Switch On
The Series
Visit the Maasai savannah of Kenya, Africa's largest slum and its newest hydroelectric dam. Journey into the coal mines and power plants of growing Vietnam. Cross Nepal with an environmental health scientist, studying people's transition from the most dangerous cooking fuel, killing millions a year, to the safest. And bring solar electricity, for the first time ever, to the Arhuaco people of Northern Colombia. Watch this 7-part series, based on and expanded from the celebrated global energy documentary Switch On– a spectacular, unexpected journey to know and understand the issues driving energy development around the world.
Switch On Episode 1
Modern Cooking Fuels

3 billion people still use wood or biomass to cook their food and heat their homes. But these necessities come at a devastating cost: 3 million people die each year from breathing smoke. Dr. Scott Tinker visits Nepal, to see how they– like many countries– are transitioning to modern cooking fuels, and the many benefits these bring.

Runtime: 31:52 | Languages: EN

Scott Tinker: Nearly three billion people today still burn wood, straw, charcoal, or dung for cooking or heating. The smoke from these fires fills their homes and their lungs, breathed in mostly by mothers and their children, and leading to disease and premature death across the developing world. Many governments, international agencies, and local businesses are trying to address this problem. Some have tried more efficient stoves for burning wood, but the smoke persists. Most now agree that the solution is to change cooking fuels.

ST: There are nearly 3 billion people today who still live with little or no energy. And what I want to know is how they'll finally get it. So this is sort of what it was, and that's the future. I'm Scott Tinker and I study energy. Come with me around the world to meet people and communities as they Switch On.

ST: To get a first-hand understanding, I went to Nepal, to meet a team studying the transition away from wood and biomass fuels. The challenges and solutions they're seeing here are the same in developing countries around the world. The leader of this project is environmental health scientist, Dr. Amod Pokhrel.

Amod Pokhrel: So here what we're trying to do is create a smoke-free village. Our definition of smoke-free village is that eighty percent of the time all the households use clean energy. That's our target.

ST: You say clean cook stove, what's what do you mean clean?

AP: Our definition of clean cook stove is gas and electricity and the by gas or LPG or electric cook stove.

ST: Because it doesn't have the smoke

AP: Yeah, it doesn't emit smoke

ST: And you're able to do this with just a few houses or do you have to

AP: It takes a village to sow this effect. That's where there's 773 households. We're measuring the stove uses every day like every five minutes we're collecting data on that and air pollution level like four times throughout this study and blood pressure also four times so it's a longitudinal yeah so we want to show the longitudinal change.

ST: Power lines along main roads supply electricity from Nepal's dams to small businesses. This workshop makes and sells furniture and sells its scrap wood too. Sanukanchi, a mother of five from a nearby village was here to buy some. So why don't they get this wood from the forest?

AP: So, the government opens community forest for people to collect with only one time in a year and yeah because there was a big problem of deforestation and then after that you have to purchase it from the market which is expensive.

ST: This is probably plenty, huh? Curious to see how much this weighs. 21and 0.3 kilos so this is uh 45 pounds or 21 kilograms. How long will that last for cooking?

AP: So it goes for two weeks.

ST: So we need 25 of those every year and we just spent two hundred, so five thousand per year just for the wood and the fuel. How much money do you have each year just to spend?

AP: She says she doesn’t know the exact, but according to her, she spends a lot of money.

ST: Probably maybe half of...

AP: Yeah, half of her income.

ST: Just on fuel for the fire, yeah. That's a tremendous amount.

ST: So people have been cooking over wood and solid fuels for many hundreds of years.

AP: Thousands of years and it's good because you know this allows people to boil water and then give warm food yeah which is also helpful for sure and something healthy but the smoke is the main issue here and so you can see there's no vent and ventilation in the window opening right for the smoke to go out.

ST: Amod showed me the indoor air pollution measurements for this house without the fire burning and with it.

AP: Yeah so the evidence would be around 30 microgram per cubic meter.

ST: So two or three times a day we're going to 900, yeah.

AP: Yeah so they're fire

ST: 15 to 20 times every day. You can hear the kids, you can hear their lungs you can hear when they cough. And you've been cooking in your home all your life?

AP: Yes, she has always used a wood stove, she has not used any other modern fuel.

ST: I mean you can see the smoke completely darken rafters. Yeah, that's really remarkable with the exposure.

AP: Yeah they're exposed to this smoke you know.

ST: It's constant.

AP: She’s a health volunteer.

ST: Oh okay, she goes around to the villages?

AP: Yeah, so all households.

ST: Now she's going to do what?

AP: She checks the respiratory symptoms in the children.

ST: Yeah, how often?

AP: Every three months, so this is a part of our current ongoing activities. Biomass users are usually, we have found, have high blood pressure compared with biogas users. And smoke increases the risk of hypertension. Hypertension is one of the main problems among adults.

ST: Interesting.

AP: And the respiratory illnesses are one of the chief causes of death in Nepal. So it's a big problem here.

ST: What is it? 140 over 97. That's quite high and she's a young person. That's a high pressure. In nearby Bhaktapur, Amod took me to Siddhi Memorial Hospital to see the health effects of breathing smoke.

Siddhi Memorial Doctor: The child is having a fever and a difficulty breathing and complaining of a cough and she visited me once on Thursday and now she's complaining of fast breathing.

ST: How many do you see like this every day, who have the respiratory? How many kids?

Doctor: Usually it's more than 60 percent of the cases who come here, it's upper respiratory infection.

ST: The electricity’s not working.

AP: This is a very common problem in Nepal, and our study here, which was conducted here in the same hospital, we also found a very strong association between pneumonia and users using biomass fuel.

ST: We couldn't breathe after two hours this morning.

AP: Yeah yeah, imagine the breathing you know right for a long time.

ST: Sadly children die frequently here of pneumonia and related diseases and they're not alone. Nearly 3 billion people still burn wood or other biomass as their primary energy source and 3 million of them, mostly mothers and their children, die each year from breathing the smoke. Three million. Clearly one of the most important challenges in the world today is moving from biomass to something else. One alternative that's gaining popularity, especially in rural areas is biogas. It's methane, just like natural gas, but it's made right here on the farm. So we're going to get biomass and look at biogas.

