Pedal-powered generators, pay-as-you-go solar power, and clean cooking stoves: these are just three examples of the innovative energy solutions that our TrustLaw members have developed. Their aim is to provide cheap, clean energy to the world’s poorest and they are emerging in places as far-flung as Zambia, India, Vanuatu and East Africa.
In my previous role as an energy & resources lawyer, I worked on large scale energy projects that had competing needs for low-cost energy and improved environmental sustainability. I have since learned that these factors are just as important for small projects in communities that are not connected to an electricity grid. They desperately need affordable energy that does not destroy their health or the environment.
Energy poverty affects over 2 billion people worldwide, and its effects are deadly. According to the WHO, indoor air pollution from cooking fires that burn solid fuels (like wood or coal) causes 1.6 million deaths each year alone, leading to more deaths than either TB or Malaria. Aside from the health benefits, affordable clean energy greatly increases a community’s economic potential. Something as simple as being able to read after dark can lead to improved education outcomes and help to tackle poverty at its roots.
As Bill Gates puts it, "cheap energy is like a vaccine” in terms of the positive effects it can have on the health and economic development of impoverished communities.
In the past few months at TrustLaw, we have worked with more than 10 social enterprises that bring affordable clean energy solutions to remote communities. We have connected them with leading lawyers around the world who have helped them with issues ranging from corporate structuring to tax and IP protection.
Some of the inspiring solutions we’ve seen include:
-A pedal-powered, off-grid generator created by Nuru Energy for remote and rural communities in India and East Africa. We’ve connected Nuru with lawyers in Mauritius (BLC Chambers), India (J Sagar) and the Netherlands (Hogan Lovells) to help Nuru establish an effective corporate and investment structure, enabling the expansion its operations in India and East Africa. Nuru’s franchise model involves employing “micro-entrepreneurs” to purchase these pedal-powered products and charge people in their villages a small fee to use it (typically earning in 20 minutes what they previously earned in an entire day)
-A Pay-As-You-Go solar system by Angaza Design that allows households in East Africa to pay for solar energy in small increments using their mobile phones at a cost that is lower than kerosene. Often, the cost of solar technologies is prohibitive for people living in rural and low-income communities. The ability to pay for clean energy in small increments overcomes this hurdle and provides a viable alternative to kerosene. Morrison & Foerster has helped Angaza to protect their intellectual property and structure their business.
-Emerging Cooking Solutions in Zambia is helping families to combat indoor pollution by replacing charcoal with pelletized biomass that can be used in wood gas stoves. They understand that affordability is the key ingredient in getting people to adopt cleaner cooking solutions. They plan to sell “cooking time” which will package their high-quality stoves and cooking fuel into an affordable bundle that is comparable with traditional fuels. Sidley Austin, a law firm who focus their pro bono efforts on agribusiness in the developing world, are helping Emerging Cooking Solutions with structuring and governance.
Each of these organisations has a financially sustainable business model that does not rely on donor funding. Some combine non-profit structures with a for-profit trading arm, while others employ a purely ‘for-profit’ structure which gives them more flexibility in terms of the capital that they can access to grow their business.
While bigger solutions are undoubtedly required to address energy poverty at the global level, these innovators are providing some intriguing solutions that will have a huge impact on both the physical and economic health of remote communities around the world.