News Archive:

New report on green jobs in Africa from UNIDO, LNBL, and RAEL

Down­load the report from UNIDO, LBNL, and RAEL here and access the larger Green Jobs research pro­gram here.


The ongo­ing debate over the cost-​​effectiveness of renew­able energy (RE) and energy efficiency

(EE) deploy­ment often hinges on the cur­rent cost of incum­bent fossil-​​fuel tech­nolo­gies versus

the long-​​term ben­e­fit of clean energy alter­na­tives. This debate is often focused on mature or

indus­tri­al­ized’ economies and exter­nal­i­ties such as job cre­ation. In many ways, how­ever, the

sit­u­a­tion in devel­op­ing economies is at least as or even more inter­est­ing due to the generally

faster cur­rent rate of eco­nomic growth and of infra­struc­ture deploy­ment. On the one hand, RE

and EE could help decar­bonize economies in devel­op­ing coun­tries, but on the other hand, higher

upfront costs of RE and EE could ham­per short-​​term growth. The method­ol­ogy devel­oped in

this paper con­firms the exis­tence of this trade-​​off for some sce­nar­ios, yet at the same time

pro­vides con­sid­er­able evi­dence about the pos­i­tive impact of EE and RE from a job cre­ation and

employ­ment per­spec­tive. By extend­ing and adopt­ing a method­ol­ogy for Africa designed to

cal­cu­late employ­ment from elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion in the U.S., this study finds that energy savings

and the con­ver­sion of the elec­tric­ity sup­ply mix to renew­able energy gen­er­ates employment

com­pared to a ref­er­ence sce­nario. It also con­cludes that the costs per addi­tional job cre­ated tend

to decrease with increas­ing lev­els of both EE adop­tion and RE shares.


Project part­ners:

Cli­mate Pol­icy and Net­works Divi­sion, United Nations Indus­trial Devel­op­ment Organization


Energy Tech­nolo­gies Area, Lawrence Berke­ley National Laboratory 

The PACE of clean energy development featured in Science

The PACE of clean energy development

The Prop­erty Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) pro­gram is a national ini­tia­tive designed to pro­mote invest­ment in solar pho­to­voltaics by com­mer­cial, non­profit, and res­i­den­tial prop­erty own­ers. Its cen­tral fea­ture is to pro­vide low-​​cost, long-​​term fund­ing, which is repaid as an assess­ment on the property’s reg­u­lar tax bill, as is done for side­walks and sew­ers, for exam­ple. Spurring such invest­ment clearly is a good goal, but is the pro­gram effec­tive? Ameli, Pisu, and Kam­men in Applied Energy used a nat­ural exper­i­ment in north­ern Cal­i­for­nia to test the capac­ity of PACE, find­ing that it has been a great suc­cess, more than dou­bling res­i­den­tial pho­to­voltaic instal­la­tions in the region at no cost to the tax­pay­ers. —HJS

Appl. Energy 10.1016/j.apenergy.2017.01.037 (2017).

Why the Democrats and Republicans are Both Right on Climate


Why the Democ­rats and Repub­li­cans are Both Right on Climate


Daniel M. Kammen

Over the past two years, two thought­ful, inno­v­a­tive, and dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent plans to address global warm­ing have been pre­sented to the Amer­i­can pub­lic by the Demo­c­ra­tic and the Repub­li­can Par­ties.  Both plans would move the nation sig­nif­i­cantly toward a sus­tain­able future.

The first, the Clean Power Plan[1] (CPP), intro­duced by Pres­i­dent Obama, calls on states to reduce car­bon pol­lu­tion from the power sec­tor by 32 per­cent below the 2005 base­line by 2030.  The CPP fur­ther makes $8 bil­lion avail­able to retrain and aid coal-​​workers and their fam­i­lies.  This is a size­able tran­si­tion fund for an indus­try now val­ued in total at less than $50 bil­lion, a tenth of what it was just a few decades ago.

