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Green Energy for the Poor

An innovative business model combining solar power and cellphones is electrifying parts of rural Africa that are far from the grid.

It’s called M-KOPA. The “M” stands for “mobile,” and “kopa” means “to borrow.” The company’s customers make an initial deposit, roughly $30, toward a solar panel, a few ceiling lights, and charging outlets for cellphones — a system that would cost about $200. Then they pay the balance owed in installments through a widely used mobile banking service, based on how much energy they use. The solar units are cheaper and cleaner than kerosene, the typical lighting source, and once they’re fully paid for after about a year the eE is completely free. More than 200,000 homes in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda use M-KOPA’s solar systems.

Creative, bottom-up solutions like M-KOPA are emerging across Africa and the developing world. Scaling them, and quickly, is the challenge. Around 1.3 billion people worldwide still lack access to electricity, including two out of three sub-Saharan Africans. An enormous divide exists between the global rich and the global poor, from energy access and technology to wealth and infrastructure. But the divide is not immutable, and momentum for solutions to bridge it are emerging from all over the world.

Later this month, the United Nations will aim to take another important step to close that gap by agreeing on Sustainable Development Goals, including goals on ending extreme poverty and ensuring adequate access to energy. It is important that the word “sustainable” has been given a prominent place in the agenda, because while many global trends are going in the right direction, one is certainly not: the climate. Without acting on climate change, we risk undermining the development gains that we have achieved so far and widening the gap between the rich and the poor. The economic growth we have seen to date will be unsustainable in the face of increasing climate disasters.

Climate change hits the poorest people the hardest. The poor are more likely than the rich to live in places vulnerable to climate-related weather events and more frequently suffer from diseases that can be exacerbated by climate change. The World Health Organization predicted last year that in 2030 climate change will lead to 48,000 additional deaths due to diarrhea, 60,000 from malaria, and 95,000 from childhood undernutrition. The vast majority of these will take place in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

It is clear that we cannot tackle poverty successfully without also tackling climate change. That’s why enterprises like M-KOPA are so important: They help to bridge the divide between the global rich and global poor in a low-carbon way. Small-scale solar is only a start. Africa attracted $8 billion of investment in renewables last year, and the International Renewable Energy Agency estimates that its potential for wind and solar power amounts to more than 1.5 trillion gigawatt hours per year. There’s plenty of room for both bottom-up innovation and top-down support for green energy.

In addition to energy access, better land use can make a real difference as well. For example, farmers in Niger are using new agroforestry techniques to produce more grain than ever before. By interplanting trees on cropland and allowing extra shrubs to grow, the farmers restore degraded land, lower greenhouse gas emissions and increase agricultural productivity. And they are directly reaping economic benefits, with gross annual incomes going up for over a million households by an average of $1,000, more than doubling real incomes.

Today this is in Niger; tomorrow, if this were global, restoring just 12 percent of degraded lands to production could raise farmers’ incomes by $40 billion per year and feed another 200 million people.

Investing in sustainable infrastructure in areas like energy, land use and cities is a no-brainer. But the biggest obstacle is coming up with the initial financing for these investments, even though we know that they will pay for themselves in the long run.

Much of the financing needs can be met through more effective mobilization of private investment. For example, a renewable energy procurement program in South Africa has mobilized $14 billion in domestic and international private financing for sustainable infrastructure. When the market fails in providing private finance, development banks can step in by providing technical assistance and guarantees. Better mobilization of countries’ own domestic resources is also critically important.

Low-carbon investment is gathering momentum around the world, and the founders of M-KOPA aren’t the only ones being creative. Investors are increasingly turning to new, more efficient forms of finance. “Green bonds” that support low-carbon and climate resilient infrastructure more than tripled in 2014 to reach $37 billion.

The global divide between the rich and the poor is far from closed. But with smarter anti-poverty and energy-access measures and a focus on sustainable finance, the future for Africa and the rest of the developing world can be bright, in more ways than one.

Source: nytimes


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The Role of Infrastructure in a Sustainable Society

Green Business Journal 9 (2013)

By Kristan Wood

“Infrastructure is probably the single most important need for Africa to develop.” These are the words of Stephen Hayes, president of the Corporate Council on Africa – a major U.S. business organisation linking the United States with Africa. The development of infrastructure is essential for the creation of a healthy, happy and thriving economic climate in communities. Future endorsements, successes and the enhancement of sustainable development rely on an efficient infrastructure programme within any given country. Particularly in developing countries such as South Africa, the planning, design and construction of sustainable infrastructure is of vital importance – how else are we to connect and grow as a nation?

If infrastructure is to be of benefit to future generations and contribute positively to the potential of a country, it must be sustainable. Infrastructure in South Africa can and should be viewed as an investment into economic growth, and therefore, it is not only the short term provision of infrastructure that holds weight, but it is the planning and designing which will take full account of its own impact and its operational needs and use. A responsible standard of sustainable infrastructure plans and designs needs to be set in both the short and long term and those who set the standard are held liable for designs that benefit not just the public, but the environment as well. What precautions and plans has South Africa proposed in an effort to achieve these aims?

