Off-Grid Solar: Low-Hanging Fruit for Mitigating Climate Change

| 11/22/2013 3:19:00 PM

We face many dangers associated with climate change and we hear about them all the time: glaciers melting,SunRider Projects In Developing World cities drowning amidst rising sea levels, ominous natural disasters looming, and precious species like the polar bears losing their homes. We hear warning signs of the effects of climate change that have yet to fully unravel at least tens of times before, but even with viral initiatives like the Climate Name Change, the problems don’t go away and we need more solutions than ever.

Reducing CO2 emissions has been on the agenda for quite some time to curb the harmful effects of climate change, but getting countries to commit to their goals is difficult. Years will pass before investments and impact on CO2 emissions materialize, which means CO2 levels won’t be stabilized for decades more. However, there is another approach to curbing climate change that yields substantial benefits in a shorter amount of time: reducing Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (SLCP). And already there are bottom-up solutions that have proved to effectively get the job done.

Black Carbon: The Short-Lived Climate Pollutant to Watch

For a detailed analysis of the bottom-up approaches to mitigate climate change, check out this Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) article from the summer 2013 issue. Some solutions that are listed whose successes and challenges are thoroughly discussed include reducing traditional cookstove emissions (e.g., Project Surya clean cookstove projects), reducing open burning of agricultural waste (e.g., India’s Husk Power Systems), and reducing methane production in agricultural context.

However, I’d like to focus on a single SLCP that I think is the lowest hanging fruit of all: black carbon. I work for SunFunder, and our job is to provide low-cost financing to solar companies that work to provide solar lights and solar home systems to unelectrified communities in developing countries. The majority of these communities rely on burning kerosene to use as their primary source of light at night.  Not only does burning kerosene pose serious health risks (think respiratory problems), they are also expensive and dangerous to use (kerosene-induced fires are quite common). But there’s even more harm to burning kerosene, and that is its negative effect on the environment because of its black carbon emission. 

According to a recent study by researchers in UC Berkeley and University of Illinois, one kilogram of blackBlack Carbon Short Lived Pollutant carbon produces as much warming in the air in a month as 700 kilograms of carbon dioxide does over 100 years. In the same study, researchers performed field and lab tests and found that 7 to 9 percent of the kerosene in wick lamps ends up in the atmosphere as black carbon; when you consider the 250-300 million households worldwide that still use kerosene lamps because they lack electricity, the significance of this figure cannot be ignored. In fact, the study authors project that black carbon emissions from kerosene lamps makes up 3% of total global black carbon emissions and is twenty times higher than what was previously thought. In comparison, only half of 1 percent of the emissions from burning wood is converted to black carbon. It is no wonder that Kirk Smith, one of the study’s co-authors from UC Berkeley School of Public Health, makes the following statement:

11/24/2013 3:04:04 AM

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