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Interview on the Energy Transition in Germany

„We need a citizen-oriented energy supply“

The energy transition can only succeed if energy supply is democratised. We talked to Uli Ahlke, head of the district office for climate protection and sustainability in Steinfurt (North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany), about success factors of community energy.

Citizens contribute significantly to the energy transition. Including farmers, individuals own about 42% of all renewable energy installations in Germany[2]. Unfortunately though, the German federal government does not support community energy sufficiently. At this point, local governments can make a decisive contribution to promoting community energy. The German District of Steinfurt, near the Dutch border, is setting an exemplary path. Its 24 municipalities with about 445,000 inhabitants aim to be energy self-sufficient through renewable energies by 2050 – with the greatest possible participation of the local population. Already today more than 60% of the electricity stems from renewables. We talked to Uli Ahlke, head of the district office for climate protection and sustainability, about strategies and possibilities for local authorities to support community energy, about dealing with national obstacles, and about the future of the energy transition.

Community Energy

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) Coalition for Action describes community energy as “the economic and operational participation and/or ownership by citizens or members of a defined community in a renewable energy project” – regardless of size and scope of the project.[1] Community energy is any combination of at least two of the following elements: Local stakeholders own more than half or all shares of a renewable energy project; voting control rests with a community-based organisation; and the majority of social and economic benefits are decentralised locally.

Engagement for community energy: Uli Ahlke is head of the district office for climate protection and sustainability in Steinfurt (North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany)

World Future Council: The district of Steinfurt aims to be energy self-sufficient through renewable energies by 2050. Supporting community energy is an integral part of your work. Why did you choose to support community energy to promote the expansion of renewables rather than focusing on large-scale investments?

Uli Ahlke: We have conducted several surveys in our region, and we know that the balance sheet energy self-sufficiency can only be accomplished once we operate in a regionally decentralised manner – and that it won’t work without the citizens. About 18 years ago, we experienced a very intensive expansion of wind energy with a lot of foreign investors in our region. At that time, we quickly reached acceptance limits.

We are convinced that we cannot achieve our ambitious goals without wind energy. That is why we asked ourselves what we need to do to maintain acceptance for a new expansion momentum. We needed to involve people in the planning process and to give the local community the opportunity to participate in local value creation. After all, the district of Steinfurt spends 1.5 billion euros a year on energy – for electricity, heat and mobility energy. Money we want to keep in the region.

How exactly can community energy be integrated into local climate action planning, and which participation mechanisms were particularly effective in Steinfurt?

What we do here is only possible because we have this team. We are 22 employees who take charge of the region’s sustainable development, of rural development, climate protection and education for sustainable development. Structurally, we consolidated the whole procedure last year and founded an association – the “energieland2050”. We communicate through traditional media, but are increasingly active in social media; we organise broad-scale participation proceedings; we place a strong focus on the regional advantages; and we have many amplifiers, especially on the part of the wind farmers.

As part of the wind energy expansion, we have set guidelines for all upcoming civic wind farms – in cooperation with the property owners, i.e. the farmers, with the farmers’ association, the municipal utilities and our 24 mayors. These guidelines not only guarantee the involvement of citizens, but also ensure that the first focal point for loans are local banks, and for energy marketing the municipal utilities. For the recruitment of financial resources through public participation we organised three events for one wind farm alone, attended by around 900 people. Two weeks later, we had 30 million euros, although we only needed 15.

In 2011, we set up a “Wind Energy Service Station”. There, we have a colleague, who deals with conflict management. She talks to the people and seeks solutions with them whenever there is a problem. We also launched a “Wind Energy Round Table”, where we regularly invite all stakeholders involved in wind energy to address conflicts openly and transparently.

Round table discussions for solving conflicts

But wind energy is just one piece of the puzzle. Our goal is to initiate climate action in the region, involving more and more people. Many people trust us; that we practice what we preach, that we do things well, and that we act in accordance with the Agenda 21[3]. But that did not come out of the blue – it emerged over the years, during which people got to know each other, and learned to trust each other. I also believe that sustainability and regionalism are closely interlinked because we give up anonymity and work with people we know.

I agree with you. How do you deal with national legal and regulatory obstacles to citizen-owned renewable energy installations at the local level, such as the 2017 Renewable Energies Act (EEG) Amendment[4]?