The sec­ond is the Car­bon Div­i­dend Plan[2] (CDP) which was recently pro­posed by the Cli­mate Lead­er­ship Coun­cil which is head­lined by for­mer Repub­li­can Sec­re­taries of State James Baker and George Shultz, as well as for­mer Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Paul­son, two for­mer Chair­men of the President’s Coun­cil of Eco­nomic Advis­ers, and a Chair­man of the Board of Wal­mart.  The CDP calls for a mod­estly ris­ing car­bon tax, with div­i­dends paid directly back to Amer­i­can fam­i­lies amount­ing to roughly $2,000 per year for a fam­ily of four.

Both plans have a great deal to like.  The home run strat­egy for Amer­i­can job cre­ation and indus­trial lead­er­ship is to imple­ment both the CPP and the CDP.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment esti­mates that the CPP will yield cli­mate ben­e­fits to the U. S. econ­omy of $20 bil­lion, and health ben­e­fits of $14 – $34 bil­lion, and to each year avoid 3,600 pre­ma­ture deaths, 1,700 heart attacks, 90,000 asthma attacks, and 300,000 missed work and school days[3].  With so many of these ill­nesses in lower-​​income areas and in minor­ity com­mu­ni­ties, the CPP is of tremen­dous ben­e­fit to poorer Amer­i­cans and to the national bud­get as well.  To be fair, some, but not all, of these ben­e­fits would also come from the CDP, although they are less clear-​​cut because emis­sions reduc­tions could come from other sec­tors of the econ­omy beyond electricity.

The CDP includes a pro­vi­sion for bor­der taxes on for­eign imports from nations that do not imple­ment some form of car­bon pric­ing, pre­sum­ably with a dis­pen­sa­tion for the world’s poor­est nations.

Together the CPP and the CDP build a vibrant, intensely job-​​creating energy sec­tor that would be far larger than either plan accom­plishes alone. The CPP does not pit one state against each other, but pushes each state to develop its own car­bon reduc­tion plan.  Both red and blue states are find­ing this eas­ier and more prof­itable than pre­vi­ously imag­ined.  The power sec­tor reduced its car­bon emis­sions 21 per­cent between 2005–2015, pri­mar­ily by switch­ing from coal to gas. It is well on the way to com­ply­ing with the Clean Power Plan.

The CPP will accel­er­ate the tran­si­tion to money-​​saving energy effi­ciency, and to a job-​​rich renew­able energy sec­tor[4].  Coun­tries such as China, Bangladesh, Den­mark, Ger­many Kenya, Korea, and Por­tu­gal have seen tremen­dous man­u­fac­tur­ing and job growth as they made their elec­tric­ity sec­tors more diverse, clean, and job-​​producing.

As inno­va­tions spread in the energy sec­tor, the ben­e­fits of the CDP come into play.  The car­bon div­i­dend to U. S. fam­i­lies is esti­mated by the U. S. Trea­sury to directly ben­e­fit finan­cially the poor­est 70 per­cent (some 223 mil­lion peo­ple) of Amer­i­cans.  A fed­eral infra­struc­ture invest­ment would fur­ther stim­u­late this deal, bring­ing jobs to the capital-​​intensive energy sec­tor across the country.

Of equal or greater impor­tance, how­ever, is the fact that the U. S. and EU energy sec­tors are grow­ing by less than 1% per year, but in many other nations energy demand is grow­ing by 5% per year or more.  The CDP pushes other coun­tries to adopt car­bon poli­cies, mak­ing them ready-​​markets for the prod­ucts that the invig­o­rated U. S. energy sec­tor will deliver.

Because the energy indus­try is about sys­tems inte­gra­tion, not sim­ply indi­vid­ual tech­nol­ogy com­po­nents, coun­tries need com­pany part­ners that are expert and trusted to deliver inte­grated pack­ages.  This is a hall­mark of the U. S. energy sec­tor, from the com­plex and exten­sive oil and gas indus­try, to com­pa­nies like Bech­tel and John­son Con­trols, to the fastest grow­ing part of the U. S. econ­omy, the clean energy innovators.

