Search Results for 'Rural Development'

Community-​​Based Electric Micro-​​Grids Can Contribute to Rural Development: Evidence from Kenya

We clarify the mechanisms through which rural electrification can contribute to rural development. Through a detailed case study analysis of a community-based electric micro-grid in rural Kenya, we demonstrate that access to electricity enables the use of electric equipment and tools by small and micro enterprises, resulting in significant improvement in productivity per worker (100–200% depending on the task at hand) and in a corresponding growth in income levels in the order of 20–70%, depending on the product made. Access to electricity simultaneously enables and improves the delivery of social and business services from a wide range of village-level infrastructure (e.g., schools, markets, and water pumps) while improving the productivity of agricultural activities. We find that increased productivity and growth in revenues within the context of better delivery of social and business support services contribute to achieving higher social and economic benefits for rural communities. We also demonstrate that when local electricity users have an ability to charge and enforce cost-reflective tariffs and when electricity consumption is closely linked to productive uses that generate incomes, cost recovery is feasible.

Methodology for Monitoring Sustainable Development of Isolated Microgrids in Rural Communities

Abstract: Microgrids are a rapidly evolving and increasingly common form of local power generation used to serve the needs of both rural and urban communities. In this paper, we present a methodology to evaluate the evolution of the sustainability of stand-alone microgrids projects. The proposed methodology considers a composite sustainability index (CSI) that includes both positive and negative impacts of the operation of the microgrid in a given community. The CSI is constructed along environmental, social, economic and technical dimensions of the microgrid. The sub-indexes of each dimension are aggregated into the CSI via a set of adaptive weighting factors, which indicate the relative importance of the corresponding dimension in the sustainability goals. The proposed methodology aims to be a support instrument for policy makers especially when defining sound corrective measures to guarantee the sustainability of small, isolated microgrid projects. To validate the performance of the proposed methodology, a microgrid installed in the northern part of Chile (Huatacondo) has been used as a benchmarking project.

Kirubi, Charles

Gathu Kirubi, brings strong analytical skills and demonstrated management experience cutting across renewable energy, rural development and micro-finance. Aside from holding a PhD in Energy & Rural Development from the University of California Berkeley, a premier institution in the field, Kirubi brings to Solar Transitions over 10 years  experience in innovation and leadership in designing and managing rural energy projects in East Africa. In 2001, Kirubi won the prestigious Ashden Award in recognition of "leadership and innovation in pioneering the start-up of a revolving fund credit scheme that supports schools and micro-enterprises with energy efficient wood stoves in Kenya. In addition to consulting on energy and microfinance with a number of organizations including UNDP, Arc Finance, E+Co, and Faulu-Kenya, Kirubi is also a Lecturer at the Environmental Sciences Department, Kenyatta University, Nairobi,where he teaches courses on energy, technology, and sustainable development. His main interests in the project are the linkages between rural access to electricity and income generating activities, including small and medium size enterprises.

Noah Kittner co-​​authors “Hydropower threatens peace in Myanmar — but it doesn’t have to”

March 22, 2017 
For the article link in Nikkei Asia Review, click here.

