The Next Frontier For Beyond the Grid Solar Markets: Big Data

When it comes to energy access, we’re fond of saying small is big.

That’s because all those small scale solar lanterns, solar home systems, and solar mini-grids add up to a very big market. But the size of that market, and its social impact, could well be dwarfed by an even larger opportunity the solar revolution is engendering. With the explosion of mobile money platforms, and the pay-as-you-go (PAYG) solar financing options they enable, companies working Beyond the Grid are collecting reams and reams of data that could provide rural communities with perhaps the most transformative intervention yet -- financial inclusion.

It’s important to first take a step back and understand just how profoundly important financial inclusion is for these off-grid rural communities. For many populations living beyond the grid, they are also living beyond the reach of the formal economy and the financial system. That means they can’t take out loans for productive uses (say a sewing machine to make clothes and generate extra income) that could improve their lives, which in turn restricts their ability to move up the economic ladder and reinforces the poverty trap.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Rural communities already pay tremendous amounts for heavily polluting sources of energy -- nearly $40 billion for kerosene lighting. Solar entreprenuers are redirecting those cash flows to cheaper, cleaner sources of energy saving them money and improving their quality of life. But more importantly, by paying off these products, they are demonstrating the people’s ability to pay, and therefore their creditworthiness.  

                                                             Photo courtesy of Angaza

But there is a wide gulf between being creditworthy in principle and creditworthy in practice. That’s because the financial institutions that would be granting loans to these people need historical data on which to judge risk (this is the same dilemma that faces solar providers in the U.S. as they try to securitize loans). That is where we reach a classic Catch-22: without credit history you can’t get credit, and if you can’t get credit, you can’t build credit history.

Continue reading "The Next Frontier For Beyond the Grid Solar Markets: Big Data" »

Bangladesh ‘Long March’ to save Sundarbans featured in a new documentary

Last September, thousands of Bangladeshis joined the five day “Long March” from the capital city, Sundarbans Dhaka, to the city of Rampal to protest a proposed new coal-fired power plant. Now you can join the walk in a new documentary, “Long Live Sundarban,” available on YouTube.

The proposed coal project threatens the Sundarbans -- a UNESCO World Heritage Site which translates to “beautiful forest” in Bengali -- home to the largest reserve for endangered Bengal Tigers. It is also the world’s largest mangrove forest and plays an important role in the local economy and agriculture. More importantly though, the Sundarbans are a critical natural defense against cyclones, and it is estimated that every time one of these powerful storms hits Bangladesh, the forest saves hundreds of thousands of lives.

And the danger from these cyclones will only increase. At less than 20 feet above sea level, Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable nations to the effects of climate disruption. As sea levels rise and storms worsen, the country will need the Sundarbans more than ever.

But this could all change if the proposal from India’s state owned National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and Bangladesh’s Power Development Board (PDB) to build this proposed 1,320-megawatt coal-fired power plant moves forward. This coal project will not only contribute to the climate disruption threatening Bangladesh, it will also endanger their main protection against it.

But local activists are working hard to make sure this doesn’t happen.

Continue reading "Bangladesh ‘Long March’ to save Sundarbans featured in a new documentary" »

Big Coal Doesn't Get It

EPAad3 (1) (1)

 

As thousands rally this week in support of the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan, one thing is clear – people across the country are united in their demand for cleaner air to breathe. It’s fitting then that the final hearing starts in Pittsburgh on Thursday, an area that suffers from some of the worse air quality in the nation.

Every summer more than 53,000 children in the Pittsburgh region suffering from asthma are told to stay inside on bad air days because playing outside is a risk to their health. Summer is especially difficult for these kids and other vulnerable people -- including seniors and people with respiratory disease -- because the hotter temperatures lead to more smog, one of the most dangerous forms of air pollution.

Climate disruption is making this problem even worse with more hot days, longer heat waves and higher temperatures. That means even more smog.

The Sierra Club made this connection in the radio ad posted above that was launched this week in the Pittsburgh region, declaring that it’s time we did something to clean up our air. And that something is support the Clean Power Plan.

