Search Results for 'energy and gender'

RAEL Lab Meeting: Into the Great Wide Open? The Promise and Perils of Climate Geoengineering

Displaying Wil Burns_cover a.jpg

Wil Burns, Co-Director, Forum for Climate Engineering Assessment

RAEL Lab Meeting

12:00 pm, 15 April 2015

310 Barrows Hall, Room 323


While geoengineering was once considered to be “taboo” in the forum of climate change policymaking, the increasing desperation engendered by the specter of passing critical temperature thresholds has led to increasing interest in the approach, including by key stakeholders. Even President Obama’s chief science advisor has indicated that geoengineering should “not be taken off the table” as a potential component of climate policymaking. The purpose of this presentation will be to assess the potential benefits of climate geoengineering, as well as potential negative impacts. Moreover, the presentation will discuss governance issues, including pertinent international treaty regimes, the contours of a potential framework for liability for potential negative impacts.

Wil Burns currently serves as the Co-Director of the Forum for Climate Engineering Assessment, a scholarly initiative of the School of International Service at American University. He previously served as Director of the Energy Policy & Climate program at Johns Hopkins University and has taught also at Tulane University’s School of Law, Colby College and Williams College. He holds a Ph.D. in International Law from the University of Wales-Cardiff School of Law.

Welcome to the Decentralized Energy Revolution: Cleanly Electrifying the World

electricity   CALIFORNIA MAGAZINE, APRIL 7, 2015

   By Glen Martin
While the boons of electricity are obvious to anyone who has watched a 49ers game on a 70-inch ultra HDTV or whipped up a frozen margarita in a blender, it also has its downsides—most of them environmental. Coal and natural gas power plants belch planet-warming CO2 into the atmosphere, while nuclear plants produce highly lethal radwaste. Still, access to electrical power is a basic social-equity issue. About 1.5 billion of the planet’s 7 billion people lack electricity, and their lives are impoverished, physically and culturally, as a result. Further, a deficiency of electricity generates environmental problems of its own. If people lack electricity to cook their food or warm their homes, they’ll substitute wood or charcoal, resulting in deforestation and yes, more carbon spewing into the atmosphere. But a paper by UC Berkeley researchers Peter Alstone, Dimitry Gershenson and Daniel Kammen indicates that a major change in the way power is produced and consumed is in the offing—one that could electrify the developing world (literally and figuratively) while promising reduced carbon emissions. The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, identifies the present moment as a tipping point, one in which decentralized transmission networks, cheap photovoltaics, sophisticated low-energy appliances, mobile phones and “virtual” financial services are all merging to create a kind of alt-grid that will, as one addicted to clichés might say, shift the energy paradigm. Here’s what’s happening: Solar panels and batteries have gotten both better and cheaper, to the point that the developing world’s mini-grids (for communities) and micro-grids (villages or individual homes) can afford them. Such systems are easier and cheaper to set up than legacy systems dependent on big, centralized power plants and tower-supported transmission lines festooned around the countryside. Ultra-efficient appliances—everything from TVs to refrigerators—also are now widely available, as is LED lighting (which uses minimal power). “What’s making this new system possible is the merging of information and energy technologies, of aggressive innovation in both the power production and smart phone worlds,” says Kammen, a professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy and the director of UC’s Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory.

Kenya was once an en­ergy black hole. Today Mas­aai mor­an (war­ri­ors) herd their live­stock while sim­ul­tan­eously check­ing cattle prices in Mom­basa on their cell phones, which they hol­ster in beaded pouches worn around their necks.

