Source: BBC

Ask the average person to name a type of renewable energy. I would assume whatever they say is one of the types of renewable energy that you would see here in the United States. The answer is probably an energy source like wind power, hydropower or solar power. What you are unlikely to here is poo poo power. Though in the central and east African state of Rwanda, that is certainly not the case. In Rwanda, the preferred alternative energy source above all is biogas. Usually biogas means dead plant and animal material, animal waste, and kitchen waste turned into fuel. It is not common in the United States, but it has been utilized here, for example, by farmers in Texas and Vermont with cow dung. Rwanda does that too, but they’ve taken this crappy idea a step further.

In Rwanda, the prisons have huge populations. For example, in Nsinda Prison, there is around 8,000 inmates. Most of them convicted for involvement in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The sewage created in prisons like Nsinda was turning into a serious health hazard for the those in and around the prison. Another problem facing Rwanda in and out of the prisons was the demand for firewood for cooking that was locally harvested in Rwanda’s rainforests. That method of cooking brought its own health hazards from the smog it created when done indoors. A sustainable solution to this was found in the form of biogas. In this case, they recycle the inmates’ own waste as a way to generate energy.

In 2001, biogas plants first appeared in prisons. The idea was a complete success, and it has since expanded to all 14 prisons in Rwanda. An example of the success can be seen at the Nsinda prison which has achieved an 85 percent reduction in energy costs since switching to biogas. At Nsinda, biogas also accounts for 75 percent of all energy used.

The biogas is made in the prisons by mixing the waste of the inmates with cow dung and water outside the prison walls. The combination of waste is filtered before entering large digesters that create and store the gas. This biogas is then used to in the kitchen to cook the food for the inmates.

Now, the Rwandan Government promotes biogas to the public as an alternative means to fuel cooking and lightning, rather than the harmful biomass that is usually used. It can now be found in homes and is common in schools too. A program was launched in Rwanda in 2009 to promote biogas in places without access to electricity. The Government of Rwanda now encourages all Rwandans with two or more cows to have its own biogas plant.

So could something like this work in the United States? Countries much larger than Rwanda have taken to the idea. In both India and China, sewage has been used as means of energy. In the case of China, it is said that Marco Polo observed the Chinese using covered sewage tanks to generate their energy way back in the 13th century! Reporters in the United Kingdom have even contemplated such an idea as a replacement to North Sea gas in the future. While I think it could, its not something I would want to think about!

For more, check out this video on youtube on the Rwandan prison biogas.


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Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world with a per capita income of around $540 US dollars. This is the lowest amount for any country outside of Africa. Nepal does have wealthier modernized metropolises like Kathmandu to serve as a gateway to tourists and financial nerve center, but that is the exception. As well as being poor, the majority of the country is a rural area. About 84 percent of the Nepali population resides in these rural areas.

The natural barriers of the Himalayan Mountains have made getting these rural areas connected to the national electricity grid difficult for Nepal. Any effort to connect them would be incredibly expensive. So while the country as a whole has about 56 percent access to electricity, these countries in the rural area have only around 15 percent access. Due to this lack of electricity, many Nepali citizens turn to burning biomass such as wood and dung. Is there another solution? Yes, and it involves water, something the rural Nepalese has plenty of access too. The solution is micro-hydro.

source: Amy Yee for the International Herald Tribune

The first micro-hydro plants idea was piloted in Nepal in 1996 with five initial districts. When the project worked out, it rapidly began to expand. By 2009, 40 out of 51 target districts with micro-hydro potential were using it and giving power to over 40,000 rural homes.

Micro-hydro plants like the one in the photograph above divert flowing river water to turbines that generate power. The energy supplied by these turbines is then directed to those using it. Micro-hydro involves no dams, just running rivers and the gravity of tumbling water to run these turbines. Unlike some larger hydropower dams, there is no flooding or damage involved. Micro-hydro has also helped replace the unfortunately popular biomass burning that was causing deforestation, increased carbon emissions, and use of dung as something other than fertilizer.

How much power is generated by a micro-hydro plant? Nepal’s Alternative Energy Promotion Center defines micro-hydro as generating less than 100 kilowatts of electricity. This amounts to around 100 times less electricity than the 10 megawatts a small hydro plant would generate.