I believe that the energy transition can only succeed if there is – in Hermann Scheer’s words – the “democratisation of energy supply”. The 2017 EEG Amendment, however, weakened the community energy movement. The reason for this weakening is presumably an energy policy that is geared towards corporations. But we need a policy that is citizen-oriented. The corporation-oriented policy actually prevents a successful energy transition. I am following Berlin’s energy policy with concern. If we do not change course very quickly, we will certainly miss the 2-degree target.

The approach we chose in Steinfurt is characterised by our energetic imperative “regional – decentralised – CO2-neutral”. This is supported and accompanied by the “energieland2050 network of entrepreneurs”. Only responsible companies from the region are involved in this network.

A study by the Leuphana University of Lüneburg has shown that the main obstacle to initiate community energy projects are the availability of equity capital and access to vacant space for renewable energy installations like wind turbines. How can local authorities help in these areas?

At the beginning, we conducted a study to identify our potentials for the wind energy expansion. We must not forget that our region is not particularly suitable for wind energy; we are not a coastal region and are partially suburbanised. On the basis of the potential study, we developed the guidelines for civic wind energy together with the farmers’ association, the mayors and many other stakeholders. This accelerated the expansion of wind energy. We implemented the wind energy expansion with regional stakeholders and did not rely on any external project planner or consultant. The expansion was also largely financed from the region – from its citizens, and its local banks. This is a relatively unique approach in Germany.

Construction of the bioenergy park Saerbeck

When we started to address wind energy with some actors in 2010 and even approached it strategically, people were very sceptical. And today I look back very relaxed and say: It worked!

I am glad to hear that. Let us now come to the last question. You have been working with passion for many years in this area. Which advice can you give to people in local governments not to lose patience and confidence in their work for renewables and citizen participation?

What you need is perseverance, patience and the faculty of abstraction. Human beings are often too impatient and cannot imagine the world changing but it is changing faster than ever. I think that in order to win people it is not enough to have good arguments, but it is important to draw a picture, a future scenario, of where you want to go and how positive the future can look like. At the end of my speeches, I often show a picture of the district of Steinfurt, which says: “District of Steinfurt – 24 health resorts”. If the energy transition succeeds, we will breathe clean air and it will be quieter. So if it succeeds, and I suppose that it does succeed at least partially, then life becomes more enjoyable and we get out of the air pollution dilemma which we are in now.

Interview conducted by Nele Kress.

References

[1] IRENA Coalition for Action (2018). Community Energy. Broadening the Ownership of Renewables. https://bit.ly/2MCevv9 (28.08.2018).

[2] Agentur für Erneuerbare Energien (2018). Bürgerenergie bleibt Schlüssel für erfolgreiche Energiewende. https://bit.ly/2nztV4q (28.08.2018).

[3] Agenda 21 is a comprehensive plan of action to be taken globally, nationally and locally by organisations of the United Nations system, governments, and major groups in every area in which human beings impact on the environment. It was adopted by 172 governments at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

[4] The Renewable Energies Act (EEG), which came into force for the first time in 2000, is the central control instrument for the expansion of renewable energies in the field of electricity in Germany. The fundamental changes of the last major amendment to the EEG in 2017 relate to compulsory direct marketing and a fundamental system change from the feed-in tariff model to the tendering procedure. This model has been criticized for failing to meet the climate protection goals of the Paris Agreement and for discriminating against community energy projects.

Presenting Smart Sustainable Pioneering Models on Smart Cities in China

Fourth China Smart City International Expo on August 21 in China’s innovation capital Shenzhen

The Banquet Dinner Reception – Best Practice Release was successfully organised during the Fourth China Smart City International Expo on August 21 in China’s innovation capital Shenzhen.

In cooperation with the China Center for Urban Development (CCUD) under the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the World Future Council organised the Banquet Dinner Reception – Best Practice Release in the evening of August 21. During the Banquet, the Smart Sustainable Pioneering Models project was co-launched by the World Future Council and CCUD, with international and national best practices of smart sustainable cities introduced as well. Prof. Herbert Girardet, the honorary councillor of the World Future Council gave the keynote speech, followed by international smart city experience sharing presented by Ms Beate Weber-Schuerholz, the former load mayor of Heidelberg, Germany; Mr Niall O’Connor, center director of Stockholm Environment Institute, Sweden; Mr Peter Sailer, project director of Sino German Urbanisation Partnership of GIZ, Germany; and Ms Aisa Tobing, Deputy Secretary General of CityNet, Indonesia.

