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.

Going Deeper for Oil in the Gulf of Mexico

There was a scene in the 1980s film, Crocodile Dundee, where a group of punks pull switchblades on the Aussie hero and demands his wallet. Dundee looks amused. His girlfriend urges him to hand over his cash, pointing out that the thief has a knife.

“That’s not a knife,” laughs Dundee. He whips out a humongous Bowie knife with a 10-inch blade. “Now, this,” he says with a smirk, “is a knife.”

Don't worry. It's just a game.

Don’t worry. It’s just a game.

I thought of that line today after happening on an article titled, “Players Focus on Deepwater Alaminos Canyon.” The piece appeared in the October 2013 issue of Explorer, a monthly publication of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. One of the benefits of the Internet is the easy access it provides to places from which we were previously barred. As a virtual fly on the wall, you can hear what people or groups say when they alone, just talking among friends.

The Explorer article has a lede that gave me vertigo: “It’s possible to look at the Gulf of Mexico as the most expensive board game on Earth.”

Keep in mind that this was written three years after the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed 11 people and allowed nearly 5 million barrels of oil to flow unchecked into the Gulf for some 87 days. That disaster — the worst of its kind to this point — isn’t mentioned in the article. The analogue to a board game refers to a battle between oil companies to exploit the black gold beneath the Gulf even more intensively, and to do it deeper. The wellhead under the Deepwater Horizon was 5,000 feet below the surface. The difficulty operating equipment at that depth played a large role in the scale of the BP disaster. It was just too deep to cap after the explosion.

And here’s what reminded me of the scene from Crocodile Dundee. The “Deepwater Horizon?” That wasn’t deep water. The article trumpets “the world’s deepest drilling and production platform, floating in more than 8,000 feet of water.” Three thousand feet deeper than the Deepwater Horizon’s well.

Now, that is deep water.

Seriously, have we learned anything from the 2010 disaster?

Apparently, someone has: the article ends with this sobering quote from John Snedden, identified as the director of the Institute for Geophysics at the Jackson School of Geosciences, University of Texas at Austin.

“One thing I learned after 25 years in the industry,” he said. “Never underestimate the power of technology and the persistence of engineers and geologists to develop large discovered volumes of oil and gas.”

I don’t doubt that for a second.