Category Archives: Sustainable Energy for All

Green Energy for a Billion Poor

By George Garland

Energy for All The International Energy Agency estimates that it would take investments of $49 billion each year until 2030 to achieve energy for all. At the same time, it forecasts that there will be a billion people without energy access in 2030. The world’s largest utility companies are included in the Global Sustainable Electricity Partnership ( These companies need customers ability to pay and a governmental regulatory infrastructure before they can commit huge sums.  A hopeless situation? Mavbe not if off grid systems working directly with the unserved can grow and prosper!

A book by Nancy Wimmer,  Green Energy for a Billion Poor, describes how over 500,000 Solar Home Systems were installed by social business Grameen Shakti in rural Bangladesh between 1996 and 2010. While funding from several sources including rhe International Finance Corporation, World Bank, and USAID provided much needed working capital, solar home systems were sold, not given away. From 2004 onwards, sales of solar home systems exceeded the number needed for Grameen Shakti to break even. This economically sustainable approach is a key feature of the social business model to ensure survival after external funding goes away. The eight years from 1996 to 2004 when Grameen Shakti was cash flow negative underscores the need for patience in establishing a social business and the importance of external funding for initial working capital. As it took many of the rural poor half a year to earn the cost of a solar home system, an eight year start up period goes beyond reasonable to miraculous. So how did they do it?

Pioneering efforts included:

  • Focus on one solution to a single issue
  • Right expertise in the right place
  • Identifying early acceptors
  • Valid information about benefits and costs
  • Listening to concerns of potential customers
  • Adapting technology to needs
  • Follow up service and user education
  • Resourceful and dedicated staff
  • Recognition of financial constraints

Focus on one solution to a single issue While Grameen Shakti later addressed needs for clean cook stoves and energy from biogas, pioneering efforts addressed a solar energy solution to address a lack of electricity. Only choices were amount of solar power.

Right expertise in the right place Engineers were sent to the villages to market, install, adapt and maintain solar home systems.  Potential customers were courted with information and demonstrations by knowledgeable experts.

Identifying early acceptors Shops that could extend shopping opportunity into evening hours; workshops that could extend productive hours; and village leaders who had children currently burning expensive and smoky, unhealthful kerosene for evening studies were identified as good prospects. Early adopters is a bit optimistic as many visits to explain benefits, answer technical questions, work out payment modes, and address concerns over system reliability were usually needed in early sales.

Valid information about benefits and costs Information on expected savings on kerosene or alternative fuels, performance capabilities of different levels of solar home systems, need for customer awareness of system needs, details of cost and financing options, projected income from extra hours of operation, health impacts from eliminating smoke were all carefully and patiently explained. Customers, regardless of level of education, wanted answers to economic, technical, operational, and system capability questions.

Listening to concerns of potential customers Grameen Shakti  personnel listened respectfully to ever so many questions. This paid dividends in building a storehouse of valid information as noted above as well as in adapting products to suit market niches.

Adapting technology to needs Because Grameen Shakti staff were engineers who also installed and maintained systems, they could make technological and procedural adjustments to suit each situation.

Follow up service and user education Rural villages in Bangladesh have no lack of rapid dissemination of information, including customer dissatisfaction. Prompt attention to system needs, including explaining limits and good practices to assure long lasting and reliable system service, was essential. Follow up in collecting payments helped establish that Grameen Shakti was serious about social business and not a giveaway program.

Resourceful and dedicated staff Pioneering staff faced very basic living conditions and demanding travel options. No prima donnas need apply. Staff needed to create responses to healthy skepticism of new technology. New enterprise had to  build trust levels that products would be delivered and maintained. Creativity was essential in showing how payments could be met for those with limited financial resources. Over time, helping communities respond to extreme weather was an overarching contribution of Grameen Shakti personnel.

Recognition of financial constraints Pioneering sales were made on terms of 50% down and the rest in six monthly payments. While Grameen Shakti’s of working capital after credibility with funders had increased allowed for more generous terms of payment over three years, initial sales were on terms consistent with a start up operation that was determined to become economically sustainable.


