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.
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.
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:
In 2015 the world saw great momentum for climate action, culminating in a historic agreement in December to cut carbon emissions and contain global warming. It was also a year of continued transformation for the energy sector. For the first time in history, a global sustainable development goal was adopted solely for energy, aiming for: access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
To turn this objective into reality while mitigating climate change impacts, more countries are upping their game and going further with solar, wind, geothermal and other sources of renewable energy. As we usher in 2016, these stories from around the world present a flavor of how they are leading the charge toward a climate-friendly future.
1: Morocco is rising to be a “solar superpower.” On the edge of the Sahara desert, the Middle East’s top energy-importing country is building one of the world’s largest concentrated solar power plants. When fully operational, the Noor-Ouarzazate power complex will produce enough energy for more than one million Moroccans and reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels by 2.5 million tons of oil.
The world forged a historic climate deal in Paris on Saturday, cheered on and celebrated by people around the world. Getting to that agreement has involved years of work and collaboration that resulted in what many of us thought we would not witness in our life time. The agreement is in—now it's time for us to help the countries we work with to put their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) into action.
Being in Paris was exhilarating. The World Bank Group team was active on many fronts—the support for carbon prices, the Africa Climate Business Plan, our work on renewable energy, energy efficiency and contribution to energy access. How do we waste less, pollute less and do more to promote energy access?
One such initiative that was strongly supported at COP21 was the “Zero Routine Flaring by 2030” Initiative. The one-page text that took almost a year of negotiations and discussion commits endorsers to end routine gas flaring in new oil fields and eliminate ongoing “legacy” gas flaring as soon as possible and no later than 2030. If all oil-producing countries and companies endorse the Initiative, it will make available approximately 140 billion cubic meters of gas each year. If used to generate electricity, this amount of gas could power all of Africa. The Initiative was initially supported by 25 endorsers—pioneers—who recognized ending routine gas flaring as an industry practice is a no brainer and an important contribution that oil and gas companies can make towards addressing climate change. Twenty-two more endorsers have joined since the Initiative was launched to take the total to 47 endorsers representing 100 million tons of CO2 emission reduction each year and more than 40 percent of gas that will no longer be flared. At COP21, Nigeria’s Minister of Environment Amina Mohammed, announced that Nigeria will endorse the Initiative—great news for the people of Nigeria, especially those who live near flare sites.
(See an inspiring video featuring Faith Nwadishi from Nigeria.)
Six months. Forty-five endorsers. We’re well on our way to an ambitious new de facto global standard for the oil and gas industry.
It feels like just yesterday senior representatives from 25 governments, oil companies and development institutions came together with the U.N. Secretary General and World Bank President to launch a global initiative—“Zero Routine Flaring by 2030”—to end the oil industry practice of routinely flaring gas at oil production sites around the world.
Today, 45 endorsers representing over 40 percent of global gas flaring have stepped forward to commit to not wastefully flare gas in new oil field developments and to end existing (legacy) routine gas flaring as soon as possible and no later than 2030.
And we expect the number of endorsers to keep growing till all major oil-producing countries and companies make the same commitment.
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 feat—currently, 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.
Really – let’s.
It’s a fact: Indoor air pollution from cooking with solid fuels including wood, charcoal, coal, animal dung, and crop waste in open fires and traditional stoves is the fourth leading cause of death in the world, after heart and lung disease and respiratory infection.
Nearly 2.9 billion people, a majority of whom are women, still cook with dirty, smoke and soot-producing cookstoves and solid fuels. That’s more people using these dangerous appliances than the entire populations of India and China put together.
This has to change. And change is happening as I heard from the various discussions that took place in Accra, Ghana at the Clean Cooking Forum 2015 last week. Hearing the Minister of Petroleum of Ghana and the Deputy Minister for Gender and Development, I realize that the ambition to provide clean cookstoves and cleaner fuels to the households who need it most is definitely there. But transforming ambition into reality is a challenge. This is true not just in Ghana but in many other parts of the world.
I have been thinking a lot about this lately, especially as we come up on the climate change conference (COP21) in Paris, where world leaders will gather to reach a universal agreement on mitigating the effects of climate change. Adopting clean energy sources is key to reach that goal. To that end, the UN’s sustainable energy goal (SDG7) that aims to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all also aims for bringing clean cooking solutions to the 2.9 billion who do not have it today.