Looking for Clean Energy Solutions? Go East.

With clean energy initiatives popping up across the globe, we wanted to learn more about the potential impact of top projects taking place in emerging markets. We reached out to OnFrontiers expert Martha Molfetas who flagged a clean energy boom in East Africa. A researcher on climate change and resource issues, Martha is also the Executive Director and Founder of Impact Human, an NGO based in New York City that focuses on environmental justice issues. Here’s Martha’s take on clean energy solutions:

Climate innovation is everywhere, but the biggest step towards making climate solutions a reality is clean energy. We all need it and we all use it, but emissions from electricity generation take the lion’s share of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In the US and Europe, we’re seeing divestment campaigns and initiatives intended to transition towards clean energy technologies, but what if we didn’t have to transition? What if we could just start from scratch with clean energy? In East Africa, that’s exactly what’s happening.

Historically, developing countries have modeled their energy and development outlook on a US or European model built on fossil fuels. We don’t have to look further than to China for examples of coal power production and to see the health and climate consequences of coal plant pollution. What we’re seeing in Ethiopia and Kenya should be turning that frame of mind on its head. Ethiopia and Kenya are making East Africa an example of what’s possible when we use clean energy to benefit communities and address climate change.

Record-Breaking Dam To Open in Ethiopia

The $4.8 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) will be the second largest reservoir of water on the Nile and the eighth largest dam in the world once it goes online later this year. It will be able to produce up to 6,000 megawatts of electricity – nearly three times the capacity of the US’s Hoover Dam. Ethiopia will be able to sell excess energy from GERD to neighboring countries.

When GERD was first proposed in 2011, it was met with strong backlash from Egypt and Sudan, downstream nations who also rely on the Nile for electricity and irrigation. Some political tensions remain over GERD, particularly surrounding water security and needs for downstream nations. Despite these issues, GERD could prove to be significant for Ethiopia’s development. Right now, only 26% of Ethiopians have access to electricity. The majority of Ethiopians rely on burning biomass and wood to cook – accelerating deforestation and soil erosion. Once online, GERD will help set Ethiopia on a clean energy path that reduces emissions and benefits communities – killing two Sustainable Development Goals with one stone.

Solar Micro-Grids To Connect Villages in Kenya

Kenya’s Last Mile will be a series of solar micro-grids that bring electricity to rural communities in Kenya, village by village. Companies like Powerhive East Africa and SteamCo are working with the national energy company, Kenya Power, to achieve the government’s Last Mile Connectivity Project. In 2014, the African Development Bank gave Kenya Power a $147 million loan to develop Last Mile.

Last Mile aspires to bring electricity to 310,000 people. Right now, only 30% of Kenyans have electricity. When only rural communities are taken into account, only 20% have access. Last Mile could prove to be an example of what’s possible for rural areas where conventional grids are too costly and ineffective. It’s taking toxic kerosene lanterns and diesel generators out of people’s homes and replacing them with cheaper clean energy to power schools, streets, and homes. Some micro-grid hubs produce as much as 5.6 kilowatts, enough to provide electricity for 64 customers. These micro-grids are giving communities reliable power through mobile pay as you go charging and 24-hour battery reserves. Like GERD, Last Mile is helping Kenya to reach for Sustainable Development Goals that reduce emissions and provide clean energy access to thousands. As Last Mile continues to further its reach, it can be used as an example for how to increase energy access for other rural communities around the world.

Globally, there are 1.2 billion people without access to electricity, that’s 17% of the global population. 80% of those people without electricity reside in rural areas, with 95% of all people without electricity calling Sub-Saharan Africa or Asia home. Electricity access benefits communities and empowers local innovation. We should no longer frame energy development and progress in terms of fossil fuels. Instead, we should look to innovative solutions to energy access that are beneficial for our environment while contributing towards socio-economic development initiatives. This is precisely what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Synthesis Report called for, and in my opinion, it’s exactly what we need in our climate-changed world.


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Featured image was taken by Flickr user Activ Solar.