Football provides electricity to children living off the grid

June 18, 2012

Mićo Tatalović

Mićo Tatalović
Deputy news editor, SciDev.Net


Apart from the high-level discussions, side events at Rio+20 showcase interesting innovations – one of them, that caught my eye, is a football that turns kinetic energy into electricity: SOCCKET.

A 30min football game could power more than 3 hours of light, and a two-hour game will charge a mobile phone, Jessica Matthews, CEO of Uncharted Play, which produces the SOCCKET football, told SciDev.Net.

The ball is built of durable materials with a patented technology packaged at the center of a little black box inside the ball. The ball also lasts for at least three years – much more than an average football, said Matthews.

She was promoting the ball to business people gathered at the Corporate Sustainability Forum, hoping to strike new partnerships to custom-make and distribute the ball to children in poor areas of developing countries.

So far, the football has been distributed to children in Brazil, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa, but Uncharted Play is looking to expand and reach more of the 1.6 billion people who are currently without electricity.

But at a price of around US$40 it may prove a tough sell.


This blog post is part of our coverage of Rio+20: United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. To read news and analysis on Science at Rio+20 please visit our website.


What could a sustainable development council look like?

March 30, 2012

Mićo Tatalović

Mićo Tatalović
Deputy news editor, SciDev.Net


The idea of a Sustainable Development Council, a new body within the UN system that would have the power to make decisions on environment and sustainable development globally, started getting some flesh on it.

The Planet Under Pressure conference this week (26–29 March) heard from Norichika Kanie, a researcher from Tokyo Institute of Technology who presented findings from ‘World Cafes’ – focused discussion groups – known as Hakone Vision on Governance for Sustainability in the 21st Century.

The participants agreed that the current issues and political dynamics were different now to 1945 when the UN was founded, and that governance will require “transformative reforms with clear vision”.

Rio+20 conference offers an opportunity to start this process, they said.

The key conclusions were that aspirations need to be clearly defined; actors need to be broadened for “accountable participation and solutions from people for people”, and the institutional architecture needs re-building.

Any new institutions will need to be properly funded and have authority and capacity to address compliance and implementation of their decisions, but also be accountable, transparent and adaptable to fast-changing global circumstances.

The process also identified the Sustainable Development Council as one of the most noteworthy proposals for restructuring governance.

But the idea needs further research and deliberations that should be set in motion at Rio+20, Kanie said. Its mandate and charter could be similar to that of the WHO, so it can govern over environmental crises, too.

Its membership should include primary states which have a capacity to contribute through various forms of capital (e.g. natural of financial), rotating member-states which are most affected by the issues on the table, and non-state actors. This could help form a more inclusive governance, both in terms of including developing countries and non-state actors, Kanie believes.

Kanie told SciDev.Net that he hoped there will be more involvement from developing countries, especially in Asia, at a follow-up conference in Japan in January 2013: Earth System Governance Tokyo Conference: Complex Architectures, Multiple Agents.


A protest against Shell

March 26, 2012

Aisling Irwin

Aisling Irwin
Consultant news editor, SciDev.Net


As angry protests against multinational oil companies go this one was quite refined.

As soon as Martin Haigh, brains behind the Shell World Energy Model, rose to tell the 2,800-strong Planet Under Pressure audience of his company’s vision of the future he was interrupted by three protesters who stepped onto the podium and unfurled a banner reading “No More Greenwash — Shell”.

The protesters (whom I understand to have been London Rising Tide) then obediently followed a security guard out of the auditorium, though they shouted a few inaudible protests as they went.

After a moment’s reflection, the audience began a little clapping which slowly grew into widespread applause. Not quite a standing ovation for the protesters, but an indication that the general inclination of a hall-full of people whose lives are spent documenting, or fighting, planetary destruction is against Shell.

Perhaps not a good launchpad, however, for the efforts of scientists to engage with industry, unless you feel that frankness should be the basis of any fertile relationship.

Haigh went on to be fairly frank. He said that changing things “is not going to happen without the participation of big companies. If you stifle the opportunity for big companies to contribute to the debate you are tying our hands behind our backs.”

“It’s very difficult to transform things quickly,” he said. “Recognition of these time frames, rather than trying to turn things around immediately, is crucial.”