The abrupt and massive spread of cell phone technology has encouraged virtual banking systems that allow small-scale energy producers and their customers to do business from anywhere, and on a pro-rata basis. Customers are able to buy power in exceedingly small increments—say, enough to recharge their cell phones and power an LED light or two, or a tiny refrigerator and a high-efficiency hot plate. That’s a big deal in the developing world, where even a few such amenities make a gigantic difference in the quality of life—and where cash always is in short supply. It allows customers in rural Africa and Asia to analogously do with energy what they do when they visit a village store: buy a single stick of gum or a matchbook. Indeed, Kammen says, trusted e-banking systems are essential for the support of the mini-grid network, and he notes that the developing world has led in creating apps for such services. He cites Kenya as an especially shining example. Fifteen years ago, the country was a communications black hole. Hard-line telephony was the rule, and spotty at best. Outside Nairobi and Mombasa, people made do with CB radios or word of mouth. Then mobile technology arrived, and within a few years everyone was connected. Today, when visiting the country’s wildlife reserves, you’ll see Masaai moran (warriors) herding their livestock while simultaneously checking cattle prices in Mombasa on their cell phones, which they holster in beaded pouches worn around their necks. “In the 1990s I helped start up Mpala Research Center in Laikipia [in northern Kenya],” recalls Kammen. “We had to wait for a satellite to pass overhead so we could make our 35-second phone calls. Now researchers are receiving streaming data on individual lions and African wild dogs that they’re tracking.” In 2007, a proprietary mobile system known as M-Pesa was launched in Kenya. Originally promoted as an easy way to post payments for microloans, it was soon used by working urbanites as a means of sending money to relatives back on the rural shamba. M-Pesa is now Kenya’s preeminent banking system. As of late 2013, 19 million of the country’s 44 million people were signed up, with 25 percent of the national economy flowing through M-Pesa’s virtual conduits. In terms of energy development, that means small-scale power providers can receive payment for specific services from customers seamlessly, bypassing everything from poor infrastructure (people don’t have to walk miles over cattle trails to pay their bills) to government and corporate corruption. “And we’re seeing other IT applications all around the developing world,” Kammen says. “In Bangladesh, for example, phones are being used to test battery [arrays]. Keeping battery systems fully functional is critical for mini-grids, and it’s a big problem in Bangladesh, where a third of the country floods each year. Mini-grids don’t have maintenance teams regularly checking the systems, but you can upload data on cell phones when there’s a specific problem, and the provider can deal with it.”

“We’re mov­ing from an era that has re­mained un­der-in­nov­ated for dec­ades—the sys­tem where you pay a big util­ity for your en­ergy—to de­cent­ral­ized sys­tems…. It’s es­sen­tially the demo­crat­iz­a­tion of en­ergy.”

Decentralized electrification also reduces the causes of deforestation. When people have electricity, the rate of charcoal and wood burning typically decreases dramatically, Kammen observes. And decentralized energy isn’t just an accelerating trend in the developing world. In America, solar panels are sprouting on suburban homes like chanterelle mushrooms in Mendocino after a winter rain; cell phones are ubiquitous. The United States, in short, is experiencing its own decentralized energy revolution. “I have solar panels on my roof, and I can use my phone to track how much power each one is producing,” Kammen says. “I can determine which ones are dirty and may need a cleaning to improve performance. I can see how green my energy consumption is at any moment.” That points to a shift in power (political, not electrical) from the energy producer to the consumer. In fact, Kammen contends that the “Big Grid” of the existing utilities must adapt, melding with the growing mini- and micro-grids, to thrive. “We’re moving from an era that has remained under-innovated for decades—the system where you pay a big utility for your energy—to decentralized systems that have a lot of networked components and consumer input, all driven by powerful IT,” Kammen says. “It’s essentially the democratization of energy.” But to really accelerate the trend, Kammen says, a big dog must emerge from the pack of alt-energy advocates. “We’re working with a number of start-ups that are wrestling with the best way to put this all together,” Kammen says. “Nobody has hit on the right approach yet, but I anticipate somebody will do a Facebook kind of breakout sooner or later, come up with an off-grid version of Tesla. Our paper has been getting a lot of response in the week since its publication, in part because it demonstrates just how negative the impacts of poor energy access are. We show how it stymies educational opportunities and exacerbates gender inequality. It accelerates deforestation and can increase carbon emissions. But we also identify a goal: providing electricity to the 1.5 billion people who don’t have it by 2030. And with the systems we discuss, we think that’s achievable.”