There are over 1,000 smart city pilots ready for or under construction worldwide, and China is home to about 500 of them, covering big and small cities. Three groups of cities have been listed as national pilot projects so far, and the country aims to nurture 100 new smart cities from 2016 to 2020 to lead the country’s urban planning and development. With such high development speed, the Smart Sustainable Pioneering Models project presents best practices from around the globe for Chinese cities to improve their strategy, design, operations and maintenance in developing smart urban areas, along with technology and infrastructure, to ensure residents’ needs can be met efficiently and in a timely manner.

About 300 guests attended the Banquet Dinner Reception – Best Practice Release by invitation, and over 120,000 audiences in total attending the Fourth China Smart City International Expo. The whole event is organised by CCUD and lasts for 2 days, with main forums on August 21 and 16 parallel sub forums on August 22.

Fourth China Smart City International Expo on August 21 in China’s innovation capital Shenzhen

Zero Poverty – a vision in action for the future of Oxford County

In Oxford County poverty eradication is high up on the agenda. To tackle this, the County has designed and implemented a comprehensive plan which is designed to assess inequalities across the community and suggest measures to lead as many people out of poverty as possible.

Community Energy: A possible solution for the power issues in Rio de Janeiro’s neglected areas

Communities in Rio de Janeiro

Rocinha. Source: The Guardian (2013), “Favelas of Rio de Janeiro – in pictures”. Available: https://www.theguardian.com/travel/gallery/2013/nov/04/favelas-rio-de-janeiro-in-pictures

The most neglected areas in the city of Rio de Janeiro, commonly known as “favelas”, are irregular units that started to develop, usually onto hillsides, during a civil war in the final years of the nineteenth century. As it continued to grow over the years, it was embracing former slaves, immigrants coming from other parts of the country searching for jobs, and any other person that couldn´t afford to buy or rent a house in the city. The consequence is an area inhabited by the poorest class, with an un-existing urban plan, houses and buildings with bad infrastructure, difficult access and precarious public services. This reality created a separation between those inhabitants, commonly known as “people from the hills”, and the inhabitants from the rest of the town, known as “people from the asphalt”. Nowadays, there are around 762 of those communities in Rio with more than 1.4 million people residing in them (approximately 25% of Rio´s population) but, unfortunately, many of them are still neglected by the city.[1] The consequence of the weak presence of the state is that these areas work in a different system, with different rules, where inhabitants had to work in a self-sufficient manner. They had to learn how to protect and help themselves and thus developed a sense of a society that functions as a family[2]. With the goal of handling the daily challenges, and also as a way of having an internal political structure, they created their resident´s association, where a resident is elected by the inhabitants to be an active voice inside and outside the slums. They are responsible for organising forums, creating their land ownership titles, solve issues related to infrastructure, such as sanitation, medical care, energy, transportation and, especially, to establish a connection of those inhabitants with the city hall, bringing all the issues of their region[3].

Instead of what many may imagine, these areas in Brazil are responsible for generating 78,3 billion Reais (approximately 20 billion euros) per year. This is a direct consequence of the fact that residents had to learn how to be entrepreneurs in order to provide for their needs. Approximately 44% of inhabitants want to have their own business and 62% of them want to do it inside the community[4]. It has become part of their culture to fight for their interests and to show their value to the community, and to the rest of the city. Moreover, since the term favela became a derogatory way of talking about these neglected areas, especially the term favelado – a person that lives in the favela –, they requested to be recognised as a Community, a definition that fits perfectly with the way that they developed and behave.

Energy issues

The problems regarding infrastructure in the favelas are enormous. They have precarious sewage systems, transportation, water, and especially, electricity infrastructure. Energy consumption is increasing due to the rise of technology and evolution of electronic devices, and the expectation is that the demand for electricity is going to continue to grow even more. Light is the company that is responsible for producing and distributing energy in the entire city of Rio de Janeiro but, unfortunately, the service that is provided is not equal for every area of the town.