Very true, none of us wants our energy supplies pulled out at the plug. But others might argue that it’s decades since the alarm was raised.

This blog post is part of our Planet Under Pressure 2012 coverage — which takes place 26–29 March 2012. To read news and analysis from the conference please visit our website.


Gaining credibility a ‘chicken and egg thing’

November 10, 2010

The ASADI conference rounded up today with a brief roundtable session to discuss lessons learned and the way forward.

Final panel discussion. Rob Adams is third from the right.

Boaventura Cuamba of the Academy of Science of Mozambique said the conference had revealed to him the difficulty for individual academics to find resources to do research on expanding electricity access but noted that if African researchers collaborated regionally, they would have access to more resources.

Cuamba’s feelings were echoed by Gibson Mandishora, a member of the Zimbabwe Academy of Sciences. He said that academies must foster close intra-Africa collaborations on energy issues.

Everyone agreed that academies could and should have a key role providing governments with scientific advice.

But Rob Adam, chief executive of the South Africa Nuclear Energy Corporation, advised the academies present to work on their credibility.

“You must gain good credibility to be able to give advice. The face that you have as an academic does not mean a minister or a policymaker will be prepared to listen to you,” he said.

But academies would gain credibility only by proving their ability to provide quality advice, resulting in a “chicken or egg” situation for aspirational academies, Adams added.

Munyaradzi Makoni, freelance journalist SciDev.Net


The problem with rural energy consumers

November 10, 2010

Rolling out electricity to rural areas is expensive. Credit:Flickr/Dr_neil

Last night at the dinner hosted for researchers at the Wallenberg Centre, at Stellenbosch University, South Africa’s deputy minister of science and technology Derek Hanekom said a target set by his government to give electricity to every household by 2015 was unrealistic.

Since the country’s first democratic elections in 1994 the number of South Africans with access to electricity has increased from 30 per cent to 75 per cent (although reports of the latter figure at the this conference have ranged from 70 per cent to 85 per cent).

But it is the last 25 per cent that will be the hardest to reach, Hanekom said. These are often people in remote villages where connection to the national grid would be very expensive, and thus take longer than most expect.

The situation is even more difficult in the rest of Africa. Just after breakfast this morning, I chanced to meet David Mbah, executive secretary for the Cameroon Academy of Sciences, who told me that rural electrification is a huge challenge in his country.

Mbah said that in his home village of Ashong the government had erected pylons for about 10 kilometres, but there were no electricity cables. Funding, he said, had run out in the government’s electrification plan.

“They came up with the budget, and programmes of action, but for now the programme is stagnant as the government is looking for partners to fund the implementation,” he said.

Munyaradzi Makoni, freelance journalist for SciDev.Net


Don’t forget the jobs!

November 10, 2010

National energy plans should not forget job creation opportunities. Credit: Kuyasa CDM project

Embracing new energy technology without training skilled people to maintain the new gadgets is not the way to go for Africa, South Africa’s science and technology minister, Naledi Pandor, said on Monday night.

“No one has made a provision to repair solar panels when they break down. Skills associated with the positive technology must be made available so that we can confront future problems,” she said.

This morning, Barry Bredenkamp, from the South African National Energy Efficiency Agency, made a similar point.

National energy programmes are fertile ground for job creation, he said. But the South African national energy plan fails to address this issue – something that must be rectified, Bredenkamp said. “In South Africa, and globally, we have a serious unemployment problem.”

South Africa recently set up a Working for Energy programme. This programme aims to marry the rolling out of sustainable energy options in South Africa with job creation, focusing on up-skilling the unskilled. The programme will intentionally choose labour-intensive alternatives to stimulate job creation.

Something for other African countries to consider?

Munyaradzi Makoni, freelance journalist for SciDev.Net


SA energy minister speech

November 10, 2010

South African energy minister Dipuo Peters/ Image credit SA government

South African energy minister Dipuo Peters’ speech from yesterday morning has been published online here. An excerpt is below.

“As renewable technologies become more and more affordable, it will be essential for these technologies to be locally produced so that jobs and skills can be created to improve the quality of life of our countries. We cannot continue to be perpetual consumers of imported goods and services without having a stake in the products that we consume.

