Over one billion people globally lack access to electricity, and over 3 billion people globally rely on solid fuel and kerosene for cooking and heating. While progress is being made in connecting greater numbers of people to electricity grids, this level of infrastructure is prohibitively expensive in areas of low population density, with over 80% of those lacking access living in rural areas. Lack of access to electricity also disproportionately impacts the poor, with 80% of those who lack access to electricity having incomes of less than $3 per day.
Lack of access to electricity has many negative externalities, including negative impacts on climate due to the emission of greenhouse gases, the environment through degradation of land and habitats, health and well-being through use of fuels such as kerosene or solid fuels for cooking and lighting, and impacts on the quality of education due to children being unable to read or study in evenings. Low income consumers also often pay a ‘poverty premium’ for their energy, with the price of fuels such as diesel being up to 30% more expensive in rural areas of Sub-Saharan Africa.
Out of necessity, rather than an intentional effort to have a positive environmental or social impact, innovations have been developed by low income communities to increase access to energy utilizing renewable sources such as solar and wind power. Whether intentional or not, increasing access to energy via renewable sources has significant benefits due to the avoided emission of greenhouse gases in low- and middle-income countries. There is also the potential for innovative technologies or models to find application in higher-income countries.
These innovations seek not only to increase access to energy, but to offset or avoid existing expenditures on non-renewable sources. Some of these approaches may have the potential to become commercially viable if combined with innovative business models.
The Energy Initiative identifies individuals and communities that are developing innovative approaches to power generation, and connects them with the expertise, knowledge, and tools to design commercially viable business models and build profitable enterprises. We work with faculty, students, and other collaborators across the University of Michigan campus, and beyond to increase access to energy in low- and middle-income countries, and to develop innovative models or technologies that can reduce reliance on non-renewable energy sources in higher-income markets.
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