These circumstances developed a “culture of non-payment” in slums, where dwellers get their energy directly from the overhead cables, creating a system where their home will have electricity without the inhabitant having to pay for it[5]. Even though it seems like they are only taking advantage of the situation, there are many disadvantages to this system. Without a meter, residents cannot have an energy bill, and don’t have a proof of residency that is acknowledged by the city hall, which means they are unable to open bank accounts and receive mail. Moreover, they are vulnerable to electrocution and fire, due to overloads in the transformer. The key to the problem is not only that some residents cannot afford to pay for electricity, but that electric energy is part of a basic need of any resident of a big city, and they should be receiving a better quality service. In addition to these problems, ANEEL– Brazilian Electricity Regulatory Agency – has set a goal in which electric power companies have to reduce their commercial losses[6] of electricity annually[7], and now the inhabitants live in constant fear of getting a fine from the energy company.

Community Energy

Insolar and the community energy in Santa Marta slum. Source: Insolar (2018), “Histórias Inspiradoras”. Available: http://insolar.eco.br/

The main idea of community energy is that local members have full participation in the process of managing and generating their own power through renewable energy[8]. Considering that this is already in line with the modus operandi in Rio´s informal settlements, the implementation of this concept would come as a natural solution that will help dwellers to pay a reasonable price for electricity, lose the dependency on big electric companies, and have a quality service. The approach to this investment will be different in each community, since is important to consider the size, structure, political involvement, background and the need of every area in order to choose the right system[9].

In the Santa Marta community, the social organisation Insolar implemented such a community energy concept over a period of two years. Dedicated to promoting democratic access to energy through the installation of photovoltaic systems, it works closely with a variety of stakeholders, also providing awareness of the technology and environmental education. With the objective of having the inhabitants as the protagonist, they also invest in the local workforce to improve empowerment of the residents, teaching them how to install PV panels, getting them involved as much as possible, and having as a consequence an increased spirit of collaboration. They have fitted more than 150 PV panels to the roofs of many buildings in Santa Marta, which represents more than harnessing power from the sun – it is also shaping positive future of clean energy and generating a spirit of collaboration among inhabitants[10].

Barriers

Even though the sun shines for 2.000 hours a year in Brazil, only 0.2% of the country’s energy comes from solar power[11]. The current Brazilian legislation shows the lack of incentives for renewable energy and especially for solar home systems[12]. Residential and commercial customers are allowed to net-metering, a system that gives the possibility to use energy at any time of the day and in any climatic condition. Those connections will work through the Energy Compensation System, where all the power that is produced in excess becomes an “energy credit” for the customer, measured in kWh, and can be used to complement the months where the production is lower than the amount of energy that is consumed. However, this energy credit is only valid for 60 months, and after that this extra production is “given” to the company, according to normative resolution 482/2012 created by ANEEL[13]. Another critical issue is the minimum fee, or cost of availability, that is always charged even if the production is higher than the consumption, which is problematic for those dwellers that cannot afford to pay for the electrical bill. The necessary amount to invest in this new technology is also a big issue since is still very expensive and is considered to be profitable only after 4 or 5 years of use[14].

Promoting community energy in Rio

This investment is part of a long-term energy plan with several socio-economic benefits. Projects for community energy should prioritise and encourage local investors, especially to explore the vast possibility of income and finances that can be provided by it. However, the communities should also have in mind that any stakeholder is essential for its development. Implementing targets, creating regulations and facilitating equal market access is a good strategy to attract stakeholders and increase participation of the local inhabitants. Forming partnerships with a dealership, in order to get loans, could also increase the possibility to implement such a project. Moreover, it is vital to learn how to work with the government, considering that it can create special incentives, specifically for slums, in order to promote more significant investments in community energy[16].