“I am told that you will be visiting some of our energy establishments later today. While most of you will be tempted to applaud South Africa for the superb and modern assets we have, please take time to note that these technologies are on average 20 years old.

“We are looking forward to seeing newer, cleaner and more efficient technology establishments that will meet the energy access needs of our children and grand children in the low carbon and greener economies.”

Linda Nordling, SciDev.Net columnist


Joining up science and energy policymaking

November 9, 2010

How does energy fit into the African Union? Credit: Flickr/warrenski

As my blog co-pilot Munya and I were looking around for evidence of joint African policymaking on energy (ahead of the policy roundtable this morning) we stumbled across something interesting.

Last week, the pan-African ministerial grouping on energy – the Conference of Energy Ministers of Africa – met in Maputo, Mozambique. Keen to raise the issue of pan-African policymaking in this forum, we asked the panel of policymakers to explain how energy fits into the African Union.

The answers weren’t great – partly because one of the policymakers at least was from the science and technology arena, rather than the energy one.

One of the important things to emphasise in relation to that is that if academies want their advice to be taken up by governments, they will need to look further than the ministry responsible for science. This is particularly important at the pan-African level, where communication between policy areas is even rarer than at national level.

It would be a shame if African academies’ advisory reports end up gathering dust in on the desk of the rather toothless African Ministerial Council for Science and Technology.

Linda Nordling, SciDev.Net columnist


Removing the stigma of solar heaters in SA

November 9, 2010

Solar heaters are sometimes seen as a stigma in South Africa. Image Credit: Kuyasa CDM project

The second day of the ASADI meeting kicked off with a passionate speech from Dipuo Peters, South Africa’s energy minister.

She brought up an interesting, and somewhat saddening, problem in South Africa. The South African government has been investing in solar water heaters for poor households. This has been a great success in Kayelitsha, a township near Cape Town, where researchers have verified the social benefits of such interventions.

But the roll-out of such technologies in poor areas has had an unintended consequence. Poor South Africans often assume that non-standard technologies distributed to them are inferior to those used by the majority. This has resulted in a distrust of unconventional, experimental, non-grid energy generation technologies such as solar heating.

Renewable energy – in particular solar energy – therefore needs an image boost in South Africa. The minister urged people who can afford it to invest in solar panels on their houses to stop them being a signifier for being poor.

We have not heard whether this is a problem in other African countries. In Kenya, for example, a 14-year-old boy’s home-built windmill became emblematic of African innovation a few years ago.

A stronger sense of technology ownership is clearly crucial to improve its acceptance in poor communities. Khayelitsha’s solar heaters are a badge of success for the government of South Africa and residents alike. It would be a shame if prejudice limits the uptake of solar heaters elsewhere.

Linda Nordling, SciDev.Net columnist


Africa’s energy deficiency

November 8, 2010

The energy part of the conference was launched this evening with the publication of a booklet for policymakers on ways to improve access to energy across Africa.

The booklet, Turning Science On: Improving Access to Energy in Sub-Saharan Africa, was launched by Roseanne Diab of the Academy of Science of South Africa, at an event attended by the country’s science minister, Naledi Pandor.

Minister Pandor (right) unveiling a giant copy of the booklet

The report draws on a number of sources to sketch an overview of challenges facing the expansion of access to energy in Africa.

For instance, the 2010 report Energy Poverty, by the UN Development Programme and the International Energy Agency, says some 585 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa, or 70 per cent of the population, do not have access to electricity.

The policy recommendations include:

*State-owned power utilities are still dominant in the region and there is an urgent need for them to undergo governance reform as they are not performing well.

*Increasing private sector investment in the power sector is urgently needed. There are more than 40 Independent Power Producers across Africa that produce a total of 8,000 megawatts of power. Small independent producers must be encouraged to connect to the grid.

*The most effective way to increase electrification is to connect densely populated urban areas first and then rural growth centres where demand is expected to increase.

*Expanded regional electricity trade, where electricity generated in countries with relatively low costs of production from large hydro, gas and geothermal schemes is transmitted to countries where power is more expensive, would expand access to electricity.

The booklet will be published on www.assaf.org.za in the course of this evening.

Munyaradzi Makoni, freelance journalist for SciDev.Net


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