Developing countries can cut greenhouse gas emissions and help the poor: study

Nov 25, 2010

In the developing world, reducing greenhouse gas emissions is often seen as being in conflict with alleviating poverty, since improving the standard of living is usually associated with increased energy use.

A development initiative in rural Nicaragua, however, demonstrates that there are cost effective steps can take to reduce and at the same time help the rural poor reduce their energy expenses, according to researchers from the University of California, Berkeley.

In a report in this week's issue of the journal Science, UC Berkeley graduate student Christian E. Casillas and professor Daniel M. Kammen analyze simple steps taken by Nicaragua's Ministry of Energy & Mines and the nonprofit blueEnergy to reduce the cost of energy while reducing carbon emissions for a community of 172 households on the country's Mosquito Coast.

The villages of Orinoco and Marshall Point are off the nation's electric grid and obtain their power from diesel generators, according to Casillas. Until last year, however, the homes had no electricity meters; homeowners were billed according to the appliances they owned. This, Casillas said, encouraged indiscriminate , with lights, televisions and radios remaining on, even when not being used.

After the government installed meters, however, energy use dropped by 28 percent, and many people's electric bills also dropped.

The non-governmental organization blueEnergy, whose administrative office is in San Francisco, subsequently worked with the government to institute in Orinoco and Marshall Point a simple energy conservation campaign: Villagers were offered two efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL) in exchange for two incandescent bulbs. This program reduced household energy use by an additional 17 percent, on average.

The net result was less diesel burned, even allowing for the fact that the community's reduced energy needs allowed the local energy supplier to run its generators two extra hours each day, providing longer service to customers. In the month after the conservation campaign, electricity bills dropped in 37 percent of the households in Orinoco.

"What we are saying is, if you're thinking about some of the lowest hanging fruit to lower , rural communities should be one of the first places you look for making small but very cheap carbon reductions," said Casillas, who is an advisor to blueEnergy.

Microgrids like the one in Nicaragua, often powered by diesel generators, are found by the thousands around the world, particularly in India and China, Casillas added.

"They're dirty, have high emissions, high energy costs and questionable reliability, so targeting these microgrids has the potential for improving access to energy services for those communities while at the same time, for the dollars invested, getting greater reductions in carbon emissions than you might get investing in similar measures where the cost of energy is cheaper, such as in the cities," he said.

"We hope that this paper will spur a wave of efforts to build similar community level carbon abatement and energy service tools, so that communities often ignored or lumped together as 'those billions without modern energy' can create their own locally appropriate development goals, and groups working with them can develop energy solutions, not just efforts to disperse hardware," said Kammen, a Distinguished Professor of Energy at UC Berkeley who is currently serving as the chief technical specialist for renewable energy and energy efficiency for the World Bank. Kammen also is director of UC Berkeley's Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory and a professor in both the Energy and Resources Group and the Goldman School of Public Policy.

The researchers used an economic tool called a marginal abatement cost (MAC) curve to analyze energy use in the community and to pinpoint the areas where investments would save the most energy and the most money. The tool, popularized by the global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, has typically been used on a global or country-wide scale to target areas for carbon abatement, but not for assessing small communities, Casillas said.

The cheapest investments for the impact turned out to be the ones taken by the government and blueEnergy, though the model predicts further energy and carbon savings from other simple measures, such as more effective public lighting and use of biogas and wind turbines.

"The advantage of this cost curve for local governments that may have as their mandate better energy services is that it can tell them what the cheapest investments are and how much emissions reductions they'll be able to get for their investments," Casillas said. "This allows them to see, with the limited funds available, how to get the most bang for the buck."

"This paper presents a theoretical and analytic framework that opens a vital new door to value the time, energy and opportunities for the rural poor and those on the outskirts of urban areas. It also recognizes the carbon and financial benefits of integrated strategies that combine energy efficiency with renewable energy to meet energy access, climate protection and economic development goals," Kammen said.

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Corban
not rated yet Nov 25, 2010
Capitalism flows towards scarcity. The bottleneck was on power generation, so the goal was for max efficiency. This a great story about how a small investment in infrastructure can give outsized gains, but the human lesson is that people react to scarcity. Developed countries have different scarce resources. Where else can there actually be an attention economy?

To copy this lesson, we must live like them: expensive energy and lung-cancer levels of emissions. Failing that, making emissions super-expensive will also get the job done.

But cap-and-trade bombed, didn't it? Looks like we've chosen our priorities. Time to reap what we sow.
Vendicar_Decarian
not rated yet Nov 25, 2010
"Capitalism flows towards scarcity." - WimWam

Meaningless.

Capitalism is the label given to a system of exchange, and as such has no properties that allow it to flow or move. And even if it did have such a property, Capitalism would not move toward scarcity.

The same is true for Capital.

The rest of your message is equally meaningless.
Loodt
1 / 5 (2) Nov 26, 2010
Why don't they just expand the national grid? Much cheaper electricity, more reliable, and no trouble with generators.

Supplying electricity and water without meters is just giving consumers no incentive to save.

Foolish to do so in the first place!
3432682
not rated yet Nov 26, 2010
Tying obvious micro-level efficiencies to global warming is a stretch. Too many of these "science" articles are tied to some kind of politically correct theme. How about sticking to science, and leave the leftist politics out of it? In this case, using smart free-market economics benefits everyone. Leave it at that.
ekim
not rated yet Nov 27, 2010
Supplying electricity and water without meters is just giving consumers no incentive to save.

I agree. If smart power meters were used in industrialized nations it would provide savings all around. Currently power supply and consumption doesn't account for varying supply and demand. If consumers could choose to use power when supply is high and demand is low they would add stability to our power grids. A simple meter installed to inform consumers of varying prices would pay for it's self in the long run.