– written by Mariana Cascardo –

 

Ressources

[1]Vox (2016), “Inside Rio´s favelas, the city´s neglected neighborhoods”. Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3BRTlHFpBU [Accessed 07 June 2018]

[2] RevoluSolar Institucional (2016), “RevoluSolar – A solar Revolution in Babilônia”. Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WSTk-3oCAn8 [Accessed 07 June 2018]

[3] Brown University Library (2012), “Favelas in Rio de janeiro, Past and Present”. Available: https://library.brown.edu/create/fivecenturiesofchange/chapters/chapter-9/favelas-in-rio-de-janeiro-past-and-present/ [Accessed 07 June 2018]

[4] GloboNews (2018), “Mundo S/A: Negócios movimentam R$ 78,3 bilhoes em favelas”. Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XmxrQURr3Q [Accessed 07 June 2018] (in Portuguese)

[5] The Guardian (2014), “Providing electricity to Rio de Janeiro´s favela”. Available: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/providing-electricity-rio-de-janeiro-favelas [Accessed 07 June 2018]

[6] Commercial losses, also known as technical losses, is associated with the energy that is not billed, that is lost in the grid during the distribution process, measurement with errors or consumed by units without metering equipment.

[7] “Aneel define nível de perda por furtos e frauds no cálculo de tarifa”. http://www.brasil.gov.br/editoria/infraestrutura/2011/11/aneel-define-nivel-de-perda-por-furtos-e-fraudes-no-calculo-de-tarifa [Accessed 07 June 2018] (in Portuguese)

[8]REN21 (2017), “Renewables 2017 – Global status report“. Available: http://www.ren21.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/17-8399_GSR_2017_Full_Report_0621_Opt.pdf [Accessed 07 June 2018]

[9] REN21 (2017), “Renewables 2017 – Global status report“. Available: http://www.ren21.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/17-8399_GSR_2017_Full_Report_0621_Opt.pdf [Accessed 07 June 2018]

[10] Climate Reality (2017), “24 hours of Reality 2017: Democracy in Solar Action (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=252&v=oZG738Ou6hI [Accessed 07 June 2018]

[11] BBC NEWS (2017), “How solar power is charging lives in the Santa Marta favela in Rio”. Available: http://www.bbc.com/news/av/technology-39485808/how-solar-power-is-changing-lives-in-the-santa-marta-favela-in-rio [Accessed 07 June 2018]

[12] The Guardian (2016), “From the favelas: the rise of rooftop solar projects in Brazil”. Available: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/may/24/favelas-solar-energy-projects-brazil [Accessed 07 June 2018]

[13] ANEEL (2012), “Resolução Normativa nº 482”. Available: http://www2.aneel.gov.br/cedoc/ren2012482.pdf   [Accessed 07 June 2018] (in Portuguese)

[14] RevoluSolar Institucional (2016), “RevoluSolar – A solar Revolution in Babilônia”. Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WSTk-3oCAn8 [Accessed 07 June 2018]

[15]IRENA COALITION FOR ACTION (2018). ”Community Energy: Broadening the Ownership of Renewables”. Available: http://irena.org/-/media/Files/IRENA/Agency/Articles/2018/Jan/Coalition-for-Action_Community-Energy_2018.pdf?la=en&hash=CAD4BB4B39A381CC6F712D3A45E56E68CDD63BCD&hash=CAD4BB4B39A381CC6F712D3A45E56E68CDD63BCD [Accessed 07 June 2018]

HLPF side-event: Achieving Agenda 2030 through 100% Renewable Energy – Examples from Tanzania and Bangladesh

The World Future Council and Bread for the World are hereby cordially inviting you to their side-event on the margins of the High-level Political Forum 2018 in New York, on 17 July, at 3.30 pm in the Church Center of the UN.

3.30 – 5.00 pm; 17 July 2018
Church Center of the United Nations
777 United Nations Plaza, NY 10017, USA

The event describes the vital relationship between renewable energy (RE) and sustainable development. In particular, it demonstrates how supporting the transition to 100% RE is a driver for sustainable development that  leaves no one behind. Hereby, it unveils how transitioning to 100% RE contributes to the achievement of the Agenda 2030 and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The event convenes civil society organizations, policy makers, development agencies and community leaders involved in sustainable development especially in countries in the Global South. Learnings from Tanzania and Bangladesh will be presented to catalyze replication in other countries.

Achieving a transformation of the energy sector to stipulate pathways and scenarios for SDG7 is a necessary pre-condition for the achievement of the Agenda 2030 in full and the highly urgent implementation of other international commitments such as the Paris Agreement. Therefore, this event seeks to highlight the interlinkages between SDG 7 and the other 16 SDGs and how a strategic transformation towards 100%RE contributes to achieving all of them. How do these interlinkages manifest itself in different national contexts and how can we replicate learnings and findings? What is the role of the national government and how can 100%RE benefit domestic socio-economic development? What lessons can be learned from the German “Energiewende”?