In some cases, micro-hydro has led to economic benefits for those towns that invested in it. Most micro-hydro projects are run by community organizations, and some citizens who are getting involved have taken advantage of the benefits of the new power. This can be seen there in the form of new shops, restaurants, pump irrigation and other new endeavors brought to the communities. Even the education and health of the public has benefitted from micro-hydro with the addition of new facilities and equipment that had no power before.

Micro-hydro has given many rural Nepalese citizen a lot to be excited about. It has given them power and helped them in their battle against poverty. Yet there is still much potential for micro-hydro in Nepal and still much to be excited about. According to a World Bank estimate, just 2 percent of Nepal’s micro-hydro potential has been developed. There is still a lot more to be excited about.

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With so many Middle East countries known for their wealth of energy resources, it might be hard to imagine that a country like Jordan is facing an energy crisis. Yet for decades, the Middle East kingdom has been dependent on the resources of other countries. A massive 97 percent of all energy used by Jordan originates outside of the country. No doubt, with an amount that large, it has cost them a great deal. Over $5 billion dollars are invested in bringing in these resources. That equals about 15 percent of Jordan’s entire gross domestic product!

In recent years, the crisis has been amplified. The February 2011 and April 2011 sabotaging of a gas pipeline that led from Egypt to Jordan, Syria and Israel led to Egypt cutting off supplies and Jordan turning to other sources more costly than those supplied by Egypt. With the cheap Egyptian gas supplies cut off, Jordan has become dependent on expensive fuel oil. Adding to this problem is Jordan’s oil refinery has only a limited ability to refine high-quality diesel, due to the failure to modernize the decades old facilities.

Jordan has been searching for an answer to their energy since being cut off by Egypt. A range of solutions have been presented, and proponents for shale, nuclear energy and renewable energy are all making their voices heard right now in the midst of the Jordan’s energy crisis.

A subsidiary of Shell called Jordan Oil Shale Company is currently looking into oil shale potential in Jordan. Investments have also been made by BP in the oil fields bordering the Iraq border. Another option Jordan is seeking that should get plenty of attention is the country’s first nuclear power plant. The Jordan Atomic Energy Commission is currently exploring options for a site for Jordan’s first nuclear power plant. Arrangements have already been made with France to provide energy and South Korea to supply the needed reactor. The Jordan Atomic Energy Commission expects to start building the plant in 2013 and 2020 is the projected date to begin operations there.

Renewable energy sources have also been planned. The Jordanian Electricity Regulatory Commission announced a feed-in tariff of renewable energy in May 2012 to help accelerate investment in renewable energy technologies. The government has also expressed interest in creating a $120 million, 75 MW solar plant at Quwaira in southern Jordan. Particular progress made in the renewable energy realm to be excited about is the Sahara Forest Project.

source: saharaforestproject.comsource:

In February 2011, an agreement was made between Qatar, Jordan and Norway to transform a 200,000 square meter test site in a town on the south coast of Jordan called Aqaba that would use the Sahara Desert as a source to solve resource scarcity for food, water, and energy. Green architecture website explained the project:

“Seawater Greenhouses use solar power to convert salt water into fresh water, which is then used to grow fresh vegetables and algae (to absorb CO2). CSP provides the energy to power the whole operation. CSP uses thousands of mirrors to direct sunlight upon a water boiler, heating it to over 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. The boiler produces steam, which moves a turbine to create energy.”

Too good to be true? While the Sahara Forest Project is not a solution to all of Jordan’s problems, if it works out it could go a long way to solve some of them, and set an example for future projects in the progress.

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In 1999, the Central American country of Guatemala privatized their national energy sector. This was one of many industries that the government privatized at the time. Like many privatization conversions, the reasoning for this was to generate capital. There were several negative events that would result from this conversion. The price of energy would escalate to rates that were unaffordable by the poorer residents of Guatemala. Two reasons for these increases would be the removal of subsidies from the energy service and a new reliance on outside energy sources. In 2005, petroleum imports made up 58 percent of Guatemala’s energy use. Before privatization, 92 percent of their energy resources came from domestic sources! On top of this many Guatemalans would lose their jobs as a result of the conversion. These events would lead to an angry response from many Guatemalans. Complaints over poor energy quality and high service costs were a routine event. Between January and May 2009, there were over 90,000 documented complaints. In 2011, one of the companies to emerge from the privatization conversion, Union Fenosa sold all of its electricity distribution in the country to UK-based equity company Actis. This would lead to the creation of the new energy company Energuate. The price of energy would increase to an unbearable amount for Guatemalans following this.

