Practical Action are working with our partners in Malawi to establish MEGA – a sustainable and ambitious social enterprise delivering green mini-grids to poor rural communities.
It is estimated that 587 million people in Africa alone are without electricity. And as population growth outpaces the number of people getting access to electricity on the continent, this number continues to rise. Furthermore, it’s estimated that 55% of people without electricity will be best served by decentralized technologies such as mini-grids and standalone systems. A step-change is needed to meet this challenge; with greater focus on off-grid technologies, innovative business models and smarter investment.
The MEGA initiative is in Malawi, where 85% of the 15 million population lives in rural areas, of which only around 1% has electricity – there are 12.6 million people, countless businesses and numerous health centres and schools without electricity.
The government has an active rural electrification programme, although the focus on national grid extension and the all too limited resources leave many areas in Malawi with little hope of having electricity in the near future.
Decentralized energy programmes and business models that can achieve scale and sustainability are few and far between in sub-Saharan Africa – and Malawi is no exception.
Many installed mini-grid schemes in developing countries are plagued by failures and struggle to sustain operations. Sound financial plans and real diligence are required to ensure that funds are available for the day that essential component breaks and needs replacing. Skilled technical expertise to diagnose problems and obtain and install replacement parts is another critical element that is particularly challenging in remote rural areas.
MEGA – Mulanje Electricity Generating Authority – is tasked with stepping into this gap. MEGA will bring together professional, financial and technical expertise that can ensure project sustainability and attract public and private investment.
MEGA’s business plan and financial model has been formulated with the support of DFID’s Business Innovation Facility. Practical Action is leading on the micro-hydro mini-grid technology, and the local partner MuREA is facilitating community engagement.
MEGA will operate micro-hydro mini-grids, initially with one existing 75 kW scheme and plans to develop many more. The initiative has received support from OFID that will allow it to install schemes in two more communities by 2014. Mount Mulanje is the highest mountain in Malawi and the wettest in Southern Africa – an ideal place for micro-hydro technology.
The MEGA ambition is to bring electricity and development to poor communities in Mulanje. We want to demonstrate that mini-grids are a viable option that offer a real opportunity to tackle energy poverty in Africa.
MEGA social enterprise is on the cusp of being registered as the first independent power producer in Malawi – watch this space!No Comments » | 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.
20 years after the 1972 Earth Summit, carbon emissions have increased by 40% – partly due to the massive increase in air travel – and according to WWF’s recent Living Planet report, global demand for natural resources is now 50 per cent higher than the planet’s regenerative capacity. Small islands are now at high risk from rises in sea levels due to global warming.
50,000 are forecast to attend Rio, and 194 countries will be represented there. US President Obama isn’t going – but he’s sending Hillary Clinton, and UK Prime Minister David Cameron isn’t going – but he’s sending Nick Clegg. And there lies the dilemma: our commitment to addressing global environmental issues is finely balanced against the global financial crisis, which is keeping both world leaders busy.
Cynics expect little from the Rio+20 conference. Countries are forecast to sign up to an Outcome Document which will advocate a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy – but it’s unlikely to be legally binding. We hope that UNEP will take on the role of global environmental policeman – but without legal sanction, how will that work? We hope for new Sustainable Development Goals – around access to sustainable food, water and energy for all – talking about energy is new; it’s become an increasingly vital part of all our lives. It’s becoming clear that total energy access could transform the lives of poor people, and without it, they’ll be excluded from the modern world.
So – a lot of hope; will there be any action? The outcome agreement will be called “The Future We Want” and if we really want to make that future a reality, governments will have to take on the perhaps unpopular task of getting us all to make changes that will affect our lives and the world economy: no more flying to Thailand on holiday? Less choice of food in the supermarket? The global aero and food industries won’t like that… development organisations have a vital role to play in helping people understand what we need to do to save the planet. If Rio can move people’s attention away for while from financial crises in the developed world, and back to bigger issues like the long-term survival of the planet, then it will have been a success. The most important thing is what happens next!No Comments » | Add your comment
”We need All of humanity not half of it to work on the clean energy revolution”
That’s the opinion of David Sandalow from the U.S. Department of Energy at the Women, Innovation and the Clean Energy Future reception held yesterday at Lancaster house, as part of the Clean Energy Ministerial.