Draft Agenda

Facilitator: Rob van Riet, World Future Council

TimeItemSpeaker
3.30 – 3.40IntroductionJohannes Grün, Bread for the World
3.40 – 4.00100%RE and the national dimension of Agenda 2030Sixbert Mwanga, Director, CAN Tanzania; Jahangir Masum, Executive Director, Coastal Development Partnership
4.00 – 4.35Roundtable DiscussionJoyce Msangi, Energy Officer, Government of Tanzania; Dr. Bettina Hoffmann, Member of German Parliament, MdB; Jahangir Masum, Executive Director, CDP; Sixbert Mwanga, Director CAN Tanzania
4.35 – 4.55Q&A
4.55 – 5.00Concluding RemarksRob van Riet, World Future Council

 

Join the conversation!

Are you attending the event? Join the conversation, and tweet using the Hashtags #HLPF2018 #go100RE #SDG7

Follow us on Twitter @Good_Policies 

Need pictures to make your tweets more catchy? You can use the memes below.

 

Contact

Anna Skowron

Project Manager Climate & Energy

anna.skowron@worldfuturecouncil.org

 

 

 

Webinar: Why 100% RE is leaving no one behind – the key to sustainable development

Webinar hosted by the Climate & Energy Team of the World Future Council

Tuesday, 26 June 2018; 1pm GMT

Energy is a prerequisite for development and a life of dignity. Access to electricity is essential to overall human progress, social welfare, and technological advancement and unlocks access to many human rights. Without reliable access to electricity, societies would have never reached the standards of living that many countries across the world enjoy today. While it would be naïve to understate the vital role that fossil fuel energy has played in improving livelihoods, it would be irresponsible, short-sighted and dangerous to ignore the threats of climate change, environmental degradation and concentration of political and economic power that this type of fossil-fuel-dependent development has produced. A significant shift is needed to ensure that energy can continue to play its fundamental role in driving development, supporting human progress and improving livelihoods across the world.

This webinar embraces this idea to promote the relationship between the transition to 100% Renewable Energy (RE) and sustainable development in the run-up to the High-level Political Forum. It describes how 100%RE can be the most significant catalyst for socio-economic development whilst also creating an equitable society for today’s and future generations. How this can play out will be discussed using hands-on examples from Tanzania and Bangladesh. All of which are currently working on defining and implementing the 100%RE vision.

The webinar aims to mobilise NGOs, development organisations and governments around the world to join the global 100%RE movement. To improve the work on the interlinkages of 100%RE and SDGs the webinar will actively engage the audience in a discussion on mobilisation, the necessary framework to monitor progress on 100%RE and SDG implementation and other relevant topics.

 

Missed it?

Watch the recording of the webinar here:

 

Contact

Anna Skowron

Project Manager Climate & Energy

 

 

 

Urban Solutions: the WFC at the WUF in Kuala Lumpur

OBOR Cities Share Experience on Regenerative Urban Development at WUF 9

8th February 2018, at the 9th World Urban Forum in Kulua Lumpur Malaysia, the World Future Council in cooperation with the Energy Foundation organized a network event to facilitate cities from One Belt and One Road Initiative (OBOR) countries to exchange experience on regenerative city – regeneration of energy, resource, urban ecosystem and urban space in urban development.

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Clearing the Air in India with the fresh breeze of biomass technology

Every year India struggles with natural conditions of drifting dust from the desert Thar[1] which are aggravated by human impact[2] and lead to environmentally, socially and economically costly air pollution. With the enabling policy framework, a proven technology could be part of a feasible scheme tackling all anthropogenic drivers at once – and ideally lead to a reduction of air pollution by up to 90%. 