The real beauty of the two pro­pos­als is how well they can work together for the ben­e­fit of all Amer­i­cans, and at the same time, the global environment.


Daniel M. Kam­men is a pro­fes­sor of energy at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley, direc­tor of the Renew­able and Appro­pri­ate Energy Lab­o­ra­tory, and Sci­ence Envoy for the U. S. State Depart­ment. Twit­ter: @dan_kammen; URL: http://​rael​.berke​ley​.edu






[1] https://​www​.epa​.gov/​c​l​e​a​n​p​o​w​e​r​p​l​a​n​/​f​a​c​t​-​s​h​e​e​t​-​o​v​e​r​v​i​e​w​-​c​l​e​a​n​-​p​o​w​e​r​-​p​lan

[2] https://​www​.clcoun​cil​.org/​w​p​-​c​o​n​t​e​n​t​/​u​p​l​o​a​d​s​/​2​0​1​7​/​0​2​/​T​h​e​C​o​n​s​e​r​v​a​t​i​v​e​C​a​s​e​f​o​r​C​a​r​b​o​n​D​i​v​i​d​e​n​d​s​.​pdf

[3] https://​www​.epa​.gov/​c​l​e​a​n​p​o​w​e​r​p​l​a​n​/​f​a​c​t​-​s​h​e​e​t​-​o​v​e​r​v​i​e​w​-​c​l​e​a​n​-​p​o​w​e​r​-​p​lan

[4] http://​rael​.berke​ley​.edu/​g​r​e​e​n​j​obs

In Memory of Paul Baer: champion of climate protection and equity

Paul Baer (1962 — 2016) – Memo­riam 

Paul was one of the first, and one of the most pas­sion­ate, stu­dents I met upon my move from Prince­ton to Berkeley.

Paul played a cen­tral role – along with Bar­bara Haya and Nate Hult­man – in work­ing through the sci­ence, pol­icy and legal story around an idea that was of some inter­est then, eigh­teen years ago, and is now very much on the global agenda: the need to fight for equity at a time of increas­ing inequality.

In fact, our team effort – the ‘cli­mate lab­o­ra­tory’ – was a won­der­ful and pro­duc­tive[1] fusion of the inter­ests, pas­sions, and skills of a num­ber of ERG stu­dents, post-​​doctoral fel­lows, and fac­ulty.  We were able to work between the­ory and prac­tice on how equity and envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice could evolve a project that that I had recently com­pleted at Prince­ton with – another ERGie – Ann Kinzig[2] – into an oper­a­tional pro­posal for the cli­mate nego­ti­a­tions.  Paul and Tom Athana­siou pub­lished Dead Heat two years later; a book that a decade of cli­mate cam­paign­ers car­ried and cited regularly.

In our cli­mate lab­o­ra­tory, and in the sub­se­quent years of work­ing, trav­el­ing, and debat­ing a wide range of top­ics with Paul one thing always stood out: his unflag­ging pas­sion for the project in the form of the peo­ple impacted by the lack of atten­tion to jus­tice and equity.

It is heart­en­ing to me that while Paul’s career and life stops after ERG were not always happy, they were always mean­ing­ful and cho­sen to bet­ter the lives of others.

I do, and will always miss you, Paul.

To down­load a copy of this memo­r­ial note, click here.


[1] Paul Baer, John Harte, Anto­nia Her­zog, John Hol­dren, Nate Hult­man, Daniel Kam­men, Bar­bara (Kresch) Haya, Richard Nor­gaard, and Leigh Ray­mond “Equal per capita emis­sion rights: the key to a viable cli­mate change pol­icy”, Sci­ence 289, 2287 (2000).