Household Energy, Cookstoves and Health

Biomass fuels (wood, charcoal, dung, and agricultural residues) are vital to basic welfare and economic activity in developing nations, especially in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where they meet more than 90% of household energy needs in many nations. Combustion of biofuels emit pollutants that currently cause over 1.6 million annual deaths globally (400,000 in SSA. Because most of these deaths are among children and women, biomass use is directly or indirectly related to multiple Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), including environmental sustainability, reducing child mortality, and gender equity.   [caption id="attachment_818" align="alignnone" width="640"]Taking indoor air pollution measurements in rural Kenya Taking indoor air pollution measurements in rural Kenya[/caption] [caption id="attachment_819" align="alignnone" width="640"]Making charcoal, Kenya Making charcoal, Kenya[/caption] [caption id="attachment_820" align="alignnone" width="587"]Women gathering firewood, Zombe, Kenya Women gathering firewood, Zombe, Kenya[/caption]

New Smart Villages offgrid solutions for helping world’s bottom billion As Paris 2015 Conference approaches, this new essay collection points way to providing off-grid energy for world's bottom billion Opinion pieces from experts tackling the idea of energy as a catalyst for sustainable development - health, food security, education gender equality, governance, security and employment. Smart Villages: New Thinking for off-grid communities worldwide comprises 16 essays written by scientists and leading thinkers from around the world. 1.3 billion people worldwide still lack access to modern energy, preventing economic development in these communities. The book reviews up-to-date accounts promoting energy access in remote areas of the world. Insights will inform leaders, policy-makers and communicators, as well as encourage a wider debate internationally. Contributors include Professor Daniel M. Kammen, Professor of Energy at the University of California, Dr Christiana Thorpe, recently retired Chief Electoral Commissioner of the Sierra Leone National Electoral Commission, Professor Deepak Nayyar, former Chief Economic Adviser to the Indian government, and Professor Benjamin K. Sovacool, Director of the Danish Center for Energy Technologies. The foreword has been provided by Tun Ahmad Sarji bin Abdul Hamid, former Chief Secretary to the Government of Malaysia. The volume was compiled by Professor Sir Brian Heap, who says, "we publish these essays with policy makers and decision takers in mind - planners of sustainable off-grid well-being faced with the demanding challenges of lifting the bottom billion out of the poverty trap". Its publication fits well with the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All initiative ( and the new Sustainable Development Goals, post-September 2015. The eclectic scope of the book covers a range of viewpoints on the complex problem of energy access in developing countries. On the supply side, it asks, what are the scientific and technological advances of today and tomorrow that could transform the way that energy, particularly electricity, could be made more readily available for rural transformation? On the demand side, what are the enabling factors that make energy access a catalyst for sustainable development in off-grid villages? What framework conditions need to be put in place so that local entrepreneurs can establish enterprises to deliver and make productive use of energy in remote villages, the home of some 1.3 billion poor and underserved? As Dr John Homes, project co-leader commented from his Oxford office "it is rare for such a diverse and high-profile group of authors to be included in a single volume. We hope that this collection will bring home the importance of coordinated action on the part of governments, private investors and development funders to realise the UN's vision of sustainable energy for all by 2030. While the challenges are considerable, the potential pay-off in terms of outcomes for the bottom billion could be tremendous." Smart Villages: New Thinking for off-grid communities worldwide is published by Banson. The book is available to view for free at

