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.
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.
Mr. Jit Bhattacharya has been Chief Technology Officer at Fenix International Inc. since July 2017. Mr. Bhattacharya served as President and Chief Executive Officer of Mission Motor Company until 2014 and previously served as its Chief Operating Officer. He has more than 10 years' of experience in energy storage systems and product development. Prior to accepting the role with Fenix, he worked as a Senior Manager in the special projects group at Apple. Jit is a Berkeley alum and a former co-chair of BERC.
Dennis has focused his career on technology and sustainability policy in emerging and developing economies. His research interests include technology and innovation policy and impacts to resource and rural development, technology transfer and the political economy of land use management. He has led programs with the Paris based International Energy Agency, as an official of the OECD, working with emerging economies on energy technology policy and contributing to the Agency’s analysis of energy, environment and climate policies (specifically working collaboratively with China and other transition economies in exploring long-term clean energy options, including advanced bioenergy, carbon sequestration and negative emissions systems.) Prior to living in Berkeley, he spent five years in France, and seven years in Beijing, China – advising government and industrial clients on sustainability and technology deployment initiatives. He holds a BA in political science (international relations) and a concentration in East Asian studies from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
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.
Meet the Laos Energy Modeling and Policy Analysis (Undergraduate!) Team:
The focus of this inter-disciplinary and inter-university research group is to develop sustainable energy, water, and land-use scenarios for Laos, and to work with local stake-holders on the costs and benefits for communities, the nation, and the regional commerce in energy, water, food, timber and other commodities.
Aaditee Kudrimoti Bio: Aaditee is a fourth-year at UC Berkeley studying political science and public policy with a concentration in energy, development, and international relations. Aaditeeis originally from Tucson, Arizona, where she began to develop an interest in international environmental affairs. At UC Berkeley, Aaditeeis working on projects in the political economy of Chinese development finance, rural electrification, and collective action. Aaditeehas become especially interested in how the rise of renewable technology is influencing energy diplomacy around the world. She hopes to pursue a career in academia and public policy and work on governance tools to build the bargaining capacity of LDCs against MNCs, foreign state-owned enterprises, etc. on the subject of FDI and other types of investment. She sees SWITCH-Laos as having the potential to serve as a critical tool in assisting the increase of the Lao people’s bargaining power over FDI in the energy sector and thus their autonomy in determining their own economic development. Outside school, Aaditee’s interests include dance, food journalism, and cooking.
Alex LathemBio: Alex Lathem is a third-year undergraduate at Yale University. He is a physics major with several years of experience using programming languages, including Python SQL, C, and Bash, to analyze scientific data. Previous research projects Alex has worked on include astrometry of near-Earth asteroids and the creation of a Hubble curve through the analysis of Type Ia supernovae. Alex spent the summer of 2019 working on the SWITCH model for China, and is very excited to apply the skills he learned there to a version for Laos. Outside of research, Alex is also interested in music, video game design, linguistics, and history.
Ashley YipBio: Ashley is a second-year undergraduate studying environmental science with an emphasis in global politics. She moved to New Mexico, where she developed an interest in environmental affairs. At UC Berkeley, she is involved in a pre-law association that helped her explore her interest in law and how she may integrate that into environmentalism. Off campus, she is working on a sex education reform project in Singapore with the Ministry of Education. She is constantly exploring the intersection between policy, education, and the environment. She hopes to return home to Singapore and pursue a career in international environmental policy or law within Southeast Asia. Ashley chose to work on SWITCH-Laos not only because greening ASEAN's economic development is essential to tackling climate change, but also because she is familiar with the demographic. She has done research in regards to both urban and rural agriculture in Asia and the US, and led research for environmental management in business operations. Outside of school, her interests include climbing, hiking, piano, and camper vans.
Rachel NgBio: Rachel is a second-year Environmental Science and Data Science major. A Singapore-native, Rachel describes that SWITCH-Laos extremely important to her because it is an important step towards the energy security of Southeast Asia. She believes that the sustainable electrification of Southeast Asia is key to regional grid stability and energy trade. She is pursuing SWITCH-Laos as critical in leading the way towards sustainable electrification. Rachel is interested in the intersectionality between climate change and community, exploring how community based issues caused by climate change can be alleviated through data. Furthermore, Rachel is currently concerned about equal access to education and volunteers weekly as a mentor to elementary school students. In the future, she hopes to return to Singapore and guide environmental change through creating an ecosystem of sustainable communities and businesses. Her hobbies include dance, rock climbing and water sports.