AP: So we will use dung, yeah this is cow dung.

ST: What's she gonna do?

AP: So she'll put this dung in the bucket.

ST: Yeah I guess I probably ought to help. All right, oh nice that's nice. Oh yeah, biogas. Nice, that's just a fresh one.

AP: Yes I want to use the water, do you want to wash your hands?

ST: Oh yeah yeah, I’ll wash my hands, sure.

AP: It solved two purposes

ST: There you go, efficiency in every step, this might take a while because I really picked it up. So you gotta mix it first.

AP: It has to be thoroughly mixed.

ST: I'm glad I already washed my hands.

AP: It has to be thoroughly mixed and then,

ST: Is it good? Now your turn. Okay okay now I take this here? All right, oh yeah that's nice, that's not very deep.

AP: The toilet is also connected.

ST: Nobody's there, luckily, just opened the door on them so Amod, you know we've got a concrete canister and a bunch of stuff in it and then there's gas up in the kitchen. What's the process?

AP: So this is an inlet, you put a mix of dung and then water you stir it and it goes inside the digester, it's a big digester. It's a large digester inside, it's covered, and then methanogenic bacteria then works on the manure okay, sorry, and then it generates biogas and then people get by gas through that pipe that yellow pipe, and it goes to that house.

ST: Are there, do you have to put in enhancers to create the process of digestion or is it just natural?

AP: It's natural, just happening. So yeah, when it is newly constructed, so that you have to leave dung for about one month, so gradually it builds bacteria very naturally, very natural everything. So she’s using biogas for the last 16 years. It’s free, you have one cow, they drink the milk and use the dung

ST: Drink the milk, they use the dung and you cook again, it's a perfect circle. Oh it's very good, very good just how I like it, perfect.

AP: So what happens is, during the winter time because biogas depends on temperature and during winter time, the gas yield is low so usually what people were doing they were used to cook on mudstone, so we are encouraging them to use induction or LPG during winter time so that they can get clean air throughout the year.

ST: What have you seen and the differences between?

AP: A lot, we usually see 500, 600 microgram per cubic meter. In this kitchen we see 2017.

ST: Which is just acceptable completely. Wow this is quite an operation.

AP: So it is the new biogas system.

ST: So where do you put in the dung and the water and?

AP: So it will be there.

ST: That's a big room.
AP: It's a big room, yeah.

ST: There's a concrete dome over the big chamber.

AP: Yeah.
ST: And how much biogas will this make?

AP: So it provides you gas, enough for eight hours, to cook food for six family members.

ST: Wow! How much does it cost to build the system like this?

AP: So it costs 70,000 - 100,000

ST: So 700 - 1,000 dollars.

AP: And the government provides a subsidy of 300 dollars.

ST: So, wonderful system. Where can it be put around the world?

AP: Yeah, it can go a lot of places. For example, if it works in Nepal, there are lots of opportunities to upscale this to South Asia and Africa, South America. If it’s possible in Nepal, it’s possible everywhere.

ST: Nepal's more urban areas have opted for a different gas solution. In a suburb of the capital city, Kathmandu, this plant bottles liquefied petroleum gas or LPG. We are surrounded by canisters.

AP: Yes, so these are LPG, propane, and butane mixed gas which is mainly people used for cooking.

ST: How much is moving through here every day?

AP: These plants have about 255 distributors in Kathmandu valley, because the people once they saw this gas coming in, this is clean people decided to switch, mainly in the valley. Now these gases are all over the country wherever there are good networks.

ST: So this operation is really growing then.

AP: It's growing, it's growing at the rate of like LPG consumption is growing at the rate of 13 percent every year.

ST: Now do the people have to buy their original canister?

AP: Yeah, it's a one-time buy.

ST: And that lasts probably quite a while.

AP: It depends on the family size, for family size of like four it goes uh up to one month, if they don't have any secondary stove. If they have a secondary stove, then it goes for two months.

ST: Oh this is uh it's quite the operation here.

AP: Yeah, so there are uh 24 filling stations and for one gas to fill, one gas, it takes one minute. So minute per tank.

ST: So, we talked about it being better fuel, wood and biomass. What are some of the challenges?

AP: Oh, there are many challenges, for example 100% comes from India. Nepal is dependent on India. And there have been some hiccups like there was a blockade in 2015 immediately after the earthquake and there was a supply cut for about five, six months because Nepal has a different, you know, very difficult geography.

ST: And of course then there's a cost to the government in subsidies.

AP: Yes, it's about 300 rupees, like three dollars.

ST: Okay, yeah.
AP: Per cylinder.

ST: Helps the user.

AP: Yes, but again it's costly for the government. And price is increasing also, that's another challenge because it depends on international market price also.

ST: Nothing's perfect.
AP: Nothing's perfect.

ST: You ready to take us? So it's interesting where all the different people live and things. I mean, these look like pretty modern buildings over here. In lieu of pipelines, this is Nepal's LPG distribution system. Gas comes from refineries in India, on ever smaller modes of transportation, to reach the people who use it.

AP: We'll put this cylinder on a bicycle

ST: On a bicycle?

AP: Yeah we're going to put these on a bicycle.

ST: Oh good.

AP: Yeah, so one bike can carry two canisters.

ST: I'll hold the bike, you can load them up. Oh yeah that's 70 pounds. Perfect. Are we good?

AP: Yeah.

ST: This is me.

AP: Let's go straight, okay and then turn left and I'll see you there, okay.

ST: Okay, I'll try to go straight. This might not go very straight, but we're gonna give it a good run. Wow where do my heels go? All right we're out of here!

AP: So how's the ride?

ST: We made it. These are heavy.

AP: Okay, let me try.

ST: They’re very heavy. Here we go, watch your head.

ST: Perfect and no emissions, no smoke.

AP: No smoke, very clean.

ST: You enjoy the cooking with the gas?

AP: It’s easy.

ST: It’s easy. Both LPG and biogas are much healthier than wood but there's one alternative that makes no indoor air pollution at all. It's beautiful, and there are lots of different ways to cook I can see already.

AP: This is, they're making a meal.

ST: On the electric. When we walked in, I saw there was a wood, wood stove.

Nepal Woman: This is an old traditional stove.

