The distributed and micro nature of cleantech means that it has an important role to play in helping the world’s poor, especially in the areas of energy and water. In fact, cleantech in the developing world is increasingly seen as aneconomic opportunity for local communities (for example, solar water heaters in China). Perhaps just as important, the introduction of clean energy into the developing world, if successful, could have a hugely ameliorating effect on global climate change as those economies expand, people are pulled out of poverty and consumption increases. Solutions for the poor are often lower tech, but higher inspiration. Take the group of six African students who came up with a method of using the sun’s energy to take humidity from the air and turn it into potable water. Or the compost toilet that came out of the Interprofessional Projects Program (IPRO) series appropriately called Developing Extremely Affordable Products for the Rural Poor of the World. More recently, the Sahara Forest Project was announced, with the goal of using concentrated solar power and seawater greenhouses to produce clean energy and water in Africa on a much greater scale. Other great examples that are also equally inspiring have been built around small scale wind, solar cooking, micro hydro, PV-powered water distillation and pumping, biogas, rainwater harvesting, etc My closest association with the growing momentum in this area is my work with clean-emission cookstove company Envirofit, which is trying to end indoor air pollution, a silent and largely unknown killer in the developing world that results from the burning of dirty cooking and heating fuel in cramped quarters. Envirofit, although a non-profit, is taking a business approach to the problem. Traditionally, the failed top-down philanthropic model was built on spending money to buy clean-burning stoves, giving them away and hoping they didn’t break. Instead, Envirofit is letting the market lead from the ground up – its building a sales, distribution, financing and service infrastructure around the stoves so that locals, starting in India, can actually own the process, as opposed to simply being recipients of charity. This market approach is gaining ground across the donor and NGO world, and initial results from the Envirofit approach in India are very promising.Dr. E.F. Schumacher was one of the earliest proponents of what he called “intermediate technology“, a belief that there are cheaper, more appropriate ways of addressing problems in the developing world other than the capital- and resource-intensive ways of the West. Although motivated by different reasons, more and more for-profit companies are working to improve the development of clean water and energy technology in poor countries. Some companies, like Coke and others in the food and beverage industry, are simply involved because they have no choice (they only remain in business if there is clean water). At the international level, the World Bank, after signing on to support the Clean Energy for Development Investment Framework, announced it would raise a $5 billion cleantech fund for the developing world earlier this year, and Japan has also committed to $10 billion for its Cool Earth Partnership. Some influential private funding organizations are working increasingly in this area as well, including the Acumen Fund, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Light up the World Foundation and Shell Foundation. If you are looking to make an individual contribution, consider INVEST, Green Microfinance, Practical Action, Global Green and Global Giving.
Ultimately its going to have to be a combination of private sector innovation and capital, and public sector support to bring the might of cleantech to the poor in places that lack basic infrastructure and are often remotely situated. Of course, poverty is not the exclusive domain of the developing world. Action is also being taken in the United States and other richer countries to bring clean energy to the poor.
Here’s a list of 12 technologies and initiatives with potential to help solve the clean energy and water conundrum for the world’s poor. Additional programs focused on the use of solar to alleviate poverty and health issues can be found here and here.
LifeStraw – Lighting Africa – Watel – Envirofit – Sahara Forest Project – Warm Winter Challenge – World Clean Energy Awards – Global Network on Energy for Sustainable Development – Grameen Shakti – Architecture for Humanity –SELCO – REN21
This post is my contribution to Blog Action Day.