Hydropower threatens peace in Myanmar -- but it doesn't have to

Screen Shot 2017-10-31 at 11.28.23 PM

Dialogue, transparency and foreign support could help rebuild local trust

Myanmar faces a critical moment for investment decision-making. The Barack Obama administration's move to lift sanctions on the Southeast Asian country has opened up new opportunities. But the moves that are made today will send political and economic ripples into the future, and the international community must act responsibly. China wants to finance a 3,600-megawatt hydropower dam called Myitsone -- one of the largest in Southeast Asia -- with the goal of directing most of the power back to China. This project, however, could compromise peace negotiations between rebel forces in the northern state of Kachin and the Myanmar government. Construction of the dam stalled in 2011 and presents a critical test for Aung San Suu Kyi's governing National League for Democracy party. Villagers in Kachin have expressed extreme opposition to the megaproject, which raises severe environmental concerns and threatens livelihoods. The issue is particularly complex due to geopolitical factors: lucrative financing from China, pressure to improve human rights from the U.S. and international community, and free trade deals with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Proceeding with the dam would diminish the authority of Myanmar to stand up to China and would exacerbate ethnic tensions that already run high between local communities and the national Myanmar government. Past promises from Chinese companies to share the benefits of hydropower development have only displaced villagers and destroyed local livelihoods in Myanmar. This case is no different. A resolute stance against Myitsone could empower local communities -- and such empowerment remains critical to developing peace and stability. Engagement with key stakeholders is necessary for a sustainable and peaceful 21st-century power system that works for the people. National electrification Currently, hydropower planning is a source of conflict, with local villagers excluded from the decision-making process. With the right approach, though, this could become an opportunity to build peace and supply sustainable energy to local communities. First, a sincere and open dialogue that engages key local stakeholders is necessary for reconciliation and building trust. Secondly, thorough environmental impact assessments with the involvement of local stakeholders would go a long way to improving transparency. Finally, the international community has the power and responsibility to support Myanmar with technical assistance and state-of-the-art science, encouraging bottom-up, small-scale hydropower and distributed renewable energy development. Electricity access initiatives led by multilateral development banks call for an aggressive push toward 100% electrification by 2030. Currently, only around 35% of Myanmar has access to power, which in many cases does not meet the needs of citizens. The 100% target could be achieved in a cost-effective manner with local resources, including the solar- and small-hydro-based mini-grids that are rapidly emerging across the country.
"Free" has a price For the past three years, in collaboration with Chulalongkorn University, we have held a series of stakeholder meetings in Bangkok with current and potential investors regarding the prospects for independent power producers, or IPPs, throughout Myanmar. These workshops have shed light on the IPP predicament facing the country and its neighbors. The "free power and free share" model -- under which Myanmar is entitled to free electricity and stakes in such projects -- fails to deliver prosperity, as fair mechanisms for allocating the benefits are not institutionalized. Often, local communities do not receive electricity and lose out on alternative investments in energy resources that require less transmission and distribution infrastructure. Banks play a key role in driving such agreements. Until now, IPPs have tried to maximize exports to neighboring countries and minimize financial risk in emerging markets like Myanmar. The lack of credibility among Myanmar's power utilities enables neighboring countries to take advantage of lax regulations and opportunities for lucrative investment at the expense of local villagers. As the Myanmar government often cannot grant concessions to cross-border IPPs due to a high risk of credit default, the benefits remain unrealized in many cases. Most of the hydropower development proposals in the Salween river basin during the last decade have not been built. A few large-scale cross-border IPPs currently operate in tributaries of the Irrawaddy River, including Shweli1, which has installed capacity of 600MW, and Dapein1, which has 240MW. While the electricity generated there is mainly exported to China, the IPP agreement grants 10-15% of total project generation and shareholdings for free to Myanmar. The conventional wisdom is that "free power, free share" remains a prerequisite for concessions by Myanmar. But this concept is inherently flawed. For example, our field survey in Shweli1 makes it clear that 15% of generated power is provided for free to the state-owned mining company and military camp, while neighboring towns must purchase electricity at 4-8 cents per kilowatt-hour and villages must re-import electricity from China at 20 cents per kilowatt-hour. These tariffs are higher than tariffs on the grid. To make things worse, the "free" benefits in Myanmar fuel conflict by compounding inequality among civilian groups. One example of this is the Mong Ton dam in Shan State, promoted by the previous military government. Nongovernmental conservation groups held an anti-dam campaign "to urge the government as well as Chinese and Thai investors to immediately stop plans to build dams, as this is causing conflict and directly undermining the peace process," as Burma Rivers Network put it. Salween Watch, a civil society watchdog, sees the construction of dams as "one of the strategies used by the military regime to gain foreign support and funding for its ongoing war effort" while viewing dams as "a strategy to increase and maintain its control over areas of ethnic land after many decades of brutal conflict." With the democratically elected NLD government having taken power in 2015, Myanmar has an opportunity to escape past nightmares and begin to distribute benefits equitably. Certainly, monetary compensation and free power seems appealing to local communities in need of electrification and economic development. However, as the NLD rightly states, it is much more critical to secure livelihoods and the environment by pursuing sustainable development practices. Villagers depend on income from natural resources, including forest and fisheries products. Our field survey regarding the Mong Ton hydropower development shows that local villagers cite deforestation, river flows and flood damage as their top dam-related concerns. Investigations into the effects of dam construction are critical undertakings that must become part of the hydropower decision-making and planning process. Without them, there can be no trust, and a strong local backlash against the influential, military-tied Ministry of Interior is inevitable. Start with science In the past, Myanmar's government glorified dams while environmental groups vilified them. Neither stance was grounded in rigorous scientific evaluations, and each side's argument fed the other's distrust -- creating resentment and hampering dialogue. To move forward, we recommend establishing regulations on environmental impact assessments that include public disclosures. Building reliable institutions to enforce such rules poses a challenge, but doing so could help to bridge the gap between groups and restore trust -- something that has been lost in Kachin and Shan states since 2011, as recent flare-ups in violence demonstrate. The timing is urgent. The peace process remains on the cusp of an agreement. Rural electrification efforts are underway, but we know that distributed mini-grids from local solar and hydropower resources can be built and deployed faster than megaprojects, supporting peace efforts. The opportunity cost of inaction is high. Continuing the Myitsone project as a concession to China, meanwhile, could undo half a decade of peace negotiations and further damage the environment while negatively impacting villagers and their livelihoods. In short, increased transparency and local engagement could usher Myanmar toward peace and prosperity. At the same time, it is up to the international community to expand the country's intellectual and institutional capacity. We can support Myanmar's infrastructure development not only through hard and soft loans, but also with technical assistance. Myanmar needs environment- and people-friendly hydropower planning. Only then will the projects support peace-building rather than conflict. Noah Kittner is an NSF graduate research fellow and doctoral student in the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley. Kensuke Yamaguchi is a project assistant professor at the University of Tokyo Policy Alternatives Research Institute. This was developed in conjunction with the Program on Conflict, Climate Change, and Green Development in the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory. For the article link in Nikkei Asia Review, click here.

Renewables will give more people access to electricity than coal, says IEA

Around the world, more than a billion people still lack access to electricity. This number is shrinking, down by one third since 2000, despite rising population levels, according to an International Energy Agency (IEA) special report on energy access, published today. The report says that while coal has supplied nearly half of the progress from 2000 to date, its role is set to decline “dramatically”. This is because renewables are becoming cheaper and because the hardest-to-reach people are in remote, rural areas where off-grid solutions offer the lowest cost. The report shows the number of people without access to electricity will shrink by another third by 2030, with 60% of these gains supplied by renewables. Furthermore, if the world commits to providing universal access by 2030, then renewables would bridge 90% of the remaining gap, the IEA says.

