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Can off-grid power really provide the necessary electricity required for economic development?

Can off-grid power really provide enough electricity for economic development?

By | Developing Countries | No Comments

A recent report from the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) initiative considered the benefits of using off-grid energy solutions to meet the organisation’s target of universal energy access by 2030.

The report attempts to quantify the financial, education and environmental dividends for the world’s poor, using the case studies of Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Kenya. It argues that the fastest way to provide small electricity access is through off-grid power systems using solar.

This approach has its benefits in terms of the speed of connection and relatively cheap cost, but it is dangerous to believe that this is enough to provide sufficient power for business, hospitals and schools.

Todd Moss, a Senior Fellow for the Center for Global Development, recently presented evidence to the US Senate to make the case that while off-grid works as the “first step on the energy ladder”, it is not sufficient to provide power for industry and commerce. Relying on off-grid solutions encourages low levels of energy consumption, holding back economic growth.

Small solutions like Solar Home Systems (SHS) can only provide 50 kWh per per year, which an average American consumers in a day and a half. According to Moss, his refrigerator alone uses the same amount of electricity as nine people in Ethiopia use in a year.

Small-scale renewable projects, for all their good intentions, cannot and should not be seen as the answer for the 1.1 billion people currently living in energy poverty. Since 2000, 1.2 billion people gained access to electricity, mainly by an expansion of the grid and with fossil fuels (45 percent coal, 19 percent natural gas and 7 percent oil).

Earlier this year, the Breakthrough Institute, a leading energy think-tank, was worried that off-grid was misleading the argument on energy access. It maintains that that these technologies would provide “very limited development benefits” and may “risk confusing charity with development.”

The UN clearly understands that energy access is a prerequisite for poverty reduction and key for economic development, but it must not be sidetracked by the allure of off-grid and mini-grid energy solutions. These should be seen as transitional technologies, not as an alternative to large-scale baseload power. The evidence is very clear. Only with cheap and reliable, 24/7 power can people have any hope of escaping poverty and proving a better future for themselves and their families.

IEA: energy access is essential for development

IEA: energy access is essential for development

By | Affordable electricity, Developing Countries | No Comments

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has reiterated how essential energy is for development

The IEA’s World Energy Outlook, the go-to report for NGOs and energy professionals alike, made clear that you cannot have improve the lives of the world’s poor without 24/7 access to power.

“Energy access is pervasive to all aspects of human life” because it not only “fuels economic activity and boost productivity,” but also provides the necessary infrastructure vital for a happy and healthy life: from “eduction, water and sanitation”, to “more resilient settlements and infrastructure.”

The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of specific targets to help the UN tackle poverty and ensure long-term prosperity. The IEA believes that you cannot meet these targets without “universal access to affordable, reliable and sustainable energy” whhich should remain at the heart of the strategy for global development.

Energy demand is expected to grow by 60 percent up to 2040, with 85 per cent of this growth coming from developing countries. If the world is serious about tackling global poverty, it needs to bring electricity to 1.1 billion people.

The developing world favours coal for economic development

The developing world favours coal for economic development

By | Developing Countries | No Comments

Developing countries favour coal to provide economic growth according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The IEA’s World Energy Outlook is the go to report on changing global energy trends and solutions to help tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges.

It has highlighted that countries at their early stage of their economic development look to coal to meet their rapid energy demand and population growth.

The IEA believes that the developing world’s preference for coal is due to it being “inexpensive, scalable, relatively secure, easily storable and, in the case of domestic coal, brings employment benefits for local workers.” This is demonstrated by the successes experienced in Asia, who are on track to reach a electrification rate of 99 percent by 2030.

Much of this progress has come from the likes of India who have rapidly brought half a billion out of energy poverty since 2000; a staggering 75 percent of this growth has been driven by coal. The IEA’s director, Fatih Birol, said yesterday at a UN conference, believes that India will need to add a whole European Union’s worth of power capacity if it is keep pace with its growing economy.

Southeast Asian Nations have also been on a big drive of coal expansion where it is predicted to account for just under 20 percent of all electricity supplied by 2030.

In September this year, the Association of Southeast Asian (ASEAN) signed a declaration that committed funding to develop more efficient coal-fired power stations, believing that the fuel will provide “energy security, economic competitiveness and environmental sustainability in the region.”

For countries in developing Asia, a dynamic energy policy is essential to ensure favourable conditions for economic growth and energy access for all by 2030.

So why should we care about energy poverty?

Why should we care about energy poverty? Todd Moss explains.

By | Developing Countries, Nigeria | No Comments
What does Penny Mordaunt’s appointment mean for the energy access agenda?

What does Penny Mordaunt’s appointment mean for the energy access agenda?

By | Developing Countries | One Comment

The new International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt has just outlined her vision for the future of UK aid, in an article for the Telegraph. What does it mean for the energy access agenda?