People are dying on the streets of San Francisco: in tents, on crosswalks, and on bikes. While not alike in circumstance nor cause, these tragedies share one similarity: they are entirely preventable deaths, with complementary policies available to prevent them. Quite simply, they involve less horizontal space for cars, and more vertical space for homes. San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors doesn’t seem to care.
People are dying in Mozambique and Malawi. Entire cities drowned in the floods from a historic cyclone. The polar ice caps are melting and the oceans are warming at unprecedented rates. Climate change is an impending geopolitical and ecological catastrophe. This, again, is entirely preventable: a necessary but insufficient component of that involves fewer cars and more homes in San Francisco and other urban centers in coastal California. Cities around the world need to drastically cut down on their carbon footprints. But City Hall doesn’t seem to care.
Words and Deeds
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors recently declared a Climate Emergency, and passed legislation reauthorizing an ongoing Shelter Crisis. But they continue to oppose policies that would reduce subsidized space for private car travel (a corporate giveaway if there ever was one), and add more space for housing. They do not seem to care that their fellow human beings are dying and will continue to die.
San Francisco is supposed to be a Transit First City. Such a policy has been on the books since the 1970s. Yet as recently as last year, Supervisors Ahsha Safaí and Aaron Peskin sought to restructure the city’s transportation bureaucracy to seize control over their parking and car traffic regulations. Supervisor Fewer has vocally opposed congestion pricing for single-occupancy vehicles and has been critical of Geary’s Bus Rapid Transit project—because evidently, the private takeover of public street space is fine if done by personal automobiles, but not by charter buses. The Board generally has been slow to take action on traffic safety, but quick to grandstand against factional rivals in both public and private sectors.
More damningly, a supermajority of the Board passed a resolution opposing State Sen. Scott Wiener’s Senate Bill 50, the most important state policy at the nexus of housing, transportation, and climate change.
The bill needs little introduction if you have followed California news lately. If passed, SB 50 would mandate higher densities around public transit, as well as high-performing schools and job centers, while exempting tenant-occupied housing (including single-family homes), requiring a minimum provision of affordable housing statewide, and deferring its implementation in low-income communities left vulnerable after decades of disinvestment and racial segregation. (Now take a deep breath.)
If you were to believe Supervisor Gordon Mar’s resolution opposing the bill, one might have the impression that the bill aims to throw renters to the wolves, replace fragile communities of once-affordable walk-up flats with towering infernos of five-story skyscrapers, and remake the City into a mere extension of Palo Alto and the Stanford campus. This doesn’t explain why affluent cities like Sunnyvale and Beverly Hills were among the first to oppose it.
“We should increase density, especially near transit, and we should update our zoning to allow this,” Supervisor Fewer said during the resolution’s Land Use Committee hearing. “The question isn’t whether we should build more housing or not—we must. It’s about what we build, how and for whom.” But so far, Fewer has made no proposals of the sort she said the City “should” pursue on density.
Their objections to SB 50 rest not only on a litany of oft-debunked falsehoods, but they are undermined by their utter silence on the state legislature’s many earnest efforts to protect vulnerable tenants and provide more subsidized affordable housing.
While some Supervisors such as Mar have made generally reactive gestures against local tech industry wealth, the Supervisors have otherwise been silent on state efforts to redistribute wealth. They appear to care more about continuing a partisan pissing match against the authors of SB 50 than supporting those same legislators’ efforts to enact progressive tax reform and fund affordable housing. Wiener himself has introduced an estate tax bill to counteract GOP-led regressive cuts in the federal tax code, while SB 50 coauthors Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) and Asm. Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) have introduced a corporate tax hike for the same reason. Meanwhile, San Francisco assembly members and SB 50 coauthor Phil Ting has introduced a bill requiring local inventories of surplus public land to prioritize for affordable housing. Not a peep from the Supervisors about these bills.
San Francisco was one of the only two counties to narrowly approve the November 2018 rent control reform measure, Proposition 10. While Assembly Bill 36 presents a politically risky new effort to reform the state’s rent control prohibition, where are the Supervisors with their resolution to support it? Perhaps they are just too busy opposing SB 50. AB 1482, from San Francisco’s other Assemblymember David Chiu, could establish statewide emergency rent caps. Where is the Board’s resolution to support this bill? Or how about Asm. Rob Bonta’s AB 1481 to establish statewide just-cause eviction protections? Evidently, opposing SB 50 is more important.