Consultation on Ethanol Cookstoves at the United Nations

By Brandon Huck, UNA-SNY Energy Project

On April 4th, 2013, the Public-Private Alliance Foundation (PPAF) convened a consultation at the United Nations (U.N.) to provide an update on its pilot project involving the use of ethanol cookstoves and fuels in Haiti. The meeting was co-sponsored by PPAF and the UN Office for Partnerships, and included other interested parties, such as Path To Haiti Business Consulting LLC, SImACT, Inc., and Project Gaia, Inc.   The United Nations Association Southern New York State Division and its Energy Project supported the event.

The consultation brought together actors from a variety of sectors and diverse organizations with a goal of discussing the pilot project and coming to agreement on next steps and priorities for its expansion. In addition, the meeting functioned as a vehicle to increase awareness and knowledge among its participants of the benefits and potential of ethanol cookstoves and clean cooking fuels as alternatives to traditional cooking methods and materials in Haiti. In that country, the majority of cooking is still done using charcoal and wood-burning stoves, practices which often result in unclean and unsafe conditions that disproportionately and negatively affect mothers and children by exposing them to serious health and safety risks, such as a higher incidence of respiratory ailments and diseases.

Participants in the consultation met first in a plenary session and then in small groups to discuss the specific challenges and opportunities associated with PPAF’s pilot project, as well as the possibility of broader commercialization of ethanol cookstoves in Haiti. Several presenters referenced the pilot’s unique status as the first project of its kind in Haiti. Through relations with Dometic Group AB – a manufacturer of ethanol cookstoves Project Gaia, Inc., which donated an initial supply of stoves for the pilot –and other partners on the ground in Haiti, PPAF and Path to Haiti have been able to introduce hundreds of Haitians to the ethanol cookstoves. The pilot participants and observers have included low-income mothers, community organization representatives, small business owners, government officials, and employees at a participating hotel, providing for diverse perspectives on the efficacy and usability of the stoves and fuel.

Participants in the consultation learned about the many advantages offered by ethanol cookstoves. One is the ability to tap into a growing desire by Haitians at all societal levels to overcome the poverty-respiratory disease-deforestation trap caused by Haiti’s heavy reliance on cooking with wood or charcoal. As an alcohol-based fuel, ethanol is considered a ‘clean fuel’ and offers a healthier alternative to cooking with petroleum-based fuels. The ethanol cookstoves take less time to cook food versus the traditional methods employed. In addition, clean cookstove models would leverage existing equipment and technology in Haiti, and create a new value stream for farmers and distillers if mass production of ‘fuel-grade’ ethanol alcohol could be made viable.

From an economic perspective, the commercialization of ethanol cookstoves might benefit Haiti more generally. For one, it could spur increased demand and innovation in sugar cane production, which is currently imported in larger quantities than it is grown locally – a surprising fact given Haiti’s long history of sugar cane farming. Furthermore, the transition to ethanol cookstoves may provide an attractive investment option to the Haitian diaspora, who annually give approximately $3 billion to family and friends in Haiti and support various social causes and business enterprises.

Lastly, the pilot project supports the goal of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, which aims for100 million households worldwide to adopt clean and efficient stoves and fuels by the year 2020.

UN Announces Energy Decade

Our Energy Blog begain with the 2012 Year of Sustainable Energy for All.  The UNA Southern New York State Division’s Energy Project has a small steering committee which meets bi-monthly.  The group organizes and participates in events related to energy and to sustainable development;  it communicates through  To join, please send an email to 

On 21 December 2012 the United Nations General Assembly unanimously declared the decade 2014‑2024 as the Decade of Sustainable Energy for All, underscoring the importance of energy issues for sustainable development and for the elaboration of the post-2015 development agenda. 

At its March meeting the Division’s Energy Group agreed to support this Decade as a basis for its program and actions in the coming years.  The Energy Group also agreed to support an event to be held at the United Nations on April 4 by the Public-Private Alliance Foundation.  This Consultation on Ethanol Cookstoves and Fuels (with an emphasis on Haiti) focuses on clean energy and reduction of the deforestation that is prevalent in Haiti.  The consultation also will promote use of the ethanol cookstoves and fuel worldwide.

UNA-Westchester: UN Day 2012 – Sustainable Energy for All

Read the following report and view the photos to learn about UNA-Westchester’s 2012 United Nations Day event, “Sustainable Energy for All: Solutions for a Prosperous World.”   Photos     UN Day 2012 Report

Audience members

Naresh Kakar, Elizabeth Silleck, Nikhil Seth

Marcia Brewster, President