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Reasons to be cheerful? The global view on sustainable energy

For all the doom and gloom that seems to be an constant bed partner of the drive to sustainable energy use in the UK, it only takes a little look beyond our shores to see a wealth of optimism on pretty the same issues.

Undoubtedly a reason to be cheerful is to be sure that power’s not going to shut down while you’re having an emergency operation. The reliability of grid energy is an issue in Haiti, which is why a new hospital has opted for 1,800 solar PV panels instead. Staying with solar, internet giant Google is making its first renewable investment in Africa, as part of a consortium creating a 96MW solar farm in Northern Cape, South Africa, that has been earmarked to provide electricity for 30,000 homes.

From improved health care and inward investment to the empowerment of women through solar power.

Once again it’s all about access to reliable grid energy – or lack thereof. In India, companies are working to offer groups of women who own small businesses in off-grid areas to buy into instalment schemes on solar panels. Power after dark also adds to a feeling of safety and wellbeing, something that we found thousands of miles away, with our LED field trial on an estate in London. These lifestyle off-shoots from low-carbon change definitely seem to be something of a universal.

Staying in the UK for a second, we’ve looked at the chances of women getting their foot in the door of the green energy business on the blog before.  In India too, there are positive moves in this direction. Women in Rajasthan are learning the solar and lighting trades to keep the skills in the local community. Not only is this vital with men often travelling away for work, but our surveys constantly tell us that people have much greater trust in the local tradesperson.

But there again, the rest of the world doesn't escape the heated debated that's part and parcel of changing the way we create and consume energy. Take the ‘people power’ taking hold in Brazil, where the indigenous Makuxi people from the north of the country are conducting their own wind power trial, in which they hope to demonstrate a viable alternative to hydroelectric dams that would flood lands they’ve lived on for centuries. Lucky they live in one the areas of highest wind speed in Brazil.

The controversy over the dams demonstrates the kind of complications that all big infrastructure projects face – particularly those involving energy. Over eighty percent of the Brazilian government’s ‘Lights for All’ programme has come from hydroelectricity, and it’s worked to reduce massive population migration from rural areas to cities. So there's a success-story to be claimed there too, albeit with strings attached. But perhaps it’s something that can be used as part of a more bespoke set of measures to get the people on-grid and low-carbon.

You don’t have to research deeply to find a really diverse range of signs of progress. But it’s good news amidst an urgent backdrop. it’s high time that a positive attitude was taken, given the world’s atmosphere recently passing through the symbolic critical CO2 threshold of 400 parts per million. For all the arguments about how energy security and carbon reduction is to be achieved, it’s a no-brainer that it needs to pick up pace. In Part 2 of this blog we’ll be having a look for reasons to be optimistic right here in the UK. Stay tuned. 

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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