These other bills would limit the legal power of landlords such as Fewer and Mar, while SB 50 could sharply reduce their market power. Their silence on the former, and their disingenuous grandstanding against the latter, is consistent.
The Board resolution’s half-truths and misrepresentations of the bill have been debunkedat length by the Senator and others. The truth doesn’t seem to be the Supervisors’ chief concern, though. It is important to note their hints at a deeper motivation: deciding who gets to live in San Francisco, and exercising the power to hand-pick their constituents.
Concern for Whom?
Local control over land use means that incumbents get to choose “for whom” the City opens its gates—and the historical record quite plainly shows that these choices are seldom, if ever, equitable. Here’s a refresher on a recent quantitative study by UC Merced political scientist Jessica Trounstine, which we have cited before:
The general message coming from Supervisors is as simple as it is false: San Francisco is doing enough. Leave us alone.
Well, is it? According to the City’s Department of the Environment, San Francisco has slowly seen a 36% reduction in net emissions since 1990. Meanwhile, transportation accounts for the lion’s share of those emissions (45% at latest count), though this appears to gradually be decreasing. But these numbers are deceptive.
When I tried to compile a region-wide analysis of transportation emissions from the nine-county Bay Area, I ran into an insurmountable hurdle: the methodology had changed quite drastically around 2012. Rather than merely counting trips at their point of origin, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) developed a simulation of typical trips based on “travel analysis zones.” While analysts believe this data may be more robust, it renders pre-2012 comparisons to the present day essentially useless.
And an important caveat: “Our simulation model explicitly assumes that every worker living in the nine-county Bay Area also works in the nine-county Bay Area. This is, of course, not always true,” says the agency. Well, no shit.
San Francisco politicians sometimes speak as though every district in the City were equivalent to the vulnerable working-class of the Mission District circa 1990, or East Oakland and Vallejo today, where many former San Franciscans have since had to move. The genuine concern over market volatility upending marginalized communities is actually reflected in Wiener’s bill: many such census tracts with concentrated poverty and minority residents are those that Senate Bill 50 will temporarily exempt as “communities of concern.” But in terms of having affluent, expensive neighborhoods that compel longer commutes, the City as a whole has little in common with them. In this respect, San Francisco bears more resemblance to Marin County, a notorious violator of the Fair Housing Act.
By importing their workforces, Marin and San Francisco outsource their transportation emissions. A 2011 report by the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California (NPH), a co-sponsor of SB50, outlined the climate and social equity impacts of Marin’s workforce and housing disparities. According to the California Employment Development Department and data from the American Community Survey (ACS), over a third of Marin’s workers commuted from outside the county. But in the latest census, San Francisco led the nation in workers commuting from other counties.
San Francisco’s leaders don’t seem interested in reversing this calamity. Its recent approval of the Central SoMa plan, which plans space for over 3 new jobs for every new housing unit, suggests that City Hall is unanimously eager to see booming job growth continue apace. But rejecting state reforms to plan for those workers to be housed nearby—some of whom indeed will earn six-figure salaries and earn the ire of lower-income workers struggling to stay in their homes—is just planning for accelerating displacement.
Nonprofit affordable housing developers don’t build multi-million dollar detached bungalows—they build apartment buildings with units numbering in the double digits, which are prohibited under current zoning in nearly three quarters of the City. Notably, though Supervisor Fewer has called for more affordable housing to be built, her District has not been rezoned for the densities that make it possible.
One would think that elected officials concerned about displacement would be rushing to add more housing to balance out the job growth they approved. Instead, Supervisor Matt Haney bravely stood up for abundant sunshine, leading a unanimous vote in rejecting a housing development on Folsom Street with 25% Below Market Rate homes, because it would cast shade on 18% of the area of a nearby park, for 100 minutes in the afternoon, during the longest day of the year. Haney campaigned on fighting for affordable housing, not against shadows—and if climate change continues apace, his future constituents may wish he had approved some cooling shade.
Under the status quo favored by the Supervisors’ majority bloc, jobs will keep coming, workers will be forced to move out and drive from farther away, and no affordable housing will be built in their tony suburban neighborhoods to balance that out. It’s a transparent sham that the mainstream press and alt-weeklies alike are calling out—but will that make the Supervisors care?
Growth is Good, Actually!
Some local Progressive-branded thinkers have intimated to me that the housing shortage and climate crisis is inherently a crisis of capitalism itself: that growth necessarily brings inequality and destruction. This of course ignores the experience of our most recent recessions, in which all but the wealthiest suffered the most.