[2] Ann Kinzig and Daniel Kam­men (1998) “National tra­jec­to­ries of car­bon emis­sions: Analy­sis of pro­pos­als to fos­ter the tran­si­tion to low-​​carbon economies”, Global Envi­ron­men­tal Change, 8 (3), 183 – 208 (1998).

Nuclear Plant ‘Doesn’t Fit’ In The Future Grid, Utility Executive Says

From Forbes Mag­a­zine, Decem­ber 7, 2016

Arti­cle link.

Pacific Gas & Elec­tric Co. decided to close its Dia­blo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant because its base­load power—often cited as nuclear’s best asset—doesn’t fit into the dynamic grid Cal­i­for­nia is devel­op­ing, a PG&E exec­u­tive said today at the U.S. Energy Stor­age Sum­mit in San Francisco.

Steve Mal­night, PG&E’s senior vice pres­i­dent for reg­u­la­tory affairs, was speak­ing specif­i­cally of mar­ket con­di­tions in Cal­i­for­nia, but many con­sider Cal­i­for­nia a trail­blazer for the nation on energy and cli­mate issues, so his com­ments will res­onate in the ongo­ing debate over nuclear’s role in a clean-​​energy future.

Con­sid­er­ing a shut­down was a dif­fi­cult deci­sion for us,” Mal­night said, “but as we really looked at the chang­ing dynam­ics in Cal­i­for­nia, given the choices we’ve made in Cal­i­for­nia, and the pol­icy direc­tion in Cal­i­for­nia, there was a clear recog­ni­tion that Dia­blo was not going to be a good fit for the future needs of the system.”

Screen Shot 2016-12-07 at 4.53.12 PM

Fig­ure cap­tion: Aer­ial view of the Dia­blo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, which sits on the edge of the Pacific Ocean at Avila Beach in San Luis Obispo County, Cal­i­for­nia. (Photo by MARK RALSTON/​AFP/​Getty Images)

Nuclear advo­cates argue that nuclear plants can pro­vide reli­able power to bal­ance the vari­abil­ity of renew­ables, but base­load power turned out to be Diablo’s Achilles’ heel.

With 50 per­cent renew­ables on the sys­tem, the idea of a large base­load gen­er­a­tor that runs pretty much all the time, every day, 24 hours a day, just doesn’t have as good a fit to the mar­ket con­di­tions we expect to see,” Mal­night said.

PG&E announced this sum­mer it would close Diablo’s two reac­tors after their oper­at­ing licenses expire in Novem­ber 2024 and August 2025, replac­ing the plant with a suite of greenhouse-​​gas-​​free tech­nolo­gies, includ­ing renew­ables, energy effi­ciency, and energy stor­age. Today, Mal­night said half that job is already done.

“When we looked for­ward, what we really saw is that only about half of Dia­blo Canyon in terms of the gen­er­a­tion that came out of that facil­ity was even going to be needed. In other words, half is already effec­tively being replaced with the poli­cies we’re march­ing down on clean energy and on dif­fer­ent energy choices that our cus­tomers are mak­ing,” Mal­night said.

When you looked at the other half that needed to be replaced, base­load gen­er­a­tion just wasn’t a good fit. The plant would be turn­ing on and turn­ing off all the time. And in a mar­ket­place with really abun­dant resources in the mid­dle of the day, that’s not a good way to run a nuclear plant.”

PG&E intends to “buy” the renew­ables, effi­ciency, and stor­age that will replace the plant soon, so that they’re in place before it closes. He told the audi­ence of energy-​​storage inter­ests that the stor­age pur­chase would have been nec­es­sary even if Dia­blo stayed open.

We antic­i­pate we’re going to need to bring on more stor­age onto the sys­tem to help inte­grate those diverse resources. Which, by the way we would have needed if we kept Dia­blo run­ning, too.”

Mal­night did acknowl­edge the seem­ing irony of clos­ing a nuclear plant dur­ing a fran­tic quest to develop an energy sys­tem free of car­bon emissions.