Starting a few months ago, India’s North has made headlines when air pollution reached an air quality index (AQI) of 1,001[3] – exceeding safe levels by a multitude of ten. In the national Capital Region of Delhi alone 45 million people[4] have been affected, causing a spike in complaints of respiratory problems and an emergency state, declared by the Indian Medical Association.[5]

Even though the news around the topic subsided, the officially monitored AQI which are even higher in the proximity of roads[6] within major cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad and Kolkata, continue to range around hazardous levels[7]. Inhalation of this air is comparable to smoking several packs of cigarettes a day[8] [9] and serious respiratory effects in the general population can be expected while even putting susceptible groups at risk of premature death[10].

Figure 1: Haze over North India in late 2017. (Source: NASA, 2017)

The death toll of air pollution in India was the highest of all countries around the world with 2,5 million in 2015.[11] A global UNICEF study found recently, that over 90% of children are breathing polluted air not matching WHO guidelines and 17 million infants are exposed to levels six times the approved norms.[12] Furthermore, household air pollution was recently discovered to be insalubrious even before birth, reducing birth weight, pregnancy duration and doubling perinatal mortality[13]. This effect is owed to the burning of traditional fuels which exposes mostly women to pulmonary and vision hazards of indoor air pollution.[14]

A study conducted by the World Bank concluded: The negative health impact of outdoor air pollution alone costs India 3% of its GDP[15] which translates to an equivalent loss of roughly 35 billion Euros every year. Research found a direct impact of the atmospheric pollution on agriculture with wheat yields of 2010 being on average up to 36% lower than usual all over India due to reduced intensity of sunlight and toxic ozone reaching the plants.[16] Additionally, increased amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere[17] contribute to the greenhouse effect leading to more extreme and destructive weather events.

Two main causes for a myriad of manmade emission sources

In agricultural areas such as Punjab, the breadbasket of India, which singlehandedly produces 20% of India’s wheat and 10% of its rice[18], smoke blankets rise seasonally for several weeks despite a governmental ban when leftover straw stubble from mechanical harvesting is burned openly in the fields to clean the soil for new seeding [19] (see fig. 2).

Large-scale crop burning in India in 2017. (Source: Propakistani, 2016)

Then, metropolitan areas are covered by the drifting haze of crop burning in addition to the smoke of millions of wood cook stoves in and outside of the urban areas as well as countless emitters of sulfates, nitrates and black carbon such as automobiles, coal-fired power plants, incinerators, smelters or brick kilns.[20]

A comparison of several studies of Delhi shows the difficulty of solving the problem due to the relatively equal share of the main human-made sources of urban air pollution: Open burning of garbage and other diffused emitters contribute on average about a quarter, domestic or biomass burning as well as dust ranges around 15% while both traffic and industry (including coal power plants) are responsible for approximately one third.[21] [22]

However, understanding the reasons of air pollution, the interconnectedness of land and city and the amplification of fog and aerosol hazes[23] permits a vision for a future of clear skies and fresh breath. The main detrimental causes showed to be unsolvable if tackled one by one which is demonstrated by governmental emergency measures falling short every year.

Multiplying the negative causes turns into a feasible opportunity

The usually unused agricultural leftover biomass like paddy straw suddenly becomes an additional source of income for farmers as it already begins to prove itself as a viable source for power generation in rural India, offering employment for thousands of people. The calorific value per kilogram of coal and paddy straw are comparable while it burns cleanly in boilers with an efficiency as high as 99%. Combustion technology is commercialized and alone in the state of Punjab 332.5 MW of agro-waste based power projects are planned.[24]

These power plants can sell their power due to the “New & Renewable Sources of Energy Policy” and generate income under a Clean Development Mechanism while suppling millions of kWh to the grid for years. [25] Even individual households value the significant financial benefit of a carbon credit scheme which earns them up to 500 Rupees per month in a pilot project and convinces them to maintain the use of improved cook stoves.[26]

There are numerous reasons aside from health benefits for extending the understanding of sustainable cooking beyond improved cook stoves[27]. A new one is provided by a recent study, that noted villagers truly wish for cooking like in the cities – preferably with LPG which is out of reach for many due to its higher costs compared to wood.[28]  The so-called producer gas of low-cost straw-based power plants is an ideal replacement of a cleanly burning fuel, reducing indoor air pollution significantly in poor or disconnected rural and urban households alike.

Moreover, the processing of biomass and organic waste opens the opportunity of bio-oil production which can be handled exactly like a petroleum-based product to power suited diesel generators and fuel traffic in the cities.[29] This not only reduces transport emissions greatly but adds value to the commonly high share of organic waste (~30%) in Indian cities[30], attracting the informal sector in waste collection and reducing open garbage burning.

