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The UK Government should only agree to the World Bank’s demand for more money under certain conditions

The UK Government should only agree to the World Bank’s demand for more money under certain conditions

By | Bangladesh, Developing Countries, India, Nigeria | No Comments

At its annual meeting in Washington this month, the World Bank will be demanding more money from British taxpayers, as a part of planned increase to its capital budget. The US is already highly sceptical, and we believe the UK Government should only agree if certain conditions are met.

First, we have to be sure that our money will be spent wisely.

World Bank rules which privilege renewable energy at the expense of conventional energy projects do little to help with poverty. Developing countries can only build up their industry, create jobs and improve healthcare if they have a foundation of reliable power. As Indian Railways Minister Piyush Goyal put it last year “Every country needs a baseload. I cannot tell my country. ‘guys, it’s 6pm in the evening, shut everything down because the solar has gone off.”

Second, we should insist that World Bank spending supports British trade as well as aid

Key Commonwealth partners like India, Nigeria and Bangladesh have populations in the tens of millions without access to reliable power. They are desperate to use their coal and gas resources to bring electricity to their people, and they want to do so in the cleanest possible way. Technology like high efficiency low-emissions coal plants, which British manufacturers specialise in, can help them, providing a crucial transitional bridge as we move towards a low-carbon economy. Yet under current World Bank rules it is not eligible for funding. We should insist on an end to these restrictions, helping millions access lifesaving electricity while supporting British exports.

The world’s poorest countries did not create the problem of climate change. They should not be made to pay for the mistakes of developed countries by forgoing access to the low-cost, reliable power that we used to industrialise. When the UK delegation travels to Washington this month, this is the case we need them to make.

Rural Indian community think solar energy is a " waste of time", they are demanding access to the national grid

Rural Indian community thinks solar energy is a “waste of time”, instead demanding access to the national grid

By | India | No Comments

Governments, NGOs and green groups, despite their best intentions, often fail to listen to the wishes of those they are trying to help, particularly when it comes to energy.

A recent example came from a rural Indian village in the state of Kerala who have rejected offers of solar panels, instead asking for connections to the national grid.

Last June, the India’s state of Kerala announced that it was first fully electrified Indian state. An amazing achievement until reports emerged that rural communities continue to live without modern energy access, despite being situated just 60 km from the major port city of Kochi.

To solve this problem, the state government originally gave the villagers solar panels- in the hope this would be enough to meet their energy needs. However, the villagers were not impressed, pointing out that the canopy would be too dense to let in sufficient light to generate electricity.

Previous trials saw 75 families receive solar panels that broke soon after. For these villages, solar panels are a”waste of time” and completely unsuited to their circumstances.

India has made leaps and bounds in the energy sector, following a concerted effort to provide 24/7 power by 2022. Since 2000, the Indian government has brought energy access to half a billion people- the most impressive electrification campaign in history. The vast majority through grid connection using fossil fuels.

Yet, despite all its successes, 239 million still live with little or no access to reliable energy. This small community is just one of thousands across
India who rely kerosene, charcoal and cow dung for their energy needs.

Solar has its place in providing rudimentary energy access, like mobile phone charging, but more often it can only provide a couple hours of electricity a day. Greater access to the grid will make sure that people are able to grow their businesses, power their hospitals, and allow their children to study in the light.

India goes further and faster than any other country in improving access to electricity

India goes further and faster than any other country in improving access to electricity

By | India | No Comments

The influential International Energy Agency (IEA) has found that India is making bigger strides on energy access than any other country.

The IEA’s annual World Energy Outlook, published this week, is regarded as the most authoritative source of global energy statistics and predictions.

This year’s edition found that India has provided half a billion people with electricity since the year 2000, more than any other country. Not only that, it predicts that India will have achieved access for all by the early 2020s.

So what has India been doing so well?

First, it’s been rolling out grid power to communities without electricity, rather than rely on off-grid solutions like rooftop solar panels. Indian ministers have been very clear that a power system which only provides electricity during the hours between dawn and dusk is not good enough for their citizens and so have prioritised reliable grid power.

Second, India has made full use of its large domestic coal resources, which the IEA says remains the fuel of choice in developing countries looking to satisfy fast-growing energy demand.

