Monday, April 24, 2017

Solar ovens and sustained poverty for Africa

African families and hospitals cannot rely on limited solar power, instead of electricity

Steven Lyazi

Solar technology in Africa, including my country of Uganda, would bring good news to millions of people who today must use firewood, charcoal and dung for cooking. Millions of Africans die from lung infections caused by breathing fumes from these fires, millions more from eating spoiled food, drinking contaminated water and having spoiled medicines, because we don’t have electricity, sanitation or refrigeration. What we do have in abundance is extensive, sustained poverty.

Solar technologies could help Africa, because this multi-purpose energy can cook food, light homes, charge cell phones and even power tiny refrigerators. Even simple solar ovens can help reduce our deadly traditional ways of cooking. Renewable energy from wind turbines can deliver even more electricity to billions around the world who still don’t have this amazing, essential energy.

Those are huge benefits, and I applaud them. In addition, we can install little wind and solar systems faster than we can build big power plants and transmission lines to remote areas.

However, we must not look at wind and solar as anything more than short-term solutions to fix serious, immediate problems. They do not equal real economic development or really improved living standards. Our cities need abundant, reliable electricity, and for faraway villages wind and solar must be only temporary, to meet basic needs until they can be connected to transmission lines and a grid.

Only in that way can we have modern homes, heating, lighting, cooking, refrigeration, offices, factories, schools, shops and hospitals – so that we can enjoy the same living standards people in industrialized countries do (and think is their right). We deserve the same rights and lives.

That is why I react strongly to people and organizations that think wind and solar electricity and solar ovens should be enough, or the end of our progress, and everyone should be happy that their lives have improved a little. I do not accept that. But I see it all the time.

At least a dozen companies are selling solar ovens and other solar technologies in Uganda. There’s Blazing Tube Solar from Hawaii and Home Energy Africa, which sells Dutch products. Green Energy Africa is registered in Kenya. It says its renewable energy systems “provide electricity without depleting the earth’s limited resources.” (Of course, those systems generate very limited electricity and require raw materials that are limited in quantity and must be dug out of the earth and turned into products using fossil fuels. But we’re not supposed to think about that.)

There’s also Solar point Uganda Limited, Energy Made in Uganda, New Age Solar Technologies Ltd, New Sun Limited, Solar Assembly Plant for African Villages, and other companies.

Some just want to make money, and leave. Others plan to stay for years. They can help solve some of our electricity, cooking and indoor air pollution problems. But these are all just short-term solutions. We need real energy, real electricity – a lot of it, reliable and affordable. What we are offered is very different.

I watched a Blazing Tube Solar demonstration and asked some questions. Their system has a long shiny metal trough that holds a tube filled with vegetable oil. The hot oil heats up a small oven at the top, to bake bread and cook other food. It has handles and wheels, so it can be moved easily. The cooker is mostly metal, so it should last a long time. But it can take 45 minutes to boil some eggs, and it costs $260.

Most African village families live on a couple dollars a day and can hardly afford food for their children. They cannot afford $260, or even $100 for some other systems. So they watch the sales presentations and admire the cookers. But they are frustrated or angry that they cannot afford them. I saw this when I traveled to the northern, eastern and central parts of Uganda.

Another problem is the sunlight. Even in Uganda, which is on the equator, the best sun comes from October through February. Other times of the year, it’s not as good because of clouds and rains. So the solar companies mostly come around when the sun is best and their ovens perform the best.

When it’s cloudy for several days, families cannot cook at all, unless they have solar cookers that actually run on electricity from photovoltaic panels on their homes. But those systems are even more expensive, and the battery power only lasts a couple days. Then families have to go back to wood, charcoal and dung. (Small diesel generators would be a huge improvement, but they too are unaffordable for most.)

Parents are very aware of the deadly respiratory diseases. But they have no choice. And many just prefer the cheaper traditional means of cooking and surviving than the fancy, expensive solar innovations.

A major local preacher for solar energy stoves is a Ugandan native who now resides in Chicago, Mr. Ron Mutebi. He used part of the $100,000 he won at the African Diaspora Marketplace competition at an Africa Infrastructure Conference in Washington. The conference was sponsored by the Corporate Council on Africa, Western Union, USAID and President Obama’s Forum with Young African Leaders. Mr. Obama often said Africans should use wind, solar and biofuel energy instead of fossil fuels.