It is true that American cities have been strained under periods of prosperity, and emissions have increased as production increases. But a city’s emissions come from its residents, and people make individual choices within their society—they generate emissions per capita that are increasingly a function of their dependence on the automobile. The latest report from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) notes that the bulk of our car trips won’t switch to carbon-free electric vehicles soon enough; we will need to reduce car trips by 25% meet the state’s emission reduction goals. Fewer car commutes, however, does not mean fewer workers.
When a job is lost, the corresponding human being does not disappear. They continue to look for work and consume, though perhaps they will move to a more affordable part of the country with a much larger carbon footprint, such as Texas or Arizona. California loses a taxpayer, San Francisco loses revenue to pay its pensioners and service providers, but the planet does not lose a consumer of resources. So limiting job growth to achieve sustainability, as proponents of the 1980’s Prop M office cap would hold today, is not a real choice we have now.
San Francisco has seen major economic growth along with both net and per capita emissions declining since 1990—but in the transportation sector, it is lagging significantly, as is the rest of the state. Urban infill and transit-oriented development is the most environmentally sustainable way for California’s economy to grow—not the inequitable, sprawling growth that has been the norm for too long.
To understand this complex issue, we turn to UC Berkeley climate scientist Dan Kammen’s work. Critically, Jones, Wheeler & Kammen et al (2018) found that emissions reductions were greater when urban infill development was concentrated within pockets of higher household income. In other words, packing rich people closer together reduces GHG output three times more than simply adding density wherever it is possible.
Infill development is a more potent emissions reduction strategy in rich neighborhoods, the authors argue, such as“most of San Francisco, and the wealthy hillside of the East Bay.” Why? “While these neighborhoods have higher than average carbon footprints, they have lower than average carbon footprints for their income level. Low carbon footprint cities that make housing available at all income levels help share the burden of meeting housing demand, while lessening the impact on the climate across the population.”
This should come as no surprise. Rich people consume more, and can afford the poverty trap of car ownership more easily. When they don’t drive, their emissions fall more steeply. Already, San Francisco workers drive alone at a rate less than half of the national average. And further, research from UC Berkeley’s Terner Center and Urban Displacement Project has predicted that SB 50 will focus more market-rate housing production precisely in the affluent, high-opportunity neighborhoods that exclude it today.
But does this mean our climate solutions should exclude the poor from our booming cities? Of course not.
Take the recent research on Seattle by sociologists Rice et al (2019), which found that gentrification in Seattle resulting from Amazon’s infusion of high-paying tech jobs displaced lower-income residents with smaller footprints out to far-flung suburbs. This describes the status quo in many American cities, not the Smart Growth policy suggested by SB 50 and its proponents. As the authors noted: “In so far as densification paired with climate policy remains limited to parts of cities only, rather than the urban fabric as a whole, evidence strongly suggests that gentrification seriously undermines GHG reduction efforts.”
The goal of smart housing policy and evidence-based climate solutions should be to increase residential capacity in low-carbon urban cores, not a zero-sum, one-to-one replacement that outsources poverty to suburbs that lack a strong commercial tax base to support its safety net.
It should come as no surprise that Kammen’s research on hundreds of California municipalities predicts significant emissions reductions from urban infill development in places like San Francisco. This is not the case in more rural and suburban counties like Stanislaus County, where carbon-intensive sprawl absorbs displaced urban growth.
SB 50 presents a radical departure from the status quo in enabling California cities to grow more equitably and sustainably. It would expand affordable housing requirements to many cities in California that currently don’t have them. It explicitly prohibits the demolition and redevelopment of tenant-occupied housing and recently Ellis-evicted properties (something a statewide rental registry could help enforce), and it targets high-opportunity suburbs that have seen major job growth, but currently lack good transit, to discourage car traffic.
Again, while Supervisor Fewer insisted that she wanted to see more permanently affordable nonprofit housing in her district, she has made no effort to rezone District 1 to allow for the densities at which it can be built. Indeed, in most of the city, it is still illegal to build even the low-rise apartment buildings that pencil out for nonprofits, and SB 50 can change that. It is exactly the kind of policy the world’s top climate scientists and gentrification critics should be lining up to support—which is why Kammen co-authored an op-ed in the New York Times with Sen. Wiener to support it.