According to the IEA , coal is popular in countries like India because it is “inexpensive, scalable, relatively secure, easily storable and, in the case of domestic coal, brings employment benefits for local workers.” A similar dynamic has played out in coal-rich Indonesia, which has also made huge recent progress on energy access.

The reality is that developing countries with coal are going to use it to bring power to their people. Where the developed world can help is in backing new technologies which can help them do it cleanly. This is the only way to meet our obligations to both future generations and the global poor.

4 reasons why the World Bank is wrong about off-grid solar

4 reasons why the World Bank is wrong about off-grid solar

By | Developing Countries, India, Kenya | 4 Comments

Off-grid home solar systems are often held up as the answer to energy poverty in rural Africa. Small-scale solar systems, like a rooftop solar panel connected to a battery, are relatively cheap to install and can supply power for basic amenities like lighting, radio and charging a mobile phone.

The World Bank admitted in a 2017 blog that “the major downside of off-grid solar is that the relatively low amount of supplied electricity limits what those systems can do for the productive use of electricity.”

“However,” they continue, “electricity usage patterns in newly electrified areas in rural Africa are often such that solar is able to meet those demands.”

In other words, the poorest don’t need much electricity, so we only have to give them the bare minimum.

Here are 4 reasons why this muddled thinking is completely wrong.

1. Massive amounts of energy are needed to transform Africa’s rural economies

Africa currently spends $35 billion a year IMPORTING food from richer countries. This is because African farms lack the powered equipment and infrastructure to compete with the rest of the world.

As Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank put it in a recent speech:

“Africa cannot develop in the dark. Farmers cannot store food, irrigation systems cannot function and food agribusiness and industries cannot operate for lack of power.”

Without a revolution in African agriculture – which in turn requires large energy inputs – Africa’s rural poor will stay poor.

2. The benefits of “leapfrogging” have been wildly overstated

Leapfrogging is the argument that poor countries can use technology to bypass certain stages of development. For example, using drones to fly medicine “leapfrogs” the need to build decent roads, while mobile phones “leapfrog” the need for a fixed telecoms infrastructure.

The same argument is made about energy, where off-grid solar supposedly bypasses the need for power stations and pylons.

But as recent paper by Harvard Kenny School’s Calestous Juma argues, “leapfrogging industrial development is not an option”.

Juma’s point is that while it may benefit individuals to have access to mobile phones, to create a tech industry there is no getting away from the need for fiber optic broadband and mobile phone masts. It’s the same with energy. The ability to charge a phone using off-grid solar is better than nothing, but you can’t use off-grid solar to power a mobile phone factory.

Not only that, large complex infrastructure projects like power stations give Africans the engineering skills they need to create future prosperity. Kenya’s geothermal industry, for example, has spurred a whole generation of expert Kenyan engineers.

3. Solar panels are cheap to install, but hard to maintain

Solar equipment requires regular maintenance to work properly. India’s experience is instructive. A massive government-sponsored drive to electrify rural villages in Maharashtra ended in failure when villagers found they couldn’t fix the solar panels when they broke down.

“Most of the equipment is either stolen or not working,” said the project manager. “Now we have decided that a majority of these villages will be electrified in the conventional way.”

4. Given a choice, most people would prefer the grid

Something often overlooked in this debate, are the preferences of Africans themselves.

Yet polling evidence from Ghana and Tanzania shows that when people who aren’t on the grid but do have other forms of electricity are asked if they’d like a grid connection, a clear majority say yes.

It’s completely unacceptable that we live in a world where the average American fridge consumes 9 times more power than the average Ethiopian. But by pushing off-grid solar as an alternative to grid electrification that’s how things are likely to stay.

India is set to bring universal energy access to population by 2020s says new report

India is set to bring universal energy access to population by 2020s says new report

By | Developing Countries, India | No Comments

India is on track to bring universal energy access to its population by 2030, according to the latest development report from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The IEA is a Paris-based energy research organisation. Its annual World Energy Access report documents progress and best-practice for solving energy poverty.

The report estimates that half a billion Indians have gained access to electricity since 2000, largely due to the expansion of its fossil fuel generating capacity and grid network.

