The western world often laments the loss of bygone eras and simpler times, with no electricity or distractions from technology or modern conveniences. But remove those rose-tinted spectacles and the reality of energy poverty is clear: harsh, dangerous and in many cases life-threatening. How do you store food and vaccines at the right temperature if you can’t power a fridge? How do you operate simple medical equipment? How do you communicate your needs to the outside world in times of crisis? How do you keep children safe from unfriendly nocturnal wildlife or light inhospitable terrain at night?
Kinect Energy Group has been tackling this head-on in Burma, where we’ve helped transform the lives of more than 1500 students across remote areas of Karen State through our Track My Electricity platform. This is an ambitious scheme that enables corporate energy consumers to source renewable electricity reliably and transparently from power plants of their choice. For every megawatt of clean energy their customers consume, they also help give clean, sustainable energy to energy poor areas with no hope for electrification in the near future.
Working with Solbakken, a non-profit organisation specialising in renewable energy and water access, we have introduced solar panels to generate sustainable electricity supply to four schools across this hard-to-reach, mountainous and politically fragile region of Southeast Asia, serving local communities and neighbouring villages between Burma and Thailand.
The project in Burma spanned three years and resulted in tangible and far-reaching effects that have positively impacted many aspects of the Karen people’s lives. Pupils can now study beyond daylight hours, without having to rely on candles and oil lamps. This is particularly beneficial when houses, schools and dormitories are built from wood and bamboo, making them vulnerable to fire. Enhanced lighting has also reduced the threat from snakes, scorpions and other dangerous wildlife that lurk about at night, while electricity has enabled modern teaching technologies to enter the classroom, in turn facilitating the quality and pace of learning. This last point is pertinent in terms of the wider socio-economic parameters of such projects because it is education that holds the key to progressive and high-impact change.
The Karen people have been locked in continuous conflict with the Burmese military for more than 60 years, suffering devastating loss of life that runs into the tens of thousands. Education is crucial if current and future generations are to better understand their human rights, find their voice, communicate their point of view and establish lasting peace in what is currently a troubled and unofficial ceasefire war zone. By creating modern, fully functioning schools that create positive change in individuals, the wider community and the entire state, Kinect and its global partners have helped empower the Karen people to stabilise their state and reconstruct civil society.
But the ramifications of success go well beyond the educational, medical and safety aspects of people’s lives. Access to clean electricity can improve economic situations and tackle unemployment and poverty by creating more stable, good quality jobs. It can also increase sustainability, facilitate independence and boost productivity. Ultimately, electricity produced via clean methods enables communities, businesses and individuals to flourish and thrive. Take the installation of solar systems for Alpaca farmers in Cusco, Peru, another of our Track My Electricity achievements. These hard-working families can now power electric machinery to spin wool into artisanal yarn themselves, harnessing the full value of the raw product rather than having to sell it to intermediaries at very low prices.
Of course, clean energy has many benefits for the environment, too, not least in terms of pollution and climate change. Clean energy facilitates societal progress without depleting natural resources, creating greenhouse gases or being prone to the wildly fluctuating costs of raw material extraction and refinement. Technologies such as solar panels and micro-hydro generate affordable and stable sources of energy, while being easy to maintain and benefiting from ever decreasing production and installation costs.
Local people are also educated about how renewable energy works, how to use electricity safely, and how to maintain the system, which gives them a sense of ownership of the solar panels. Clean energies also make for healthier living conditions in terms of air quality, which is good news for people living in the immediate vicinity as well as worldwide.
By embracing innovation while leapfrogging fossil fuels and grid-based electrification entirely, developing nations are perpetuating the investment, reach and impact of newer technologies to demonstrate they have as much right as wealthier countries to be at the forefront of the clean energy revolution.
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