December 3rd, 2020 by Jesper Berggreen
I received an email from my old acquaintance Robert A. Freling from Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) inviting me to watch a new documentary in which he and his team plays a major role: “Switch On.” The film is released from Switch Energy Alliance, in which Bureau of Economic Geology Director Scott Tinker is on a global adventure to meet people and communities as they Switch On.
It’s a feature-length film that illustrates the profound challenges that energy poverty poses for nearly one billion people on planet Earth. It’s a follow up to the earlier released documentary “Switch,” and this time around I must admit that I got quite emotional watching “Switch On.” It moved me because I found it was honest in the way it let ordinary people illustrate the challenges of energy poverty with a positive mindset without neglecting the astounding efforts needed to turn the world around to a complete and sustainable energy future. In other words, it made a seemingly impossible task seem possible. SELF’s punchline is that it “will change the way you look at energy and the developing world forever.”
Take an hour and nineteen minutes off your schedule and watch this. I’m curious what you think. Are we really at the brink of a true global scale energy revolution, for all walks of life? It is difficult for me to not be biased in this regard, and to explain why, here are a couple of examples from my encounters with energy poverty.
In the photo below you see a new library building outside the rural school Chibwe in Zambia. In 2019 the building was made ready to receive electricity from the grid 200 meters down the road for the first time since this area got access to electricity more than 4 decades ago. I helped pay the final invoice for establishing the connection, and I still await final confirmation that it has happened. The problem? Bureaucracy.
In the photo below from Itezhi-Tezhi, Zambia in 2014, my late friend Dixon answers my ignorant question as to why he uses small solar panels (see that one on the ground by the house) instead of the grid literally going over his house: “It’s too expensive to get connected, and besides, I can’t afford a refrigerator.” The problem? Availability.
In the documentary “Switch On,” Scott at one point wonders how much fossil fuel they just burnt to transport solar panels, batteries, and tons of other hardware, and people, to a small village to build a microgrid. Well, the age of fire may be ending, but burning stuff is propelling us to a new future, and it will be a while before the last carbohydrate is converted to particulates and greenhouse gasses to provide energy to the inhabitants of this planet. Let’s hope we’re not too late.
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