Recent progress

There have been spectacular gains in providing access to electricity this century, cutting the number without it from 1.7 billion in 2000 to 1.1 billion in 2016, the IEA says. Most of this progress has been in Asia, as the charts below show (blue, yellow and green lines and columns). India has led the way, with 500 million gaining access to electricity. Sub-Saharan Africa now has the majority of people still without access, at 600 million, an increase over the past 15 years due to rising populations. Recently, this number peaked and started to fall (red line and columns).

Fuelling gains

The rate of progress has been accelerating, the IEA says, rising from 62 million people gaining electricity access each year during 2000-2012 to 103 million during 2012-2015. Coal has been the main source of this new supply, generating 45% of the electricity used by people gaining access for the first time between 2000 and 2016 (purple pictograms in the chart, below). There has also been a growing role for renewable sources of electricity, the IEA notes, with particularly rapid growth in decentralised off-grid access (dark green pictograms). From 2000-2012, renewables provided 28% of new access to electricity. This figure rose to 34% during 2012-2016. There are regional differences in the sources of new electricity connections. In India, for example, coal generated 75% of new supplies, against 20% for renewables. (This pattern is expected to reverse, see below.) Sub-Saharan Africa has had the most rapid recent improvement in providing electricity access, rising from 9m new connections per year during 2000-2012 to 26m per year during 2012-2016. Most of this acceleration is due to renewables, responsible for 70% of new access since 2012, whereas coal has not supplied any new connections in this period.

Future growth

Looking ahead, the IEA says the number of people without access to electricity will fall to around 700 million by 2030, under its central scenario. Asia will reach close to 100% access to electricity by 2030 (lilac, yellow and green lines and columns, below) and India will meet its aim of universal access in the early 2020s (blue). The vast majority of the 700 million still without electricity in 2030 will be in sub-Saharan Africa. Note that this chart reflects the IEA’s central “New Policies Scenario”. This includes existing policies plus announced policies and intentions. It also reflects assumptions about the costs of different technologies and the rates of population and electricity demand growth.

Growing grid

Around the world, the share of new electricity access supplied by renewables will nearly double to 60%, up from 34% over the past five years (green, blue and yellow columns, below). This pattern is even more extreme in India, where the share of new electricity from renewables will triple to 60% Coal’s role in providing electricity access “declines dramatically”, the IEA says, providing power to 16% of those who gain access over the next 14 years. This compares to 45% during 2000-2016. Note that the IEA has been criticised for repeatedly underestimating the rate of growth of renewables, particularly solar. This makes its outlook, in which renewables supply most new electricity access, even more striking.

Role of renewables

If the world wants to meet the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of providing universal energy access for all by 2030, then 90% of the additional electricity connections over and above the IEA’s central scenario will come from renewables, its report suggests. This reflects the fact that the hardest-to-reach populations are those least likely to benefit from grid expansion. For these people, decentralised systems, predominantly supplied by solar (yellow columns, below), offer the “lowest cost pathway” to electricity access. The report, for the first time, uses geospatial analysis, at a resolution of one square kilometre, to assess the most cost-effective ways to deliver electricity access to sub-Saharan Africa, whether through grid or off-grid solutions. This analysis takes into account existing and planned infrastructure, technology developments, local resources, population density and likely demand. It is this new analysis that suggests decentralised renewables will be the cheapest way to provide electricity access for sub-Saharan Africa’s rural poor. Note that research suggests Africa could more than meet its electricity needs, with renewable sources alone. The IEA puts the cost of providing electricity access to everyone on the planet at an additional $391bn over the period to 2030. This would nearly double total spending, adding to the $324bn already expected to be spent under the IEA’s central scenario. The energy access-focused SDG also includes provision of clean cooking services. The IEA says this can best be met using liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). As a result, providing universal energy access would increase CO2 emissions by 70m tonnes. This would be more than offset by savings of 165MtCO2 equivalent due to reduced methane and nitrous oxide from biomass used for cooking. The report says:

Achieving universal energy access is not in conflict with achieving climate objectives. The relatively small increase in total primary energy demand and the central role of renewables in our Energy for All Case means that global energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions increase by just 70 million tonnes (Mt) relative to the New Policies Scenario in 2030 (0.2% of the global level).

Conclusion

The large numbers of people without access to electricity are a frequent point of contention in debates over how to address climate change. Some proponents cite China and India’s reliance on coal to bring electricity to their populations. They argue that coal is cheap and must be part of the solution for the remaining 1.1 billion people that still lack access to electricity. Not everyone agrees on how best to meet the needs of these people, who are mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. In a November 2016 interview, Dan Kammen, professor of energy at the University of California, Berkeley and a former science envoy to the US State Department, told Carbon Brief that coal has been given too much credit as a solution to extreme poverty in Africa.

Coal doesn’t even deliver the thing for which it’s really been touted for, and that is, bringing people out of poverty because somehow it’s this least-cost fossil fuel source…I really cringe a bit when I see people touting mega fossil fuel projects as the obvious, first thing to look at…Distributed clean energy, time and time again today, has proven to be better, cheaper, more socially and environmentally positive.

