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Transforming Energy into an Essential Service | Energy Access Practitioner Network

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Transforming Energy into an Essential Service

“It’s not enough to simply provide energy access to developing communities. We believe in breaking the cycle of poverty by transforming energy into an essential social service.” – Barrett Raftery, Sr. Global Manager, GivePower Foundation.

Launched in late 2013, GivePower Foundation is a charitable organization that uses clean energy technology to deliver essential community services to the developing world. For the first two years, GivePower Foundation focused primarily on bringing solar-powered lighting and mobile charging to remote off-grid schools in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The small solar and battery systems have typically powered a single building in a remote community, providing a gathering space for adults and children alike in the evenings, in addition to charging for electronic devices. To date, funding through GivePower has provided solar-powered energy access to more than 2,000 schools, many for the very first time.

In February 2016, the Foundation introduced a global program to support the development of mini-grids – solar power and battery storage combinations capable of providing continuous power for communities in need. Although still in its early stages, the mini-grid program is focused on finding the intersection where accessible and dependable energy meet to improve a community’s overall livelihood. Rather than supplying a single school, the mini-grids are meant to provide power to households and support a broader range of services critical for sustainable development. To do this, the Foundation is seeking projects that support the following sectors: education, water, health, food security, economic development, telecommunications and conservation.

The standard of living across the globe can be defined by a community’s access to the essential social services that most of the world has come to depend on, such as education for children, health care for mothers, access to local food markets and other basic operations. Although none of these is generally viewed as an energy service, each requires energy to function. If energy is unavailable or unaffordable, or even a hazard to community members’ health, services that can improve the quality of life are generally unavailable. For instance, in the absence of energy for refrigeration, it becomes less possible to store and preserve food for remote communities, in turn making amenities like restaurants and local markets unavailable to the community. This is where mini-grid systems could come in to play by not only benefitting the community through better access to foods and goods, but also creating potential revenue streams for those who operate markets or can sell perishable goods for the first time.

In general, most social services that require energy and water are accessed during the day, making these benefits ideal candidates to be powered by solar generation. The electricity consumed during the day from school rooms, stores, hospitals, and more can be offset by solar power systems producing energy throughout the day when energy is needed most, helping to keep businesses running while utilizing the sun’s natural resource. So not only do social services increase the standard of living by providing critical resources to communities, they also increase the viability of a mini-grid and further ensure that sustainable resources are a wise investment for the future. The larger load when not being consumed by productive end uses can be used to provide power to homes and personal uses.

While many commercial micro-grid companies chase high electricity demand and housing density, GivePower Foundation’s mini-grid program focuses on serving communities without power and assisting in the protection of natural resources. Providing renewable energy to communities currently utilizing fossil fuels or other polluting fuels will enable them to rely less heavily on the extraction of natural resources, and instead use clean and sustainable practices. This shift in resource consumption has become critically important as populations continue to increase, and as society works to prevent the depletion of the planet’s natural resources. For example, people who live without access to cooking fuel use wood fires or kerosene lamps and burners to prepare their food, contributing to deforestation and pollution – along with the potential health hazards associated with such energy sources. But by providing a renewable alternative, GivePower Foundation can lessen the impact communities have on their adjacent natural resources such as forests, lakes and fisheries – all while keeping them healthier.

GivePower Foundation’s first mini-grid system was installed at the Virunga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, between the borders of Uganda and Rwanda, and it serves as a prime example of how mini-grids can support conservation efforts. As Africa’s oldest national park and most biologically diverse protected area, virunga13Virunga is home to nearly a quarter of the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas. For years, Virunga was caught in the middle of its country’s political battles and armed conflicts, and to this day must defend itself against poachers and outside threats – often without the proper resources to maintain adequate protection. The solar energy provided by GivePower’s mini-grid system provides new power sources to three sector posts for park rangers within Virunga, enabling the rangers to utilize essential tools – including security lights, radios and more – for their work protecting the park’s wildlife. Not only does the mini-grid aim to provide valuable power to protect the national park and its species, but it also allows rangers within the park to utilize clean and reliable energy for their work rather than polluting energy sources that could potentially harm the environment and are counter to the mission of the national park system.

virunga08GivePower Foundation’s mini-grids are comprised of solar power and battery storage systems. The Foundation works with SolarCity for its solar expertise and equipment, and leverages best-in-class technology such as lithium-ion batteries for the storage aspects of the mini-grids. The Foundation’s smart mini-grid program is focused on increasing hardware quality, integrating lithium-ion batteries, AC coupling, load control, training and other applications of the mini-grids to create stable and efficient power sources that will be reliable for the communities where they are installed for years into the future. GivePower’s mini-grids also aim to have energy load monitoring to not only monitor the system’s output and performance, but also contribute a small but important data set regarding the energy markets they serve. The data, coupled with the advancements in the social services themselves such as rapid improvements in internet connectivity or water technologies, could allow the Foundation to partner with other innovative organizations focused on improving lives in these communities and combine best practices around energy production use. Partnering in this way – not only to provide energy to communities in need of small mini-grids, but also to understand the needs of such developing areas and how to provide more benefit to them in the future – ultimately helps those across the globe improve their standard of living.

Interested in improving the lives of people without power resources? GivePower Foundation is continuously accepting financial support, as well as partnership with companies in the development or technology industries focused on serving communities in need. To learn more, please visit www.givepower.org.

 

Barrett Raftery is the Sr. Global Manager of GivePower Foundation