Alternative Power: Going beyond Power Grids

Energy distribution should not be left to the commercial sector, especially in rural areas says Simon Trace


Simon Trace promotes technology that can help challenge poverty

London, 9 October 2014 - One hundred and thirty five years after Edison patented the first commercially viable light bulb back in 1879, one fifth of humanity still lives in the dark with no access to electricity and little chance of getting out of poverty.

In the last couple of decades some progress has been made. The proportion of the global population with access to electricity rose from 76% in 1990 to 83% in 2010. But this growth reflects the expansion of cities in the developing world (about 70% of  new connections in the last 20 years, around 1.2 billion in all, were in urban areas) and that illustrates one of the main reasons why the energy sector alone will never deliver energy to all.

In many developing countries the formal energy sector is focused almost exclusively on operating and extending the national electricity grid. That is because it is the easiest and cheapest thing to do in areas where population density is high, and you can get thousands of people connected per kilometre of distribution line installed.

Who needs it most?

Today, 80% of those without electricity live in rural areas, many in dispersed populations far from a power line. To make a connection to them from the grid is “uneconomic” and the energy sector alone cannot be relied upon to do so.  Unless we want to alleviate poverty by forever growing cities and leaving rural areas empty and marginalised, something has to change.

The International Energy Agency estimates that, if universal access to electricity is to be achieved by 2030, then over half of all new investments will have to be in off-grid technology such as solar panels, windmills and micro hydro plants. This is way outside the remit of most energy utilities and ministries of energy and, as a result, gets little or no attention from them.

Currently, energy access is a classic case of technology injustice – even though the technical solutions exists and have been available for some time, the institutions we have created to deliver energy services, namely private sector oligopolies and monopolies, focus on what it is easiest or most profitable to do, as opposed to dealing with those who need it most.

Simple technology like solar panels can change lives


However, it isn’t all bad news. Bangladesh stands out as a developing country having made big strides in rural electrification, using solar systems. When the Bangladesh solar programme began in 2003, the original government goal was to install 50,000 systems by 2008. But that target was reached three years ahead of schedule. In 2013 more than 1 million solar home systems were installed and the country is projected to reach 4.2 million systems installed by the end of 2014; that’s equivalent to 25% of all off-grid households – an astonishing achievement.

Bangladesh Bonus

The Bangladesh trick seems to have been to combine consumer finance (through the Grameen Bank, a microfinance and community development bank) with quality but affordable solar systems. It’s an approach that’s also being replicated elsewhere.

Simpa Networks, a technology company which uses innovative pricing policies to make electricity more affordable in India, has a clever system that allows people to “pay-as-they-go”. Users pre-pay to unlock the system for a fixed amount of electricity in the same way people buy air time on mobile phones.

But each payment adds up towards the total purchase price of the solar home system. Once fully paid, the solar home system unlocks permanently and delivers free electricity for the expected 10-year life of the product. Simpa Networks’ goal is to reach 60,000 households by 2015. M-KOPA, another newly set-up “pay-as-you-go” energy company for off-grid customers in eastern Africa, uses a similar system — taking advantage of Kenya’s hugely popular mobile banking system, M-PESA.

These new initiatives show market forces can drive electrification. We must harness them.

Simon Trace is the CEO of Practical Action, an organisation dedicated to improving poor people’s wellbeing, using technology to challenge poverty.

Mail :

IEA's Maria van der Hoeven to Address New Energy Reality at SIEW 2012

At the Singapore International Energy Week (SIEW) in October, Maria van der Hoeven, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, will address a new energy reality confronting the world today - one that will be increasingly shaped by emerging economies. In Asia, for instance, energy consumption is projected to grow rapidly, fuelled by economic growth and increasing population. This region will be a major catalyst for energy demand growth in the coming decades. Asian countries will face the challenge of securing access to energy supplies at competitive prices, while paying increasing attention to their environmental sustainability goals.Ms van der Hoeven will address these challenges and opportunities in a wide-ranging dialogue with global and Asian energy leaders during SIEW's Singapore Energy Summit (SES) on 22 October.

Asia Future Energy Forum to Feature Renewables & Energy Efficiency

Asia is rapidly becoming the global hotbed for renewable energy as clean energy investment shifts increasingly towards Asia. Today, more than half the world’s renewable energy projects are being developed in energy-hungry developing nations like China and India. The inaugural Asia Future Energy Forum and Exhibition (AFEF), co-located with the 2nd Asia Smart Grid (ASG), promises to help enterprises capitalise on this shift. The Innovation Hub, organised in partnership with Bloomberg New Energy Finance, is a showcase of upcoming renewable energy projects, connecting developers of proposed clean energy projects with potential investors and partners.

Singapore Energy Summit 2012 to Address Energy, Food & Water Interdependence

Energy leaders from the public and private sectors will come together to discuss ideas and share perspectives at the Singapore Energy Summit (SES), kicking off the series of conferences at the Singapore International Energy Week (SIEW) 2012. This year, SES discussions will centre on broad issues towards "Shaping a New Energy Landscape". These will include the need to diversify energy sources to enhance energy security, a discussion on the world’s future energy mix, and the resulting implications of these developments on energy markets and climate change.

Launch of Singapore's National Solar Repository, and Solar Pioneer Awards Ceremony

The National Solar Repository (NSR) was launched today by the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (SERIS) in collaboration with Singapore Polytechnic, at an industry event co-organised by Clean Energy Programme Office (CEPO) members EDB and EMA, as well as SBF and SEAS. The NSR captures data from solar photovoltaic (PV) systems installed in Singapore, ranging from commercial, industrial to residential buildings.

Bamboo Can Capture Carbon Fast, Provide Income

Bamboo, a wild grass that grows in Africa, Asia and Latin America, could help tackle climate change and provide income for local communities, a conference has heard. It can sequester carbon faster than similar fast-growing tree species such as Chinese fir and eucalyptus when properly managed, said Coosje Hoogendoorn, director-general of International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), based in Beijing, China.

The ABC of Energy: How to Live Without Hydrocarbons?

What have hydrocarbons got to do with your life and why should you miss them when they’re gone? First, let’s define what we mean by hydrocarbons: hydrocarbons are molecules which are made of hydrogen and carbon atoms. By George H Croy. Part Six of a Gaia Discovery Energy Series based on his book "The Energy Trail – Where Is It Leading".

The ABC of Energy: The Definition of Energy

Part Two of a Gaia Discovery Energy Series based on "The Energy Trail – Where Is It Leading" by George H Croy, available at Amazon & other good book stores. From the previous column on the ABC of Energy what we learned so far was that the Sun is not Energy, but a ‘machine’ that converts energy from one form to another. So how can we define ‘Energy’ in an understandable form? The simplest way to describe energy would be to imagine it as a ‘means to do work’. In other words, by expending energy, we are able to do things.

The ABC of Energy: What is Energy

Part One of a Series based on The Energy Trail – Where Is It Leading by George H Croy, available at Amazon and other good book stores. Most people take energy for granted. You flip a switch and the light comes on. Or twist a key and the car’s engine roars into life. Energy is so much part of our lives that we pay very little attention to it. But, answer a simple question: What is energy? You can’t see, you can’t touch it, you can’t smell it – you can’t hold it in the palm of your hand.