As a July 2017 World Bank blog explains: “In many rural areas in Africa, impacts on economic development of grid extension in the near term may be very modest, while off-grid technologies can be more cost-effective for meeting the most highly-valued basic household needs.” In further support of the benefits of off-grid systems, it says:

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, electricity usage patterns in newly electrified areas in rural Africa are often such that solar is able to meet those demands. Even in grid-covered rural areas, households and micro-enterprises use electricity mostly for lighting, phone charging, and entertainment – which can easily be provided by solar panels.

Regardless of these details, today’s new IEA report shows that coal’s role in expanding electricity access is set to decline dramatically. Renewables, both on and off the grid, will provide most new connections, as the population without access falls by another third to 700 million. If the world hopes to meet its goal of universal electricity access by 2030, then the IEA report suggests it is solar – not coal – that will bridge the gap.

Note on definitions

The IEA report defines electricity access as a minimum of 250 kilowatt hours (kWh) per rural household per year. This excludes the more than 23m “pico solar” units sold since 2010. The report explains:

People relying on ‘pico solar’ products, mainly solar lanterns which may include mobile phone chargers, are considered to be below the minimum threshold to count as having [electricity] access. Nevertheless, there are significant benefits for the poor associated with pico solar products.

You can see the range of solutions it considers in its report in the graphic, below.

October 18, 2017 — Next10

Please join us for a presentation by several RAEL projects to Next10, and a dialog around efforts on sustainable energy that we are looking to undertake together.   CKredellUnknown

F. Noel Perry
Noel Perry is a businessman, philanthropist, and the founder of Next 10, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that educates and empowers Californians to improve the state’s future. Prior to founding Next 10, he was managing director of Baccharis Capital Inc., a socially responsible venture capital fund that he founded in 1991. Noel is also a Peace Corps alum, having served in Yemen where he built water projects in rural villages.
Colleen Kredell
Colleen Kredell is the director of research at Next 10, working with Noel to identify and manage research projects that support the Next 10 mission. She received her Master of Sustainable Development Practice at UC Berkeley where she was affiliated with the Climate Readiness Institute and ReNUWIt. Prior to Berkeley, she worked in climate and energy policy and programming in Washington, DC and at Stanford University.
About Next 10
Next 10 is focused on innovation and the intersection between the economy, the environment, and quality of life issues for all Californians. Our work is divided into a few key areas: expert-commissioned research, civic engagement tools and events, and stakeholder convenings. Our most recently published report, the ninth annual California Green Innovation Index, highlighted the growing challenge CA faces as a result of increasing transportation emissions in the state.
Among the many Next10 efforts they publish

The Green Innovation Index

California’s clean economy sector is diversifying and advancing according to new data highlighted in the 2016 California Green Innovation Index. Next 10's eighth edition of the California Green Innovation Index, for the first time, analyzes and ranks the Golden State’s economic and energy performance in comparison to the world’s 50 largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitting nations, in addition to comparing 26 regions within California. The Index reveals new data about clean tech patents, investment levels, energy productivity levels, state GDP relative to greenhouse gas emissions, California's clean economy jobs and more. The 2015 edition of this research can be found at http://next10.org/international.

