Emerging Solutions for the Energy Poor: Technological, Entrepreneurial, & Industrial Challenges

The 2010 Energy Justice Conference was designed to be a sequel to the 2009 conference, which began examining ways of mainstreaming safe, clean, and efficient energy for the world’s energy poor. The energy poor number two and a half billion people who live on less than $1-2 a day and rely primarily on biomass – such as animal dung, waste, crop residues, and rotted wood, as well as raw coal – as their primary sources of fuel for cooking, heating, and illumination.

These fuel sources create black carbon when burned. As an indoor air pollutant, black carbon results in nearly one and a half million premature deaths each year, as well as millions more incidents of morbidity, predominantly among women and children. Black carbon is also the second most significant contributor to global warming. The 2009 Energy Justice Conference sought ways of addressing both these problems by fostering, developing, and coordinating interdisciplinary research, development, and deployment of appropriate sustainable energy technologies (ASETs).

ASETs consist of low-cost, clean, non-hydrocarbon energy sources from mundane technologies, adapted to the culture of the users, to supply the unmet needs of the energy poor. For example, cleaner burning cook-stoves and cooking fuels can supply cooking and illumination needs, alleviate indoor air pollution, and also reduce global warming. In addition, millions die from unsafe drinking water. Water purifications units, or straws, enable the energy poor to overcome the health problems caused by the lack of clean drinking water. Many other mundane technologies already exist to supply better lighting, agriculture, and communications. A striking co-benefit of ASETs is to that they can encourage women, freed from illness and hours of fuel gathering, to start local small businesses.

Unfortunately, the flexibility mechanisms adopted by the Kyoto Protocol are geared toward the reduction of carbon dioxide alone, and present formidable obstacles for small projects undertaken by poor stake holders. The 2010 Energy Justice Conference explored how international climate change regime Conference of the Parties in Cancun could design new flexibility mechanisms that give credits, for example, for the reduction of black carbon by the adoption of cookstoves and through embracing small scale projects by poor stakeholders.

Similarly, the global adoption of ASETs has been hampered by economies of scale and the lack of capital. The 2010 Energy Justice Conference investigated ways of generating more capital, and promoting manufacture of ASETs by social entrepreneurs as well as large corporations.

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