SMART VILLAGES: New thinking for off-​​grid communities worldwide

      OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Keywords: off-grid energy; village power; decentralized energy, energy services, energy innovation.  Overview: Two critically important and interlinked challenges face the global community in the 21st century: the persistence of widespread energy poverty and the resulting lost economic opportunity; and intensifying human-driven climate disruption. These crises are inexorably linked through the energy technology systems that have so far provided the vast majority of our energy: biomass and fossil fuels. Both the energy service crisis and the climate crisis have become increasingly serious over the past decades, even though we have seen greater clarity over the individual and social costs that each has brought to humanity.   The Sustainable Energy Imperative: The correlation between access to electricity and a wide range of social goods is overwhelming. However, access to improved energy services alone does not provide a surefire pathway to economic opportunity and an improved quality of life. In Figure 2 we show the correlations that exist between electricity access across nations and a variety of measures of quality of life, such as the Human Development Index (a measure of well-being based in equal thirds on gross national income, life expectancy, and educational attainment). Other indicators studied include gender equality in educational opportunity, and the percentage of students who reach educational milestones. All of these indices improve significantly and roughly linearly with access to electricity. At the same time, the percentage of people below the poverty line, and childhood mortality, both decline with increasing energy access1.       Figure 1: A village micro-grid energy and telecommunications system in the Crocker Highlands of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. The system serves a community of two hundred, and provides household energy services, telecoms and satellite (dish shown), water pumping for fish ponds (seen at center) and for refrigeration. The supply includes micro-hydro and solar generation (one small panel shown here, others are distributed on building rooftops). Photo credit: Daniel M. Kammen.  Figure 2: The Human Development Index (HDI) and various additional metrics of quality of life plotted against the percentage of the population with electricity access. Each data point is country level data a specific point in time. For additional data, see Alston, Gershenson, and Kammen, 20151.   Today the gap between global population and those with electricity access stands at roughly 1.3 billion, with energy services for the unelectrified coming largely from kerosene and traditional biomass, including dung and agricultural residues. This ‘access gap’ has persisted as grid expansion programmes and population have grown.   Grid expansion has roughly kept pace with the increase in the global population. About 1.4 billion people in 2013 are completely off-grid, and many ostensibly connected people in the developing world experience significant outages that range from 20-200+ days a year.   The majority of these off-grid residents are in rural and underserved peri-urban areas. Current forecasts are that this number will remain roughly unchanged until 2030, which would relegate a significant portion of the population and the economies of many of the neediest countries on earth to fragile, underproductive lives with less options than they could otherwise have. Traditional grid extension will be slowest to reach these communities. Unless the advances in both energy and information systems that have occurred over the past decade are more widely adopted, there will be little if any chance to alter this trend.   Advances in off-grid systems Recently we have seen an emergence of off-grid electricity systems that do not require the same supporting networks as the traditional forms of centralized power generation. These technological innovations are as much based on information systems as they are directly about energy technology. While traditional electricity grids can gradually pay off (amortize) the costs of expensive generation, transmission and distribution capital equipment across many customers and across many decades, a new business model is needed to rapidly bring energy services to the rural and urban poor. Mini-grids and products for individual user end-use such as solar home systems have benefitted from dramatic price reductions and performance advances in solid state electronics, cellular communications technologies, electronic banking, and in the dramatic decrease in solar energy costs2. This mix of technological and market innovation has contributed to a vibrant new energy services sector that in many nations has outpaced traditional grid expansion.   The comparison between the utility model of central-station energy systems and this new wave of distributed energy providers is instructive. Traditional dynamo generators and arc lighting perform best at large scale, and they became the mainstay of large-scale electric utilities. The classic utility model of a one-way flow of energy from power plant to consumers is now rapidly changing.   The combination of low-cost solar, micro-hydro, and other generation technologies coupled with the electronics needed to manage small-scale power and to communicate to control devices and to remote billing systems has changed village energy. High-performance, low-cost photovoltaic generation, paired with advanced batteries and controllers, provide scalable systems across much larger power ranges than central generation, from megawatts down to fractions of a watt3.   The rapid and continuing improvements in end-use efficiency for solid state lighting, direct current televisions, refrigeration, fans, and information and communication technology (ICT, as seen in Figure 1) have resulted in a 'super-efficiency trend'. This progress has enabled decentralized power and appliance systems to compete with conventional equipment for basic household needs. These rapid technological advances in supporting clean energy both on- and off-grid are furthermore predicted to continue. This process has been particularly important at the individual device and household (solar home system) level, and for the emerging world of village mini-grids3.   Diverse Technology Options to Provide Energy Services for the Unelectrified: With these technological cornerstones, aid organizations, governments, academia, and the private sector are developing and supporting a wide range of approaches to serve the needs of the poor, including pico-lighting devices (often very small 1 – 2 watt solar panels charging lithium-ion batteries which in turn power low-cost/high efficiency light emitting diode lights), solar home systems (SHS), and community-scale micro- and mini-grids. Decentralized systems are clearly not complete substitutes for a reliable grid connection, but they represent an important level of access until a reliable grid is available and feasible. They provide an important platform from which to develop more distributed energy services. By overcoming access barriers often through market-based structures, these systems provide entirely new ways to bring energy services to the poor and formerly un-connected people.   Meeting peoples’ basic lighting and communication needs is an important first step on the 'modern electricity service ladder' 4. Eliminating kerosene lighting from a household improves household health and safety while providing significantly higher quality and quantities of light. Fuel based lighting is a $20 billion industry in Africa alone, and tremendous opportunities exist to both reduce energy costs for the poor, and to improve the quality of service. Charging a rural or village cell phone can cost $5 – 10/kWh at a pay-for-service charging station, but less than $0.50 cents/kWh via an off-grid product or on a mini-grid.   This investment frees income and also tends to lead to higher rates of utilization for mobile phones and other small devices. Overall, the first few watts of power mediated through efficient end-uses lead to benefits in household health, education, and poverty reduction. Beyond basic needs there can be a wide range of important and highly-valued services from decentralized power (e.g., television, refrigeration, fans, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning, motor-driven applications) depending on the power level and its quality along with demand-side efficiency.   Experience with the 'off-grid' poor confirms the exceptional value derived from the first increment of energy service—equivalent to 0.2-1 Wh/day for mobile phone charging or the first 100 lumen-hours of light. Given the cost and service level that fuel-based lighting and fee-based mobile phone charging provide as a baseline, simply shifting this expenditure to a range of modern energy technology solutions could provide a much better service, or significant cost savings over the lifetime of a lighting product (typically 3-5 years).   Mirroring the early development of electric utilities, improvements in underlying technology systems for decentralized power are also being combined with new business models, institutional and regulatory support, and integrated information technology systems5, 6. Historically, the non-technical barriers to adoption have been impediments to widespread adoption of off-grid electricity, and in some cases they still are. A lack of appropriate investment capital also hampers the establishment and expansion of private sector initiatives. Furthermore, complex and often perverse policy environments impair entry for clean technologies and entrench incumbent systems. Subsidies for liquid lighting fuels can reduce the incentive to adopt electric lighting. In addition, the prevalence of imperfect or inaccurate information about quality can lead to market spoiling4 and is also manifested by a lack of consumer understanding and awareness of alternatives to incumbent lighting technology.   Testing laboratories that rate the quality of the lighting products and disseminate the results are an invaluable step in increasing the quality and competitiveness of new entrants into the off-grid and mini-grid energy services space. The Lighting Global ( programme5 is one example of an effort that began as an industry watchdog, but has now become an important platform that provides market insights, steers quality assurance frameworks for modern, off-grid lighting devices and systems, and promotes sustainability through a partnership with industry.   An Action Agenda for Energy Access: The diversity of new energy service products available, and the rapidly increasing demand for information and communication services, water, health and entertainment in villages worldwide has built a very large demand for reliable and low-cost energy7. Combining this demand with the drive for clean energy brings two important objectives that were for many years seen as in direct competition with alignment around the suite of new clean energy products that can power village energy services.   To enable and expand this process, a range of design principles emerge that can form a roadmap to clean energy economies:    