AP: Yeah so fire is a god so they worship uh stove, worship fire first and then use other stoves for cooking.

ST: For cooking, yeah. So there was a time when you were only cooking with the wood?

Nepal Woman: Yes, we did not have any other stove before. We used to cook food on a traditional wood stove. We had built a mud stove with chimney here. The stove there was built with the house.

ST: You've never cooked over wood so you'll never know that? Your generation is gas and electricity, right? What's your favorite dish? What's the favorite thing you cook?

Nepal Woman: I mainly cook rice and lentils, and sometimes meat.

ST: That sounds good. Are you doing the same kind of testing and health measurements that we're doing in other places?

AP: Yeah, so we're measuring blood pressure on all main cooks, net health monitoring right so she will measure her blood pressure and we can see the difference.

ST: Do a comparison. Let's go!

Nepal Health Monitor: One hundred twelve by eighty.

ST: One twelve over eighty. That's great.

Health Monitor: Seventy three.

ST: Seventy three, that's great.

AP: So you can see uh she has a blood pressure level of 112 by 80. And yesterday you saw on Sanukanchi she had 148 by 86 or something. The only difference is that she cooks on a clean cook stove LPG by gas or is exposed to less smoke than her. She has only one stove and she has only one stove.

ST: I mean, phenomenal amount of data. This is, you've been doing for this is, it is.

AP: Yeah, so we are measuring you know blood press level on uh 773 main cook.

ST: 773 homes, yeah.

AP: And we also measure the personal level of exposure. One is kitchen area monitoring and another is personal and how much she's exposed to. So this is more evidence-based.

ST: You got a long time ahead of you, many good years.

AP: They’re using this monitor, an air pollution monitor; it’s a light scattering based instrument, technically.

ST: So this is what they put in the kitchens?

AP: Yes, yes. You can see the data is from the kitchen where they use LPG. Thirteen microgram per cubic meter. So it’s very low.

ST: Okay, so we're looking at the time period of what here? Nepal Woman: 24 hours.

AP:There's a huge difference in the air pollution level between houses that use wood stove vs gas. Kitchens that use biogas stoves are also very clean in terms of pollution and also in terms of health.

ST: You know there's a cost piece to this.

AP: Yes, we're also seeing that you know as you saw in the case of Sanukanchi she pays about 400 to 500 rupees per month but what we're seeing is that uh households that use electric cook stove uh it costs about three hundred rupees. And the bigger picture we're trying to show is that governments would intervene and provide some subsidy or incentive for electric cook stove. This also generates revenue, local revenue. You can create a market for an induction stove.

ST: Are these markets springing up places? Are you seeing change in that?

AP: Oh yes, now you know many people, I mean they are an entrepreneur, selling, it's all women, women entrepreneurs.

ST: Perfect. That's awesome.

AP: Yeah, so Scott, this is the store that I was referring to. So she's one of the entrepreneurs. There's also female community health volunteers.

ST: Nice to meet you. Yeah, let's take a look.

AP: Okay.

ST: 80 then 60 to 280. So that up 2000 watts

AP: So you want to cook rice, then you press this rice button, so you're going to boil water, then you press the water button. If you want to fry anything then you can just press this and then you'll get that.

ST: That's beautiful. So how many of these have you sold in your store?

AP: Yeah so overall 60 induction stoves have been sold but she has sold 10.

ST: And how and how much time did that take?

AP: Yeah, within a month.

ST: Wow! That's amazing. Are you seeing that bigger trend in the valley as well?

AP: Yeah, other you know people are buying it yeah from other markets, also other other stores also.

ST: How much would this cost?

AP: 5000 500 Nepali rupees.

ST: So that's about 55 dollars, that's a lot. But you're still selling that many. You know what? Sold! I'll take it. I'll take it today. That's beautiful. Thank you so much. This is gonna be great.

ST: We have something to give you. Electric cooking. Have you seen that before? Should we open it? It's for your pot to sit. Okay, now we plug it to electricity, which Amod will help you get to your house. And it costs less money.

Sanukanchi: I don’t know how to read, but my daughter does. She’ll read about it and teach me how to use it. And there’ll be no smoke. I heard it’s good for our health.

AP: She’s asking if you would like to have tea.

ST: Absolutely, let's have tea! Amod and I went back to the city to wrap up my visit to Nepal. Like many developing countries, Nepal is a traditional society with a culture stretching back centuries. Still, change is coming. LPG use is growing rapidly in the cities and their surrounding areas, as it's doing throughout developing Asia and Africa, where there are refineries to produce the gas and road systems to transport it. In Nepal's more rural areas, where LPG delivery is difficult, there are already half a million biogas systems supported by a government subsidy program. Similar systems could work across the developing world where there's livestock to fuel them and temperate climates to keep them from freezing or drying out. Here and around the world electric-cooker stoves are becoming more popular, where people have access to grid electricity. But there are a few challenges to their broader adoption. When we think of converting to electric induction cooking, is there resistance to this change?

AP: Yeah, still you know when we ask why you're still using it then people say that's it for the test they're like food prepared or the fire for the test. Another thing is that most households have livestock inside their house, so they think that you know the smoke would help you know keep the mosquitoes and flies away.

ST: That transition is going to require more reliable electricity, particularly in the rural areas. Does everybody have electricity in their home?

AP: Yeah not in all areas, because voltage fluctuates and electricity is not reliable and still not reliable in some parts of rural areas.

ST: What makes you the most proud of the work that you've done?

AP: Only 50 households now have only a mud stove, no other secondary stove. We also did a study on who adopted this modern stove. And what we found is that you know if the woman is the head of the family, if she's the main decision maker, we found you know, those households adopting cleaner fuel more than other households where the male is the head of the household. That's what we found, so women, education, and head of the household status, you know these are important determinants. Once we'll have you know all these households using clean fuel, that will be a very proud moment for me.

ST: In Nepal, and everywhere in the world, energy is tied into culture. Education, women's rights, so many issues. As cleaner cooking fuels come to developing countries, they'll bring better health, more convenience, and more time to pursue other things. In some ways they will modernize traditional cultures. Most of those changes will be welcomed.
Switch On Episode 2
Urban Grid Expansion

100 million people move to cities each year, mostly in the developing world– and they often settle in slums. How will governments and utilities battle cartels, corruption and budget shortfalls to supply electricity to these new urban citizens? Dr. Scott Tinker visits Kibera, Africa's largest slum, to look at the challenges to urban grid expansion.

