Lighting up the World: Solar Empowerment for South African Youth

It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.

But helping to make solar power available to people without access to electricity is really and truly awesome.


I’m proud to support my friend Pam Ulicny’s great Indiegogo solar power project:

We are seeking to raise $10,000 to start a pilot program that will train and employ local youth to install, distribute and maintain home solar energy/lighting systems for people in rural villages and towns in South Africa without access to consistent, reliable, and renewable power. The money raised, after expenses, will pay for 50 solar lighting systems to begin this project.

We know, if we teach people how to build and use solar solutions for their energy needs their lives and their communities will be changed for years to come.

Science teacher Pam Ulicny holding a solar lamp. "It's better to help people make a solar lamp than to curse the darkness."

Science teacher Pam Ulicny holding a solar lamp she designed.

We know, replacing kerosene as a primary fuel source with solar energy solutions will bring improvement to the health and well-being of women, children and communities.

We are committed to creating long term solutions to the energy and economic needs of energy impoverished communities in South Africa and other developing countries.

SUNDANCE SOLAR has partnered with Educo Africa and ASPIRE Youth, two local non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Working together, we will provide the equipment, business & technical training and mentoring necessary to educate people in urban and rural areas on the health and economic benefits of the use of solar energy.

We know supplying homes with solar energy systems and training and mentoring the youth contributes to improving the health and standard of living of families and their communities.We know every act of kindness and empowerment inspires another.

We know, others need your help and support.

We know working together we can make a difference.

For more on this great program, and to contribute to it, go here.


“The Energiewende is Germany’s ‘Man to the Moon’ project”

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier

Speaking at the first international conference on Germany’s transition to renewable energy (in German: Energiewende) last week, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier described the shift away from fossil fuels and nuclear power as his country’s “man to the moon project.”

The Berlin “Energy Transition Dialogue 2015” drew nearly 1,000 representatives from 60 countries, according to event sponsors. The Energiewende was formalized into German law in 2000 with the passage of the Renewable Energy Act. That law mandates a phase-out of nuclear power by 2022, steep reductions in CO2 emissions, and aims to generate 80 percent of the country’s power supply by renewable sources by 2050. (Germany today gets 27 percent of its electrical generation from renewables, including wind, biomass, and solar power.)

The conference was timed to precede — and shape — the United Nations Global Climate Conference COP21, scheduled for this December in Paris.

In his opening remarks, German Economic Affairs Minister Sigmar Gabriel, addressed his country’s decision to phase out nuclear power despite the low GHG emissions from that energy source — a choice that is controversial elsewhere, but is widely supported across the political spectrum in Germany:

The ecological sense of the use of nuclear energy is not the point, because we now know that this is the most inefficient and most expensive  energy supply. That’s how the debate has switched from an environmental to an economic discussion about the future of our country.

Note: Clean Break, my e-book about the Energiewende, produced for InsideClimate News in 2012, can be found here. My more recent reporting from Germany on developments in the energy transition will appear in Discover magazine this summer.

Greenpeace’s misleading claims

I’m going to keep today’s rant short. If you use social media, you’ve probably seen this graphic touting China’s growing use of wind power. (Minus the red stamp that I added.)



China has installed an impressive number of wind turbines over the last few years — but nothing close to what the above graphic implies. Here are the numbers you need to see why the Greenpeace claim is misleading:

First: In 2014, wind turbines generated an amazing 153.4 TWh of electricity. That’s more than the total generated by Norway (147.8 TWh in 2012). And, as you can see in the chart below, it’s also more electricity than China generated from nuclear power (130.5 TWhs).

Wind and nuclear electrical generation in China, 1993-2014.

Wind and nuclear electrical generation in China, 1993-2014.


And here’s a chart from the U.S. Energy Information Agency showing electricity generation in the United States by source. (I’ve highlighted nuclear generation for 2014.)

Electricity generation, nuclear power, 2014. EIA.

Electricity generation, nuclear power, 2014. EIA.

The grand total for nuclear is 797.0 TWhs in 2014. Admittedly, math isn’t my strong point. But I’m pretty sure that 797 > 153.54.

There’s a bit of sleight-of-hand going on in the Greenpeace graphic and it centers around the word “can.” As in, “China’s wind farms can now produce…” I suspect they’re using what’s known as the “installed capacity” for wind turbines in China. Installed capacity is the theoretical output from a given source. Under optimal wind conditions, a 3 MW wind turbine will produce 3 MW of electricity at any given moment. But to compare the capacity factor of a wind turbine with that of a nuclear power plant is woefully misleading.

China’s installed capacity for wind stand at around 115,000 MW. U.S. nuclear power plants have an installed capacity of 100,000 MW. So, it looks like this is the voodoo-math Greenpeace used for their claim in the graphic.

China is adding sources of renewable generation at a fevered-pitch. Misleading numbers only detract from that story.