Link Deck #7: Innovative energy

Wind energy

Since the G20, climate change and carbon abatement has been put firmly back on the agenda for the Government (whether they like it or not). So we thought we’d devote this edition of link deck to some of the emerging ideas, technologies and strategies for moving to a lower carbon economy and addressing energy poverty in the world.

According to this report 1.3 billion people globally do not currently have access to reliable electricity and there are 2.7 billion without access to clean cooking facilities. Contrary to the Minerals Council of Australia’s assertions that “coal must be a major part of the solution to global energy poverty”, there is increasing evidence that “off-the-grid” energy can be a more economically and environmentally sustainable solution to combat energy poverty. While I personally believe that relatively ‘cheap’ coal will continue to be a part of the solution to delivering energy in the medium term at least in urban areas, building ‘poles and wires’ networks to regional and remote areas is inefficient and expensive.

This LinkedIn article by solar pioneer and founder of SunEdison, Jigar Shah, explains how distributed energy solutions, rather than centralised grid-based power will be the main factor in reducing energy poverty into the future. He makes the point that there is a much better business case for distributed solutions that are cheap, clean and put power directly in the hands of poor populations – not to solve climate change but out of desire to solve energy poverty right now.

The recently released report – World Energy Outlook 2014, from the (conservative) International Energy Agency (IEA) backs this assertion up, noting that we need to move away from large-scale electricity infrastructure to “initiatives that support local needs and build financial and technical capacity in communities”, and that solar, not coal, in both grid and off-grid settings is more economically and technically feasible solutions for the worlds energy poor.

And this article from the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) presents more interesting case studies of how communities are getting off the grid with the help of mobile technology.

A recent Radio National interview with leading Indian environmental campaigner, Debi Goenka, refutes the claim that the 300 million people in India without access to reliable electricity can afford to pay for coal fired grid-based power. He explains that with many people earning less than 50c per day, even if they were provided with grid electricity there is no way people could afford to pay for the service.

There are some amazing innovations happening right now in the “off-grid” energy sector.

This TED talk by Justin Hall-Tipping shows how we can use all sorts of materials and amazing technology to generate all the energy we need right where we are, cleanly, safely, and cheaply.

Young Taylor Wilson is one of the stars of the TED stage, having built a working fusion reactor in his parents garage at the age of 14.

Now Taylor believes until the technology of fusion can be worked out to scale, small modular nuclear fission reactors that can be buried underground are the way to solve the global energy crisis, and has won backing to create a company to realise his vision…

Pollinate Energy is an innovative Australian social business that aims to help India’s urban poor access clean and sustainable energy technologies. Particularly targeting those who live in temporary tent structures on the edges of the big cities, Pollinate assists people to take advantage of relatively inexpensive solar lights and clean cooking technology, using a local ‘pollinator’ – an entrepreneur within the community who is able to make connections in the community and sell the technologies as their own business.

We profiled their business development and partnerships manager, Alexie Seller on Ideas Hoist last year – it’s a very inspiring interview and worth the read.

The Barefoot College is another innovative social enterprise that uses small scale solar technology to help rural communities thrive through providing solar electrification, hot water, solar cookers and drinking water through solar powered desalination technology. The college was originally set up in 1972 by Sanjit “Bunker” Roy to teach rural people – regardless of gender, caste or education level – practical skills to help their community. The solar program at the college trains women, particularly Grandmothers in communities from 24 countries across the world to become solar engineers, taking the technology back to their non-electrified villages and helping to transform their communities.

One of the major problems with scaling up solar and wind technologies has been the issue of storage – this TED talk shows us the future of large-scale batteries that could store renewable energy:

And finally, Nick Abson is not a scientist or an engineer, yet he’s developing a fuel cell in his backyard that produces clean, cheap energy from organic matter like chook poo… and anyone can make it.

 

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