  • Establish clear goals at the local level: Universal energy access is the global goal by 20307, but establishing more near-term goals that embody meaningful steps from the present situation will show how what is possible and at what level of effort. Cities and villages have begun with audits of energy services, costs, and environmental impacts. A number of tools are often cited as excellent starting points, including the climate footprint assessment tools like, and the HOMER software package ( used by many groups to design both local mini-grids and to plan and cost out off-grid energy options
  • Empower villages as both designers and as consumers of localized power: Village solutions necessarily vary greatly, but clean energy resource assessments, evaluation of the needed infrastructure investment, and, most often neglected but most important, the social structures around which sufficient training exists to make the village energy system a success.   In a pilot in rural Nicaragua, once the assessment was complete8 movement from evaluation to implementation quickly became a goal of both the community and a local commercial plant.
  • Make equity a central design consideration: Community energy solutions have the potential to liberate women entrepreneurs and disadvantaged ethnic minorities by tailoring user-materials and energy plans to meet the cultural and linguistic needs of these communities. National programmes often ignore business specialties, culturally appropriate cooking and other home energy needs. Thinking explicitly about this is both good business and makes the solutions much more likely to be adopted.
  References & Further Reading:
  1.  Alstone, Peter, Gershenson, Dimitry and Daniel K. Kammen (2015) Decentralized energy systems for clean electricity access, , , 305 – 314.
  2. Alstone, Peter, Gershenson, Dimitry and Daniel K. Kammen (2015) Decentralized energy systems for clean electricity access, Nature Climate Change, 5, 305 – 314.
  3. Zheng, Cheng and Kammen, Daniel (2014) An Innovation-Focused Roadmap for a Sustainable Global Photovoltaic Industry, Energy Policy, 67, 159–169.
  4. Daniel Schnitzer, Deepa Shinde Lounsbury, Juan Pablo Carvallo, Ranjit Deshmukh, Jay Apt, and Daniel M. Kammen (2014) Microgrids for Rural Electrification: A critical review of best practices based on seven case studies (United National Foundation: New York, NY).
  1. Casillas, C. and Kammen, D. M. (2010) The energy-poverty-climate nexus, Science, 330, 1182
  2. Azevedo, I. L., Morgan, M. G. & Morgan, F. (2009) The transition to solid-state lighting. Proceedings of the IEEE 97, 481-510 (2009).
  3. Mileva, A., Nelson, J. H., Johnston, J., and Kammen, D. M. (2013) SunShot Solar Power Reduces Costs and Uncertainty in Future Low-Carbon Electricity Systems, Environmental Science & Technology, 47 (16), 9053 – 9060.
  4. Sovacool, B. K. The political economy of energy poverty: A review of key challenges. Energy for Sustainable Development 16, 272-282 (2012).
  5. SE4ALL. (2013) Global Tracking Framework (United Nations Sustainable Energy For All, New York, NY).

