Off-Grid Electrification Financing Is Failing

SEforALL20countrymap

840 million people live without electricity in the 20 countries targeted by SEforALL’s Energizing Finance report. Image: UN Sustainable Energy for All

For all of the excitement about using solar power to bring electricity to the more than 1 billion rural poor worldwide living without it, big picture trends provide a sobering reality check. In spite of innovative off-grid technology and business plans and high profile initiatives aiming to power remote villages in subsaharan Africa, for example, electrification there is still falling behind population growth. In 2009 there were 585 million people in sub-Saharan Africa without power, and five years later that figure had risen to 632 million, according to the latest International Energy Agency (IEA) statistics.

A first-of-its-kind deep-dive analysis of the flow of capital, released by the United Nation’s Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) program today, shows that off-grid systems simply are not getting the support they deserve. “This research shows that only 1 percent of financing for electrification is going into this very promising and dynamic energy solution,” says SEforALL CEO Rachel Kyte, who says the findings are “a wake up call” for the international community. Continue reading

Advertisements

A Solid-State Fridge in Your Pocket

Qibing.pocketcooling.UCLA

UCLA and SRI’s solid-state chiller cools a smartphone battery by 8° C in 5 seconds. Photo: UCLA Engineering

Can you imagine an electric cooler compact enough to fit in your pocket and flexible enough to wear? If not, think again because engineers at the University of California at Los Angeles and SRI International have one working: A 5-millimeter-thick device that is the world’s first solid-state cooler combining practicality, energy efficiency, and high performance.

Solid-state cooling has become a highly-competitive field in recent years as researchers race to develop alternatives to conventional compressor-based refrigerators and air conditioners, which gobble considerable energy and rely on refrigerants that are potent greenhouse gases. In 2014 General Electric heralded a “breakthrough” using materials that heat and cool when moved near and away from magnets, enthusing that its “magnetocaloric” system could be “inside your fridge by the end of the decade.”

Other teams are exploring a myriad of alternate approaches, including “elastocaloric” materials that heat and cool in response to pressure. But the comparatively simple working device from UCLA and SRI, reported in today’s issue of the journal Sciencemay give these competitors the chills.

UCLA materials science and engineering professor Qibing Pei, who led the work, says he was motivated by the prospect of delivering personalized comfort with little energy. “It may be placed in a shoe insole or in a hat to keep a runner comfortable in the hot Southern California sun. In a way, it’s like a personal air conditioner,” says Pei.

The UCLA-SRI device relies on the electrocaloric effect, which occurs in materials whose molecules have positively and negatively charged ends. An electric field aligns the molecules, increasing the order in the material and thus increasing its temperature.

Fundamentally, it is the same thermodynamic behavior that causes a steam burn, where water condensing on your skin jumps in temperature as it morphs from a disordered gas to a comparatively orderly liquid. And the electrocaloric effect is just as reversible: Relax the electric field on the material and its temperature drops. Continue reading