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Bridging the skills gap is key for energy access, new jobs

Rebekah Shirley's picture
Frontier Markets (night shot)/Power for All


Progress is being made in closing energy access gaps in Africa and Asia. A big reason is falling renewable energy costs, which have made home solar systems, mini-grids and other distributed renewable energy (DRE) solutions a viable option for providing first-ever electricity in remote, rural areas far removed from electric grids.

For the first time ever, the number of people gaining access to electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa is outstripping population growth. More than 700,000 home solar systems have been installed in Kenya alone and another 240,000 poor, rural households are expected to be connected soon under a new $150 million off-grid project backed by the World Bank. In South Asia, progress has been ever faster.

What will it take to accelerate these gains for the nearly 1 billion people worldwide still living without electricity?

The Neighborhood Battery System: Conserving Energy and Reducing Emissions in the Netherlands

Qiyang Xu's picture
Electric cars are so popular in the Netherlands that it would not be uncommon, say, for a Tesla to roll up as a taxi outside Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. And it is not tough to find charging stations for these cars in neighborhoods, parking lots, or even along the streets.

To reduce carbon emissions, national and local governments are taking various approaches—and, thus, electric cars, solar home systems, and energy-efficient solutions for buildings are booming in Europe. Cities like Amsterdam are front and center of this transformation. Netherlands, for instance,  has an ambitious goal of reducing CO2 emissions by 80–95 percent by 2050 compared with 1990, making it an ideal venue for a Smart Cities Tour earlier this year, where  a group of 26 representatives, including national and municipal officials and World Bank project teams, to learn from the Netherlands’ successful experience in energy sector transformation.

For instance, during a site visit to energy network company Alliander, we saw the pilot of a neighborhood battery system (NBS) in Rijsenhout, a town in the Western Netherlands near Amsterdam. The NBS is a local, community-level energy storage system that employs one large battery to stabilize neighborhood power distribution grids, particularly during peak hours. With a significant and increasing number of electric vehicle charging stations and solar panels installed in communities, electric networks are under increasing pressure to handle the variation between solar power during the day and concentrated peak electricity demand in the evenings and nights. Maintaining stable power supply and enhancing the resilience of the electricity grid to spikes in demand are fast becoming real challenges for these communities. While overhauling the power grids to prepare for these challenges could be costly and time-consuming, these small-scale NBS provide a low-cost, smart alternative solution.
 
Housing of the pilot neighborhood battery system in Rijsenhout, Netherlands.  Credit: Alliander

Machine Learning Helps Power Down Electricity Theft in Jamaica

Anna Lerner's picture
  • In Jamaica, about a quarter of electricity produced is stolen or “lost” through non-paying customers and/or accounting errors. Manual detection has failed to make a difference in reducing this theft.
  • ESMAP’s technical assistance team implemented a machine learning model to help Jamaican utility JPS identify and decrease incidents of theft.
  • The machine learning model is based on an open source code, and is available for free to any utility.
About a quarter of the electricity produced by Jamaica’s energy utility, Jamaica Public Service (JPS) is stolen. When traditional, labor-intensive methods failed to produce lasting results, Jamaica tried a different approach: machine learning.
 
Globally, billions of dollars are lost every year due to electricity theft, wherein electricity is distributed to customers but is never paid for. In 2014 alone, Jamaica’s total power transmission and distribution system reported 27% of losses (due to technical and non-technical reasons), close to double the regional average. While the utility company absorbs a portion of the cost, it also passes some of that cost onto consumers. Both actors therefore have an incentive to want to change this.
 
To combat this, JPS would spend more than $10 million (USD) on anti-theft measures every year, only to see theft numbers temporarily dip before climbing back up again. The problem was, these measures relied primarily on human-intensive, manual detection, and customers stealing electricity used more and more sophisticated ways to go around regularly metered use. JPS employees would use their institutional knowledge of serial offenders and would spend hours poring over metering data to uncover irregular patterns in electricity usage to identify shady accounts. But it wasn’t enough to effectively quash incidents of theft.

Electrification planning made easier with new open source tool

Dimitris Mentis's picture


Evaluating the optimal way to expand electricity access across a country is difficult, especially in countries where energy related data is scarce and not centralized. Geospatial plans informing universal electricity access strategies and investments can easily take 18 to 24 months to complete.

A team working on a national electrification plan for Zambia last December did not have that much time.

They faced a six-month deadline to develop a plan, or they would miss out on a funding window, said Jenny Hasselsten, an energy specialist at the World Bank brought in to help with the electrification project in partnership with the government of Zambia.

Powering Sub-Saharan Africa – A fresh take on an old problem

Masami Kojima's picture
Man looking at electricity meters in Bamako, Mali 
Pic: Aarthi Sivaraman/World Bank

“If there is one thing that could really help my business, it would be reliable power supply,” said David, a small business owner in Lagos, on my recent trip to Nigeria.
“I agree. If only …,” echoed another.

And not without reason.

Africa lags every other region in the world when it comes to electricity access for its people. Only one in three Sub-Saharan Africans has access to electricity. That’s less than half of the rate of access in South Asia, the region with the second-lowest access rate. If we were to measure access to “reliable” electricity, then those numbers would be even more dismal.

