Teo Sanchez

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Posts by Teo

  • Is ‘Energy Literacy’ vital for poor communities?

    January 2nd, 2013

    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?

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  • SCORE stove success at Kathmandu University

    September 25th, 2012

    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.

    Cooking on a SCORE stove in Kenya

    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.

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  • Can technology contribute to happiness?

    September 3rd, 2012

    This short video was taken during a visit to the Ochola family, a poor family living on the outskirts of Kisumu in Kenya. The head of this family of 8 is Betty, a widow for the past two years.  The family make their living from farming a small plot of land they own and providing occasional services or domestic work in Kisumu. Do you think Betty has a good reason to be happy?

    Betty’s life is hard; a normal day for her starts at 5am and ends about 9pm.  She wakes up, prepares breakfast and immediately after cooks lunch and dinner for the family.  In the afternoon she works as a household help with an Asian family.

    The purpose of my visit, along with Practical Action East Africa’s energy specialist, Vincent Okello, was to start the use of a new stove. The stove was built the week before and was completely dry and ready to start.  We came into the kitchen, gave a few instructions to Betty about how to start it, operate it and maintain it safely and  immediately she started to cook. She found that this stove was quick, efficient and smokeless. She prepared a meal of ugali, meat and vegetables for her family and for us, her visitors, in about 30 minutes. She also found that the stove is strong and simple to use. Cooking ugali, a local meal made of maize flour, requires constant, vigorous stirring from start to finish. Betty found that with a strong stove like this she can use both hands for stirring, while with other stoves she has to hold the pot with one hand and stir with the other, which is uncomfortable.

    Betty found that she can cook in about half the time she needed using a three stone stove and that it uses about a third of the amount of wood.  She also found that it is simple, smokeless and strong,  Betty is aware of the adverse health effects of smoke from cooking fires and is also very conscious of the amount of money she spends on fuel. I have to say that I not only enjoyed the food Betty prepared but enjoyed a lot watching her face filled with happiness.

    This new stove has been the result of collaborative work between City University, London and Practical Action and was part of a larger ongoing SCORE project to develop a stove which generates electricity while cooking.   City University did the engineering design; Practical Action introduced the technology in Kisumu, tested and adapted appropriate manufacturing using local materials and local skills.  This stove has been introduced now because tests showed that it provides dramatic improvements in both energy efficiency and cleanliness in comparison with stoves generally in use.  While research continues into the energy generating capacity of these stoves, women like Betty are able to benefit from easier, cheaper, healthier cooking.

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  • Improved cooking stoves – an issue of perception?

    July 27th, 2012

    When I was a child, all households in my village (including my parents’) used three stone cook stoves. The vast majority still cook the same way now.

    I left home at 17 and came back home many years later. The first wrong thing I saw (according to my perception) was the smoke coming out from my mum’s kitchen.

    I was already an engineer and was working on small scale renewable energies. Although I wasn’t working on stoves at that time, I was aware of the harmful effects of smoke and the excessive fuel consumption of three stone stoves. I also had read about improved stoves and had seen designs being spread out in different parts of the world in developing countries.

    The same day I arrived home, I asked my mother to change her three stone stove for an efficient and clean one that I would bring and install in her kitchen. I explained the benefits of the new stove, which from my point of view were great.

    I told her they use less fuel and have lower smoke emissions which meant less of her time for fuel collection and better health. She listened patiently to my proposal and explanation of the benefits and replied: “Like the one of your aunt Maria? No thank you son.” She said she hadn’t seen such benefits. “Your aunty spends the same amount of time collecting fuels, and as for the smoke, I don’t see much wrong with it”. She gave me examples of large families all with smoky kitchens and said she had never seen a child dying from smoke inhalation, and the doctor or nurse had never told her that it could happen.

    I started to think that sometimes one expects other people with other backgrounds to have the same perception as we have. I asked myself why she had a such a firm perception regarding clean stoves with “no benefits” or perhaps too little, too simple benefits compared to the big sacrifice she had to make to change her three stone stove for another one that she does not like and she does not like it for many good reasons from her point of view.

    Now that I had become an advocate of energy access for the poor and I knew how important is for the poor to have clean and efficient cooking stoves, I asked myself why I was unable to convince my mother at that time. I asked myself whether other people had experienced similar situation where the perception of the potential users are very strong and they stick to their traditional three stone stoves. And what do they do to persuade these sorts of users to change their minds?

    I would also like to add that poor people like the majority who use three stone stoves, generally lack information about many important issues. People living in isolated rural areas do not have access to information, they hardly listen to the radio, do not watch TV and most cannot dream to access to internet. Therefore, their perception is based on their own experience.

    With that short personal story and introduction, I would like to ask other practitioners and advocates of energy access for the poor to share your thoughts about how to overcome this issue of strong perception of the poor in rural areas of no benefits or not enough benefits.

    Consider that those using three stone stoves perceive many good qualities of a three stone stove: they find that the three stone stove is very simple; it costs no money; it is versatile – with a three stone stove the user can use as many pots as she/he wants and users do not need to carry their stove if they move from one to another place – they can quickly have a new one. These people have not seen or have not perceived the harmful effects of smoke and even the doctors or nurses who very occasionally talk to them have not told them anything about the harmful effects of smoke. Could you suggest how to overcome those issues of perception?

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  • Energy access: Old challenges – new rhetoric?

    May 18th, 2012

    When the UN announced its target ‘Energy for All by 2030’, I thought the opportunity for billions of rural in isolated areas has arrived. I also though small scale energy options, small standalone schemes, micro and mini grids, efficient and cleaner cooking technologies will be high priorities in the years and decades to come.

    It is early to predict failure of success on meeting such an ambitious but much needed target. However, concerns start arising when I see that small scale technologies and decentralised energy schemes are not yet the focus of discussions. For example, during the First Africa-EU Energy Partnership Stakeholders Forum held recently in Cape Town, the focus of the discussions was on large renewable energy schemes, interconnections, power pool regulations, private sector investment and other issues mainly related to energy security, rather than energy for isolated rural populations. This is despite  that the majority of participants where African Stakeholders and despite  the fact that one of the targets of the AEEP is to provide Energy Access to 100 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2020.

    As an energy access advocate and long term practitioner I only hope that ‘Energy for All’ is not a new rhetoric for an old challenge, but in coming future, small scale technologies, micro grid, small standalone energy schemes, forest management, efficient cooking technologies come to the forefront of the discussions in all energy policy and strategy discussions.

    With that mind, as long term energy access for the poor practitioner and advocate, I have decided to blog more frequently, and exchange ideas with the large community of energy access for the poor advocates.

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  • My Energy and Development seminar at the University of Brescia

    November 15th, 2010

    From the 2nd to 5th November I ran a seminar on Energy and Development in the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Brescia. The seminar was titled “Energy Access for the Poor – Opportunities and Challenges”, and the objective was to give a wide view of the different issues, regarding energy access to the attendants. The audience was primarily PhD students, doing their research work in the areas of waste management and waste to energy, including a diversity of technologies related to energy and electricity generation at small scale.

    Most of the topics were related to my recent publication “The Hidden Energy Crisis”, and activities of Practical Action in small scale renewable energies: the political issues, technologies, barriers and investments needed and others.

    I was very impressed with the interest of the researchers in this topic and how they are trying hard to make a difference by contributing to development of the poor, by adding new energy options of technology options to the existing ones. I think that groups of dedicated and highly motivated people like these groups of researchers can be excellent allies of Practical Action to its goals and objectives of helping the poor to help themselves

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