Category: Diversifying our energy mix
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Rampant corruption, legislative uncertainty and poor infrastructure discourage much-needed foreign investment in energy projects, which results in frequent power cuts, drives businesses out of the country and makes the population dependent on inefficient and expensive-to-run diesel generators.
While the urban population would hugely benefit from swift market liberalisation, decentralised small-scale renewable energy projects anchored in microgrids should be implemented in rural areas.
At the individual level, solar backpacks could charge small mobile battery packs, power safe LED pocket lamps and lay the foundations for smartphones by improving on their notoriously short battery life. Similarly, small businesses should receive subsidies to purchase reliable, portable and energy efficient lighting solutions for their market stalls. Compact and fuel-efficient solar cookers and stoves can make families energy-self-sufficient, help preserve forests and keep the air inside homes clean, as they are used outdoors. Simple, cheap and highly scalable technologies can thereby quickly improve living standards. As many sustainable technologies can be designed and produced from local materials, more innovative start-ups will be founded which will accelerate innovation and development. As a result, it is crucial that they receive support from early on in the form of seed- funding and technological equipment.
Telecommunications liberalisation and increased mobile phone penetration would help maximizing impacts by providing an innovative open- source framework to charities and businesses which enables them to instantly monitor and evaluate progress and counteract mismanaged outsourcing. Similar to the mobile authentication service for drugs that has been put in place in Nigeria, a charity distributing solar cookers could enclose codes with cookers, which receivers have to send in text messages to a certain number, together with a second code generated by the charity’s collaborator. This would enable the charity to track progress, introduce accurate performance-based pay and minimise corruption. Furthermore, well-connected, trusted agencies could help charities ensure that the individuals that they rely on are in no way affiliated with the government or civil service.
Professionals and foreign-educated graduates should be encouraged to return to their home countries and empower local communities to form cooperatives that decide on and implement renewable energy projects. These cooperatives would give members considerable autonomy and responsibility and increase their likelihood of receiving low-cost loans, encouraging them to maintain and manage their systems over the long term. For example, a wind turbine combined with solar panels and a biogas plant anchored in a microgrid could supply energy to the community centre, while water from a well could be pumped, stored and purified when energy demand is low. This would incentivise small businesses to locate nearby and acquire shares in the system, which would enable both the microgrid and the community centre to expand. As a result, communities could collaborate with enterprises and offer internationally-recognised certificates for young people, thereby improving their employability and encouraging their interest in Informatics, Natural Sciences and Technology. Achieving high educational standards is absolutely critical to meet the growing demand for talent and ultimately empower them to tackle problems with innovative products and sell them internationally.