Here are the key takeaways.

“I believe in aid. I believe in the power it has to end disease, hunger and extreme poverty, to build strong economies and to help the world’s most vulnerable people live lives of dignity. Aid also allows us to influence and shape the world around us.”

As a former aid worker, Ms Mordaunt gives a powerful endorsement of the good that aid can do. But it’s vital to recognise that the issues she highlights – diseases, hunger and extreme poverty – can only be solved with reliable electricity. Tackling disease requires vaccine fridges and medical laboratories. Solving hunger means powered irrigation and food storage facilities. Creating jobs requires electricity for businesses, factories, transport infrastructure and the internet.

“Alongside our world-class defence and diplomacy, [aid] provides the greatest return on investment for the taxpayer’s purse: to head off trouble before we have to intervene militarily or to handle a crisis, and to create opportunity, peace and prosperity.”

Ms Mordaunt characterises aid as a national investment, one which pays off in the money we save by averting future crises. Overseas energy projects are one of the best examples of this. By providing the power to run a successful economy, we prevent young people drifting into the arms of extremists or undertaking the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean.

“But we can go further still. We must harness the energy of the UK science and technology sectors, whether in the use of cutting-edge technology to transform the way we do development, or drought-resistant seeds to boost food production, or new vaccines to wipe out disease.”

Ms Mordaunt focuses on using UK research to solve the world’s problems. Hopefully she knows that energy is another key sector in which Britain excels, particularly the carbon mitigation technologies which could allow developing countries to use their fossil fuels more cleanly. For example, the UK Government’s recently published Clean Growth Strategy highlighted a UK-based company called Carbon Clean Solutions, which specialises in new carbon capture technology. With UK government funding, they recently launched an innovative carbon capture project in India which involved trapping the emissions from a small coal plant.

By backing this kind of technology, the Department for International Development can help the poorest countries bring power to their people, meet climate change commitments and boost UK jobs too.

Green movement accused of “halting the expansion of cheap power to poor countries”

Green movement accused of “halting the expansion of cheap power to poor countries”

By | Affordable electricity, Developing Countries | No Comments

At the UN climate change conference in Bonn, nuclear power advocate Michael Shellenberger has laid into the environmental movement, accusing them of “halting the expansion of cheap power to poor countries.”

In a panel session entitled “Nuclear Power? Are Renewables Enough” Mr Shellenberger, who runs US energy policy think tank the Breakthrough Institute, was highly critical of the environmental and economic benefits of wind and solar power.

He pointed out that Germany has spent $222 billion on wind and solar since 2000, yet last year the proportion of energy generated from these renewable sources actually fell because it wasn’t sunny or windy enough.

Addressing the claim that batteries can allow us to store renewable energy for later use, Shellenberger argued that the technology just isn’t there yet:

“We added up all the storage in California to back up the grid and we have 23 minutes of storage. And that’s if you count every battery in every car and truck.”

He also noted that solar panels end up creating 300 times more toxic waste than solar panels per unit of energy, as they involve the use of toxic metals such as cadmium, chromium and lead.

According to Shellenberger, nuclear and hydro are the only technologies capable of delivering reliable, 24/7 electricity while still cutting carbon on the scale needed to avert climate change.

In seeking to block these technologies, he suggested that the environmental movement, which is ideologically wedded to wind and solar, was harming the interests of the global poor.

African Development Bank blasts Western hypocrisy on fossil fuels

African Development Bank blasts Western hypocrisy on fossil fuels

By | Developing Countries | No Comments

The African Development Bank (AfDB) has defended its support for fossil fuel projects in the poorest countries.

Speaking at the COP23 climate conference in Bonn, the AfDB’s Climate and Green Growth chief Dorsouma Al-Hamdou was challenged on the bank’s backing for fossil fuels in Africa.

“America, Asia and Europe are investing in coal why do you want Africa to be different?” he replied.

The AfDB, one of the world’s largest multilateral providers of development assistance, has named energy access as its “top priority for Africa.

Currently, two thirds of people in sub-Saharan Africa live without electricity. This means hospitals can’t store lifesaving vaccines, children can’t study after dark and businesses can’t power essential equipment.

Generating the power to create new jobs is viewed as essential for stability in a region with a young and rapidly growing population. The AfDB has committed $12bn to tackling the problem but believes as much as $80bn is needed to light up Africa.

The AfDB takes a pragmatic view of which energy sources are used to solve the power crisis, arguing that the scale of the challenge is so great that both conventional and renewable technologies are needed.

By contrast, Western-led development institutions like the World Bank have controversially denied funding for less environmentally friendly technologies.

Mr Al-Hamdou’s remarks are likely to encourage leaders in countries like Nigeria and Bangladesh, who have long argued that it’s hypocritical to restrict their access to the same energy sources that the richest countries use.

