Accessible and reliable energy is necessary in this growing global economy. As developed countries begin the process of moving towards a energy intensive economy, developing nations are struggling to bring energy to rural and impoverished areas. Rethinking energy accessibility and improving the systems in which considerations of certain populations are not present, is necessary for development.
The United Nations has declared energy accessibility as a focus for the Sustainable Development Goals, created in 2015. Goal 7, energy accessibility for all, keeps the world accountable for moving to improve the energy system.
Large populations of people are without safe or efficient energy systems and action needs to be taken. In areas of South America, Africa and Asia, this inaccessibility keeps women away from education, requires extensive time to be spent on fire wood collection and exposes women and families to harmful cookstoves. As discussed in the Institutions and Organizations section on this domain, the Clean Cookstoves Alliance works hard to address the latter issue of harmful emissions. By spreading awareness and working with companies to fundraise and provide cleaner alternatives, the alliance has helped many women and families. Another organization, Solar Mamas, which teaches local women how to put together and install solar panels, incorporates women empowerment and renewable energy access. Some developing countries, like Nicaragua and Sweden, have made it their objective to increase renewable energy use and therefore have invested in new technologies and capitalized on the natural resources of wind, solar, geothermal and biomass. There are many other solutions that have been implemented across the world to address all the interconnected issues of energy accessibility.
Though I recognize the importance of international engagement and development, I also see a unique opportunity within the United States to institute great change regarding energy. Most of the United States has access to energy and rely on polluting and GHG emitting energy sources. There has been some recent growth in solar and wind but the majority source is oil. As a leader in the global arena, and a major economic player in the global economy, the United States has a large say in what happens economically. I believe that by shifting the consumption habits of the US in terms of energy and start to shift towards a more renewable energy future, the world will quickly follow (though there are some countries who the US would be following first). There are many ways in which to do this, tariffs and import taxes are one such possibility. However, I wanted to also figure out a way to empower and include low income populations who are often the first to experience the detrimental effects of climate change. I therefore decided to come up with a solution in which low income populations could become more in charge of their energy choices.
To begin, I looked at current practices that have attempted to address the issue of high installation costs that are required with energy efficient updates and renewable energy.
The Environmental and Energy Study Institute’s work with on-bill financing was one project I examined. EESI partnered with local energy companies to create a program in which the company would pay the upfront cost of the energy improvement or installation and then take out a tax each month from the household. As the households would be saving energy, the tax would still allow for cost savings overall. I was impressed with the use of the program to overcome the hurdle of high upfront costs and decided that this was an important aspect to include in my proposed solution. However, the program still buys into the current energy system and keeps the power of the energy in the hands of the energy company.
In order to avoid this, I looked to the system of microfinance and the ability small loans had to empower small communities, improve quality of life and municipalize systems. I then began to design my proposed project that would combine both the ideas of microfinance with on-bill financing.
The Proposed Solution:
The Community On-Bill Financing program is a system that allows all households of a community engage in energy improvement installations with a lower upfront cost. The program first requires a set aside budget from the local government. This budget does not have to be large, and only needs to be enough to pay for a single household improvement. The local government will also need to set aside a significant amount of money for a centralized grid that will eventually be used by all members of the community.
A loan could be taken out in order to make this possible. The first household is given access to the community energy fund and are then able to install renewable and energy efficient materials for their house. After installing they are then charged monthly as they would with on-bill financing. However, instead of paying to the energy company, the household’s fines are put into the community energy fund. Once the fund reaches an amount that is sufficient for the next household, the process begins again. The hope is that eventually the community saves up enough money to begin to pay off the localized energy grid, perhaps selling excess solar energy to other nearby towns. The process could also be completed sooner if the government is able to provide a larger upfront budget. Access to this program does require some additional work on the part of the households. In order to ensure program success each household member is required to attend two workshops in which participants will learn about how to care for their system as well as why renewable energy is so important. Children of these households will also be required to attend but will be engaged with interactive puppet shows. The hope is that through education, each participant will see this program as the beginning of a healthier future. Hopefully, the program will result in a completely functioning and reliable renewable energy system.
The success of this program will be measured through a variety of indicators. First will be the gain in education about energy and climate change, this will be evaluated using surveys taken before and after participation in the education program. The second will be the decrease in energy use for each household. The third will be the frequency and intensity of blackouts of the community.
Through the successful implementation of this program, I believe communities can begin to change. Hopefully, by starting at the local level, change will move outward and eventually the global community will be shifting the energy system.