The evidence is consistent on averting climate disaster, and on eliminating traffic deaths: people need to drive less, and drive slower. Meanwhile, the City has had data on its High-Injury Network of deadly streets for years, and has well-documented numbers on car commutes comprising the lion’s share of its emissions. Given that it seems to take grisly, well-publicized cyclist deaths to impel the political action for protected bike lanes, what will it take to truly make San Francisco a car-last, Transit First city? Will City Hall wait until the Ferry Building is underwater before acting with any urgency to take some unpopular decisions? What will it take to replace on-street parking spots with bus lanes, or block some sunshine new apartments in western neighborhoods?
In light of all this evidence, San Francisco constituents should all have one question on their mind: do your Supervisors care? We should all be furious that so much evidence suggests they do not—and whatever happens after that, is called politics.
For the original piece, click here.
by Dr. Rebekah Shirley is Research Director at Power for All and Visiting Research Scholar, at the Strathmore Energy Research Center (SERC) at Strathmore University and both alumni and Post-doctoral Fellow at RAEL.
At least 110 million of the 600 million people still living without access to electricity in Africa live in urban areas. Most are within a stone throw from existing power grid infrastructure.
In Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana and Liberia alone there are up to 95 million people living in urban areas. All in close proximity to the grid. In Kenya about 70% of off-grid homes are located within 1.2km of a power line. And estimates for “under-the-grid” populations across sub-Saharan Africa range from 61% to 78%.
Besides energy access being crucial for many basic human needs, these underserved populations represent a massive commercial opportunity for cash-strapped sub-Saharan African utilities. Electricity providers could reach tens of millions of densely packed customers without the cost of a last-mile rural grid extension.
So, why aren’t these potential consumers connected to the formal grid?
Urban communities often face many challenges in obtaining electricity access. These range from the prohibitively high cost of a connection, to the challenges of informal housing, the impact of power theft on services and socio-political marginalisation. In many cases, these obstacles are difficult to address successfully.
However, recent advances in distributed renewable energy technologies mean a more affordable, faster to deploy, cleaner alternative is at hand in Africa. One that can step in where policy and utility reforms are wanting.
Barriers to grid connections
One of the major barriers to electrification is the cost of a grid connection. A grid connection in Kenya, for instance, is estimated at USD $ 400 per household. This is nearly one-third of the average per capita income of a Kenyan.
Beyond pure cost barriers, urban communities often can’t access energy services for other socio-economic reasons. For instance, not being metered because they don’t have a formal address. Or living in in an area that is difficult to service – such as near flood plains or in informal housing settlements.
Corruption among electricity service providers, power theft by customers and the establishment of electricity cartels also complicates and limits electricity access.
Finally, the utilities themselves face many challenges in implementing reforms to get more people connected. Take the example of the Kenya Power and Lighting Company, which owns and operates most of the electricity transmission and distribution system. In 2015 it introduced a subsidised connection fee of US $150. This was done through the Last Mile Connectivity Project. In one year, this installment-based payment plan led to a 30-fold increase in legal electricity connections in impoverished neighbourhoods.
But the project was marred by cost overruns and inflated and misreported new connection numbers. On top of this, newly connected households often have very low consumption levels and low-income customers were often unable to make payments, even at subsidised rates.
Without the necessary infrastructural development, experts argue that the program puts a strain on the technical, commercial and financial resources of the utility. This means that the programme may find it difficult to generate revenue, recover costs or provide the service intended to new customers.
Decentralised renewable energy technologies offer an important solutionfor “under-the-grid” electrification. They are simple, fast and agile. They have short installation times, and offer a reliable electricity service for informal settlements.
Pay-as-you-go solar systems and appliances, for example, can provide a much lower barrier to entry. Compared to the high upfront connection costs noted earlier in Kenya, a 15-watt solar home system costs on average USD $9 per month for 36 months after which point the household owns its system.
The renewable energy sector recognises this under-the-grid market. In fact, about 35% of solar lighting product sales in Kenya are made in peri-urban areas. And it’s a good bet. Evidence shows that the willingness to pay for decentralised renewables is much higher than a grid connection because they are seen as more reliable.
Policies to support decentralised technologies include: integrated energy planning that incorporates these solutions, adopting and enforcing product quality control standards and providing financial incentives – like reduced import duties for products or local loan and grant programs.
These solutions show that with the right approach, and simple innovations, Africa’s prospective urban customers can finally get access to electricity.
Ben Attia, a Research Consultant with Greentech Media, contributed to the writing of this article
A team of scientists this week reopened the debate over suburbs vs. city centers, with new research showing that carbon dioxide emissions increased as suburban areas developed to the southwest of Salt Lake City in the past decade — while comparable population growth in the center of the city did not have the same effect.
