In Africa, there are 640 million people, almost twice the population of the United States, without electricity, many of whom depend on polluting sources for cooking, heating or lighting their homes.
Brian Kakembo Galabuzi, an economics student from Uganda, doesn't have a general solution, but he does have cheap, clean help.
Galabuzi founded the Young Energy Waste Company (WEYE) registered as a limited company, which manufactures fuel briquettes from agricultural and organic waste.
The idea came to him after the exchanges he had at the International Student Summit on Energy, held in Bali, with other students concerned about energy poverty.
Energy poverty is defined as the lack of adequate modern sources for cooking, heating, lighting and providing essential services to factories, schools, health centers and for income generation.
WEYE was created with the idea of commercializing organic waste to implement energy solutions to create a transition towards a cleaner and more youth-friendly way of cooking in Uganda.
The promise of income or profit proved effective for that sector to embrace sustainable energy as a source of income. They promote it because they want to make a profit, Galabuzi explained.
"We believe that the benefits of sustainable energy, such as time savings, clean air, environmental conservation and good health are not what young people, with high unemployment rates, want to hear," he said.
“The majority of the world's population is made up of young people, most of whom are unemployed. That is why we designed a solution based on economic benefits for unemployed women and young people, ”Galabuzi said.
Rich in resources, but poor in energy
Africa has a lot of energy, but almost two-thirds of its more than 1.2 billion people have no electricity.
The African continent is estimated to have 10 potential terawatts of solar power, 350 gigawatts of hydro and 110 gigawatts of wind, all of which can be harnessed, but with the right investments, a 2015 study by influential McKinsey & Company concluded.
But the lack of investment in connections outside the matrix makes fossil fuels and biomass the main sources of energy. But off-grid connections can deliver affordable, clean energy for millions of people, while helping to reduce carbon emissions and prevent indoor pollution.
The growing demand for energy in Africa, and in developing countries in general, makes the need to promote and distribute more affordable and cleaner energy is urgent. Wood, charcoal, grass and solid waste, from animals and humans, are forms of biomass that can be turned into fuel and used as a source of energy.
The clean energy business
Galabuzi's company is not the first to make briquettes, but what is unique, according to him, is that these are from organic waste and sold to institutions that use firewood, 80 percent of which is sourced from Uganda.
Studies have estimated that the country runs the risk of losing its forests in 40 years if deforestation is not stopped, due in large part to population growth and increased demand for land and energy obtained from firewood.
"Our solution guarantees our clients a 35 percent reduction in the cost of cooking fuel, 50 percent in the time dedicated to cooking and, most importantly, a smoke-free environment for the staff," Galabuzi explained in dialogue with IPS.
Despite the sun, hydroelectricity and gas as alternative energy sources for cooking, briquettes are an affordable and efficient option, he said.
A pilot project at Saint Kizito Secondary School in Kampala, the first to adopt WEYE technology, found that it managed to save about $ 2,500, a 50 percent reduction in cooking, and improved staff satisfaction with the healthy, smoke-free and clean conditions.
"We pay farmers and garbage collectors for organic waste and offer them another way to generate income, improve garbage management and agriculture," he explained.
Galabuzi's business can employ 40 people in waste collection, sorting, production, marketing, distribution and finance. It also has a possible market of more than 30,000 institutions in Uganda.
WEYE trains women and youth in briquette making and how to start their own factories, with support from the state-run Uganda Youth Fund.
The company is authorized to sell charcoal briquettes and clean stoves in the country. The business model was tested during an eight-week green entrepreneurs program, led by the Global Institute for Green Growth (GGGI), Student Energy (SE) and Youth Climate Labs.
Students lead transition to sustainable energy
SE is an organization based in Alberta, Canada, dedicated to empowering youth to accelerate the transition to a livelihood energy through training, coaching and mentoring.
Her interest in energy led her to partner with the Seoul-based GGGI to promote programs for young green entrepreneurs (greenpreneurs).
The SE program, with 50,000 members from 30 different countries, gives them the opportunity to translate innovative ideas into sustainable energy, water and sanitation, sustainable environments and green cities.
“We were interested in green entrepreneurs because many people in our network are interested in energy, but they are on a more systemic level and how energy connects with gender, empowerment, access to clean fuel sources, access to energy in areas of difficult access and to intelligent technology ”, indicated Helen Watts, director of Innovation and Associations of SE, in dialogue with IPS.
A platform was launched to promote the debate on the search and implementation of innovative solutions to solve energy challenges and contribute to the fulfillment of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Watts noted that the partnership with the GGGI is an opportunity to open the institute's youth business model, which is country-specific, to an accelerator model with youth from emerging and developing economies.
The other organization with which the SE partnered is the Climate Laboratory for Young People, which seeks to build capacities for young people to participate in climate policies, in innovation and collaborate in climate mitigation and adaptation.
The SE began in 2009 at the urging of students working in the Canadian energy industry, and every two years it organizes an international summit dedicated to the future of sustainable energy as a platform to discuss the energy transition.
The first summit that year brought together 250 students from 40 countries. The sixth, held in Mexico in 2017, concentrated 600 students from 100 countries; and the next, to be held in London in 2019, is expected to attract 700 young people.
SE also has affiliates in Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, North America, Oceania, South America, and South Asia, which are like student clubs in tertiary institutions. In fact, the first were installed in Great Britain, Nigeria and Canada.
“I think what I am most proud of is our work to generate the expectations that young people deserve regarding sitting at the table of all energy conversations as equals with older generations, authorities and representatives of the industry, among others. ”Said Sean Collins, one of the founders of SE.
"Our generation is primarily responsible for the practical transition to a low-carbon economy, so we have to be active in those conversations from the beginning," he said.
Companies like Galabuzi's serve as a model for supplying power to more than 600 million people in Africa who do not have electricity.
By Busani Bafana
Translation: Veronica Firm