As a com­pany we’re really com­mit­ted to achiev­ing the state’s—and hope­fully the world’s—ambition for car­bon reduc­tion, and Dia­blo is a vital resource for us today in our exist­ing fleet for how we are able to deliver as much clean energy as we do.” But, he said, it proved too awk­ward a piece of the puz­zle in an energy future based on a diverse, dynamic, decen­tral­ized set of resources.

PG&E’s deci­sion sup­ports an argu­ment artic­u­lated by Berke­ley Energy Pro­fes­sor Daniel Kam­men in a debate this sum­mer [to watch the debate, click here] with for­mer Energy Sec­re­tary Steven Chu: “The dra­matic ramp up in solar resulted in the dra­matic real­iza­tion that a diverse, decen­tral­ized sys­tem can pro­vide the same crit­i­cal fea­tures that we think about with a base­load highly cen­tral­ized sys­tem,” said Kammen.

KQED Forum (November 21, 2016): Fighting Climate Change Amid a Trump Presidency

To listen or download the podcast:

Fight­ing Cli­mate Change Amid a Trump Presidency

Paul Rogersman­ag­ing edi­tor, KQED Sci­ence; envi­ron­ment writer, San Jose Mer­cury News
Dan Kam­menpro­fes­sor of energy, UC Berke­ley; direc­tor, Renew­able and Appro­pri­ate Energy Lab­o­ra­tory at UC Berke­ley
Dr. Chris FieldPerry L. McCarty direc­tor, Stan­ford Woods Insti­tute for the Environment

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 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.”


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.


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:


Can Networked Knowledge Help Communities Thrive on a Turbulent Planet?

Arti­cle by Andy Revkin:

Arti­cle URL:

 Sci­ence has long been focused mainly on knowl­edge fron­tiers, with uni­ver­si­ties often seem­ing to track “impact fac­tors” of pub­lished papers more than a researcher’s impact in the real word.

But there’s been a wel­come effort, of late, par­tic­u­larly in fields rel­e­vant to sus­tain­able devel­op­ment, to shift pri­or­i­ties toward help­ing com­mu­ni­ties address chal­lenges as humanity’s “great accel­er­a­tion” plays out in the next few decades. An early iter­a­tion of this call came in a 1997 essay on “the virtues of mun­dane sci­ence” by Daniel Kam­men of the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley, and Michael R. Dove of Yale. (I dis­cussed the essay in a lec­ture last year.)

It seems such efforts are gain­ing steam. For exam­ple, con­sider the growth of the Thriv­ing Earth Exchange, an effort by the Amer­i­can Geo­phys­i­cal Union to help con­nect its global net­work of sci­en­tists with com­mu­ni­ties seek­ing science-​​based solu­tions to a vari­ety of vex­ing problems:

Cap­tion: Some exam­ples of ini­tia­tives on which com­mu­ni­ties have sought advice from sci­en­tists through an online exchange.Credit Thriv­ing Earth Exchange

When the ini­tia­tive launched in 2013, the direc­tor Raj Pandya, wrote an arti­cle for Eos, the Amer­i­can Geo­phys­i­cal Union mag­a­zine, explain­ing the goal is “to enable com­mu­ni­ties to part­ner with Earth and space sci­en­tists and access the exper­tise needed to address prob­lems aris­ing from haz­ards, dis­as­ters, resource lim­i­ta­tions, and cli­mate change.”

The exchange has accu­mu­lated quite a list of projects at var­i­ous stages of analy­sis and com­ple­tion. I hope you’ll explore them here. I also urge you to lis­ten to this short, suc­cinct and com­pelling talk in which Pandya illus­trates the mer­its of get­ting the right sci­en­tific exper­tise to the right prob­lem by show­ing how tar­geted mete­o­ro­log­i­cal fore­cast­ing helped improve the deploy­ment of lim­ited sup­plies of menin­gi­tis vac­cine in sub-​​Saharan Africa, sav­ing lives and money.