Coal-fired power plants, like those that dot Southwest Pennsylvania, are one of the primary sources of both smog-causing nitrogen oxides, soot and the carbon pollution that’s fueling climate disruption. In fact, while most of these plants could cut their pollution right now,  they simply choose not to, putting our kids at greater risk.

But when the coal industry heard our ad, they did what they do best -- deny and smear. An industry group called the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity issued a press release claiming carbon pollution has nothing to do with public health, thereby again putting polluters soundly on the opposite side of science and reality.

If big polluters are denying reality and abdicating responsibility for wreaking havoc on our public health, it must be a day that ends with a “y”. Check a scientific study, big coal: carbon pollution from burning coal worsens smog which triggers asthma attacks. That's part of why the Clean Power Plan's curbs on carbon are expected to prevent 150,000 asthma attacks in children.

But Americans shouldn't expect big polluters, the same companies that have been dumping toxins into our air and water for years, to care about public health. That's why we are doing our best to cut through their smears with these latest ads.

--Kim Teplitzky, Sierra Club Media Team, Pittsburgh, PA

Poll: Communities of color overwhelmingly support climate action

As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) holds public hearings across the country on the proposed Clean Power Plan, national polling continues to show strong support for climate action. And a new survey released by Green For All and conducted by the firm Brilliant Corners suggests that the desire for government action to combat climate disruption is especially high among minority communities. In fact, three quarters of voters of color surveyed said that they have become more interested in climate issues over the past several years and are paying closer attention to new information.  
Green for all report

Continue reading "Poll: Communities of color overwhelmingly support climate action" »

First Day of EPA Carbon Pollution Standard Hearings a Success!

Atlanta EPA rally

Hundreds and hundreds of people gathered in Washington, D.C., Denver, and Atlanta Tuesday for the first day of public hearings on the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan. The EPA proposed these first-ever limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants just last month.
Senator Markey at the DC rally

In Washington, D.C., crowds gathered to speak out in favor of the carbon pollution standard, packing the hearing all day. Supporters also gathered at a rally outside the hearing (see above photo) to hear from a variety of great speakers, including Senator Ed Markey, Delaware Governor Jack Markell, Latino Victory Project president Cristobal Alex, Green Latino president Mark Magaña, Hip Hop Caucus president Rev. Lennox Yearwood and others.
DC EPA rally kids - Photo by Javier Sierra
Kids were out and about in force as well, thanks to coalition partner Moms Clean Air Force.

Continue reading "First Day of EPA Carbon Pollution Standard Hearings a Success!" »

Irony Alert: A Delaware Oil Company Feels Threatened by Sea Level Rise

Oil companies seem to think they have the most to gain by denying climate disruption. Just look at the lengths that the oil-rich Koch brothers have gone to in order to suppress climate action, spending and saying anything to derail any policy tackling the climate crisis.

Why? Well, carbon pollution caused by burning fossil fuels is a key cause of the climate crisis -- and without action, they’ll be free to drill, extract, frack, refine, transport, and burn oil as much as they want. Apparently, it’s easy for them to ignore the cascade of problems their polluting behavior creates when they’ve got profits to be made. But, as it happens, such irresponsible, deeply flawed logic eventually comes full circle.

IRONY ALERT
Click the image to download the full application.

In Delaware, severe storms are eroding the shoreline and affecting homes and businesses up and down the coast - including the business of an oil refinery. The functioning of the Delaware City Refining Company property just south of New Castle, a division of PBF Energy, is threatened by increasing extreme weather. In other words, climate disruption is hitting the doorstep of its source.


The refinery has tried to get help, submitting an application with the Coastal Zone Management Act seeking shoreline protections due to “tidal encroachment” -- which is one way of saying sea level rise.

“The extent of the shoreline erosion has reached a point where facility infrastructure is at risk,” says the permit application from the company.

You read that right -- an oil company feels jeopardized by sea level rise. And they’re asking for assistance. That’’s like a cigarette company asking for help paying for ventilators for it’s executives after they’ve pedalled tobacco for decades.

Continue reading "Irony Alert: A Delaware Oil Company Feels Threatened by Sea Level Rise" »

Why VATs on Solar Energy Hinder Progress on Energy Poverty

Zambia.jpg

Photo credit: SolarAid

What difference can a value added tax make to the lives of those living in energy poverty?  A big one.

