Photo: PowerMundo via REEEP
Discussions surrounding the modernization of energy are often concentrated on updating extensive networks of fossil fuel-reliant power plants in developed countries. But what about the myriad populations around the world who don't yet have electric power of any sort?
According to the U.N. Development Programme, more than 1.3 billion lack modern electricity services, posing a significant barrier to indivudals' healthy development. About 2.6 billion-- more than 1 in 3 in the world-- use wood, coal, animal waste, or other polluting fuels to cook and heat their homes (it should be noted that coal- or natural gas-fired power generation are also immense producers of pollutions, but pose a more distributed risk and are therefore less harmful per user). As a result of close proximity with dangerous fuel sources, 4.3 million individuals prematurely die from indoor air pollution and associated respiratory complications.
More than 22 million citizens of Latin America live in energy poverty-- a figure that propelled Michael Callahan to create PowerMundo, a solar startup with a social impact message. Callahan chose to focus his initial efforts in Peru, considered the second energy-poorest country in the region, with 3 million people without access to power. Due to a national ban on kerosene, off-grid communities often rely on candles or diesel fuel, and may spend more than 10% of their monthly income on energy.
By distributing technologies such as solar-powered lanterns, radios, mountable lights, cellphone chargers, and clean cookstoves at prices competitive to their customers, the startup hopes to illuminate more remote Peruvian villages. The model also employs Peruvian individuals and retailers to offer the technologies, and hopes to provide local training to service solar home systems. Although PowerMundo has served predominantly Peru, it has also begun similar grass roots-style operations in Hondouras, with plans to access other markets with intermittent grid connections such as Bolivia.
While experts agree that an expansion of energy access to the most energy poor regions is feasible within 15 years, traditional utilities and national and munincipal governments often don't prioritize underserved communities.
Given the little infrastructure necessary for photovoltaic electrical generation, private and non-profit entities in the solar sector may be the crucial push that helps bring energy-poor populations into the light.