If now the government would take a leap forward by providing legislative support for this scheme in a holistic framework and additionally phase out coal power plants, manmade air pollution could ideally be reduced by roughly up to 90% through counteracting the aforementioned emission sources. In addition to environmental and social health improvements, the positive economic impact would be substantial: An IRENA study estimated a total benefit of 59 to 224 billion USD in savings following a restructuring of the power sector.[31] India’s INDC target of 40% renewable energy in 2030 is a promising step into the right direction.[32]

 

– written by Lisa Harseim –

[1] https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=84731
[2] http://www.urbanemissions.info/wp-content/uploads/images/PMSA-Delhi-UEinfo-2013-Study.png
[3] https://visibleearth.nasa.gov/view.php?id=91240
[4] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/07/world/asia/delhi-pollution-gas-chamber.html?mc=adintl&mcid=facebook&mccr=edit&ad-keywords=GlobalTruth
[5] https://www.visibleearth.nasa.gov/view.php?id=86982
[6] http://www.dw.com/en/study-offers-new-insight-into-new-delhis-air-pollution-woes/a-18105674
[7] http://clonewdelhi.com/custom/AQI/missionindiaaqi.php#
[8] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/07/world/asia/delhi-pollution-gas-chamber.html?mc=adintl&mcid=facebook&mccr=edit&ad-keywords=GlobalTruth
[9] http://www.theweek.in/columns/shashi-tharoor/dont-hold-your-breath.html
[10] https://www.visibleearth.nasa.gov/view.php?id=86982
[11] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/07/world/asia/delhi-pollution-gas-chamber.html?mc=adintl&mcid=facebook&mccr=edit&ad-keywords=GlobalTruth
[12] http://cleancookstoves.org/about/news/01-04-2018-new-study-shows-clean-cooking-can-lead-to-increased-birth-weight-in-newborns.html
[13] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412017312448
[14] https://www.solarquarter.com/index.php/resources/83-industry-reports/6245-remap-renewable-energy-prospects-for-india
[15] http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2013/07/17/india-green-growth-necessary-and-affordable-for-india-says-new-world-bank-report
[16] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4246269/
[17] https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-81-322-2014-5_4#page-1
[18] https://www.visibleearth.nasa.gov/view.php?id=86982
[19] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/indiahome/indianews/article-5055737/Crop-burning-ban-goes-flames-Punjab-Haryana.html
[20] https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=84731
[21] http://www.dw.com/en/study-offers-new-insight-into-new-delhis-air-pollution-woes/a-18105674
[22] www.urbanemissions.info
[23] https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=84731
[24] https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-81-322-2014-5_4#page-1
[25] https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-81-322-2014-5_4#page-1
[26]https://www.povertyactionlab.org/sites/default/files/India_%20Cooking%20up%20a%20recipe%20for%20clean%20air%20%281%29.pdf
[27] https://www.worldfuturecouncil.org/file/2016/10/WFC_BeyondFire_web-version.pdf
[28] https://www.povertyactionlab.org/evaluation/cooking-stoves-indoor-air-pollution-and-respiratory-health-india
[29] https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-81-322-2014-5_4#page-1
[30] http://www.academia.edu/6034600/State_of_municipal_solid_waste_management_in_Delhi_the_capital_of_India
[31] http://www.irena.org/publications/2017/May/Renewable-Energy-Prospects-for-India
[32] http://www.ren21.net/gsr-2017/pages/tables/tables/#table-R15

100% renewable energy is low-cost option for Tanzania to become middle income country

PRESS RELEASE – Study released during political conference in Dar Es Salaam

Dar Es Salam, Tanzania, 17th October 2017 – By deploying 100% renewable energy, Tanzania can provide access to reliable energy for all its citizens, while increasing living standards to the level of industrialized countries by 2050. This is the conclusion of a scientific study that is released today in Dar Es Salaam by the Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF) of the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Climate Action Network Tanzania (CAN Tanzania), Bread for the World and the World Future Council (WFC). The study also reveals that generating electricity from renewable sources is about 30% cheaper than from fossil resources.

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