The Center for Science, Technology, and Society tracks where off-the-grid solutions are lighting the way.
The 791 million people who live in sub-Saharan Africa use as much electricity as the 19 million in greater New York City, according to the United Nations. Around the globe, some 1.5 billion go without any electricity at all. A billion more have only intermittent access to electricity, sometimes just a few hours a day. Highlighting innovative projects that redress this imbalance—and that create solutions that could help people around the world rethink how energy is created and distributed—is the aim of the Energy Map, a site launched May 23 by Santa Clara University’s Center for Science, Technology, and Society (CSTS), in partnership with social-enterprise information company Ayllu.
The site was launched in May with CSTS’ Andy Lieberman serving as project manager. Visitors scroll across the interactive map and click through to learn more about 40 social enterprises in 16 countries that are delivering clean electricity or alternative fuel to the energy poor. Each company profiled on the map is either a Tech Award laureate with winners selected in part by Santa Clara faculty (see “Taking Innovations to Scale,” Spring 2011 SCM) or a graduate of SCU’s annual Global Social Benefit Incubator, hosted on the Mission Campus each summer. Profiles provide foundations, investors, entrepreneurs, and government agencies with a detailed dossier on each company—including distribution systems, business models, and product designs.
“This map is the first of its kind, and only CSTS could have pulled it off,” says Radha Basu, who is Regis and Dianne McKenna Professor of Science, Technology, and Society and CSTS Dean’s Executive Professor. “Our network of social entrepreneurs allows us to discover and connect the best examples of frugal innovation.”
Hohyun Lee, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, adds that the Energy Map should inform and inspire students and business leaders alike. “Not only do the in-depth profiles provide awareness for organizations in some of the world’s most remote regions, they give a much more tangible example to see what is already being developed.”
Selected Energy Map Profiles
Act-If ElectroPower (Mexico)
In Mexico, public spaces in slums and rural towns often lack lighting, and a critical traditional industry—making tortillas—is often done with equipment run on expensive diesel fuel. Act-If ElectroPower, based in Mexico City and founded in 2006, address both challenges by selling solar-powered LED streetlights to cities and solar generators to tortilla makers. Its streetlights now operate in 30 communities in the state of Chiapas, bringing light to 17,000 people. Last year, it sold 50 solar tortilla machines, reducing vendors’ energy bills by 40 to 60 percent, and expects to sell 300 in 2011.
GNEEDER/Cows to Kilowatts (Nigeria)
Left untreated, slaughterhouse waste can pollute water sources and contribute to climate change. The methane released from cattle waste, for instance, is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. In Ibadan, Nigeria, GNEEDER/Cows to Kilowatts, founded in 2001, has developed a biogas digester reactor that converts slaughterhouse waste into cooking fuel or electricity. GNEEDER’s reactor can process 1,000 cattle each day into 1,800 liters of cooking fuel or a half-megawatt of electricity. The company says payback on the reactors comes in as little as two and a half years. GNEEDER is looking to build plants in six other cities in Nigeria and to expand into four or five countries.
Husk Power Systems (India)
India’s economic boom has lifted millions out of poverty, but 125,000 villages still lack access to electricity. Husk Power Systems, founded in 2007 and based in Bihar, India, owns and operates mini power plants fueled by biomass—rice husks, corn cobs, and rice and wheat straws. By the end of last year, the company had built 75 power plants, with two more added each week. Within three years, it plans to have built more than 2,000 power plants serving 6 million rural villagers in India.
Three-quarters of the population of Laos lives on less than $2 per day. Nearly half of the population lacks access to the electricity grid. Founded in 2000, Sunlabob, based in Vientiane, specializes in providing lighting to off-grid villages. Customers buy light as a service through community-owned lanterns, which are charged every day at central solar stations. To date, Sunlabob has installed 7,500 solar systems in more than 500 villages.
VANREPA/Green Power (Vanuatu)
Vanuatu, like most small island nations, lacks a robust electric grid and suffers from burdensome energy prices. Where the grid doesn’t reach, rural subsistence farmers rely on kerosene and batteries to power lights and wood for cooking. VANREPA/ Green Power, based in Port Vila and founded in 2002, imports and sells solar lights and efficient cookstoves. Since December 2009, the company has sold 22,000 lights. It sees room for growth in neighboring Fiji, Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea, and it may add fixed solar panels to its product lineup.