Millions a year die due to indoor smoke inhalation says latest report

Millions a year die due to indoor smoke inhalation says latest report

By | Developing Countries | No Comments

2.8 million people are dying prematurely due to a reliance on open fires for cooking, according to the latest International Energy Agency (IEA) report.

The IEA’s report on the state of global energy access has raised concerns about the continued use of charcoal, wood, and biomass -including animal waste – as fuels in developing countries. Around 2.8 billion people – 38 percent of the global population – currently rely on these combustibles for cooking, lighting and heating.

The smoke from these fuels have a devastating impact on human health, which one expert has compared to smoking 400 cigarettes an hour. Strokes, heart attacks and lung cancer are all associated with using these fuels.

Women in these societies are often most exposed to the ill effects. The IEA finds that women spend around 4 hours cooking over smokey ovens and open fires. Add in a further 1.4 hours just collecting fuelwood and dung, and it is apparent that women have little time for anything else. This time could better used for schooling and paid work, empowering women to break free of their traditional roles.

Progress has been slow in many parts of the developing world: sub-Saharan Africa has 780 million people still cooking with solid biomass, a shockingly high 78 percent of the population. The report highlights that the continent has only improved by 3 percentage points since 2000. As it stands, 2.3 billion people will continue using these dirty cooking fuels even by 2030.

Something drastic must be done if we are to bring an end to this suffering. We cannot rely on short-term fixes for a much larger issue affecting the world’s poor: the lack of universal electricity access.

If we are prevent these premature deaths and debilitating illnesses once and for all, we must ensure that these 2.3 billion are able to flick a switch, rather a match, for their energy needs. That’s why grid-connected electricity is so important for the developing world.

Nigeria has abundant natural resources, yet half the population languish without power

Nigeria has abundant natural resources, yet half the population languish without power

By | Developing Countries, Nigeria | No Comments

Despite being home to Africa’s largest reserves of natural gas, Nigeria has suffered from chronic power problems for decades.

Over half the country – around 100 million people – still have no access to electricity, while those that do consume just 30th of the power of the average South African. Although it’s one of the world’s most populous countries, overall Nigeria generates less electricity than the Republic of Ireland.

How to explain this paradox? The problem, according to Nigeria’s Oil Minister Emmanuel Kachikwu, is that Nigeria has historically prioritised the development of oil over gas. (Unlike gas, crude oil is extremely expensive to use in large-scale power generation and instead is refined into petrol and diesel).

“Look at what’s happened with Qatar – imagine if we had gone down that route,” Mr Kachikwu says, referring to the wealthy emirate which has become the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas.

In Nigeria, by contrast, a significant amount of gas – some 12 percent – is simply burnt off because the country’s oilfields lack the technology to capture it. Elsewhere, gas production is held back because poor infrastructure means it can’t be stored or transported to households or power stations.

“Right now there is a lot of stranded gas that is not even getting to the market,”, according to Mr Kachikwu. “The infrastructure gap is huge.”

To tackle the problem, the Nigerian Government now plans to ask the international oil companies operating in Nigeria to provide expertise and funding to develop the country’s gas.

Mr Kachikwu says the need to invest in gas is especially important as global demand for oil is expected to peak in the next 20 to 30 years, as the electric car revolution gathers pace. In addition, Nigerian ministers have also said that they want to use the country’s largely unexploited coal stocks to provide up to 30 percent of the nation’s energy mix.

With abundant natural resources, Nigeria is in an enviable position. But to solve its energy poverty crisis once and for all it has to act now.

World Bank tells Zambia to improve electricity access

World Bank tells Zambia to improve electricity access

By | Developing Countries | No Comments

The World Bank has told Zambia that it needs to improve energy access if it is move up its Ease of Doing Business rankings.

The index measures a country’s attractiveness for businesses, comparing economies with one another based on factors including: rule-of-law, regulation, availability of credit, and infrastructure.

The World Bank has been critical of the country’s slow progress in electrification, highlighting it as one of the reason for Zambia’s mediocre performance in its index.

The southern African nation is blessed with hydropower potential, but has struggled to develop this sector due to a lack of available finance.

Recent studies suggest that the country possesses 6,000 MW of untapped hydropower, but there is still 11 million Zambians living without electricity.

Despite the World Bank’s criticism, it has not been forthcoming with finance for energy projects in Zambia, with no power projects in development or construction in the country.

Furthermore, its recent decision to pull out of the $13 billion Inga 3 hydroelectric dam in Democratic Republic of Congo demonstrates its growing reluctance to finance large energy projects.

Zambia’s situation highlights a common problem faced by developing countries: a lack of available of finance for energy projects. The World Bank should not be criticising countries, such as Zambia, about their poor access to electricity and then withhold the necessary funds to tackle the problem.

Zambia has the potential to transform into a modern, industrialised economy, but the World Bank needs to stop preventing the country from harnessing its energy potential.