Runtime: 26:46 | Languages: EN

Scott Tinker: How far does the park go?

Speaker 1: It's about four thousand, two hundred kilometers square

ST: Wow.

S1: It's quite big actually.

S1: Wow. The sun is out. Beautiful.

Welcome to the African sunrise

ST: Thank you.

S1: It's different huh?

ST: It's just amazing to have this Savannah so close to the...

S1: To the city. Four a half kilometers away.

ST: I've come to Kenya to learn about expansion of the electric grid. Nairobi, the capital, is rapidly growing, as are cities throughout the developing world. More than 100 million people move to cities each year in search of employment and other opportunities, and many of them settle in slums. In fact, one billion people now live in informal settlements. Governments are striving and often struggling to provide electricity to these new citizens to help improve their lives. Expanding the grid into the slums sounds like it should be easy since existing infrastructure is nearby, but the many unexpected challenges that Kenya Power is facing here trying to electrify Kibera one of Africa's largest slums, are the same faced across the developing world as cities try to expand their electric grids. There are nearly 3 billion people today who still live with little or no energy and what I want to know is how they'll finally get it.
So this is sort of what it was. That's the future.

Speaker 2: That’s the future.

I'm Scott Tinker and I study energy. Come with me around the world to meet people and communities as they ‘Switch On.’
To learn about Kenya Power's initial steps in Kibera, I talked to their Principal Marketing Officer, Jael Mwadiloh.

Jael Mwadiloh: We have people who call themselves cartels. The cartels moved in and they started selling power to their lockers.

ST: So the electricity is illegal.

JM: Yeah, we used to have illegal power. That's why we came in here. We moved in we could not communicate to anybody here because they didn't want to see strangers around. You know they they look at the government security as they are like enemies to them.

ST: Really.

JM: Yeah, yeah.

ST: When was, Jael? What year about was this?

JM: Three or four years ago.

ST: Three or four years ago?

JM: Yeah. it was very difficult for us to convince

the cartels to join us because, you see, they were getting a lot of money. We had to talk to them. We engaged them. We elected them as the village elders.

ST: Did that provide some jobs?

JM: Yeah, we did. We gave them jobs. The elder had to get two teams to come and dig the holes and erect the poles. But our main aim was to change the lives of the people in the settlements, so we made sure that the amount of money we are charging them for every connection is affordable.

ST: How does that work? How do people here pay for electricity?

JM: We have kiosks where you can buy tokens.

ST: Can we go see one of the kiosks?
JM: Yes.

ST: How much does a month of electricity cost in a typical home?

JM: Not much. Maybe a thousand.

ST: So five or ten dollars per month, and can people afford that here?

JM: Yeah, they can.

ST: Hi, how are you?

Speaker 3: I’m okay

ST: So you can sell me a token?

S3: Yes, that one is 2.6 for 100.

ST: 2.6 units, so a dollars worth of electricity

S3: Yes, okay.

ST: Thank you.
Next I met with David Mwaniki, Kenya Power’s Director of Infrastructure.
So I'm looking at the pole that the local people installed, working with Kenya Power right here.

David Mwaniki: So what we are seeing is that each of that cable now goes to a household. Every house has a keypad just like a phone. So once you buy the units you buy, you get a code. You feed into the part.

ST: In your own house.

DM: And it is recorded the number of units. So once you use those units and they are over. Then after that now it switches you off.

ST: So until your house has a unique code and that comes up to this switchbox

DM: Yes.

ST: It gives you that many units of electricity.

DM: And most of the residents don't have a regular income. They buy as they wish. Yeah, they buy as they wish.

ST: Right next to it, mafuta taa, makaa. What does this say Swahili?

DM: Mafuta taa is kerosene. They usually use it, some of them, could use it for lighting, or for the stoves. And also the stoves, also for cooking stoves. And the makaa is actually the charcoal. For each of these containers it’s half a dollar.

ST: So charcoal here we have kerosene there.

DM: Yes.

ST: So this is sort of, what it was, still is, and that's the future.

DM: Yes, that's the future.

ST: So this is a school?

DM: Yeah, it's a nice place to be.

ST: This school has been electrified. Just recently.

DM: We've been able to electrify. We've been able to supply clean energy to the residents here. We improve their quality of life, you know, there are people who are the lower end of the economic scale. There are people, who once they get clean energy, there are a lot of other benefits besides the houses. It's all the public lighting. So the public lighting improves the security, especially for women. It’s very safe, isn't it. Especially the informal businesses, you find most of them are by women. They ensure us that there's more hours of business and increases the incomes at the household level.

ST: So from illegal electricity, no roads, and very little infrastructure, to poles, lines, roads. It's phenomenal

DM: You can see now. It's phenomenal.

ST: Did you grow up with electricity when you were young? Did you have electricity?

DM: No, I didn't. I had no interaction with electricity during my holidays for studying at home we do kerosene lamps. And also in school, it was the same thing. Until I went to high school, actually. That is when I was able to interact with electricity. Like I said, it's just by accident that I became an electrical engineer.

ST: That's perfect.

DM: Yeah, that's a transformation rather, yes.

ST: Yes, but that's the opportunity that these kids will have.

DM: Yes, yes and to serve Kenyans in this capacity, I think to me, it is a good opportunity.

ST: You're the head of infrastructure for all of Kenya Power. It's a big job.

DM: Yes, it is very challenging also.

ST: How much of the electricity, not just here, but broadly across Kenya, is still illegal? How much work is still needed to be done?

DM: What we are seeing is our losses are about like 20 percent. 20 percent of the energy cannot be accounted for.

ST: Only 20 percent?

DM: Only 20 percent.

ST: For an outside perspective, I met with Eric Mwangi, an independent consultant to the Ministry of Energy.
There's a virtuous cycle that can go on: electricity comes, people start to improve their jobs. They make more revenue. They can pay their bills. This is all good. But getting there has a lot of challenges.