An early iter­a­tion of such a net­work, now dor­mant, was Sci­en­tists With­out Bor­ders, cre­ated almost a decade ago by the New York Acad­emy of Sci­ences (I wrote about it in 2008). This is an arena where trial and error are both vital.

In a related and cred­itable move, the White House and some part­ners today announced the launch of “Resilience Dia­logues” — a way for com­mu­ni­ties at risk from cli­matic or coastal threats to con­nect with experts to reduce their vul­ner­a­bil­ity. In an email this evening, Amy Luers, the assis­tant direc­tor for cli­mate resilience and infor­ma­tion at the White House Office of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy Pol­icy, explained that sci­en­tific exper­tise is actu­ally a smart part of what’s needed:

This effort is focused on respond­ing to com­mu­ni­ties’ request for guid­ance in their resilience plan­ning by match­ing experts from a range of sec­tors (mostly not sci­en­tists) to meet the needs that com­mu­ni­ties have iden­ti­fied. These experts come from a range of tech­ni­cal assis­tance pro­grams in both fed­eral agen­cies and non-​​governmental groups. They are peo­ple who under­stand the reg­u­la­tions, man­age grants pro­grams, have devel­oped and/​or worked with tools that explore trade­offs, and who have exper­tise in com­mu­ni­ca­tion and pub­lic engage­ment. In fact, in the pilots, I would say that only about 10 per­cent of the sub­ject mat­ter experts were Ph.D. bio­phys­i­cal scientists.

I spent time a cou­ple of years ago on the engage­ment com­mit­tee of Future Earth, an inter­na­tional enter­prise aim­ing to shift research invest­ments in sci­ence toward goals that serve soci­etal needs. As a result, I was a (minor) co-​​author on a paper in Global Envi­ron­men­tal Change ear­lier this year aim­ing to illus­trate “how sci­ence might con­tribute to the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of desir­able and plau­si­ble futures and pave the way for trans­for­ma­tions towards them.”

It’s excit­ing to see this hap­pen­ing, includ­ing through another idea-​​sharing ini­tia­tive that I recently high­lighted: “Seeds of a Good Anthro­pocene.”

 Screen Shot 2016-11-01 at 2.15.40 AM

Please spread the word or give both the new White House ini­tia­tiveand Thriv­ing Earth Exchange a test drive if you have a resilience issue in search of solutions.

Fur­ther read­ing | Daniel Sare­witz, an ana­lyst of the inter­face of sci­ence and soci­ety who teaches at Ari­zona State Uni­ver­sity, recently wrote an extra­or­di­nary and com­pre­hen­sive essay warm­ing of per­ils ahead for both sci­ence and soci­ety if insti­tu­tions of sci­ence don’t shift pri­or­i­ties. The piece is in The New Atlantis, a jour­nal on tech­nol­ogy and soci­ety. Here’s his takeaway:

Advanc­ing accord­ing to its own logic, much of sci­ence has lost sight of the bet­ter world it is sup­posed to help cre­ate. Shielded from account­abil­ity to any­thing out­side of itself, the “free play of free intel­lects” begins to seem like lit­tle more than a cover for indif­fer­ence and irre­spon­si­bil­ity. The tragic irony here is that the stunted imag­i­na­tion of main­stream sci­ence is a con­se­quence of the very auton­omy that sci­en­tists insist is the key to their suc­cess. Only through direct engage­ment with the real world can sci­ence free itself to redis­cover the path toward truth.

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Beyond coal: Scaling up clean energy to fight global poverty

RAEL joins col­leagues from the Over­seas Devel­op­ment Insti­tute, CAFOD, Chris­t­ian Aid, Oxfam, Prac­ti­cal Action, Tierra Digna, The Coun­cil for Energy, Envi­ron­ment & Water, IESR, and the Insti­tute for Devel­op­ment Studies.

An  Op Ed on the report appeared in the blog, The Hill, and can be accessed here.

The full report is avail­able here.



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