Blogs tagged as renewable energy

  • Sustainability or quick fix?

    February 6th, 2012

    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. wind turbine nepal 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.

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  • A solar lamp ends the history of the world

    October 25th, 2010

    solar powered lamp & chargerIf 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.

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  • Africa-EU Energy Partnership Day Two

    Vienna, Austria, Vienna | September 16th, 2010

    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.

    Further reading: briefing paper on the Africa-EU Energy Partnership – high level meeting

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  • Africa-EU Energy Partnership

    Vienna, Austria, Vienna | September 15th, 2010

    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.

    Further reading: briefing paper on the Africa-EU Energy Partnership – high level meeting

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  • Space – the final frontier?

    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.

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  • Sustainable energy in action

    Practical Action is participating at the Vidulka exhibition organized by the Sustainable Energy Authority and the Ministry of Power and Energy of Sri Lanka.

    The Vidulka exhibition was part of the energy week programme declared by the Ministry of Power and Energy from 3rd to 8th of August 2010.

    Practical Action’s stall had many exciting features that attracted VIPs such as the Minister of Power & Energy, many key government department heads, academics and many others from the renewable energy sector.

    Some of the interesting features in our stall include:

    • actual models of renewable energy technologies such as the Bio Mass Cook Stove
    • human-powered bicycle and exercise machine that can generate power
    • domestic water pump & bio diesel processing
    • mini book store on renewable energy
    • renewable energy information from the net

    The official media sponsor of the programme Sri Lanka Rupvahaini Corporation team featured the Practical Action stall today at 11 am.

    More about Practical Action South Asia.

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  • Guest blog…

    July 27th, 2010

    In this guest post Katee Hui, who’s the Social site editor at Green Thing, shares some great energy ideas.

    Green Thing is a not-for-profit public service that inspires people to lead a greener life. With the help of brilliant videos and inspiring stories from creative people and community members around the world, Green Thing focuses on seven things you can do – and enjoy doing.

    One Green Thing Action is Plugging out. Those chargers and speakers that you’ve left on needlessly, that light on in the other room, those machines on standby. While they look harmless enough, they’re sucking your household power supply like needy greedy babies and are costing untold tonnes of C02.

    This week Green Thing has come across two fabulous new inventions that can help people plug out- anywhere!

    First, meet Greenlight Planet’s SunKing.

    SunKing is a solar-powered lantern that boasts 16 hours of energy, after only a single day’s charge. That’s a lot! Fitted with photovoltaic panels and a water-sealed lamp, the SunKing is durable and reliable, as it has industrial strength panels that can gain charge even when it’s cloudy.

    So long kerosene, see you later wood. No offense, but you’ve been replaced by a brilliantly bright and affordable solar lamp.

    SoOcket is another brilliant example of how a little creativity can go a long way.

    This football is actually a portable energy generator, cleverly disguised, but for a reason. In order to produce electricity, a mechanism exists inside the ball that forces a magnet through a coil that induces an electrical current, and thus making energy. Then, you can plug in any standard fixture to the socket that is built into the ball. Imagine: young people spending an hour kicking around football to then head home, plug in a lamp to provide light while doing homework at no cost- to the household or the environment.

    SoOcket co-founders, Jessica Lin, Jessica Matthews, Julia Silverman, and Hemali Thakkar, who all spent time in Africa, will definitely feel the benefit of the buzz from the World Cup.

    Something as small as a light could make a world of difference in how people live their lives and what impact this has on the earth. Cleverly designed inventions like SoOcket and the Sun King are great examples of creativity versus Climate Change, the kind of stuff that Green Thing loves.

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  • Two in one

    Visiting London from the depths of Warwickshire for an event during the week was always going to be a treat. Attending two events in one day proved to be an even bigger treat!

    I was initially invited to the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) to attend an Alumni event for young engineers on the evening of June the 30th, but also realised that the Ashden Awards Conference would be on the same day. First thought in my head? Kill two birds with one stone, at the first time of asking.

    The Ashden Awards acknowledge the efforts of entrepreneurs, non-profit organisations and even schools for their efforts in providing sustainable energy for communities around the world. The conference was a showcase of this year’s international and UK winners of the award, with a chance for the audience to find out from them about the challenges they face in their inspiring projects and what lies ahead in the future.

    Inevitably, renewable energy technologies were the centre of attention as they continue to grow in stature and become acceptable solutions to providing energy for low-income and remote communities. From solar panel installations in Nicaragua and biogas digesters in rural Kenya to small-hydro and wind turbine systems in Scotland, the winners showed that decentralised renewable energy is benefitting thousands of people with improved access to modern energy and reducing carbon emissions by the kilo-tonne. The conference also featured debates about carbon finance and whether it can make a difference for the developing world, and the role of local sustainable energy solutions in a tough financial future for the UK.

    A dash across London then led me to the home of the RAE for a chance to catch up with some young professional engineers, an integral part of Practical Action’s growing target audience. The event was a celebration of the Engineering Leadership Advanced Awards’ Scheme, a scheme that helps engineering undergraduates develop their careers through training and experience in foreign countries, for example. Two previous awardees gave presentations, each one with a unique message. The first was a well-delivered outline of 10 qualities that make a good engineer. Being an engineering graduate myself, I found it quite eye-opening and also helped me realise how transferable such qualities are to any profession, including those in international development.

    Having just attended the Ashden Awards conference, I was encouraged to hear from a young engineer helping improve lives through an organisation called Engineering World Health that facilitated his biomedical engineering placement in Central America. His was a mission to repair medical equipment in hospitals and provide training for local practitioners, thereby contributing to better healthcare. Chatting to him and other attendees afterwards, it was positive to know that a few had heard of Practical Action and were therefore willing to join our quest to engage with more young engineers. ‘A day well spent’, I thought as I sat on the train back to the depths of Warwickshire.

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  • Europe needs to step up on climate change!

    The European climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard did her best yesterday with the Commission to show that European business and national interests would benefit from Europe setting a target of -30% reductions in emissions. The additional investment costs would only be an additional €11bn a year – with long term benefits in terms of leading on green energy.

    It isn’t just Europe that would benefit either; at a lively panel discussion hosted by the ippr this morning, Steve Rayner (Director, Science, Innovation and society) said that it was crucial that we put much more funding for green energy, in order to bring down the costs of technologies such as wind and solar. This would then make it cheaper for countries such as China and India to continue to develop while reducing their emissions.

    Of course, another stumbling block is large scale international finance to help these countries – but the UN Secretary General’s High Level Advisory Group on Climate Finance (AGF for short) is working on that, we hope. It really is urgent for Europe to set an example as a developed country that low carbon technologies can deliver – as we are still on a pathway to a climate disaster for millions of people in developing countries by 2100 if we don’t move quickly to transform our economies and support adaptation.

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  • Not your average day at work!

    Nepal, Parche | April 1st, 2010

    I recently went to Nepal to look at some of the projects Practical Action are involved in there. My visit to the renewable energy village near Chitwan turned out to be quite an experience!

    Find out more about the work being done to help remote communities living in the renewable energy village in Nepal.

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