Eric Mwangi: That's where the rubber meets the road. So what is the experience of somebody who's just been connected? You know, maybe, you've been using a coal iron, and cooking with firewood or whatever. And you now have an electricity connection, but if that power shorts twice a week, twice a week...

ST: That wood looks pretty good.

EM: Yea, so it damages your appliances. Your fridge now is not working properly. You go back to how you were living before.

ST: Or if I can't pay that electric bill because that costs a lot of money.

EM: The irony is, I mean, if you look at the bottom of the pyramid where you would have affordability issues, the per unit cost of energy is so much higher. Between your kerosene, your firewood, your charcoal-they pay three four times what an upper income family would have. So the best way to reduce the costs is to give them a steady supply. And a reliable supply, and they will change the way they live.

ST: We visited one of the major urban slum areas, Kibera, but starting to see electricity. Tell me a little bit about that. How's that going?

EM: It's a tricky issue because...

ST: Still some illegal line tapping going on?

EM: Lots of that. Lots of that. So you have one connection supporting, you know, multiple homes. Brings up issues of safety. So you do get reports of electrocutions. It brings up issues of great stability because you have overloads, and the infrastructure can’t support the loads that are being put on the network. Again, it gets to a point where it becomes a part of the communal understanding of, “This is how we live.” So it becomes very difficult now. Several years later to say, “Well, you've not really been paying for this connection,” or “You've been paying, but you've not been paying the utility...”

ST: Yeah yeah.

EM: “for the connection.” And that's still a big sticking point.

ST: Well thanks for meeting me this morning.
You grew up here your whole life, huh?

William Opiyo: Yeah, my whole life.

ST: William Opiyo is one of the local leaders that Kenya Power identified to help install power lines and connect residents to the token system so they could buy electricity from Kenya Power. This is one of your crew?

WO: Yeah, yeah.

ST: But when I visited, they were removing the cartel's power tabs. Where did they learn how to do this?

WO: Here in Kibera.

ST: Here in Kibera?

WO: Yes.

ST: Here he goes. So that's a Kenya Power box?

WO: Yes.

ST: So he would be removing illegal connection?

WO: Yes. And the cartels found that we have erected poles, we want to remove them from the power.

ST: Yeah.

WO: They started chopping the droppers, so that they can fix their power.

ST: So Kenya Power put in the poles and brought legal electricity, and then the cartels said, “No, we'll tap into it with drops.”

WO: Yeah

ST: Illegally. Can we see one of those here or not? Can you point to the illegal wire? Can I tell which one it is?

WO: I can see.

ST: Which one?

WO: That one is illegal connection.

ST: Which one are we looking at? Right here? Okay.

WO: That one is illegal connection. Even that one.

ST: And this one. So there's still a lot of illegal connections.

WO: Yes.

ST: Is it half illegal? Or more or less?

WO: More.
ST: More than half is illegal?

WO: Yeah, yeah.

ST: Still? Okay, and the reason that's still there? Like why doesn't somebody go take it down?

WO: Somebody?

ST: Who? Who would do it?

WO: We are the one who we are supposed to do it.

ST: You?

WO: Yes, to remove all illegal connections. They told us that they don't have money to pay us, so that we can do this work.

ST: So let me make sure I understand. The partnership was there for a little while, using you and a local team.

WO: They are still using, but they are not paying us.

ST: That's a good deal. So what do the people feel about that? If we were to go in and ask somebody, what do you think about the cartel, or Kenya Power, what would they say? Do they know?

WO: They want token, but Kenya Power, they didn't do enough job for people to enjoy power.

ST: Okay, so it started, but it didn't finish.

WO: Yeah, yeah.

ST: Wow.
So William, these are homes?

WO: Yeah, there are eight.

ST: Eight homes and families within each one.

WO: They are using illegal connection.

ST: All stolen.
Hello, I’m Scott.

Dominic: Dominic

ST: Dominic, it's nice to meet you. Thanks for letting us come into your home today and visit.

D: Yeah.

ST: I can see you use a lot of electricity. What's this? What's this right here?

D: But it is not completed.

ST: What is it?

WO: They removed all sockets, so that he can use for illegal connections.

ST: Oh this was Kenya Power’s. And it's empty? And this is the illegal?

WO: Yeah, illegal.

ST: Have you ever had an electrical accident? Like you got shocked?

D: Oh yes.
ST: Yes?

D: Oh yes.
ST: So it’s not very safe?

D: It’s dangerous.

ST: You're laughing because it's scary.

WO: Even now he's using, up you see.

ST: Oh I see. Yes, that looks pretty scary. Those are all wires hooked up into aluminum roof.

WO: If you remove that wire, the light will go off because he's using a live wire from the pole. Yeah, yeah.

ST: Okay. I mean, tell me, what happens with illegal power like that. What are the concerns?

WO: You know, the cartels used to take a live wire only.

ST: Live wires.

WO: There is no neutral. So they put neutral under the ground.

ST: Okay, so there's a hot wire coming off

WO: Yes.

ST: That’s got to have killed people.

WO: Yeah, yeah. So many people are dying because of that. Even dogs, cats, children.

ST: Children. So when it rains, everything is metal

WO: Yeah. Even this house. You touch this house...

ST: Boom.

WO: Yes.

ST: Wow. How long would it take if, let's say, Kenya Power came in and said, “Alright William, get your team go remove all the illegal power in Kibera.” How long would that take?

WO: Three months.

ST: Three months?
WO: Yes.

ST: Wow.
You just were up on this pole. What were you doing up there?

Speaker 4: Up there, I have been found there is two meters. They have been disconnected, and they get them back to the normal way.

ST: Back to tokens.

S4: To tokens, yeah.

ST: I'm trying to understand the relationship between the cartel and Kenya Power. Is there pressure from the cartel on Kenya Power?

S4: There's pressure on both sides. If you can see cartels, you know these people will stay together. Some of them were in the neighborhood.

ST: Right.

S4: Don't you see?
ST: Yes.

S4: And yet somebody like me, I can’t come out because I'm working within the KPLC. And I can come out to go to disconnect the illegal connections.

ST: Right. Does that put you at risk?

S4: Yeah, it's too risky. You see the cartels, they organize themselves, they come together. Like now, the way we are now. You're just walking through your work. You just come in between the crowd of people with the pangas, knives, sharp objects. You see, they start now beating you. And yet you are unaware. You see? So from there even you can go to the office. You can even find there is a record there.