It’s the latest evidence highlighting the environmental consequences of suburban expansion, often accompanied by more miles driven by cars and larger free-standing homes that require more energy for heating and cooling. As cities become a central focal point for action on climate change, the ways in which they manage their growth will be a key question.
Yet at the same time, the research itself shows how contentious and complicated this debate is likely to be. The southwestern Salt Lake Valley region in question, for instance, contains a noteworthy community called Daybreak that was itself built around energy-efficient homes and walkability and heralded for its design by the Urban Land Institute — precisely what climate advocates would seem.
Breaking news about economic and business issues.
“Of course, if you put more people where there weren’t people before, you’re going to have more emissions,” said Christopher Jones, a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley who heads up the CoolClimate Network, which studies the carbon footprints of different U.S. communities, and was not involved in the new study.
“The question is putting them in one type of development, compared with somewhere else.”
The new research was based on the longest-existing network of carbon dioxide sensors in a city and its surroundings. The earliest sensor was established in 2001 at the University of Utah and subsequent sensors were then installed in other parts of the city, the nearby Wasatch mountains (representing a nonurban or “control” environment), and in a rural area to the southwest of the city — which proceeded to show fast population growth.
Emissions growth then followed.
“It’s urban expansion. You’re taking the land surface to a suburban development where there’s cars and houses and some industry, and CO2 emissions go up,” said Logan Mitchell, a postdoc at the University of Utah and lead author of the research that appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “In some ways it’s not so surprising, but it’s neat to have measured it and see that response in the atmosphere.”
The research, which was published Monday, was co-authored by13 other scientists at the University of Utah, the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., and several other U.S. universities.
Over the same time period when populations and emissions grew in the southwest part of the Salt Lake valley, the urban center of Salt Lake City also added about 10,000 people. But here, the study found that carbon dioxide emissions — which were already considerably above the levels observed in a nonurban setting — did not grow further in response.
Much of the reason probably has to do with cars, said Mitchell — urban population growth doesn’t necessarily mean more cars on the road, given the fact that people are moving close to the city center, and have public transport, walking and biking options.
Suburban growth also tends to result in larger homes that require more energy to heat, and if that is provided by natural gas burning at the site of the home, then this, too, would lead to more emissions, Mitchell explained. (Cities’ and suburbs’ greenhouse gas emissions do not all occur within their boundaries, since the electricity consumed within those boundaries is often provided by power plants located farther away.)
But Berkeley’s Jones, who was not involved in the study, pointed out that in percentage terms, the population growth in the center of Salt Lake City would be much smaller than the growth in the suburban area, which was previously rural. So he said you would expect to see smaller carbon dioxide changes in the urban core of the city.
The study argues that what happened in Utah may be happening all over the United States — the findings, the authors say, “may be representative of urban transitions in many U.S. cities that have stabilizing emissions in their urban cores, and expanding suburban growth.”
But in this case, the area being studied itself complicates the narrative. The southwestern Salt Lake Valley actually includes at least one newer community that focuses heavily on sustainability and avoiding driving.
The development in question occurred when Kennecott Land, a subsidiary of the mining giant Rio Tinto, built Daybreak, which is about 22 miles from the center of Salt Lake City. It’s a centrally planned community that took environmental and energy-use considerations into account, including preserving walkability and ensuring that the homes would be EnergyStar-certified.
The community advertises the green design of its homes. In fact, a 2014 story in the Salt Lake Tribune noted how the community is actually “built around an intricate master plan with the central, sprawl-busting goal of reducing reliance on driving.”
That’s not to say people don’t drive to work, said Cameron Jackson, the marketing director for Daybreak Communities. “Unfortunately people do have to commute,” he said.
The sensor in question is not located directly in Daybreak. Instead, it measures the air across a broad expanse of the southwest Salt Lake Valley, which would include Daybreak but also a number of other communities.
“I’m not necessarily surprised by the fact that, you know, a study’s been done showing that, 14 years ago, there was very little CO2 here, and now there is,” Jackson said. “Because you add people to a place and that is sort of an automatic outcome. However, our community’s been designed since its very inception to address this very thing.”
For the article link in Nikkei Asia Review, click here.
Hydropower threatens peace in Myanmar -- but it doesn't have to
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.
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 NSFgraduateresearchfellow and doctoral student in the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley. Kensuke Yamaguchi isa projectassistantprofessor at the University of Tokyo Policy Alternatives Research Institute. This was developed in conjunction with theProgram on Conflict, Climate Change, and Green Developmentin the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory.
For the article link in Nikkei Asia Review, click here.