Currently, many countries in sub-Saharan Africa apply a value added tax (VAT) to clean energy products like solar lanterns and solar home systems. While it is critical for all countries -- particularly developing countries -- to develop a strong and diverse tax base to pay for public services like healthcare and education, VATs are usually regressive, meaning that they hit the impoverished the hardest.

As the anti-poverty organization Christian Aid explains in its Tax Justice Advocacy Toolkit, “unless a comprehensive set of exemptions is applied to the basic goods and services consumed by poor people, they will spend a much higher percentage of their minimal incomes on the goods and services that carry this tax than those with large disposable incomes.”  

Tragically, VAT is holding up a key development and climate objective: increasing clean energy access for all, both on and off the grid.   

According to Lighting Africa, solar components and products in many geographic areas continue to be hit with duties, VATs, and surcharges which can lead to price increase on solar products of upwards of 30 percent. That means, in practice, the VAT is an unnecessary barrier to sourcing affordable solar products for off-grid and rural populations.

Even worse, thanks to high subsidies for kerosene, VAT exacerbates an already unequal energy playing field. The end result is that those desperately seeking energy access turn to heavily polluting and ultimately more expensive forms of fuel-based lighting - like kerosene.

As such, many governments have begun to update their tax code to include VAT waivers and exemptions that support, not hinder, solar energy deployment. This includes leaders from Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Mali, and most recently Kenya.  The result? The off-grid solar industry is thriving in these countries, and solar energy is affordable for low-income people who most need access to energy.

sales of lighting global quality-verified PLSs in Africa.JPG

But many more countries must implement these kinds of exemptions to expand solar power for everyone.

Zambia currently exempts off-grid solar products -- like solar lanterns -- from a VAT that is typically applied to imported goods. They do this because 42.3 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty and only 22 percent are connected to electricity. Affordability of solar products is therefore critical for those living beyond the grid. The existing VAT exemption has allowed solar products to remain within the budget of low-income individuals and families.  

The Zambian government will soon be setting its budget for 2015, a process which will decide the fate of this exemption.  Solar energy access providers like SolarAid are strongly encouraging the government to keep the VAT and tariff exemption in place. Zambian solar lighting customers who buy $10 solar lights save an average of $75 a year, with savings spent on food, school fees,  and building small businesses.

But more solar products are needed in Zambia and across sub-Saharan Africa. While no panacea, reducing and eliminating solar VAT supports the ability of entrepreneurs and NGOs -- like SolarAid -- to get these services into the hands of those who need them most. In this specific case, solar VAT does nothing but harm those who need clean, reliable energy access the most.  

A VAT exemption on off-grid solar products is the obvious choice, and we support SolarAid’s push to ensure it remains in place.   

--Justin Guay, Associate Director, International Climate Program, and Vrinda Manglik, Associate Campaign Representative, International Clean Energy Access

The EPA's Clean Power Plan: A Chance to Get it Right for Workers, Communities, and our Climate

ActonclimateLast month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed its Clean Power Plan, the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants.   Besides re-establishing the United States as a leader in the drive to reduce the carbon pollution that is disrupting our planet's climate and threatening civilization itself, the Clean Power Plan will spur the growth of cleaner energy sources and energy efficiency, maintain and create family-sustaining jobs, and ensure America's infrastructure is prepared for the impacts of climate change.

Next week, the EPA is holding four hearings around the country; in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Denver, and Washington DC. Some people will be arguing for protecting the environment. Some people will be arguing for good jobs. What we all need to keep in mind is that these two things are not in conflict -- the Clean Power Plan lets us do both.  

From a union perspective, the Clean Power Plan presents a tremendous organizing opportunity in every state of the nation. That's because the EPA has structured the plan to give each state, or groups of states, enough time to comply in a way best suited for their local economies, meaning they can create their own plans to protect existing jobs and spur the creation of new ones all while reducing pollution. In fact, states have until 2015 to put a plan in place, until between 2020 and 2029 to meet reduction goals, and until 2030 to meet final targets, meaning they have time to make any needed adjustments to accommodate local needs.  

