Going 100 Renewable Energy for a Better Future

Despite being major centres, it is not a given that decisions made in New York and Paris reverberate in villages in Bangladesh, in boardrooms in Bogota and in the city hall of Vancouver. But that’s exactly what needs to happen this Autumn when world leaders meet at two major summits in those cities. There, they will set a course for the future by signing two agreements to deal with the interlinked challenges facing us - poverty, inequality and climate change.

What these summits must signal is the speeding up of the seismic shift underway in the underpinnings of our economy - from reliance on polluting fossil fuels to a future powered by 100% sustainable renewable energy.

Why? Because the latest climate science warns us that we cannot do otherwise. And because 100% renewable energy is what communities are rolling out in order to beat back poverty as these technologies can provide sustainable energy access where coal, oil and gas have failed for the last century.

Sustainable energy can improve health by reducing pollution, it can improve education, create jobs and kickstart industries in minor economies. You don’t need to take our word for it - listen to Marajina, from Bangladesh - one of the many real climate leaders who aren’t waiting to get started.

Marajina Begnum from Bangladesh Credit: Helena Wright

She faced energy poverty, which is a lack of reliable energy access as do 2.2 billion other people around the world. This problem was exacerbating gender inequality in her village, with women unable to walk safely down unlit streets, but then she harnessed the power of renewable energy and lit the way for her daughters, now and in the future.

What’s not evident from Marjina’s story is that this kind of action will also, eventually, limit the climate impacts these communities are projected to experience, the kind of impacts that are stripping away the hard won development gains made in recent years. They’re already dealing with rising seas infiltrating arable land which is itself impacting on the availability of food, and are doing what they can to build resilience, but without comprehensive coordinated global action to phase in 100% renewable energy by 2050 fairly, it will get much much worse. 

But luckily clean renewable energy is where the smart money is going - wind, solar and other technologies have never provided more bang for our buck as prices drop while effectiveness rises. This shift has happened as it becomes clear investments made today in fossil fuel infrastructure under the guise of development is a mirage painted by an industry in the throes of structural decline.

Why sell poorer countries a pup we’ve already abandoned, especially when investments made today will never be used for their full life cycle because science says that in order to keep global warming below 2°C we must leave more than 80% of fossil fuel reserves in the ground? 

We need to make this transition fair - richer countries have to help poorer ones to leapfrog the mistakes they made. Investing in 100% renewable energy is the fairest way to do that, making that the sharpest tool in our shed. The job of our politicians is to enshrine the power of renewables into the new global agreement by committing to a long term goal for phasing out of fossil fuel emissions as soon as possible.

We’re counting on world leaders to see the light and do as others have done and invest in a bright future powered by renewables.

See projects that are going 100% renewable

First Solar-Powered Flight is Now Over the Pacific

The first solar-powered flight across the Pacific Ocean is now past the point of no return. Pilot André Borschberg now must commit to flying five days and nights until he lands in Hawaii.

What better way to demonstrate the importance of the pioneering, innovative spirit than by achieving “impossible” things with renewable energy - and by highlighting new solutions for environmental problems?

With this in mind, Solar Impulse launched the global campaign #FUTUREISCLEAN.

If technological solutions exist allowing an airplane to fly day and night without fuel, imagine the potential of similar technologies in helping us in our daily lives with energy savings andreducing C02 emissions. "We would like to capitalize on the tremendous media coverage of Solar Impulse flying around the world to promote the various social and economic benefits our planet can derive from a clean future! Only a significant worldwide support will push governments to replace old polluting technologies with clean and efficient technologies.

This is what we want to create throughout our solar powered Round-The-World Flight!" says Bertrand Piccard, pilot and founder of Solar Impulse. Piccard is also known for completing the first hot air balloon flight around the world.

Solar Impulse 2 takes off to Hawaii. Photo credit: Solar Impulse

Support the campaign by registering on

“The question facing us today is not so much whether man will be able to go even further and people other planets, but how to organize ourselves to make life on earth more and more worthy of living”, August Piccard declared in 1931 following his first balloon ascent into the stratosphere. What could be more logical, seventy years later, than that his grandson should launch a project that combines scientific exploration with the promotion of renewable energies?

The idea of Solar Impulse came to Bertrand Piccard following the first round-the-world balloon flight with Brian Jones in 1999. It was the realization that a lack of fuel could have caused his adventure to fail that led him to promise to circumnavigate the world a second time, but this time without fuel or polluting emissions.

Solar Impulse's ultimate adventure: a round-the-world flight. Photo credit: Solar Impulse

On 7 April 2010, seven years of design work, calculations, simulations and, finally, aircraft construction, led by André Borschberg culminated in the maiden flight at Payerne aerodrome in Switzerland. Now, after the 8 world records set by the Solar Impulse prototype, when it became the first solar airplane ever to fly through the night, between two continents, and across the United States, it is time to move on to the ultimate phase of the adventure: the 2015 round-the-world flight. Solar Impulse 2 has been built to take up this historic first. It’s a solar airplane with a gigantic wingspan. A real airborne technology lab with virtually endless endurance, capable of crossing oceans and continents by remaining in the air for several days and nights in a row.

After the take-off on 9th of March in Abu Dhabi, the team of Solar Impulse 2 had to stopover in Japan and wait several weeks for a good weather window to cross the pacific. Finally, yesterday 18.00 UMT, André Borschberg took off successfully. The relief about the continuation of the journey was noticeable in the whole team; Betrand Piccard: "The point of no return for this flight to Hawaii was also the point of no return for the entire project."