Current Courses

What is the history and evolution of environmental thinking and writing? How have certain "environmental classics" shaped the way in which we think about nature, society and development? (And, as a corollary, what has shaped the intellectual history of programs like the Energy and Resources Group?). This course will use a selection of 20th century books / papers that have had a major impact on academic and wider public thinking about the environment / development to probe these issues. The selection includes works that have influenced environmental politics, policy and scholarship in the USA as well as in the developing world. We will not only read these classics, but we will also read reviews and critiques of these books ­ both those written at the time of first publication, and more recent commentaries ­ to explore the evolution of thought on these transforming ideas. When available, the webpage for this course will be posted here. Please check back later for an updated link.
In this course, you will develop an understanding ­ and a real working knowledge ­ of our energy technologies, policies, and options. This will include analysis of the different opportunities and impacts of energy systems that exist within and between groups defined by national, regional, household, ethnic, gender distinctions. Analysis of the range of current and future energy choices will be stressed, as well as the role of energy in determining local environmental conditions, and the global climate. The course website can be found here:
This graduate seminar will examine the relationship between development theory and practice with respect to issues of energy use, technology and culture. We will explore the often divergent ideas about development that have emerged from civil society, academia, multinational development agencies, and national development plans in order to investigate the differing perspectives currently envisioned for a sustainable energy future. The course will focus on energy options at the household and community level, paying particular attention to the needs of individuals, primarily in rural areas of developing nations. It will then examine theories of energy systems as a national, often centrally planned infrastructure. The seminar will explore ideas of 'appropriate technology', and cultural and political aspects of energy services, and environmental impacts. Specific themes in the class will include gender analysis, renewable energy alternatives, the emergence of decentralized energy options, and new energy and environmental linkages.
This technical course focuses on the fundamentals of photovoltaic (PV) energy conversion with respect to the physical principles of operation and design of efficient semiconductor solar cell devices. Incorporating ideas from a variety of disciplines, the course aims to equip students with the concepts and analytical skills necessary to assess the utility and viability of various modern PV technologies in the context of a growing global renewable energy market. Traditional materials science and device physics are integrated with the practical issues of connectivity, cost and market analysis, and policy considerations to provide a complete picture of the engineering and development of modern PV systems. Background in solid state physics or semiconductor electronics is strongly recommended.

Spring 2012 Graduate Seminar: Tuesday, 3:00 – 4:30, Room TBA

Seminar on Systemic Actions and Impacts (CCN: 27439)


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310 Barrows Hall
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720-3050
Phone: (510) 642-1640
Fax: (510) 642-1085


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