We should use the next two years to come together, talk through our differences, and find common ground to get this done in the best way possible. That's because both the Clean Power Plan and the transition to a clean economy are NOT about "jobs versus the environment" --- they are about creating good jobs in healthy communities on a living planet.   

Continue reading "The EPA's Clean Power Plan: A Chance to Get it Right for Workers, Communities, and our Climate" »

Organizations Call on Major U.S. Corporations to Ditch Tar Sands

Stop-using-tar-sands-fuel

Today, leading environmental groups and corporate campaigning organizations released an open letter to major corporations -- the biggest consumers of tar sands, the dirtiest oil on the planet -- calling on the corporations to take responsibility for the disastrous effect that lax to non-existent corporate purchasing policies are having on the climate. Check out the letter here.

Unless a company has a specific policy in place not to purchase tar sands oil, the company is in practice supporting the destructive tar sands mining industry that is polluting our water, air, communities, and climate. The letter puts companies on notice that it's time to do the right thing.

Over the past year, corporations have come under increasing public pressure to stop using tar sands oil. PepsiCo and Coca-Cola were the first among them, due to the amount of tar sands oil used to fuel the companies' massive vehicle fleets. Just Monday, people began asking the question across social media: "How much water is poisoned to produce one barrel of tar sands? Just ask Pepsi."

"Tar sands crude is the dirtiest oil on the planet. Nineteen major companies have already adopted policies not to purchase oil from tar sands, so it's high time that the rest of America's corporations follow suit," said Michael Bosse of the Sierra Club's Beyond Oil campaign. "This letter puts the biggest corporate consumers of oil on notice that there's no excuse not to invest in cleaner, more efficient fleets, and that it's simply wrong to source oil from the tar sands, which is fouling the land and water in communities across the country, from Maine to Kalamazoo to Utah."

Amanda Starbuck, the Climate Program Director at Rainforest Action Network, put it this way: "Many big corporations that sell commodities far removed from oil extraction are nonetheless enabling the nightmarish expansion of the tar sands by refusing to purge tar sands oil from their fuel supply chains. Huge companies with massive operating budgets have ample resources to ensure they are not contributing to the worst environmental disaster on Earth, and until they do so, we will consider them complicit."

With this letter, it should be clearer than ever to America's corporations that they need to take note, take a look at how PepsiCo has been dragged into the spotlight over its use of tar sands, and take action. It's time for America's corporations to step up to the plate, say no to tar sands, and move beyond oil.

-- Rachel Rye Butler, Sierra Club Beyond Oil Campaign

Rallies Next Week! Your Voice is Needed to Support Climate Action

Cut carbon signLast month, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed the first-ever national standard to clean up carbon pollution from power plants. Now the EPA is holding public hearings on the proposed standard in four cities. If you live near DC, Pittsburgh, Denver, or Atlanta, we hope to see you next week!

Join Sierra Club and our allies as we march and rally outside these hearings. We've all got to do our part to show strong support for the EPA to take bold action on climate disruption! Polluters are gearing up to try and stop this standard in its tracks, so it's especially important that everyone concerned about our climate shows up, raises their voice, and gets involved.

Here are the dates and locations of the hearings and rallies - click on each to learn more and to RSVP:
 
Washington, D.C (July 29 and 30)

Denver, Colorado (July 29 and 30)

Atlanta, Georgia (July 29 and 30)

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (July 31 and August 1)
 
As I've said before, this carbon pollution standard gives all kids a fighting chance at a safe and promising future. The Clean Power Plan will save lives and money.
 
We applaud the EPA's Clean Power Plan and will work to make it even stronger. It creates a framework that, once in place, could mean significant reductions in carbon pollution. States will make plans to reduce power plant emissions, and boost renewable energy and energy efficiency; states could also pledge retirements of dirty, outdated power plants.

The Clean Power Plan also sends an important signal to the world that the United States is serious about addressing climate disruption, and it could help clear the way for international climate action.
 
I’ll be in Atlanta for the events there, and I can't wait to see the huge crowds gathered to support the Clean Power Plan. I hope you'll join us -- either in Atlanta, Washington, DC, Denver, or Pittsburgh as we rally, march, testify and make our voices heard!
 
If you can't make it, please submit your supportive comments here!

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign director. Photo courtesy of Josh Lopez.


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