Solar Power Saving Lives

The continued rollout of renewable energy around the world has the potential to save millions of lives in Third World countries in the coming decades, with the uptake of solar PV a key factor in the war against sickness and child mortality, according to the findings of two recently released key international reports.

The reports, released by the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) in early and late October, show global solar PV power capacity increased by a massive 50 per cent in the past year and that given the right political climate, universal energy access for billions of people worldwide could be reached within the next 15 years.

The IEA report, Renewables 2017, says for the first time global solar PV additions rose faster than any other fuel, with China accounting for almost half of the expansion.

The second report, Energy Access Outlook: from Poverty to Prosperity, highlighted a strong rise in electricity access in underdeveloped countries, with half a billion more people given access to power over the past 16 years, reducing the number of disadvantaged people from 1.6 billion in 2000 to 1.1 billion in 2016.

World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics indicate the health of millions of people worldwide is damaged every year by reliance on polluting fuels for cooking and heating including wood, dung, kerosene and coal.

The smoke, often trapped indoors due to lack of effective venting, contains particulate pollution and carbon monoxide up to 20 times higher than accepted health guidelines, causing heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and acute lower respiratory infections in children.

The IEA Energy Access Outlook report, says countries in developing Asia are well on track to reach universal energy access by 2030, with India set to reach that goal by the early 2020s but some 674 million people worldwide, with most living in sub-Saharan Africa, are still expected to have no access.

Lights Out - Africa at Night Seen From Space
Lights out - Africa at night seen from space | Credit: NASA

“The good news is that a convergence of political will and cost reductions is accelerating progress,” said IEA executive director Dr Fatih Birol.

“Just look at India, which has provided electricity access to half a billion people since 2000. The government’s tremendous efforts over the last several years have put it on track to achieve one of the biggest success stories ever in electrification.”

Today, some 2.8 billion people in the world still rely on biomass, coal and kerosene for cooking, roughly the same number as in 2000, says the report. By 2030, 2.3 billion people are expected to still have no access to clean cooking facilities, with an expected 2.5 million people dying annually from household air pollution.

Traditional Cooking in Namibia
Traditional cooking in Namibia | Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The report says reaching the 2030 target is reliant on an investment of $US31 billion a year, equivalent to less than 2 per cent of global energy investment.

“Energy for all is achievable and our ambitious strategy shows how countries can build on existing policy and technology success stories to accelerate access at the lowest cost,” said Dr Birol.

But to achieve the same results as we have with electricity, policy-makers must also place clean cooking at the top of their agenda.

The Renewables 2017 report says buoyed by the strong solar PV market, renewables made up nearly two-thirds of new global net power capacity in the past year, with up to 165 gigawatts (GW) coming online, with a predicted 43 per cent increase in renewable capacity by 2022.

Off-grid capacity in sub-Saharan Africa and developing Asia is expected to more than triple, reaching more than 3,000 MW by 2022.

The new capacity is expected to have a massive social impact, with up to 70 million more people using electricity over the next five years, raising living standards and helping to improve health in desperately poor regions.

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“We see renewables growing by about 1,000 GW by 2022, which equals about half of the current global capacity in coal power, which took 80 years to build,” said Dr Birol.

China, India and the United States are expected to account for two-thirds of global expansion in renewable energy over the next five years. The increase in the past year in solar PV installations in China and India alone place the IEA’s 2017 renewable forecast 12 per cent higher than last year.

India’s renewable capacity is expected to more than double over the next five years, underscored by solar PV and wind power, which represents 90 per cent of India’s renewables growth, producing some of the world’s lowest power prices.

China leads the worldwide expansion of renewable electricity capacity, accounting for 40 per cent of the global total, with more than 360 GW forecast to come online by 2022, while the United States remains the second-largest growth market for renewables.

The IEA, an independent international body of 29 member countries including Australia, Japan, Ireland, The Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Italy, Spain, the United States, Germany and South Korea, was established in 1974 to help countries respond to oil disruptions, focusing on energy security, economic development and environmental impact. comment↓


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