Just months after a historic climate conference in Paris, I can’t help but marvel at how far the world has progressed in the uptake of renewable energy. Take solar power, for example. What used to be a prohibitively expensive endeavor just years ago, is now a household-level solution in many countries. Then there are the record-setting solar auctions in countries like Zambia, the United Arab Emirates, India, Mexico, and Peru.
So what’s the next critical piece of the puzzle in our global efforts to provide sustainable energy for all?
In my view – and that of many others – it is to establish a viable, stationary solution to store energy. While stationary energy storage on a large scale has always been around – hydro energy storage, as an example, is efficient and cost effective – it is tied to topography and difficult to add at will. The cost of batteries has also been a big obstacle to widespread deployment and was a primary reason for the electricity grid to be designed as the biggest real-time delivery systems humans have ever made.
Last week with the support of the World Bank Group’s (WBG) Scaling Solar initiative. The auction for 100 MW (2x50 MW) resulted in a price as low as 6 cents/kWh.
This is good news for the country, which much like the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa faces acute electricity shortages. .
Zambia’s solar auction result followed a series of headline-making auctions in India, Mexico, Peru, and Dubai. In Dubai’s case, the price was as low as 3 cents/kWh -- the lowest price ever offered for solar power. Solar auctions are effectively a competitive bidding process to build power plants and supply a specific quantity of electricity at a pre-agreed price over a specified period of time.
Imagine for a moment that the most advanced spaceship visited Earth in full view of the planet’s inhabitants. From this spaceship, a humanoid life form named Klaatu emerges, followed shortly after by a menacingly large robot. Klaatu’s message to the people of Earth is revealed in one of the climactic exchanges of this story with the protagonist, Helen Benson, a young female scientist that was at the forefront of her field:
Helen Benson: I need to know what’s happening.
Klaatu: This planet is dying. The human race is killing it.
Helen Benson: So you’ve come here to help us.
Klaatu: No, I didn’t.
Helen Benson: You said you came to save us.
Klaatu: I said I came to save the Earth.
Helen Benson: You came to save the Earth… from us. You came to save the Earth from us.
Klaatu: We can’t risk the survival of this planet for the sake of one species.
Helen Benson: What are you saying?
Klaatu: If the Earth dies, you die. If you die, the Earth survives. There are only a handful of planets in the cosmos that are capable of supporting complex life…
Helen Benson: You can’t do this.
Klaatu: …this one can’t be allowed to perish.
Helen Benson: We can change. We can still turn things around.
Klaatu: We’ve watched, we’ve waited and hoped that you would change.
Helen Benson: Please…
Klaatu: It’s reached the tipping point. We have to act.
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.
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.
- Lighting Africa
- electricity access
- Energy Efficiency
- renewable energy
- Energy Access
- Sustainable Energy for All
- sustainable development goals
- Sustainable Development
- Urban Development
- South Africa
- Burkina Faso
- Global Goals
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?
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,” to provide 24/7 reliable and affordable electricity for all.
This number cannot be emphasized enough – more than 1 billion people around the world live without access to electricity, and 2.9 billion still cook with polluting, harmful fuel like firewood and dung.
As we celebrate Earth Day, we're looking at the ways to bring energy access to those communities and transform lives, and at the same time, protect our planet’s resources. How can we make sure that the right progress for communities is the right progress for the planet?
The good news is that the world is constantly coming up with new technology to address this challenge. We have portable, phone-charging solar lamps and energy efficient cookstoves that are affordable and practical for communities living off-the-grid. The challenge now is how to make sure the right technologies are available in affordable and sustainable ways to the communities that need them most.
Solar Sister is a social enterprise that recruits, trains, and supports African women launch clean-energy businesses in their communities, selling lights and cookstoves to their neighbors. We are organized around the principle that women must be intentionally included in discussions around energy.
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.
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:
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?
With electricity, children can study at night, women can walk home more safely on well-lit streets, and businesses can stay open well past dusk.
However, Governments and electric utilities around the world are mobilizing vast sums of money to close the access gap, especially in rural areas that are home to those lacking electricity.
So, how can we determine and identify who has electricity and who doesn’t? What if we had the technology and tools to help us see lights from space every night, for every village, in every country? We could then closely monitor progress on the ground. We could even plan and optimize policies and interventions in a different manner.
One of the biggest bangs at the opening day of the Paris COP21 climate summit was without doubt the dual financing announcements by the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, led by Bill Gates and other high-net-worth individuals, and the Mission Innovation, whose signatory governments have committed to doubling their allocations to clean energy research. The two initiatives aim to increase financing for clean energy innovation, from the basic research stage, funded by governments, to commercialization of promising new technologies—with venture financing provided by private investors.
In developing countries, where many households and companies have very limited access to energy, new clean energy technologies will serve the dual purpose of expanding energy access and constraining carbon emissions. For this to happen, innovative thinking will be needed not only in the development of new technology, but also in financing the deployment of these technologies.
The two initiatives announced in Paris reflect the realization that carbon dioxide emissions would continue to rise even if every commitment to cut carbon emissions were fulfilled. By 2035, the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere will already exceed the estimated levels required to maintain the internationally agreed 2 degrees Celsius limit. The development of new technologies will increase the options available to efficiently address climate change.