ST: RIght.

S4: Even especially, our boss. There is even a day that he has been threatened. Even can be even shoot by a gun. Yeah, it's even a day we have been staying to his home overnight day and night. Taking care of him because of the cartels. They say that they will come to attack him overnight.

ST: What do you think the apartments and the businesses want? Do they have to work with a cartel because they're scared? Or would they prefer to get their power from Kenya Power?

S4: You can find some DC drop in tokens, of the tokens come to a house like this one. You can see cartel come with a panga, they cut it off. So if you cut it off, he come to the patient and ask, “Do you see now, you don't have electricity?” “Don't you see your neighbor's electricity?” “Why don't you come to me?” “Forget about Kenya Power.” “Use this one.” “Mine is always on.”

ST: So this is a battle between cartel and Kenya Power

S4: And Kenya Power and house.

ST: And you're stuck in the middle?

S4: Yeah. And you see the challenges with this.

ST: You grew up here in Kibera?

S4: I was born in Kibera. Up to date, I'm still here. Got three kids. If I can talk even in front of God, I don't have a single cent in my pocket. I don't know even know what I'm going to eat for lunch. Do you see that's a very big challenge? And yet we work with a very big company. Kenya Power company.

ST: When was the last time you were paid?

S4: Payment of us. The last repayment was last year, May.

ST: In May.

S4: And up to date, can you imagine that?

ST: Seven months without pay.

S4: Seven months without payment. We have hours to rent. Still now, I have almost about 16, 000 house rent. If I don't have all that money to pay down I’ll be kicked off.

ST: With your family. Three kids.

S4: With my family. You see now? Maybe you can be our good guys, who can go there talk for us. Ask them, what was the reason why.

ST: We'll do what we can to help.
Had these workers really not been paid in seven months? I went to see Geoffrey Kigen, Kenya Power’s Head of Security Services, to try to find out.
Hello, how are you? Geoffrey, thanks. We visited with David and Jael a couple days ago in Kibera. It was very positive. We went back today to visit again. Many of the boxes on the poles had been tapped around and so the cartel had come back with some illegal connections and so we wanted to come visit with you and make sure we just understood your perspective on that.

Geoffrey Kigen: There's a cartel that when we connected people legally, we push them out of business, and, unfortunately, they're coming back because they want to gain from power connections. So they force you not to use the legal power.

ST: The people there.

GK: The people there. Because actually they control the villagers anyway, so then anything good that comes to the slum, including water, including every other..

ST: All the services.

GK: Specifically have to be coordinated by them, so then we have agents those villages, village headman, or the cartels, I’m very careful using that word ‘cartels.’ So then they become appointed people in those slums

ST: People on the inside.

GK: We want to have agents out of these people to be our casual contractors. For them to earn a commission for safe power connections to ensure that everybody is connected or rather is consuming power- the legal power- as opposed to the other one in their area. In the areas they control the more people you bring on board, and the more revenue that comes, the more the commission.

ST: You know, we were just there this morning, and there was a group of 15 or so young men that went with us. They were our security but they were also, or at least in the past, they had been people working on commission, or on contract for KPL, and they were the ones taking out illegal connections and putting in the legal, but they said that progress has slowed a lot. They aren't able to do that as much. Are you familiar with their efforts?

GK: Yeah, I think, that was a small amount, number of people. We have more than four hundred thousand connections.

ST: Oh wow. Okay.

GK: Within those illegal, rather informal, settlements across.

ST: 400,000 connections in Kibera alone?

GK: Not Kibera alone, all the slums, or other informal settlements, within Nairobi there are several.

ST: So four or five people per connection, that's a couple million people.

GK: Yes, and that is why I was saying the commission is not a small fee because if all of them will actually consume and agree on a percentage, it will be a reasonable amount for them to be able to assist us.

ST: Yeah, it seemed like there was almost a two steps forward, all the things went in, and then one step back. And now you're trying to take another two steps forward.

GK: Bring it back. The reason why we moved in and invested what was invested there was to ensure they have that safe power. Then of course revenue comes as a result.

ST: Yeah, a win-win-win. When do you plan to begin this new next phase? Is that starting to happen now?

GK: Yeah, that is something that is currently under discussion. You see it's a new phenomenon. We thought we had directly eradicated the problem, but I think the surveillance bit, maybe we dropped the ball somewhere. So we want to pick it up yeah again so then now we counter that problem before it takes something back to zero.

ST: Geoffrey, thanks I appreciate our visit.

GK: Thank you so much.

ST: So what exactly is going on here? I'm still not sure I figured it out, but I think it’s something like this: Informal settlements, like Kibera, lack formal government or utilities, so informal governments- cartels- spring up to provide and sell those utilities like water or stolen electricity. Kenya Power paid the cartels to put power lines on cartel turf.

JM: We had to talk to them. We engaged them. We elected them as the village elders.

ST: If I understand it right, those new village elders were part of the cartels and may still have some connection to them. But working with them has allowed Kenya Power- outsiders- to sell electricity in Kibera to people who were once the cartel's customers.

GK: When we connected people legally, we push them out of business, and they're coming back.

ST: The cartels then cut those connections and use Kenya Power's grid system to sell Kenya Power's electricity for their own profit.

WO: That one is illegal connection

ST: Which one are you looking at?

WO: That one.
ST: Right here.

WO: Without communication cable, that is illegal connection.

ST: For Kenya Power, it was a double cross. For the cartels, it was smart business. For Kibera residents, instead of paying by the token for safe electricity, they pay the cartels a flat rate.
I can see you use a lot of electricity.
But at the risk of electrocution from unsafe connections.
I mean that's got to have killed people

WO: Yeah, yeah. So many people are dying.

ST: This leaves local leaders and their crews somewhere in the middle, they got paid by Kenya Power to install the lines. Now they're removing the cartel's connections and getting threatened for it

S4: You see, the cartels they organize themselves. They come together with the pangas, knives, sharp objects. You see, they start now beating you.

ST: Though I had to wonder who was installing the cartel's connections. Could they be paying the crews with the gear and expertise, who now aren't getting paid by Kenya Power? Does the cartel pay you to keep those there?

