix (one of the 3 UN Sustainable Energy for All targets for 2030) would.
That’s not exactly news, but the report then goes on to provide some fairly extraordinary statistics concerning just how rapidly advances are taking place right now in renewable energy. For this blog I thought I’d just pick three really interesting facts, although there are plenty more on offer in the report.
FACT 1: The cost of renewable energy is plummeting
Solar photovoltaic (PV) prices have fallen by 80% since 2008. Moreover they are expected to keep dropping, as the diagram below (from p 35 of the report) shows:
In a number of countries, including Italy, Germany and Spain commercial solar power has already reached grid parity – the point at which the price of electricity from renewables equals the price of power from the traditional grid.
The cost of onshore wind electricity has also fallen – 18% since 2009, making it the cheapest source of new electricity in “a wide range of markets”.
The pace of technology development revealed by the IRENA report is staggering. The efficiency of solar PV modules in converting sunlight into electricity has improved by around 3%-4.5% per year for every one of the last 10 years. But that statistic is dwarfed by the one concerning energy storage – in some senses the holy grail of the renewable energy sector. Better storage would allow us to smooth out the peaks and troughs of electricity generated from wind or sunlight and better match supply with demand. Until recently pumped storage (a method where water is pumped up to a reservoir when excess electricity is available and then sent back down through turbines to generate electricity at times of peak demand) has been the only viable large scale energy storage solution. But large scale battery technology is developing rapidly and IRENA expects this to transform the market for energy storage from approximately USD 200 million last year to USD 19 billion by 2017 (a nearly 100 fold increase in just 4 years!).
FACT 2: Financing renewables is getting cheaper, and easier
The report notes that “government financial support has traditionally been critical for promoting renewables” (a comment that chimes with my blog last week). But it seems that private finance is increasingly ready to play a part with “early-mover private developers” attracting USD 11 billion in 2013, up 200% in 12 months.
Total investment in renewable energy rose more than 5 fold from US$ 40 billion in 2004 to US$ 214 billion in 2013 (excluding large hydropower – which accounted for a further US$35 billion in 2013). This is still less than half of the estimated annual investment of US$550 billion needed to achieve the 2030 goal of doubling the share of renewables in the global energy mix however.
IRENA highlights the important role governments have to play here. In the more developed markets they need to be sending clear signals that energy will be a larger part of their national energy mix, so reducing uncertainty and attracting more investors, whilst in emerging markets, according to IRENA, they will still need to provide public finance to develop domestic structures to support the deployment of renewables.
FACT 3: New renewables now outpace new fossils and nuclear.
Falling costs and rising availability of finance means, as the diagram here shows (from page 25 of the report) , renewables now add more new generating capacity each year than do fossil fuel and nuclear power, combined.
Are we about to see Technology Justice in the energy sector?
To be fair, with 1.3 billion still without electricity and 2.6 billion still cooking on open fires the prospect of technology justice in the energy sector still looks a good way off. But there are some really interesting positive trends developing that are starting to move us in the right direction.
Renewables are beginning to be the technology of choice for new generating capacity, which has to be good news, albeit the rate of increase in renewables still needs to accelerate to avoid catastrophic climate change goals.
But renewables are also showing how technology could be democratised. IRENA notes that “as the share of renewable energy grows… the nature and role of power producers are undergoing change. A sector once dominated by large utilities is becoming more decentralised, diverse and distributed. In Germany, almost half of all renewable energy is now in the hands of households and farmers, and only 12% of renewable assets are owned directly by utilities”.
It also notes that “in many emerging markets, renewables are already the most economic power source for off-grid and mini-grid systems” and, conveniently, that “decentralised mini-grids are seen as a way to improve grid reliability, by localising generation and reducing the risk of transmission faults – particularly during natural calamities.” IRENA compares the opportunity for developing countries to sidestep national grids and move to a flexible system of interconnected mini grids to the opportunity those same countries have already taken to leapfrog fixed line telephone technology in favour of mobiles.
Innovation is not confined to technology alone though. The report cites examples from Denmark and elsewhere to show how crowdfunding is growing quickly as a source of finance for renewable power infrastructure. “Specifically, in conjunction with decentralised technology, crowdfunding allows individuals and local communities to be the driving force behind the global energy transformation and to simultaneously benefit from the change.”
IRENA concludes that “these and other trends require a different way of thinking about energy, shifting from a system dominated by a few centralised utilities, to a diverse, distributed system, where consumers are also producers, with far more control over how and when they use energy”.
Sounds an awful lot like Technology Justice to me!
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