Attending the COP21 climate change conference here in Paris, you get a sense that things are moving. The debate over whether climate change is happening is all but over and countries are turning their attention towards the specific actions that need to be taken. John Kerry, the US Secretary of State put it well (I paraphrase…) “the people get it, they are just waiting for Governments to catch up”. The products exist, the solutions exist, it’s a question of action.
Of course, much of the talk is around big power – the impact of coal-fired power stations in China, the continuing levels of per capita energy usage in major developed countries. But underneath all of this is the recognition that emerging economies have a right to develop.
The question is, does development have to follow the same pattern as the historical West, with fossil fuel consumption growing massively and only later on sustainable energy having an impact, or is there another way, where technology can allow developing countries to reap the benefits of modernisation but in a more sustainable (and ultimately less expensive) manner?
In rural Africa, the demand for energy-consuming services is expected to increase hugely in the coming years. However, this does not mean necessarily that emissions must also rise. It’s not just a question of providing clean energy but also about being smart about how it is used. Solar powered LED lamps replace dirty and massively inefficient kerosene lamps. Phone charging at home replaces the need to travel in to town to charge up a phone, possibly from a diesel generator. And a solar-powered irrigation station allows farmers of tomatoes to grow three crops a year where previously they would have been able to grow one, because they are no longer at the mercy of the rains. It genuinely is possible to have more and emit less.
Azuri is in Paris at the invitation of the United Nations. We have been greatly honoured to be awarded one of sixteen global UNFCCC “Momentum for Change” awards, highlighting real solutions that are making a difference today. Solar power is here now and is bringing essential services to many thousands of households that will not see the grid in the foreseeable future. And even when the grid arrives, it is often too expensive to connect to. I was in Northern Tanzania last week and we passed mile after mile of powerline and many thousands of households, but very few of them were connected. It’s a reminder, if we needed it, that distributed solar power is a great way to bring affordable energy to the 600 million people in sub Saharan Africa that have no access to electricity, and allow these consumers to progressively climb the “Energy Escalator” to radios, TV, Internet access and devices for productive use.
The growth of pay-as-you-go solar in recent years has been dramatic, yet we are still in the very early stages of the market. The market is being driven by innovation at all levels – in products, distribution, services and in business models. Unlike the 20th century, where technology originated in “developed” markets and eventually found its way into emerging economies, we are seeing solid evidence of “reverse innovation”, where the latest technologies start in emerging countries. The use of mobile money in Kenya is the poster-child for this, where approximately 30% of the entire country’s Gross Domestic Product is transacted over M-PESA. But this is by no means the only example. Companies are experimenting with drones to deliver vaccines where roads have been washed away, and large information systems are being used to optimise the way services are being delivered to rural communities.
At Azuri, we have started the roll-out of our Quad solar home system that uses adaptive smart metering to match the performance of the solar home system to the customer’s needs, by measuring and predicting the customer demand and then tailoring the power output to meet that demand. Compare that to most households in the “developed” world, where the extent of control is a mechanical switch that has not fundamentally altered in the last 100 years.
You get the sense it’s not only in Paris where there is a climate of change.