Worryingly, the rate of access has been increasing at a mere 5 percentage points every decade, against population growth of 29 percent. If something is not done to dramatically change this trend, Africa will not see universal access to electricity in the 21st century. This is a seriously worrying prospect as the world races toward a 2030 deadline of universal access to electricity.

The target of achieving universal access by 2030 by the U.N.’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative and the billions of dollars committed by the U.S. government’s Power Africa plan underline the urgency of the situation. As a reminder, more than 1 billion people around the world still live without access to electricity and 600 million of those live in Africa.

So, are Africa’s utilities financially equipped to respond to this call?

Getting current: New tech giving more Africans access to electricity

Charles Feinstein's picture
Control room at a power station in Ghana. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst / World Bank)

Much work remains to be done to ensure reliable electricity access for Africa's citizens. A number of complications are making it difficult to achieve this UN Sustainable Development Goal. Yet access rates are expanding in many nations, and technology and design improvements offer opportunities to make rapid leaps forward. 

Of the 1.1 billion people on Earth without access to electricity, about half live in Africa. And while the World Bank’s Global Tracking Framework shows progress is being made to deliver electricity to those without, most of it is taking place in Asia. In Africa, it’s a different story.

How many people does it take to change a light bulb?

Ashok Sarkar's picture
What is this? Read on to find out.

Riddle us this. In what country are...
  • 450 million ceiling fans already in use, 40 million new ones sold every year?
  • 350 million fluorescent tube lights already in use, 10 million new sold every year?
  • 30 million air conditioners already in use, three million new sold every year?
If you guessed India, you are right.

With a population of about 1.2 billion, India is one of the largest consumer markets in the world. So it’s no surprise that household appliances account for several gigawatts of electricity usage across the country. As India’s middle class grows and people move from villages to towns and cities, electricity usage is only increasing. In fact, hundreds of millions of electric appliances will be added over the next few decades. This poses a serious challenge for India’s energy security since there already are electricity supply shortages, which often lead to chronic outages and blackouts. The surge in household appliances is also a climate change challenge—India, the world’s third-largest CO2 emitter, is predicted to continue increasing its greenhouse gas emissions at least until 2030.

But India is turning this challenge into an opportunity by tapping into energy efficiency solutions, a relatively new area with already a few major successes. Considered globally as the “first fuel,” energy efficiency is rising to the forefront of India’s quest for innovative solutions to provide 24/7 reliable and affordable electricity for all.

Four things you can do during Earth Hour to fight energy poverty

Andy Shuai Liu's picture



On March 19, millions of people across the globe will turn their lights off for one hour. For many, Earth Hour is a time to recognize and acknowledge the array of challenges our world faces on energy, climate, and poverty.

Well over a billion people still live without electricity. Almost 3 billion still use air-polluting and carbon-emitting solid fuels (such as wood, coal and dung) for cooking and heating.
 
Some of us have seen these numbers so many times, they no longer seem as alarming as they should. Their impact has worn thin... So to recognize this reality for millions of our fellow human beings and to raise awareness of energy poverty, here are a few things you can do for Earth Hour on Saturday, March 19:

Why “inefficiency” is needed in energy financing for Africa

Aaron Leopold's picture
Source: Andrew Heath for Practical Action

One of the most important findings noted at the Africa launch of the World Bank's Progress Toward Sustainable Energy: Global Tracking Framework 2015 (GTF) report for the Sustainable Energy for All initiative, is that despite recent trends to increase investment in the energy sector, we still need to double the number of new connections to modern energy services per year to reach universal access to energy by 2030.
 
Universalizing access to clean, modern energy services is at the heart of our ability to deliver on the new globally agreed sustainable development goals and climate agreements. Knowing this, the panel of experts discussing the findings of the report at the Africa Energy Indaba was asked a key question by Anita Marangoly George, Senior Director of the Bank's Energy and Extractives Global Practice - did we think achieving the universal access goal was possible in just a decade and a half?

Morocco raises stakes on combating climate change

Sameh Mobarek's picture
 
View over Ouarzazate city, Morocco. (Photo via ThinkStock)

While responsible for only a small share of global emissions, the country is taking big steps to curb them.

In the next few weeks, Morocco is preparing to commission the first phase of what will be the largest concentrated solar power plant of its kind in the world. The 510 MW Noor-Ouarzazate Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) complex was first conceived as part of the Moroccan Solar Plan (MSP) adopted in 2009 to significantly shift the country’s energy policy and climate change agenda, which is particularly relevant with the climate conference (COP21) happening in Paris. 

This is no small featcurrently, Morocco depends on fossil fuel imports for over 97 percent of its domestic power needs, making it particularly susceptible to regional conditions and volatility in oil prices.

The country is determined to change that, with plans to boost the amount of electricity it generates from renewable sources to 42 percent of its total capacity by 2020. This entails developing and commissioning at least 2,000 MW of solar and 2,000 MW of wind capacity in a relatively short timeframe. 

The Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN) was established to implement MSP’s solar targets in conjunction with the Office National de l’Electricité et de l’Eau Potable (ONEE), Morocco’s national electricity and water utility.  Noor-Ouarzazate is the first of a series that MASEN expects to commission by 2020 to achieve its renewable energy target.

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