Whilst there are some incredible women working in the clean energy sector, such as Juliet Davenport, CEO of Good Energy, these role models are few and far between. Lack of understanding amongst young women of the opportunities available as well as a lack of women in middle management positions taking that next step up were discussed as the main reasons.
Yet it was felt by both the women and men present that women do bring a different perspective to the sector so should be encouraged to be a bigger part of it.
So please do encourage your female students to find out more about this interesting work that is key to our future.
To see how members of Practical Action who work on clean energy and other technologies for the developing world got their dream jobs please visit our careers page for a poster and case studies.2 Comments » | Add your comment
Temporary restrictions to energy supply, nationally or internationally are a frequent occurrence. I can recall energy shortages caused by striking miners in the 1970s, the OPEC embargo of 1973, the Iran/Iraq war in 1980, the 1990 invasion of Kuwait and last year’s Fukushima nuclear reactor shutdown in Japan to name just a few.
Renewable technologies use freely available resources such as wind, water and sunshine and are not dependent on the fluctuating world price of carbon intensive fossil fuels. It seems an obvious solution to focus our investment on these.
But the prevailing wisdom amongst developed countries is that quick fix high tech ‘geo-engineering’ solutions will solve the problem of global warming.
There is a history of environmental disasters associated with meddling with our planet’s ecosystems in unproven ways. Cane toads were introduced to the sugar plantations of Queensland, Australia in 1935 to control a pest called cane beetles. Over the years, with no natural predators, these toads have become a much greater pest than the original beetle. The Nile perch was introduced into Africa’s Lake Victoria for food and sport fishing. It has already eaten its way through 200 native fish species, and is still going. I could go on….
Developed countries already make too many demands on the resources of our fragile planet while a third of humanity lacks access to modern energy. We should surely be concentrating our scarce resources on improving this situation rather than lavishing time, money and scientific expertise on unproven vanity projects. Practical Action has a wealth of experience to show that small scale renewable energy drives development.
2012 is the UN year of sustainable energy for all – we must ensure that is exactly what is does.2 Comments » | Add your comment
If you haven’t already heard the final episode in Radio 4′s ‘A history of the World in 100 Objects’, I’d urge you to listen right now. The final object selected was a solar powered lamp and charger, an object not unfamiliar to any of you aware of the energy related work of Practical Action.
The programme’s description of the benefits of energy for communities not connected to the grid, strongly echoes the message we have been emphasising for some time – that energy drives development. Lack of energy severely curtails people’s ability a to communicate, to earn a living and to study after nightfall. The health and economic drawbacks of kerosene are also clearly articulated. This example of a successful technology shows what a difference scaling up Practical Action’s renewable energy work could make to the world.
I don’t know if Neil Macgregor, the presenter, is aware of Practical Action’s work, but we couldn’t ask for a better advocate judging by this series. His dulcet tones draw you into the fascinating stories woven around the 100 objects, which has covered 2 million years of human history and spanned the globe. The variety was breathtaking and each 15 minute broadcast skilfully gave you a glimpse into the lives of the people associated with the object. This series has been an outstanding collaboration between for Radio 4 and the British Museum and I, for one, am pinning my hopes on at least 100, if not 1,000 more objects.No Comments » | Add your comment
Access to energy was the focus of discussion on the second day of the High Level Meeting of the Africa-EU Energy Partnership (AEEP). Having formally adopted the day before a target to provide access to modern and sustainable energy services to an additional 100 million Africans by 2020, the Partnership is faced with the question of how to deliver it.
The delegates’ debate was primed by an introductory, lively speech from Dr Kandeh Yumkella, Director General of UNIDO and Chair of UN Energy, the somewhat invisible institution that co-ordinates energy matters across the UN agencies. He is also Chair of the Advisory Group to the UN Secretary General on Energy and Climate Change, whose report earlier this year proposed ambitious international targets for universal access to energy and reducing energy intensity. Dr Yumkella emphasised the need for energy for productive purposes, not just lighting. To paraphrase: just providing solar panels on roofs is like shining a light on poverty.