Over the past few years, India’s government has faced increasing criticism from Western green groups over its use of coal generation to drive its economic growth and its ambitious electrification targets.

In April India’s then Energy Minister, Piyush Goyal, reiterated that coal will “continue to remain our mainstay and there was no such agreement in Paris that will stop us from continuing to encourage coal-based generation of power”.

India has proven the effectiveness of this energy strategy, with the country set to be fully electrified by the mid-2020s.

This approach shows other developing countries what’s possible, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa where 600 million are predicted to remain without electricity, even by 2030.

For the world’s poorest countries, a pragmatic energy mix is essential, but the benefits are enormous. The World Bank estimates that delivering electricity to those living in energy poverty would create 1.5 trillion additional productive hours, save $28 billion in energy expenditures, and enable nearly 300 million school-aged children to study longer.

India has shown the world that leaps in development rely on a foundation of reliable and affordable electricity.

Why electricity matters in their own words: the grieving father

By | India | No Comments

Dadasaheb Vidhate is 45 and lives in a village in rural Maharashtra, 150 miles east of Mumbai. Four years ago, he tragically lost three of his children when an overturned kerosene lamp burnt down the family’s thatched roof hut.

“Neighbors rushed to help douse the fire, but we couldn’t save anyone,” Vidhate says. “My children were burned alive before my eyes.”

With no electricity, the one-room mud shelter only had a single kerosene lamp for light. This is not uncommon for India, where 240 million people still lack access to reliable power. Vidhate believes that if their hut had been connected to the grid, the fire would never have happened. He and his wife Anita only survived because they were sleeping outside that night to guard their cow and goats.

An estimated 1.3 billion people around the world still depend on kerosene lamps for illumination. Not only does this present a terrible fire risk, the fumes from the lamps are a silent killer, equivalent to smoking four packets of cigarettes a day. Respiratory illnesses like bronchitis, pneumonia and lung cancer affect tens of millions of people who are forced to rely on kerosene for light.

The lamps are also expensive to run, with the average person in Rwanda spending up to 15 percent of their income on kerosene and candles, according to the World Bank.

Compare that to a single 100W incandescent light bulb: no fire risk, no fumes, 145 times brighter than a kerosene lamp, able to provide 20,000 hours of light before needing to be replaced. It’s yet another example of how electricity access really is a matter of life or death.

Indian PM blasts World Bank for refusing to back new hydropower

By | India | No Comments

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has attacked the World Bank for trying to stall a massive new energy project in India.

The Sardar Sarovar project, now the world’s second largest concrete dam, has taken an astonishing 60 years to complete. It will provide irrigation water to over 3000 drought-prone villages in Gujarat, while supplying much-needed electricity to three neighbouring states.

Mr Modi made the comments at a ceremony dedicating the dam to the people of India. The World Bank had previously withdrawn a loan for the project, citing environmental concerns. This led Mr Modi to argue that the Bank “did all it could to ensure India does not have such a mega project.”

“But”, he added, “India too had decided that World Bank or no World Bank, it would build the Sardar Sarovar Dam.”

The World Bank’s energy policies have come under increasing scrutiny, with recent figures showing that a UN target of electricity for all by 2030 is likely to be missed.

The Bank has a strong preference for funding wind and solar projects and imposes tight restrictions on loans for fossil fuels. However, India’s influential Coal and Railways Minister Piyush Goyal has ridiculed suggestions that India could rely on intermittent renewables alone:

“Europe and America and Australia have messed up the world and the planet, and they’re saying to us, we’re sorry but you Indians can only have power for eight hours a day. The rest of the time you must live in darkness.”

But while India, one of the world’s fastest growing economies, can afford to go without help from the World Bank, other countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, still rely on these international loans to fund big power projects.

Without a change of heart from the Bank, millions will continue to be denied the reliable power they need for a chance to escape poverty.

New study: despite subsidies, solar powered technologies are not selling well among India’s rural poor

By | India | No Comments

Off-grid solar technology is often held up as a quick and easy way to bring electricity to the world’s poor. But a study from India shows that for many it remains too expensive and unreliable.