Several acts of violence would occur over the high energy prices in Guatemala. The most recent one was in October 2012, when protesters blockaded a highway near the town of Totonicapan. Police would have trouble evicting the protestors and soldiers from the Guatemalan would arrive to assist. The situation would get uglier as bullets were fired and seven of the protestors were killed while 34 others were wounded. Actis refused to take responsibility for the energy prices that would lead to this, and instead point the finger at the policies of the Guatemalan government who refused to listen to them.

If done correctly, privatization works. Greater revenue for a country, increased efficiency and reducing the role of government in the economy are some of the benefits of privatization. However, in the case of Guatemala, the results have not been ideal. Many of the citizens are poor and are finding themselves priced out of being able to use energy as a result of the privatization. Sadly, if no reforms are approached for this situation, it is quite possible that more violence results from this situation.

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One way that America can transition to a clean energy future is through the use of sustainable biomass renewable energy resource. Biomass is low in carbon emissions and if properly utilized, it could supply a large enough fraction of energy to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide to help lessen global warming’s impacts. Good management of these resources is key, as according to the website “without that it could be harvested at unsustainable rates, damage ecosystems, produce harmful air pollution, consume large amounts of water, and produce net greenhouse emissions.”

The use of wood- based energy is very significant in the country of Finland. As much as 23 percent of all energy consumed there is from biomass. The Finnish forest industry’s fuel usage there is 78 percent wood-based biomass. Finland and the European Union want to increase the amount of wood-based energy by Finland as a whole. One rapidly growing source for this is through forest energy. This video from the WenetNetwork on youtube provides some great insight into the process of forest biomass as an energy resource.

More information can be found here at

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This past Tuesday, I watched the documentary Urbanized by Gary Hustwit in an Urban Politics class at Illinois State. The documentary was about urban design and planning. I thought the film was incredibly interesting, and like this blog it explored its subject matter in places all around the world. However, there was one segment of the film that I thought was of particular interest to my blog, especially with the letter E up next. That segment was the one on the TIDY STREET PROJECT in Brighton, England.

Tidy Street in Brighton, England

The Tidy Street Project was a community awareness campaign of electricity consumption that was set on an actual Tidy Street in the southeast England town of Brighton. The project was imagined by Jon Bird from Open University in Milton Keynes, England. It took place during March and April of 2011. During this time, resident of Tidy Street would record their electricity consumption with special smart meters they were given for the purpose of the project. The electricity consumption levels of the residents would be recorded by those who agreed to sign up and the readings would be documented on Tidy Street for the view of the public. Next to their reading would be the average numbers of the town of Brighton and the entire country of England. The goal was not just to compare the street with the town and country, but to document electricity usage over the course of the project. Residents were also given the opportunity to record their own personal usage of electricity on the street.

The documentary showed that the residents really took to the project. Average energy use dropped by 15%, while some resident lowered usage by as much as 30%. Simple habit changes such as turning of lights and devices on standby were often the root of this change. Much of this was attributed to competition that was developed between neighbors to see who could reduce their energy usage the most.

The Tidy Street Project has since ended and even though their website is no longer, documentation from Urbanized, and stories from English news sources like The Guardian help and the Mother Nature Network keep their legacy going. A greater legacy of course would be the awareness the project generated at the local level. The project still serves as a great example of energy consumption awareness and it would be interesting to see how people over here would take to such a project.

Here are a few more images of the project taken from, who were also made aware of this project from Urbanized.

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Dominican Republic!

While Chile’s future energy needs seem very promising, fellow Latin American country Dominican Republic’s looks quite miserable. Daily power outages and reoccurring blackouts have been a part of Dominican life for over 40 years. Often these blackouts are scheduled, and the power companies are selective about which power plants stay active. The reasons for this are often financial. The Dominican electricity industry is suffering from crippling debt. As recently as this past August, the island nation was said to owe at least US$864.5 million in debt.

On top of the heavy debt from maintaining their electrical sources, the Dominican Republic is very reliant on expensive fossil fuels from foreign countries. In recent months, President Danilo Medina has made it an effort to confront the country’s energy crisis and the collateral damage that comes with it. One goal of the Dominican Republic that will help handle this problem is for by 2025, to have 25 percent of the country’s energy from renewable sources. How they handle the debt is another issue all together, but by adopting local renewable energy resources, they can minimize any future difficulties.

For more information on this, Mark Konold goes into detail on the topic at his blog at

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