National Infrastructure Plan:

The South African Government adopted a National Infrastructure Plan in 2012. With the plan, the government aim to transform the country’s economic landscape while simultaneously creating significant numbers of new jobs, and strengthening the delivery of basic services. The plan also supports the integration of African economies.

Government will, over the three years from 2013/14, invest R827 billion in building new and upgrading existing infrastructures, Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan announced in his 2013 Budget Speech. These investments will improve access by South Africans to healthcare facilities, schools, water, sanitation, housing and electrification. On the other hand, investment in
the construction of ports, roads, railway systems, electricity plants, hospitals, schools and dams will contribute to faster economic growth.

Gordhan delivered a good budget from an infrastructure point of view with budgeted spending for public-sector infrastructure totalling R827 billion over the next three years. But the challenge for the state and South Africa is implementation and delivery on the ground and the huge amounts of the budget that are wasted each year through corruption and chronic implementation.

South Africa has spent R642 billion over the last three years on infrastructure projects in the public sector and a substantial number of projects are in progress or about to get under way. Weaknesses in planning and capacity, however, continue to delay implementation of some projects. But Gordhan said steps were being taken to address the problem: “Government is improving capacity to plan, procure, manage and monitor projects, as well as working more closely with the private sector at various stages of the project development cycle. Building technical capacity in the public sector is a multi-year effort, and initiatives to strengthen these functions have expanded.”

Gauteng Department of Infrastructure Development (GDID)

The GDID Green Programme starts from the premise that achieving a green Gauteng is a major challenge, as well as a key opportunity. It is a challenge because it requires a fundamental shift away from historical ways of organising and managing our society and economy. Accelerating climate change; resource constraints and rapidly rising prices; the sudden re-appearance of environmental risks that were previously not accounted for – are all key drivers for change. There are major market opportunities and many decent jobs that can be realised from building a green economy. And fundamental changes in the way we live will bring healthier, happier and more resilient communities and households – something that has huge value evenin isolation.

GDID has embarked on a project to quan- tify the usable roof space in all government owned buildings in the Gauteng province. It is estimated that all government buildings have approximately 8 million square meters of roof tops that could be used for the mass roll-out of solar panels. If all the roof spaces are utilised, up to 300MW of electricity could be generated from public buildings alone. The department also believes that a mass roll-out of solar panels in the province can be used to spark a massive demand for solar PV technologies. Gauteng can utilise this demand to spark the development of a solar manufacturing industry in the province. Experience gained in South Korea indicates that a solar panel manufacturing facility can be built from a demand of approximately 12MW/month and GDID’s potential demand alone could sustain a standard factory for a period of two years. A partnering with Eskom has also been approved to audit and retrofit all government buildings with energy efficient technologies including lighting, air conditioning and water heating.

South Africa’s infrastructure plan sufficiently incorporates an inclusive social agenda. It begins from the premise that
it is not enough to merely select a limited number of economic firms or clusters for targeted green support, but that rather the sustainability of our economy depends on a fundamental transformation in number of sectors. “These cross-cutting sectors include air quality, climate change, economic development, energy, food security, land use, transport, water and sanitation, and waste, which together form the foundation for a true green economy,” reports GDID. “The department’s view is that investing in these sectors will promote economic growth so that green jobs become the norm, rather than add-ons to inherently unsustainable development. This broader shift in its development path will see Gauteng at the forefront of sustainable economic development.”

Green Building Council of South Africa

The Green Building Council of South Africa is an independent, non-profit company that was formed in 2007 to lead the greening of South Africa’s built environment. The Council provides tools, training, knowledge, connections and networks to promote green building practices across the country and seeks to build a national movement that will change the way the world is built.

But what does the concept of green building entail? Green building incorporates design, construction and operational practices that significantly reduce or eliminate the negative impact of development on the environment and people. Green buildings are energy efficient, resource efficient and environmentally responsible. The green building movement addresses what are becoming the major issues of our time: excess energy consumption and the related CO2 emissions from burning carbon fuels; the pollution of air, water and land; the depletion of natural resources; and the disposal of waste.

Sustainable Infrastructure

It is possible to then deduce that sustainable infrastructure design is not just about incorporating new infrastructure into society – it is about the rehabilitation, reuse and optimisation of existing infrastructure. This includes the renewal of existing infrastructure, the long-term economic analysis and considered benefits of infrastructure, energy and cost mitigation in the building process, the protection of existing infrastructure from the environment as well as the conservation of the environment during material selection and the building process. Sustainable infrastructure and responsible design should balance all social, economic and environmental issues.

In both developed and developing nations globally, a lack of, or compromised access to clean water, sanitation, energy, transportation and various facilities severely compromises the growth of the economy. Basic infrastructure is therefore not a luxury that can be implemented once a country is established, but a necessity for supporting and creating a sustainable economic environment.

The stipulation of appropriate infrastructure is an urgent and ongoing requirement not just for South Africa or Africa, but on a global level.