Developing Nations Need Renewable Energy
Several years ago I helped to launch a new business that we envisioned would enable developing nations around the world to power themselves, to in effect power their own economic growth by not only reducing their crippling dependency on fossil fuel (feeding old electrical generators) but to do so successfully on their own terms. In essence, to build their own power plants, to become truly independent. I have since had the pleasure of visiting many developing nations and meeting their leaders, most recently in Ghana.
In common parlance, upon launching, to provide power (to the people), we were offering both new technology and requisite expertise and build solar farms. In those early days we believed growing nations needed energy - affordable and sustainable - whether to power a school or a system of schools, a factory or integrated production facilities, remote clinics or a network of healthcare providers, not to mention individual homes or extensive communities.
On hillsides, open fields, landfill sites, deserts and rooftops, we set out to demonstrate the effectiveness of converting their daily sunshine. Ideally, we wanted to teach a nation to fish and feed itself. We sought neither to extract valuable resources nor exploit local workforces. In countries still burdened by colonial debt, we saw a future where these nations would fuel their own success, though still needing to buy a fishing rod (hook, line and sinker) to fish.
Power to the People
Along the way, we offered a complete package - a turnkey system for sale - which when commissioned will yield power. We do not sell developing nations consulting services, a study or report, a "green" solution or the value of carbon credits, yet simply a process of erecting connected solar panels to generate electricity.
The consumer of this final product - electricity - could be either powering a single toaster or an entire office building. If the former, whereby solar panels reside on the consumer's roof, delivery of the electricity is not an issue; however, transmission on a grander scale (via a "grid") has proven to be problematic, given capacity restrictions. But, especially in Africa, the introduction of cell phones has taught us we don't need cables anymore.
Although altruistic on many levels, leaders in developing nations are people, and years ago I was taught the biggest risk in any venture is people. Monopolies giving the right to generate and transmit electricity forged in centuries when sails powered ships solely transporting goods across oceans are still enforceable apparently. In a peculiar way, democracy today can be a hindrance to development - as elected parliamentarians - representatives of the people - need to balance laws (and the rights of owners) and the future of their nations.
In order to be re-elected, people need money and votes. On one hand, people seeking election to public office might do so out of a sense of civic or national pride, whereas others seeking re-election might have agendas; some might seek and demand change, whereas others prefer and might need to maintain the status quo. In all cases, leaders of developing nations across the world, if growth is essential, need to provide power to the people.
In countries I have visited nuclear power is out of the question. However, many leaders have now been introduced to BOO: Build, Own and Operate, whereby control of their power supply (and its cost) will lie in foreign hands, despite increasing demand domestically. Hence, backed by a sovereign guarantee, investors today line up to supply developing nations with power plants who agree to purchase energy for future generations.
We all know the sun will remain in the sky for another ten million years, and although I am fond of saying there is nothing in this life that is free - it seems the sun's rays are in fact free. Building, however, a solar power plant is not free. When looking into the future, the leaders of developing nations are balancing the cost of building new transmission lines, for example, to take energy created by burning carbon fuels in their BOO facilities, or building renewable energy power plants, whether tied to the grid or built off-grid for private buyers.
The choice is not a simple one. Regardless of either environment and employment issues, or the health and education of their people, developing nations cannot develop and remain independent and competitive while shackled to foreign ownership of their energy. In my opinion, developing nations cannot rely on foreign nations to supply their power; they need to build their own power plants.
Anyone can fish, but first needs the rod. Don't give people the rod, sell people the rod. There is, after all, value in a good sale. The sale of solar plants to developing nations is a good sale. Sadly, anyone can sell a rod, so it must be a good rod. To conclude, I don't think we humans can survive on fish alone, and solar energy can augment and become part of a healthy diet, a mix of sustainable energy, one that enables independence and growth in the future.
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