The debate that followed picked up on Yumkella’s his emphasis on providing energy for productive uses, but the chicken and egg question whether to provide electricity first to stimulate future productive activities, or to provide electricity first for productive uses, had advocates of both views. The discussion on the respective roles of the public and private sectors in providing access also had advocates of different viewpoints.
Sadly a whole morning’s debate on access to energy in Africa talked only about access to electricity – despite being reminded at the start that it is women who bear the main burden of providing energy to African families, and the energy they provide is for cooking. When discussion in the Partnership is confined to people whose primary, sometimes only, interest is in electricity generation and distribution – and at a large scale as well – the AEEP risks completely overlooking the most important energy service for the great majority of the people in Africa.No Comments » | Add your comment
The Hofburg in Vienna, once an imperial palace, has no doubt witnessed many political declarations in its long history. This week it was the turn of the High Level Meeting of the Africa-EU Energy Partnership, which agreed a Declaration that sets political targets for co-operation between the European Union and the African Union up to 2020. These targets cover access to energy, energy security, renewable energy and energy efficiency, as well as a commitment to dialogue on “energy issues of mutual interest”.
No sooner than the proverbial ink had dried, representatives from the 20 plus countries attending the High Level Meeting began questioning whether the targets went far enough. Is the target of 10GW hydro-power capacity ambitious enough in relation to the potential? What about a target for geothermal power capacity? Is the target of 100 million additional electricity connections by 2020 enough? An observer could be forgiven for wondering what was going on, given that the text of the declaration and the targets have been in circulation amongst governments for months. This observer wonders whether these are these political targets or technocratic targets?
The gilt chambers of the Hofburg repeatedly heard of the crucial importance of energy for development and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Ministers and Commissioners listed all the statistics and arguments. Commissioner Piebalgs went so far as to say energy should be central to international development policy. But this rhetoric, all of which could have been scripted by Practical Action, did not seem to square with the Declaration. Compare, for example, the AEEP’s energy access target of 100 million additional people connected to electricity by 2020. This could still leave over 400 million Africans without electricity in 2020, and amounts to saying the MDGs are not going to be met in Africa until after 2020. The Declaration’s access target does not appear to match with the African Union’s goal of reducing by half the number of people without access to modern energy services by 2020, an it falls some way short of the target of universal access by 2030, recommended by the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change.
Though there is a pretty clear gap between rhetoric and practice, the AEEP High Level Meeting remains significant for international policy on energy and development. In the absence of any internationally agreed goals and targets on energy for sustainable development, the AEEP provides a forum for one of the largest donors, the EU, to agree priorities for energy, with the group of countries, the AU, which has the greatest need.No Comments » | Add your comment
Sometimes I think or maybe hope the Small is Beautiful message has won through and we are a world that thinks in terms of appropriate, local and increasingly sustainable. At other times articles such as the one below burst my optimistic bubble and prove again how far we have to go.
A sad if mad start to Monday. This is a snippet taken from a Canadian newspaper where an influential conference on energy is taking place with 5,000 international delegates.
MONTREAL – Space exploration may pay off in the quest for renewable energy supplies for all of the globe’s inhabitants, the president of the Canadian Space Agency said during opening ceremonies at the World Energy Congress in Montreal.
“There is a tremendous amount of energy out in the universe,” Steve MacLean said during a speech that urged delegates to look beyond the boundaries of Earth.
That untapped energy is manifest in such things as black holes, said MacLean who circled our “fragile yet resilient” planet during space missions in 1992 and 2006.
“We know that black holes exist … that they drive our galaxies but we don’t fully understand them (yet). But the important thing to recognize is there is more energy out there on the head of a pin than you can imagine.
“And you can drive that power (for use) on the Earth for a long, long time.”
We have less than six years to turn our planet away from its addiction to carbon intensive fuels and yet 50% of the world’s population have no access to decent, modern energies. The solutions are not in space, they exist now. The problem is that we pretend as with this article that miracles of technology will save us and that we don’t need to act.
Remember the saying no pain no gain? This applies to our planet and to our energy use.
Maybe black holes will have a use but we can’t rely on them and they certainly won’t be part of our energy mix as we envisage the next 20 years – imagine the length of the pipeline? Get real.
Where is the nearest black hole? No rude answers please.1 Comment » | Add your comment