From Alaska to Georgia, Why 6 Scientists Will March on Washington

From Alaska to Georgia, Why 6 Scientists Will March on Washington

APRIL 21, 2017
Thousands of scientists and their supporters are preparing to participate in the March for Science on Saturday, but the run-up to the event hasn’t been without controversy. Some scientists have charged that planning for the march contradicted larger goals of diversity,while other scientists have worried that the effort might appear partisan to the public, and thereby hurt the standing of scholars in the field. Despite the controversy, the scientists who plan to attend the main march, in Washington, D.C., as well as hundreds of smaller ones elsewhere, say they’re doing so with a primary goal in mind: to send the message that science matters. The Chronicle spoke to six scientists who will be traveling to the nation’s capital about their hopes and expectations for the day. Chris B. Schaffer, associate professor of biomedical engineering, Cornell University:
Courtesy Chris B. Schaffer
Mr. Schaffer, who has a background in policy and runs a small program for students who are interested in advocacy, said he would be traveling to D.C. with three buses of students. He said he hoped the march wouldn’t just carry the theme of "scientists against the Trump administration.""It’s exciting to see scientists wanting to come out and do something other than plug away at questions in their labs," he said. "I hope that this is a first step toward a much greater degree of engagement between scientists and the public." After the march, he hopes to see more scientists engage in "sustained, low-level commitments" such as regularly speaking in schools, offering pro bono advice to businesses, and lobbying local lawmakers. Ellen Chenoweth, Ph.D. student in ecology and marine biology, University of Alaska at Fairbanks:
Courtesy Ellen Chenoweth
Ms. Chenoweth does research on humpback whales and how they forage in the marine environment. She said that she’s "not usually much of a marcher" but that the March for Science "kind of spoke to me — I felt like I could make a difference."She said that she wanted to go to D.C. to make sure that rural researchers and young women were represented, not just "your typical lab-coat researchers." Accordingly, she will wear what she wears in the field, or at least a modified version of it. "I’d love to wear a full float suit, but I think it would be way too hot," she said. Ms. Chenoweth will fly to D.C. alone, but will carry a sign with the signatures of her friends and colleagues who couldn’t make it. "I’m hoping it’s a really positive event," she said. "I’m coming with an open mind. I’m hoping to be inspired by lots of other scientists, and I’m hoping that there’ll be a diversity of scientists represented." Chris Gunter, professor of pediatrics, Emory University School of Medicine:
Courtesy Chris Gunter
Ms. Gunter, who also leads communications at the Marcus Autism Center, in Atlanta, will travel to D.C. from Georgia with her teenage son. As a science communicator, Ms. Gunter said she feels strongly that engagement is an important part of her job, and she wants people to see "that scientists are people too." Though she and her son thought about wearing costumes to the march, they decided to sport the official march T-shirts so that they would look more "everyday.""I’m hoping the march will energize people," said Ms. Gunter. "A sort of paralysis can set in when we hear over and over about threats to science. I think many of us are looking for ideas about what would be the best action to take to make a difference." Ms. Gunter recently joined the Atlanta chapter of 500 Women Scientists, a nationwide group of female researchers who advocate for equality in science. She said she hopes to get ideas from the march about what the organization could do in the future, whether that’s fighting budget cuts, improving science outreach and engagement, or taking legal action against discrimination. Bradley J. Cardinale, professor of natural resources, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor:
UM Photo Services, Austin Thomason
Mr. Cardinale’s research focuses on protecting the Great Lakes. Under President Trump’s proposed budget for 2018, deep cuts could force Mr. Cardinale and many of his colleagues to abandon their research, he said. "I see these as personal examples of a current administration that really doesn’t value science, and doesn’t value facts," he said. "Attending the march is my way of standing up and saying, like many other scientists, ‘Science is important for society.’"Mr. Cardinale will attend the march with his wife and two children. He laughed as he said his 8-year-old daughter was "very anxious to march and insist that politicians use evidence when making decisions." He said he would consider the march a success if it resulted in Mr. Trump’s getting "a legitimate scientist as an adviser in his cabinet." Maurice K. Crawford, associate professor of marine science, University of Maryland Eastern Shore:
Courtesy Maurice K. Crawford
Mr. Crawford is a fish ecologist who previously helped to shape the United States Agency for International Development’s climate-change policy. He said he wanted to attend the march in D.C. to send a message to the current Republican administration about the importance of using evidence in making policy. "My sense is that they’re abandoning that process," he said. While he doesn’t think that President Trump is likely to respond to the march, he hopes that people in Congress might.Mr. Crawford will travel with his wife, but he said he knows a number of colleagues at his university will also attend the march. He plans to carry a Star Wars-inspired sign that reads: "Fear leads to the dark side." Mr. Crawford, who is African-American, said he hasn’t followed the controversy over the march organizers’ handling of diversity and inclusion, but he doesn’t "expect to see many people that look like me." "As a student I could probably name every African-American in marine science in the country," he added. "I can’t do that anymore, so that is progress." Daniel M. Kammen, professor of energy, University of California at Berkeley:
Courtesy Daniel M. Kammen
As a coordinating lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and a science envoy for the U.S. State Department, Mr. Kammen has spent a lot of time thinking about how clean energy could shape foreign policy.He said he’s attending the March for Science because "science does appear to be under direct threat." Asked whether he’s allowed to participate in the march as a science envoy for the State Department, Mr. Kammen said, "No one has told me that I can’t." He’ll be meeting a handful of his students at the march. Mr. Kammen said he thinks the march’s success will be measured by the number of people who attend, and by the opportunities it creates for scientists and engineers to start conversations with the news media and to meet their representatives in D.C. "It pains me that we need to do this," he said, "but I’m hoping those conversations by a diverse set of researchers will be the really exciting outcome from this."    