Pilot André Borschberg on board of Solar Impulse 2. Photo credit: Solar Impulse

The flight to Hawaii will last around 120 hours and it will be the longest flight ever made by a solar-powered airplane in terms of both duration and distance. The pilot will be exposed to extreme conditions during the next leg to Hawaii, living in the confinement of a 3.8m3 cockpit. He will be facing many human, technical and operational challenges which have been carefully researched, developed and simulated, and will be in constant communication with the Mission Control Center.

During the coming months, Piccard and Borschberg will continue the journey and stop in Midwestern United StatesNew YorkNorthern Africa or Southern Europe before attempting to return to Abu Dhabi having travelled 35,000 kilometers around the globe, accumulating 500 flight hours over five months to spread the message that clean technologies can achieve the impossible.

Climate Change: How Can Wind Energy Help?

Wind energy plays an influential role in addressing climate change on a global level. Many countries around the world have been working hard to lower their carbon emissions during the last decades. Some of the world’s leading markets, such as the US, Denmark, Australia and the UK have recognized the power of clean energy in reducing carbon pollution, and this can include wind.

By increasing the proportion of electricity generated from wind energy, we can lower greenhouse gas emissions and reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. Wind farms do not emit greenhouse gases when they generate electricity, in contrast to coal and gas stations. An additional negative side in relation to both coal and gas as sources of energy is the amount ofwasted heat that cannot be easily transformed into electricity. Almost half of the energy used to produce electricity from gas and coal is lost during the production process, which is not the case with energy generated by the wind.

A group of young Canadians take it upon themselves to strive for a more sustainable way of life by building their own wind turbine from scratch. Video credit: Jake Beed (Action4Climate Competition)

Wind Energy In Facts

The Future of Wind Power

Can Solar Technology Power Africa's Energy Leap Frog?

Energy use (kg of oil equivalent per capita)

Energy use refers to use of primary energy before transformation to other end-use fuels, which is equal to indigenous production plus imports and stock changes, minus exports and fuels supplied to ships and aircraft engaged in international transport.

This past week, we discussed with you the different categories of our campaign. We had also previously asked our audience of African writers to pen their thought on climate change based on these very same categories.

Not so surprisingly many of you chimed in on the topic of energy. Energy drives a lot of human activity these days and is a necessary fuel for some of the fastest growing economies in Africa and the world; both as a domestic resource and as a revenue stream.

We also discussed how Africa could better balance the attack on solving energy poverty and environmental degradation. Just today there was a brief discussion on Uganda’s deepening energy void. Jared Ombui, had this to say on Twitter following never-ending black outs and loading-shedding in the country:
“Nuclear will end blackouts. Ask France…”

This got us thinking. Access to nuclear energy might work in Africa and could possibly be a great solution, but it is a solution whose time is not yet ready on the continent. If the near-meltdowns that plagued Japan’s nuclear facilities after this year’s earthquake are any indication, nuclear power may be too far down the road to be an effective remedy for the continent’s energy poverty.

If we follow the continent’s pattern of innovation leap-frogging that redefined computing and telecommunications industries, can we posit that solar and wind are solutions waiting for an appropriate distribution strategy for the continent?

Katherine Lucey, founder of C4C partner, Solar Sister, is hopeful about solar technology on the continent:

Solar is the most democratic source of energy that we have. We all live under the same sun. It is available freely and abundantly. Especially for those living on or near the equator, solar is a renewable, distributed energy source. And especially where the lack of infrastructure investment means that there are no wires for a grid system, solar is an energy solution that people can access themselves, today, without waiting for government or NGO interventions that may never come.

The reduction in infrastructure expenditures for mobile network operators made it easy for mobiles to surpass land lines in the last decade on the continent. The marriage of 3G internet wireless modems and laptops has ushered in a quick death to location-based internet access.

Like communications technologies, could solar be the next technology to help the continent leap-frog traditional energy? Like land-lines, hydro, and nuclear energy sources are centralized and require large investments in delivery mechanisms, making them less favorable energy solutions.

Hydro-power currently makes up the lion’s share of renewable energy produced globally, while solar accounts for only a sliver. Africa, on the other hand, has managed to only tap into 20% of it’s total available hydro capacity. Some of the biggest barriers to faster hydro-energy adoption include lack of adequate infrastructure to move this energy to the last mile, the high cost of building dams, and the accompanying disruption of sensitive ecological systems. A recent HYDROPOWER RESOURCE ASSESSMENT OF AFRICA noted as much:

The total installed capacity of Africa is about 20.3GW and a total generation of 76 000GW/year. A comparison with the Gross theoretical hydropower potential of about 4 000 000 GWh/year indicates that the current production from hydropower plants in Africa is about 20% of the total potential.

Of course, the solar revolution is not going to happen overnight, or without its own investment requirements. But if a financial bet similar to mobile platform investment can be targeted towards upscaling the solar industry, imagine the possibilities. And it requires less investment than you might think.

Katherine Lucey again,
Education, awareness, distribution - a presumption that it is expensive and a luxury, when in fact it is extremely economical and appropriate for all levels of income, from the $20 lamps that replace families expenditure of up to $100 of kerosene in one year, to larger scale systems appropriate for the rising African middle class.