WO: No, no, no, no, they don't pay me. I was being paid by Kenya Power to remove illegal connections.

ST: So now you’re not paid at all.
So what is Kenya Power to do? Do they push in and pay local crews to disconnect all the cartel connections? And, if so, how will the cartels respond? What needs to happen for the illegal electricity to go away?

WO: Kenya Power must come strongly to support us.

ST: Or does Kenya Power charge the cartels for the electricity going into the slum and let them worry about selling it to residents? Or cut off electricity to the Kibera lines to cut their losses.

DM: Our losses are about like twenty percent. Twenty percent of the energy cannot be accounted for.

ST: How will the residents cope if these struggles make electricity more expensive? Or more dangerous? Or less available? These are all important questions for any government, or utility trying to distribute electricity to the one billion people now living in slums around the world. The infrastructure will be the easy part. Minimizing corruption and working with local power structures and residents in culturally effective ways to forge a lasting win-win for all involved, those are the real challenges.
Switch On Episode 3
Developing on Coal

Nearly every country developed on coal, and the developing world is following suit because coal is cheap, local and easy to use. Affordable coal electricity is helping lift these countries out of poverty, but at local and global environmental costs. Dr. Scott Tinker travels to Vietnam to see the benefits and challenges of developing on coal.

Runtime: 23:20 | Languages: EN

Scott Tinker: Nearly every developed country developed on coal. The UK, the US, Germany, China, and dozens of others used coal to power their industrial revolutions and later their electric grids. And coal still provides much if not most of their electricity. Today many developing nations are following a similar path, juggling the energy benefits of coal with its environmental impacts.
Vietnam is in the midst of a coal revolution. I went there to get a better understanding of the benefits and challenges for countries developing on coal.
There are nearly 3 billion people today who still live with little or no energy and what I want to know is how they'll finally get it.
So this is sort of what it was, that's the future.

David Mwaniki: That’s the future.


ST: I'm Scott Tinker and I study energy. Come with me around the world to meet people and communities as they ‘Switch On.’
Vietnam began by developing a manufacturing economy as many countries have. My first stop was to visit Viet Than Ho, the CEO of Garco, one of Vietnam's largest clothing makers.
Wow! This is amazing! How many people work in your group?

Viet Than Ho: Under our management group of Garco-10 group, we have 12,000 workers.

ST: That's just...

VTH: And every year we are making around 30 million units.

ST: 30 million units!

VTH: Which were for 66 countries.

ST: 66 different countries?

VTH: Yes, in the world.

ST: I'm feeling a little underdressed with my field shirt. Do you think I might be able to pick out a new shirt?

VTH: Why not? So maybe we should go to formalwear. Yeah, I think this one maybe.

ST: This one?

VTH: Yes! It's good? You can try this one.

ST: I’ll try it.

VTH: Yeah, you can try it.

ST: Alright.

VTH: You are too big.

ST: Right from the factory.

VTH: Oh it fits your body.

ST: It does?
VTH: Yeah.

ST: You did good.

A manufacturing economy requires two things. A large population eager for jobs, and a lot of energy to help them do their work.
With all these machines you use a lot of electricity. How much electricity do you use every month? Or what's your electric bill?

VTH: Our main production costs, the first one is salary for the worker. The second one is fuel. Like coal, like oil.

ST: Oh really?

VTH: And the last one is the electricity

ST: So if the costs of energy go up: electricity, oil, and coal, your production costs go up.

VTH: Right.

ST: Tell me a little bit about the manufacturing in Vietnam. How many other companies do what you do?

VTH: For last year, garment and textile industry spent 36.1 billion US dollars.

ST: 36 billion from the garments alone?

VTH: yeah for the garment section.

ST: Wow. So manufacturing and particularly garments is really critical to Vietnam's economy

VTH: Yes

ST: Very impressive.

VTH: Thank you very much


ST: Besides people and energy, a manufacturing economy requires shipping and ports to bring in raw materials and send out finished goods to the rest of the world. Both of which rely on diesel fuel. I went to one of North Vietnam's largest ports to meet their director.
This is awesome.

Port Director: Yes. This is called a crane.

PD: Yeah, a crane.

ST: How many are in your port?

PD: Totally we have 14.

ST: 14. They're picking one up.

PD: Yes, now they start loading the cargo on the ship.

ST: Tell me a little bit about the people who work here. How many people work here and where do they come from?

PD: We have more than 800

ST: 800 people?

PD: Yeah, 800.

ST: Does the port run all the time?

PD: Yeah, all the time. We have no holidays.

ST: No holiday. That's a lot of employment. In terms of Vietnam's economy. How important has the growth in shipping been?

PD: If we don't have a shipping line, we have no work because the shipping line they serve all the factories in the north of Vietnam.

ST: Let's say if I were to come here 20 years ago. What would this look like?

PD: Nothing here.

ST: Nothing here? 20 years ago?

PD: Yes.

ST: I mean, I can't see the end of it when I look that way. And I can't see the end of it that way.

PD: Yeah.

ST: This has all been here in the last ten years.

PD: Yes. Ten years.

ST: You must use a lot of energy here.

PD: We have so many equipment here, but before we use DSN energy. Now we mostly we changed to electric.

ST: Mostly electric?

PD: Yeah like RTGs and now they use electric.

ST: These are electric?

PD: Yes.

ST: How about the big cranes out on the porch?

PD: Also.

ST: So they're running on electric motors. So obviously energy prices affect your operation.

PD: Yeah.

ST: If the cost of energy went up a lot, you have a whole different business model.
To better understand the country's electricity needs, I went to talk to Binh Van Doan, Director of Vietnam's Institute for Energy.
The economy in Vietnam is growing very rapidly. It's a huge need for electricity.

Binh Van Doan: Development of power energy plays a big and crucial role to economic growth of Vietnam. On average the growth rate of electricity consumption increased by 11% per year during the last 15 years. So during the last 7 years, for every year period the scale of electricity in Vietnam doubles.


ST: To learn more about how Vietnam will meet its rapidly growing energy demands, I visited Hang Ngyuen, the Manager of Clean Air and Energy at Green ID. There's a lot of construction going on over here. In fact, there's a big jackhammer down here knocking things down.