RAEL participates in the March for Science

From Alaska to Georgia, Why 6 Scientists Will March on Washington

APRIL 21, 2017
The Chronicle of Higher Education Thousands of scientists and their supporters are preparing to participate in the March for Science on Saturday, but the run-up to the event hasn’t been without controversy. Some scientists have charged that planning for the march contradicted larger goals of diversity,while other scientists have worried that the effort might appear partisan to the public, and thereby hurt the standing of scholars in the field. Despite the controversy, the scientists who plan to attend the main march, in Washington, D.C., as well as hundreds of smaller ones elsewhere, say they’re doing so with a primary goal in mind: to send the message that science matters. The Chronicle spoke to six scientists who will be traveling to the nation’s capital about their hopes and expectations for the day. Chris B. Schaffer, associate professor of biomedical engineering, Cornell University:
Courtesy Chris B. Schaffer
Mr. Schaffer, who has a background in policy and runs a small program for students who are interested in advocacy, said he would be traveling to D.C. with three buses of students. He said he hoped the march wouldn’t just carry the theme of "scientists against the Trump administration.""It’s exciting to see scientists wanting to come out and do something other than plug away at questions in their labs," he said. "I hope that this is a first step toward a much greater degree of engagement between scientists and the public." After the march, he hopes to see more scientists engage in "sustained, low-level commitments" such as regularly speaking in schools, offering pro bono advice to businesses, and lobbying local lawmakers. Ellen Chenoweth, Ph.D. student in ecology and marine biology, University of Alaska at Fairbanks:
Courtesy Ellen Chenoweth
Ms. Chenoweth does research on humpback whales and how they forage in the marine environment. She said that she’s "not usually much of a marcher" but that the March for Science "kind of spoke to me — I felt like I could make a difference."She said that she wanted to go to D.C. to make sure that rural researchers and young women were represented, not just "your typical lab-coat researchers." Accordingly, she will wear what she wears in the field, or at least a modified version of it. "I’d love to wear a full float suit, but I think it would be way too hot," she said. Ms. Chenoweth will fly to D.C. alone, but will carry a sign with the signatures of her friends and colleagues who couldn’t make it. "I’m hoping it’s a really positive event," she said. "I’m coming with an open mind. I’m hoping to be inspired by lots of other scientists, and I’m hoping that there’ll be a diversity of scientists represented." Chris Gunter, professor of pediatrics, Emory University School of Medicine:
Courtesy Chris Gunter
Ms. Gunter, who also leads communications at the Marcus Autism Center, in Atlanta, will travel to D.C. from Georgia with her teenage son. As a science communicator, Ms. Gunter said she feels strongly that engagement is an important part of her job, and she wants people to see "that scientists are people too." Though she and her son thought about wearing costumes to the march, they decided to sport the official march T-shirts so that they would look more "everyday.""I’m hoping the march will energize people," said Ms. Gunter. "A sort of paralysis can set in when we hear over and over about threats to science. I think many of us are looking for ideas about what would be the best action to take to make a difference." Ms. Gunter recently joined the Atlanta chapter of 500 Women Scientists, a nationwide group of female researchers who advocate for equality in science. She said she hopes to get ideas from the march about what the organization could do in the future, whether that’s fighting budget cuts, improving science outreach and engagement, or taking legal action against discrimination. Bradley J. Cardinale, professor of natural resources, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor:
UM Photo Services, Austin Thomason
Mr. Cardinale’s research focuses on protecting the Great Lakes. Under President Trump’s proposed budget for 2018, deep cuts could force Mr. Cardinale and many of his colleagues to abandon their research, he said. "I see these as personal examples of a current administration that really doesn’t value science, and doesn’t value facts," he said. "Attending the march is my way of standing up and saying, like many other scientists, ‘Science is important for society.’"Mr. Cardinale will attend the march with his wife and two children. He laughed as he said his 8-year-old daughter was "very anxious to march and insist that politicians use evidence when making decisions." He said he would consider the march a success if it resulted in Mr. Trump’s getting "a legitimate scientist as an adviser in his cabinet." Maurice K. Crawford, associate professor of marine science, University of Maryland Eastern Shore:
Courtesy Maurice K. Crawford
Mr. Crawford is a fish ecologist who previously helped to shape the United States Agency for International Development’s climate-change policy. He said he wanted to attend the march in D.C. to send a message to the current Republican administration about the importance of using evidence in making policy. "My sense is that they’re abandoning that process," he said. While he doesn’t think that President Trump is likely to respond to the march, he hopes that people in Congress might.Mr. Crawford will travel with his wife, but he said he knows a number of colleagues at his university will also attend the march. He plans to carry a Star Wars-inspired sign that reads: "Fear leads to the dark side." Mr. Crawford, who is African-American, said he hasn’t followed the controversy over the march organizers’ handling of diversity and inclusion, but he doesn’t "expect to see many people that look like me." "As a student I could probably name every African-American in marine science in the country," he added. "I can’t do that anymore, so that is progress." Daniel M. Kammen, professor of energy, University of California at Berkeley:
Courtesy Daniel M. Kammen
As a coordinating lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and a science envoy for the U.S. State Department, Mr. Kammen has spent a lot of time thinking about how clean energy could shape foreign policy.He said he’s attending the March for Science because "science does appear to be under direct threat." Asked whether he’s allowed to participate in the march as a science envoy for the State Department, Mr. Kammen said, "No one has told me that I can’t." He’ll be meeting a handful of his students at the march. Mr. Kammen said he thinks the march’s success will be measured by the number of people who attend, and by the opportunities it creates for scientists and engineers to start conversations with the news media and to meet their representatives in D.C. "It pains me that we need to do this," he said, "but I’m hoping those conversations by a diverse set of researchers will be the really exciting outcome from this."

Can Wind and Solar Fuel Africa’s Future?

November 2, 2016 - Nature With prices for renewables dropping, many countries in Africa might leap past dirty forms of energy towards a cleaner future At the threshold of the Sahara Desert near Ouarzazate, Morocco, some 500,000 parabolic mirrors run in neat rows across a valley, moving slowly in unison as the Sun sweeps overhead. This US$660-million solar-energy facility opened in February and will soon have company. Morocco has committed to generating 42% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Across Africa, several nations are moving aggressively to develop their solar and wind capacity. The momentum has some experts wondering whether large parts of the continent can vault into a clean future, bypassing some of the environmentally destructive practices that have plagued the United States, Europe and China, among other places. “African nations do not have to lock into developing high-carbon old technologies,” wrote Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the United Nations, in a report last year. “We can expand our power generation and achieve universal access to energy by leapfrogging into new technologies that are transforming energy systems across the world.” That's an intoxicating message, not just for Africans but for the entire world, because electricity demand on the continent is exploding. Africa's population is booming faster than anywhere in the world: it is expected to almost quadruple by 2100. More than half of the 1.2 billion people living there today lack electricity, but may get it soon. If much of that power were to come from coal, oil and natural gas, it could kill international efforts to slow the pace of global warming. But a greener path is possible because many African nations are just starting to build up much of their energy infrastructure and have not yet committed to dirtier technology. Several factors are fuelling the push for renewables in Africa. More than one-third of the continent's nations get the bulk of their power from hydroelectric plants, and droughts in the past few years have made that supply unreliable. Countries that rely primarily on fossil fuels have been troubled by price volatility and increasing regulations. At the same time, the cost of renewable technology has been dropping dramatically. And researchers are finding that there is more potential solar and wind power on the continent than previously thought—as much as 3,700 times the current total consumption of electricity. This has all led to a surging interest in green power. Researchers are mapping the best places for renewable-energy projects. Forward-looking companies are investing in solar and wind farms. And governments are teaming up with international-development agencies to make the arena more attractive to private firms. Yet this may not be enough to propel Africa to a clean, electrified future. Planners need more data to find the best sites for renewable-energy projects. Developers are wary about pouring money into many countries, especially those with a history of corruption and governmental problems. And nations will need tens of billions of dollars to strengthen the energy infrastructure. Still, green ambitions in Africa are higher now than ever before. Eddie O'Connor, chief executive of developer Mainstream Renewable Power in Dublin, sees great potential for renewable energy in Africa. His company is building solar- and wind-energy facilities there and he calls it “an unparalleled business opportunity for entrepreneurs”.