But I worry that Mr. Mutebi has forgotten how many people are starving, have no money, try to earn a living by digging metal ores with their hands, and almost have to feed their children with grass and dirt. Uganda’s New Vision newspaper recently reported that over 10 million Ugandans in seven districts are starving and many animals are dying of hunger. This sustained poverty and starvation cannot continue.

Many people also don’t know that Africa has some big dreams. One is a Trans East Africa railway that will link Uganda, South Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and Horn of Africa countries. This will be a first of its kind electric railway, some 750 kilometers (466 miles) long, and it will need tremendous amounts of energy that cannot come from wind turbines and solar panels.

It will have to come from nuclear power plants – or coal or natural gas generating plants. Africa has these resources in great abundance. But so far we are barely developing or using them, except maybe to export oil to wealthy nations. We should use them. Right now, most of our natural gas from oil fields is just burned and wasted right there. Why not build gas pipelines to power plants to generate electricity for millions? Why not build nuclear and coal plants, and hydroelectric projects like the Bujagali and Karuma Dams on the Nile River in Uganda? Mostly because powerful environmentalist groups oppose these projects. They care more about plants, animals and their own power, than about African people.

What is an extra degree, or even two degrees, of warming in places like Africa? It’s already incredibly hot here, and people are used to it. What we Africans worry about and need to fix are malnutrition and starvation, the absence of electricity, and killer diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, sleeping sickness and HIV/AIDS. Climate changes and droughts have been part of our history forever, and modern energy and technology would help us cope with them better in the future. We must stop focusing on climate change.

African governments are not doing enough to build the energy, transportation and communication systems we desperately need. They are not standing up to Europeans, global banks or environmentalists who oppose big power plants in Africa. They need to do better at helping their people.

Our leaders also need to remember that Europe and the United States did not have a World Bank or other outside help when they modernized and industrialized. They did it themselves. National and local governments, groups of citizens and businesses, and various banks and investors did it. They invented things, financed big projects, and built their cities and countries. China and India have figured this out.

Now Africa needs to do the same thing – and stop relying on outsiders, bowing to their demands, and letting them dictate our future. We have the energy and other natural resources, and the smart, talented, hardworking people to get the job done. We just need to be set free to do it.

Via email

UK: Plugging in six electric cars may cause local power cuts

What fun!

Electric cars could cause local power shortages if just six vehicles are plugged in to charge on the same street, a leading think tank has warned.

Britain’s energy networks are unprepared for the growing numbers of electric cars and solar panels and ministers must intervene to prevent a “disaster” of “rising bills, blackout risk and angry consumers”, the Green Alliance said.

Uncontrolled charging of electric vehicles could cause “brownouts” at evening peaks in half of the UK by 2023, where the voltage drops and some household appliances stop working. Even now “as few as six closely located vehicles charging together at peak time could lead to local brownouts”, the report warned.


California again leads list with 6 of the top 10 most polluted U.S. cities

All their ponderous Greenie regulations would appear to have had no effect

California's smoggy reputation appears to be deserved: Six of the USA's 10 cities with the worst air pollution are in the Golden State, according to a new report.

Bakersfield, Calif., again holds the dubious distinction of having the USA's most days of highly polluted air, based on data from 2013-2015, the American Lung Association’s annual “State of the Air” report released Wednesday found.

In addition to the worst spikes of short-term pollution — led by Bakersfield — the report also lists the cities with the worst overall year-round pollution — led by Visala/Hanford, Calif.— and the worst ozone pollution, led by the Los Angeles/Long Beach area.

California's soaring population and topography allow air pollution to overcome the state's strict environmental laws, said Paul Billings of the American Lung Association. The boom in people brings with it an increase in cars and trucks on the roads, and many of those people live in valley and basins, right where pollution tends to settle.

Nearly year-round sunny skies also don't help: Those picture-perfect days are a major factor in high levels of ozone pollution, he added.

The state would be far worse off without its strict laws on tailpipe pollution and eliminating coal-fired power plants. "They've done more than any other state to counteract air pollution," Billings said.

Overall, the report is a mixture of good and bad news: While year-round pollution has improved, short-term spikes of intensely polluted air have increased.

"While most of the nation has much cleaner air quality than even a decade ago, many cities reported their highest number of unhealthy days since the report began" 18 years ago, it found.