Currently, 1.2 billion people around the world still lack access to modern energy. For light they are forced to rely on dim kerosene lamps which are one of the major causes of fire and lung disease in the developing world. For heat and cooking they have to burn traditional biomass like wood, dung and charcoal, forcing women and girls to spend long hours fetching fuel when they could be in school or work.

Many say that the answer is to provide the world’s energy poor with sun-powered technology such as solar lanterns, solar hot water heaters and rooftop solar panels. In the 1990s the Indian government even set up a network of shops to sell these products at subsidised rates. But new evidence has questioned the wisdom of this approach.

The study, from Washington-based think tank the Center for Global Development, looked in detail at India’s Solar Shops programme. The authors found that in most cases, the shops in each district were only recording a few thousand sales a year, despite serving markets containing millions of potential customers without electricity. With a quarter of India’s 1.3 billion people still living without power, sales should have been vastly higher.

So why is this? According to the authors, there are three big problems with solar technology, which have all contributed to limit its popularity among India’s rural poor.

The first challenge is that despite the subsidies, the upfront costs of installing a new solar system are still prohibitive for many people. The second, related problem is that much of this technology requires regular maintenance and repairs, which can be difficult to access for people living outside cities. Third, many people would prefer to save their money and wait for a connection to the country’s rapidly expanding electricity grid.

This is because a grid connection can supply far more power than a rooftop solar system, and crucially the electricity is available whenever needed. By contrast, the batteries supplied with a typical home solar system can only store enough power for a few hours a day.

Unfortunately, this study provides yet more evidence that there are no easy shortcuts when it comes to delivering modern levels of energy access to the world’s poorest people. Fortunately, the Indian government seem to have taken note and are now concentrating more effort on rolling out the grid.

US pledges to support smart grid electrification in India

By | India | No Comments

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to office on a promise to bring reliable power to all of India’s citizens. The country is currently home to the world’s largest population of people without access to electricity, some 240 million according to the World Bank.

Lack of power is costing the country 7 percent of badly-needed economic growth each year, meaning fewer jobs and lost opportunities to escape poverty.

In the large northern state of Uttar Pradesh for example, sunset in winter occurs at around 5:30pm. This makes it difficult for children living in villages without their power to do homework, study for exams and progress through school.

So it’s welcome news that the US has now pledged millions of dollars to help India extend its power grid, ahead of a major summit between Prime Minister Modi and President Donald Trump.

The package of support will see US$7.5 million ploughed into “smart grid” research, a technology which India has shown a major interest in acquiring.
Smart grids have been described as an ‘internet for electricity’. A smart grid uses digital technology to track electricity consumption in real time, making it easier for the power companies to manage the balance between supply and demand in the system. In turn this reduces the chance of blackouts, a severe problem in India that suffered the biggest blackout in history in 2012.

The US and India have also agreed to work closely on developing clean coal technology, which India has said it needs in order to deliver its part of the Paris agreement on climate change.

India’s government is determined to bring electricity to all its people, so that hundreds of millions can have the chance of a better life. Whichever country sells them the technology to do it will help tackle poverty and and gain a huge manufacturing boost into the bargain.

“Either give us electricity or we will leave.”

By | India | No Comments

Lisari is a village in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state. Seven years ago 450 families moved into three new developments in the village, but the people who sold them the land didn’t provide a grid connection, and seven years on they still don’t have electricity.

This has had a devastating impact on every aspect of daily life.

When she arrived in Lisari, Ruksana, 30, brought all the electrical equipment a home would need: a fridge, lighting, a TV and fans – essential in India’s searing heat. But the fans lie idle and the fridge is currently being used as a cupboard to store her clothes.

Mohd Sabir, 42, told the Times of India that his three-year-old son died of fever and vomiting in the searing summer heat. Mohd Mukammil, 26, says that his wife, left him, telling him that he had to choose between the village and her.

Education has also suffered, with Sahiba, 16, telling reporters: “I will have to stay up at night to prepare for my board exams, but in the absence of electricity I have to manage with torches and candles.”

Now the residents have put for sale signs outside their homes and are threatening to leave.

Sadly, these experiences are not unusual in a country in which around 300 million people still lack access to electricity. It’s why India’s government has made power for all a top priority.

For the residents of Lisari, a connection to the grid can’t come a moment too soon. Lives, marriages and jobs all depend on it.