POWER PROBLEMS

Power outages are a common problem in many African nations, but Zambia has suffered more than most in the past year. It endured a string of frequent and long-lasting blackouts that crippled the economy. Pumps could not supply clean water to the capital, Lusaka, and industries had to slash production, leading to massive job lay-offs. The source of Zambia's energy woes is the worst drought in southern Africa in 35 years. The nation gets nearly 100% of its electricity from hydropower, mostly from three large dams, where water levels have plummeted. Nearby Zimbabwe, South Africa and Botswana have also had to curtail electricity production. And water shortages might get worse. Projections suggest that the warming climate could reduce rainfall in southern Africa even further in the second half of the twenty-first century. Renewable energy could help to fill the gap, because wind and solar projects can be built much more quickly than hydropower, nuclear or fossil-fuel plants. And green-power installations can be expanded piecemeal as demand increases. Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco and South Africa are leading the charge to build up renewable power, but one of the biggest barriers is insufficient data. Most existing maps of wind and solar resources in Africa do not contain enough detailed information to allow companies to select sites for projects, says Grace Wu, an energy researcher at the University of California, Berkeley. She co-authored a report on planning renewable-energy zones in 21 African countries, a joint project by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in California and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in Abu Dhabi. The study is the most comprehensive mapping effort so far for most of those countries, says Wu. It weighs the amount of solar and wind energy in the nations, along with factors such as whether power projects would be close to transmission infrastructure and customers, and whether they would cause social or environmental harm. “The IRENA–LBNL study is the only one that has applied a consistent methodology across a large region of Africa,” says Wu. High-resolution measurements of wind and solar resources have typically been done by government researchers or companies, which kept tight control of their data. The Berkeley team used a combination of satellite and ground measurements purchased from Vaisala, an environmental monitoring company based in Finland that has since made those data publicly available through IRENA's Global Atlas for Renewable Energy. The team also incorporated geospatial data—the locations of roads, towns, existing power lines and other factors—that could influence decisions about where to put energy projects. “If there's a forest, you don't want to cut it down and put a solar plant there,” says co-author Ranjit Deshmukh, also an energy researcher at Berkeley. The amount of green energy that could be harvested in Africa is absolutely massive, according to another IRENA report, which synthesized 6 regional studies and found potential for 300 million megawatts of solar photovoltaic power and more than 250 million megawatts of wind. By contrast, the total installed generating capacity—the amount of electricity the entire continent could produce if all power plants were running at full tilt—was just 150,000 megawatts at the end of 2015. Solar and wind power accounted for only 3.6% of that.
Credit: Nature, November 2, 2016, doi:10.1038/539020a
The estimate of wind resources came as a surprise, says Oliver Knight, a senior energy specialist for the World Bank's Energy Sector Management Assistance Program in Washington DC. Although people have long been aware of Africa's solar potential, he says, as of about a decade ago, few local decision-makers recognized the strength of the wind. “People would have told you there isn't any wind in regions such as East Africa.” The World Bank is doing its own studies, which will assess wind speeds and solar radiation at least every 10 minutes at selected sites across target countries. It will ask governments to add their own geospatial data, and will combine all the information into a user-friendly format that is freely available and doesn't require advanced technical knowledge, says Knight.“It should be possible for a mid-level civil servant in a developing country to get online and actually start playing with this.”