Some 125 million Americans nationwide live with unhealthful levels of air pollution, the report said, placing them at risk for premature death and other serious health effects such as lung cancer, asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage and developmental and reproductive harm.

"Even with continued improvement, too many people in the United States live where the air is unhealthy for them to breathe," the report said.

Only six metro areas recorded no days when pollution reached unhealthy levels, according to the report: Burlington, Vt.; Honolulu; Wilmington, N.C.; Fort Myers / Naples, Fla.; Melbourne, Fla., and Elmira, N.Y.

Billings said he's concerned about Trump's plans to slash the Environmental Protection Agency's budget. "We have to keep the environmental cop on the beat," he said.

Trump's budget proposal contains a 31% cut to the agency, including weakening or eliminating the Clean Air Act, which the report says has been the most important tool in the fight for healthy air by driving emission reductions for more than 47 years.

“Everyone has a fundamental right to breathe healthy air," said Harold P. Wimmer, the president and CEO of the American Lung Association said.


British Tories make energy costs a central issue

Theresa May will attempt to capture the political centre ground by slashing £100 from the energy bills of 17m families and granting new rights for workers.

The prime minister will use the Conservative manifesto, to be published on May 8, to cap the gas and electricity bills for the seven out of 10 households that pay standard variable tariffs — dubbed a rip-off by watchdogs.

The policy is a centrepiece of a manifesto that will set out a bold social vision for Britain that parks Tory tanks on terrain usually occupied by Labour.


Australia: March for Science participants hoping to send strong message to political leaders

I heartily endorse this march.  We do need more science in public life.  More attention to the scientific fact that there is no correspondence between global temperature levels and global CO2 levels would be a start

Thousands of people have rallied across Australia as part of a global movement calling on political leaders to focus more on science.

Crowds gathered in cities and towns including Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart, Perth, Brisbane and Townsville as part of the inaugural March for Science, which is taking place in 500 locations worldwide.

The movement was started by scientists sceptical of the agenda of US President Donald Trump, but Stuart Khan, one of the organisers of the Sydney march, said it quickly went global.

He said marchers were calling on politicians to take note that the public wanted policy based on fact.

"The gaps that we see between what science tells us and what we actually see being translated into policy is very large, particularly when you look at things like climate change and the Great Barrier Reef," Professor Khan said.

"We're calling on politicians to make laws that are based on evidence that are appropriate for our future … Australians want to understand how science and how evidence is being incorporated into policy.

"Disease, famine, communicable disease, pollution of the ocean, climate change, all of these challenges are addressable by science."

Professor Khan emphasised that the march was not for scientists, but for anyone. "I'm participating as a community member, I'm participating as a dad," he said. "It is very important that the March for Science is a community-led march, it's a statement that is coming from the community.

"It's not led by the academics, it's not led by eminent scientists because it's not about them, it's about the community saying 'This is what is important to us'."

Among the thousands attending the Sydney rally was former Liberal leader John Hewson, who told AM ahead of the march he was concerned about "the lack of evidence being used as the basis of public policy".

"I think science is probably more useful and more relevant to society today than it's probably ever been. But there's been a widening gap between science and the public," he said.

"We need to stop and recognise the significance of science and the importance of funding it properly and using the evidence that it produces as the basis of good public policy."

Scientist and Macquarie University Associate Professor Josh Madin attended the Sydney rally with his young family and said politicians needed to pay attention to scientific evidence.

"We do a lot of work on the Great Barrier Reef and we've seen first hand the devastation up there and I just think there are some decisions being made that don't have the best interests of our children's future in mind," he said.

Among those throwing their support behind the March for Science is Luke Briscoe, chief executive of Indigi Lab, which works to get more recognition for Indigenous science.

Ms Briscoe said Indigenous science, a form of science in its own right, needed to be better understood in Western culture.

"The honeybee dance from where I'm from in Kuku Yalanji country in far north Queensland, that dance talks about how the bees are sustaining our ecologies," he said.

"It's passing on those customs and traditions that our sciences are embedded in and … it's hard to really put value and monetise the importance of that in a Western world."

Mr Briscoe said having Indigneous participation in the decision-making process would be the only way to ensure better recognition of Indigenous science.

"I think it's important that we ensure that Indigenous voices are heard in the science sector and are at the table in decision-making processes for how we roll out science programs," he said.

"In terms of the workforce, making sure that that it's not just a one-way science understanding — it's looking at two ways of learning and two ways of teaching science and practicing science."



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