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How Communities Living in Poverty Can Benefit From Renewable Energy

Bobbi Peterson's picture
Editor, Living Life Green

Bobbi is a contributor to many environmental publications and the editor of  Living Life Green, a blog dedicated to sustainability, education, and helping people achieve a more...

  • Member since 2017
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  • Dec 11, 2017

Rainshadow Charter School

Impoverished communities around the globe lack access to essential amenities including heat, electricity and clean drinking water. Residents of rural communities are also in a similar situation. Electric companies have little incentive to add additional infrastructure to the electrical grid to provide these areas with electricity since it isn’t economical. Instead, residents are forced to use kerosene, diesel, candles and other antiquated technologies to meet their needs. Fortunately, renewable energy technologies can help.

Cost savings over time

Poverty and electricity are a negative cycle. Poor people are less likely to be able to afford access to electricity, and a lack of electricity is more likely to keep them from moving out of poverty. Residents in rural and impoverished communities can expect to pay up to five times the cost per kilowatt hour for electricity compared to more developed areas, and their access to electricity is spotty at best. Energy efficient systems offer a solution to this issue.

Efficient energy systems reduce the amount of energy needed to operate a system which means excess energy can then be used somewhere else. A relevant measure of electricity is looking at a cost comparison. Geothermal energy, for example, costs approximately 80 percent less than traditional fossil fuel sources while solar energy prices are rivaling if not falling below fossil fuel prices.

Over time, renewables can save a significant amount of money on electricity expenses. However, the initial installation cost is beyond what most poor people can afford to pay. Solar power, geothermal and wind power infrastructure requires users pay upfront energy costs equivalent to ten years-worth of power. Typically, people living in poverty don’t have this kind of extra money to invest.

Localized energy resources

Renewable energy such as geothermal, solar and wind power allow communities to use natural resources to produce green, clean energy on location. This bypasses the community’s need tie into the main electric grid and gives them energy independence. In the event of a natural disaster or significant storm situation, they will have access to electricity sooner as they won’t need to wait for cabling and large-scale infrastructure repairs.

Communities located near geothermal features are especially well suited to take advantage of renewable geothermal energy. Underground, the temperature remains nearly constant year-round. Geothermal heating systems have water-filled pipes that run into the ground.

The pipes naturally heat or cool to the earth’s temperature before returning to the ground surface, which in turn regulates the temperature of a home or business. Geothermal units can also direct hot water to a water heater, which virtually eliminates the costs of heating water conventionally, which in turn reduces energy costs.

Reallocating energy subsidies

Across the globe, countries spent a combined $550 billion in subsidies for fossil fuels in 2013 alone. Subsidies for fossil fuel promote the usage of dirty energy sources and benefit those with regular access to fossil fuels, such as the wealthy and those living in more developed areas.

Reallocating this funding to create renewable energy infrastructure in impoverished areas will increase access to regular electricity and improve the resident’s quality of life. Subsidies that offset the initial installation costs of renewable technologies can help economically disadvantage communities move forward.

Improved air quality

Traditional energy sources in rural and poverty-stricken communities include diesel-run generators and kerosene lamps. These sources generate high volumes of pollutants which create poor air quality in homes and neighborhoods, which can lead to respiratory ailments and early deaths. Renewables offer an eco-friendly alternative.

Solar, geothermal and wind energy produce a fraction of the emissions of fossil fuels and kerosene. Improved air quality can reduce instances of cancer and other diseases related to breathing harmful pollutants.

Poor communities across the globe can benefit from the lower cost and emissions of renewable energy as it offers a more sustainable and accessible alternative to traditional fossil fuels.

Featured image credit: Black Rock Solar, courtesy Flickr

The post How Communities Living in Poverty Can Benefit From Renewable Energy appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

Original Post

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on Dec 11, 2017


In underdeveloped economies a lot of things are lacking, not just electricity. The Green Climate Fund was supposed to start spending $100 billion per year and more each year thereafter, to remedy some of that.

But developed countries have not made, and likely will not make, sufficient contributions.

Green Climate Fund: A total of 193 countries signed on to COP21, but that means nothing, unless they agree to do something, to undertake pain. The majority of these countries are underdeveloped and developing countries. They signed on to COP21 in expectation of payments from the Green Climate Fund. Only a few developed countries have made financial contributions to the Green Climate Fund. See below URLs.…

The UN would administer the Fund. As of 17 May 2017, a total of $10.3 billion had been pledged (most not yet paid) to the Fund.

– EU member states pledged $4.7 billion (UK $1.2 b; France $1.0 b; Germany $1.0 b; Others $1.5 b)
– US $3.0 billion; already paid $1 billion.
– Rest of World $2.6 billion (Japan $1.5 b; China $0; India $0; Others $1.1 b). See table in URL.

The Fund’s initial goal is to distribute to recipient countries $100 billion in 2020, and much more in EACH YEAR thereafter. The US, about 20% of gross world product, likely would be hit up for $25 billion in 2020 (China would not pay, India would get money), and much more in EACH YEAR thereafter. That UN-managed Fund likely would become the mother of all boondoggles.

No. Thank you, said Trump. He was not about to let the UN do boondoggle projects with US taxpayer money, especially when considering the insufficient outcomes of almost all prior COP events.

As the world is making so little progress towards RE, the US, “doing its RE part” by staying with COP21, would be engaging in an expensive exercise in futility.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Dec 12, 2017

Bobbi, the best renewable value proposition for impoverished people is unreliable micro-power, for applications like charging a cellphone or flashlight, as solar scales very well down to the 10 Watt size. Modest batteries can make solar energy available at night for lighting.

Unfortunately, adding storage which can last the span of cloudy days during wintertime or monsoon season is very expensive, both due to the cost of the batteries, and the need to over-size the PV panels for worst-case months. Firming solar power requires a backup generator.

Regarding boosting indoor air quality, yes this is a huge concern as the global deaths due to dirty indoor air is on the order of a million people per year. But this dirty air is not so much from kerosene lanterns as from indoor cooking fires. These larger heat sources can’t be replaced with 10 Watt micro-power; they need kWatt scale power, in other words “real grid power”.

Grids are the best way to supply homes with kWatt scale power, because in that case the value of the energy used is more in line with the cost of the wires, and there is an economy of scale benefit to consolidating generation and maintenance (this applies to PV as well as backup generators). Also, moving generation from the home to a utility shifts the financing burden and up-front cost away from the homeowner, thus reducing the barriers to home ownership.

As far as the cheapest way to supply grid power, at 100kWatt scale, sure, variable renewables with batteries and backup generators probably wins; but it won’t be cheap. For most locations with that level of demand, it’s better to do the grid extension to join a larger market, because costs keep going down with scale. At 100 MWatt scale and up, in most developing countries, coal is king. Hydro is a great addition, where it is available.

To the extent that electricity demand peaks during the day on sunny days (i.e. only in warm climates), adding limited PV to a coal-dominated grid can be helpful. But beyond a few percent of demand, PV always makes coal-based grids cost more, because most of the cost of the electricity is in the plant, not the fuel, and the “duck” curve shows that grids with only modest PV have a demand that peaks at sunset, when PV is useless, so nearly the same must be spent on coal plants whether they are supplemented with PV or not.

The one important thing that we in developed countries should be doing to help others reach our level of prosperity is to continue improving and cost-reducing nuclear power. Unlike solar, the nuclear plants don’t need fossil fuel backup, and unlike coal, they don’t pollute the air. China and Russia are doing great work on nuclear designs that they export to countries like Pakistan and India, but we in the west can and should be doing much more.

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