SOUTH AFRICA LEADS

In the semi-arid Karoo region of South Africa, a constellation of bright white wind turbines rises 150 metres above the rolling grassland. Mainstream Renewable Power brought this project online in July, 17 months after starting construction. The 35 turbines add 80 megawatts to South Africa's supply, enough to power about 70,000 homes there. The Noupoort Wind Farm is just one of about 100 wind and solar projects that South Africa has developed in the past 4 years, as prices fell below that of coal and construction lagged on two new massive coal plants. South Africa is primed to move quickly to expand renewable energy, in part thanks to its investment in data. Environmental scientist Lydia Cape works for the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, a national lab in Stellenbosch. She and her team have created planning maps for large-scale wind and solar development and grid expansion. Starting with data on the energy resources, they assessed possible development sites for many types of socio-economic and environmental impact, including proximity to electricity demand, economic benefits and effects on biodiversity. The South African government accepted the team's recommendations and designated eight Renewable Energy Development Zones that are close to consumers and to transmission infrastructure—and where power projects will cause the least harm to people and ecosystems. They total “about 80,000 square kilometres, the size of Ireland or Scotland, roughly”, says Cape. The areas have been given streamlined environmental authorization for renewable projects and transmission corridors, she says. But for African nations to go green in a big way, they will need a huge influx of cash. Meeting sub-Saharan Africa's power needs will cost US$40.8 billion a year, equivalent to 6.35% of Africa's gross domestic product, according to the World Bank. Existing public funding falls far short, so attracting private investors is crucial. Yet many investors perceive African countries as risky, in part because agreements there require long and complex negotiations and capital costs are high. “It's a real challenge,” says Daniel Kammen, a special envoy for energy for the US Department of State and an energy researcher at the University of California, Berkeley. “Many of these countries have not had the best credit ratings.” Elham Ibrahim, the African Union's commissioner for infrastructure and energy, advises countries to take steps to reassure private investors. Clear legislation supporting renewable energy is key, she says, along with a track record of enforcing commercial laws. South Africa is setting a good example. In 2011, it established a transparent process for project bidding called the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP). The programme has generated private investments of more than $14 billion to develop 6,327 megawatts of wind and solar. Mainstream Renewable Power has won contracts for six wind farms and two solar photovoltaic plants through REIPPPP. “This programme is purer than the driven snow,” says O'Connor. “They publish their results. They give state guarantees. They don't delay you too much.” Although the country's main electricity supplier has wavered in its support for renewables, the central government remains committed to the programme, he says. “I would describe the risks in South Africa as far less than the risks in England in investing in renewables.” For countries less immediately attractive to investors, the World Bank Group launched the Scaling Solar project in January 2015. This reduces risk to investors with a suite of guarantees, says Yasser Charafi, principal investment officer for African infrastructure with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) in Dakar, which is part of the World Bank Group. Through the Scaling Solar programme, the IFC offers low-priced loans; the World Bank guarantees that governments will buy the power generated by the projects; and the group's Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency offers political insurance in case of a war or civil unrest. Zambia, the first country to have access to Scaling Solar, has won two solar projects that will together provide 73 megawatts. Senegal and Madagascar were next, with agreements to produce 200 and 40 megawatts, respectively. Ethiopia has just joined, and the IFC will give two further countries access to the programme soon; its target is to develop 1,000 megawatts in the first 5 years.

MAKING IT FLOW

That power won't be useful if it can't get to users. One of the big barriers to a clean-energy future in Africa is that the continent lacks robust electricity grids and transmission lines to move large amounts of power within countries and across regions. But that gap also provides some opportunities. Without a lot of existing infrastructure and entrenched interests, countries there might be able to scale up renewable projects and manage electricity more nimbly than developed nations. That's what happened with the telephone industry: in the absence of much existing land-line infrastructure, African nations rapidly embraced mobile phones. The future could look very different from today's electricity industry. Experts say that Africa is likely to have a blend of power-delivery options. Some consumers will get electricity from a grid, whereas people in rural areas and urban slums—where it is too remote or too expensive to connect to the grid—might end up with small-scale solar and wind installations and minigrids. Still, grid-connected power is crucial for many city dwellers and for industrial development, says Ibrahim. And for renewables to become an important component of the energy landscape, the grid will need to be upgraded to handle fluctuations in solar and wind production. African nations can look to countries such as Germany and Denmark, which have pioneered ways to deal with the intermittent nature of renewable energy. One option is generating power with existing dams when solar and wind lag, and cutting hydropower when they are plentiful. Another technique shuttles electricity around the grid: for example, if solar drops off in one place, power generated by wind elsewhere can pick up the slack. A third strategy, called demand response, reduces electricity delivery to multiple customers by imperceptible amounts when demand is peaking. These cutting-edge approaches require a smart grid and infrastructure that connects smaller grids in different regions so that they can share electricity. Africa has some of these 'regional interconnections', but they are incomplete. Four planned major transmission corridors will need at least 16,500 kilometres of new transmission lines, costing more than $18 billion, says Ibrahim. Likewise, many countries' internal power grids are struggling to keep up. That's part of what makes working in energy in Africa challenging. Prosper Amuquandoh is an inspector for the Ghana Energy Commission and the chief executive of Smart and Green Energy Group, an energy-management firm in Accra. In Ghana, he says, “there's a lot of generation coming online”. The country plans to trade electricity with its neighbours in a West African Power Pool, Amuquandoh says, but the current grid cannot handle large amounts of intermittent power. Despite the challenges, he brims with enthusiasm when he talks about the future: “The prospects are huge.” With prices of renewables falling, that kind of optimism is spreading across Africa. Electrifying the continent is a moral imperative for everyone, says Charafi. “We cannot just accept in the twenty-first century that hundreds of millions of people are left out.” Link to the article: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/can-wind-and-solar-fuel-africa-s-future/

Isa Ferrall

Isa Ferrall is a MS/Ph.D. student in the Energy and Resources Group and Renewable and Appropriate Energy Lab at the University of California, Berkeley. She is interested in the impact of renewable energy on rural electrification, global development, and the domestic energy sector. Previously, Isa gained experience on both the technical and applied sides of renewable energy. She researched innovative energy materials at Duke University as a National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenge Scholar and at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory as a Department of Energy Intern. She also has analyzed system data for Off-Grid Electric, a solar home system company operating in east Africa. Isa graduated Magna Cum Laude from Duke University in 2015 with distinction in Mechanical Engineering and a Certificate in Energy and the Environment.

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