This is the second installment of a group blog by Yale students.  Multi-disciplinary and across the university, this blog aims to bring you different perspectives on a common problem.

This week’s topic: Some 1.5 billion people around the world live without electricity, another 1 billion people have unreliable power, and nearly half the global population relies on unhealthy and polluting wood, charcoal, and dung stoves for cooking. If energy services are delivered to them in the same fossil-intensive mix that has fueled the developed world, the increase in carbon emissions will be overwhelming and will negate any reductions to which developed countries agree. However, access to energy is needed to lift these people out of poverty and improve their quality of life. How can we spread the benefits of energy to those in developing countries while protecting the planet we share?

see these stories for reference: “Fighting Poverty Can Save Energy, Nicaragua Study Shows” and “The Solvable Problem of Energy Poverty”)

Next topic: The World’s Aging Nuclear Power Fleet


Small Scale Clean Energy Technology

Nathaniel Loewentheil, JD & Master’s Environmental Management, ‘14

The practical challenges of electricity provision on a global scale are formidable, not least because the needed investments in industrial and transmission infrastructure are so great. Moreover, from a planner’s perspective, solutions to energy poverty raise difficult trade-offs between growth and sustainability. Because the vast majority of the world’s electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels, more energy means more carbon; even the rosiest of projections on global energy use acknowledge that increasing energy consumption among the poor is, not surprisingly, bad for climate.

Luckily, the most realistic solutions to energy poverty will neatly sidestep the dilemmas faced by policymakers. Like the rapid adoption of cell-phone technology in the place of landlines in Africa, energy production has the potential to leapfrog government-dependent infrastructure investments through the adoption of small-scale clean energy technology, avoiding issues of unreliable governance, uncertain aid flows and, most importantly, the replication of a carbon-dependent production model.

Take Access: Wind, for example. Three friends designed a wind turbine that can be built from spare car parts and radio batteries, literally. The AW team, currently focused in Kenya, has developed a two-day program in which they teach local entrepreneurs how to locally source materials and parts, install and maintain the turbines and sell the energy they generate; the turbines have an open license, allowing entrepreneurs to continue spreading the technology through informal networks. It is these kinds of initiatives, driven by private-market actors and small-scale nonprofits, that hold out the best hope for the provision of clean, cheap sustainable energy. Such approaches should be encouraged through targeted grants, institutional infrastructure to support social entrepreneurship and, where possible, friendly governance regimes.


EGG-Energy Gets there First – Small-Scale Energy Service

Michael Coren, Environmental Economics, ‘11

Power lines crisscross the Tanzanian countryside passing within a few kilometers of about 80% of the population. Yet only a fraction can access that energy which flows to the largest customers in this impoverished African country. Most still rely on kerosene or wood for their light and heat. A start-up called EGG energy (Engineering Global Growth) has launched an power subscription service to solve this problem: delivering electricity to the homes of billions in the developing world without it.

“Governments and NGOs that we’ve seen always build from the top down,” says Jaime Yang, CEO of EGG-energy, who completed a PhD in quantum computation from MIT before taking on this challenge. “We think we can start small at the foundation, and get people starting to use power at cheaper rates and then move up from there to meet big [energy] providers in the middle.”

EGG-energy ferries a fleet of rechargeable batteries on the back of motorbikes to a distribution center for its 300 subscribers near Dar Es Salaam, the country’s largest city. Electricians outfit subscribers’ homes and businesses with high-efficiency LED bulbs, wiring and switches, along with a service that swaps out depleted batteries. Over the next 18 months, EGG-energy hopes it can expand to eight distribution centers and generate power from renewable wind and solar. Within five years, it intends to reach 100,000 subscribers.

The $33-per-year service is already changing lives. Surveys of subscribers have found that families virtually stopped using dangerous kerosene to light their homes, saved money on energy, and some launched businesses with their new batteries.

Now EGG-energy is looking for the financing to scale. “If we’re able to do it right,” says Yang, “we can design something that we franchise out like McDonalds. We can go far, fast.”


MicroConsignment: How to Go Green with less $Green

Caroline Howe Environmental Engineering / Mechanical Engineering, ‘07 and Ann Rogan, International Development ‘06

In India, where half the country’s economic and educational activities grind to a halt when the sun goes down, solar has been seen as a solution to provide lighting for the energy poor. Even as solar lighting becomes more available and affordable, India has struggled to get these systems to those in need. The barrier is no longer technological; it is financial. Consumers struggle to pay the full cost upfront – being used to paying little for kerosene or candles.
Solar lanterns are often too inexpensive for a micro-loan and the majority of manufacturers do not offer credit to distributors, meaning only the wealthiest organizations can afford to offer products on consignment to consumers, collecting payments daily or weekly.

On small a scale, however, some organizations are proving the power of microconsignment to increase solar adoption. In Rajasthan, WORLD has trained small groups of female villagers in the marketing, sales, and maintenance of a wide range of solar consumer products. Together, the women evaluate potential customers’ ability to repay, with group evaluation providing more accurate loan evaluation.

In West Bengal, ONergy’s Renewable Energy Centers showcase a range of products to meet consumer needs; village residents there have been trained by these companies in product maintenance. Local micro-finance providers extend bundled loans to the centers, allowing them to offer products on micro-consignment to consumers, who pay daily for their products. This creates jobs for those who manage the centers, and collect the daily fees.

These models allow consumers to not only get the products that they want, but get the reliability that they need, and the payment terms that they can afford.


Food and Fuel: Local Solutions Solve Both

Michael Parks, Master of Environmental Management F&ES,

Given that 1.6 billion of the world’s people still lack electricity, it should come as little surprise that most discussions of energy poverty focus on the need to expand access to basic energy services. Yet developing countries also face challenges supplying power to those already connected to the grid. In particular, many developing countries’ reliance on foreign oil imports make them vulnerable to increases in world oil prices. At the same time, oil prices have a direct impact on prices for commodity food staples.

In regions that depend on both food and oil imports (e.g. sub-Saharan Africa) an increase in world oil prices can thus have a disastrous dual effect. While struggling to pay more for energy, the world’s poorest countries must also pay more for food.

The global community can address the dangers of the current food-energy nexus by promoting diverse energy production sources located within developing countries. Increasing domestic energy production would allow countries to reduce their reliance on foreign fuel imports. At the same time, distributed energy production has the potential to reduce the developing world’s reliance on food imports. By expanding electricity to rural areas, countries can slow rural to urban migration and ensure the continued existence of domestic food producers.

For the developing world, energy security is food security. We must recognize that “feeding the world’s energy poor” means more than extending access to a luxury. In today’s world, it means providing a basic requirement for the fulfillment of human potential.