Hang Ngyuen: We are standing in front of a building and this is really a kind of typical image of Vietnam now with a lot of new construction.

ST: Tell me a little bit about Green ID.

NH: Green ID. Green Innovation and Development Center is a local NGO. We are working to promote sustainable energy development in Vietnam. In the past until now, hydropower is the main source. But from now until 2030 coal will be the main source, accounting for 40% in terms of capacity and more than 50% in terms of hcc generation.

ST: Why is that? Why not keep hydro?

HN: It's just because hydropower potential in Vietnam is just used up.

ST: We've built all the dams that could be built, so you have to have something else.

HN: Yeah, I think coal played an important role so far in our electrification process. Of course it provides power for the economy and for people. For more than 30 years, Vietnam has experience with coal power development. That means our human resources are familiar with coal, so it's easier for them to develop them in the future.

ST: I went to meet some of these “human resources” miners and other coal industry workers and their families, who live in the mining towns of North Vietnam and support a large network of businesses and services. Hanoi journalist, Andy Nguyen joined me.

Andy Nguyen: I was born in this province.

ST: You were?

AN: Yeah, in 1976. And I grew up in a small town exactly the same this town, and almost all families there have one, two or even three members working for coal mines or our port where they export coal to foreign countries. My father, my mother, my older brother, my sister-in-law, all of them are working for this industry.

ST: It's the foundational income and it just makes the rest of town work.

AN: The main benefits, the main income came from coal mine.

ST: So if coal goes away, a lot of this economy goes away.

AN: It will be a serious issue. I don't know, but it will be tough for the local people.


ST: I went with Andy to one of the area's coal mines to get a closer look. How far do we go?

AN: We will travel around two kilometers.

ST: I was amazed by the sheer number of people going down into and coming out of the mine. Thousands of miners across three shifts, keeping the mine working 24-hours a day.
We're about 15 meters below sea level now.
Any nation developing on coal needs a large workforce like this that has experience or can be trained to do the job. They also need a lot of coal. And there are usable coal resources in many countries around the world. Those are called cleats, coal cleats.

Speaker 1: Gold, black gold.

ST: Wow, that's about as good as it gets. Pliable.

AN: The coal here is high quality.

ST: Yes, it is. Yes, it is. There it is. Alright. It's wet, it's a slurry. Yeah, that's pretty finely ground. How long has this mine been operating?

S1: 68 years

ST: How much does someone who works here make? What's their income?

AN: On average more than 10 million per month.

ST: Eight hour shifts. It's about two dollars an hour. Which would be fifty thousand. Fifty thousand per hour. So that's good living and that's steady work. Did your father work in this business?

S1: Yes.

ST: Yes. He did.

S1: My father, my grandfather also.

ST: Really, so he's third generation.

AN: For 15 years.

My grandfather my father and now...

ST: Here you are. Coal mining here and everywhere is hard work and can be dangerous, but in Vietnam, it's a highly regarded industry that has brought employment to tens of thousands of people. Coal that won't be used to generate electricity in this region, leaves the mines of North Vietnam by a rail network, which passes through the coal towns on the way of the coast. Here the coal will be moved from coal yards to barges, all also employing more workers.

AN: This is a port where the ships come to transport the coal. This is his ship.

ST: That's your ship?
Bye-bye. Alright, good luck.


AN: The coal comes here from different coal mines and this port for transporting coal to different provinces.

ST: They take it down the coast back to rivers onto trains and then to coal plants and make electricity.

AN: Not only coal plants, cement, vitamins, different kind of factories, which need coal.

ST: Here's one loaded and they cover it right down to two feet within the water line. Isn't that something?
Countries developing on coal will use a lot of it. Meaning it's vital to construct and maintain a large and wide-ranging coal transportation system like the one they've built here.
Back in Hanoi, I talked to energy analysts Ngo To Nhien and An Ha Truong,

An Ha Truong: Any government who want to have energy development, they should balance between the three pillars: energy security, the energy equity, and the environmental sustainability. So we are doing quite well at the moment, but in the future the energy security might be a little bit threatened because of the limited resource. If we need to import coal, that could be a real challenge in the future.

BVD: Presently, we need 60 million tons of coal each year. Vietnam can produce 45 million tons of coal and import 15 million tons. But in the future, Vietnam will need to import more coal and it would be roughly ⅔ of total coal demand for power generation.

ST: So this coal I see is coming in on the conveyor. Where does it come from?

AN: The coal comes from a coal mine four kilometers away from here. By the belt's system, four kilometers.

ST: On the conveyor belt?

AN: Yeah, open conveyor belt

ST: This new power plant is burning local coal, but they plan to build 50 more just like it, which is what will turn Vietnam into a coal importer. And there are other challenges. So where are we now?

AN: Master control room, the power plant.

ST: And so these guys, they're basically measuring what? He's looking at the ash. And this guy is doing something different? Oh the water system. The cooling system. So everybody has a different job. Coal has many advantages. One of the challenges is just the air quality, the particulates and the ash. So how do we fix that?

Speaker 2: There are two main challenges. The first is emission of SO2.

AN: So we do. We are using limestone powder to burn with coal to reduce.

ST: To get the sulfur.

AN: And the ash. The second challenge is the ash. This is a conveyor system to transport ash from the power plant to this area to store the ash.

ST: Is this all ash behind us?

AN: 20 acres. Around 5 million cubic meters of ash.

HN: At this moment, not in the past, but at this moment coal power has more disadvantages than advantages. We see that coal is a source of environmental pollution including- air pollution, water pollution, and also soil pollution. I had a chance to visit coal powered areas. And I witnessed impacts of coal dust in this area. It takes time for people to understand the risk.

ST: Yes.

HN: And when they understand the risk, it's too late.

ST: I went to a town just downwind from the coal power plant to get their impressions of the local air pollution.
Does everybody you know have electricity?

Speaker 3: Yes, of course. In Vietnam, we have it even in the mountains. We’ve had it since we were born.

AN: Yes, of course. When I was born I had electricity, my family had electricity.

ST: So you work in a business, the coal business, which is your life. And that business puts pollution. Do you see that as a conflict?

AN: No, she works for a railway company.

ST: No, but these guys work in coal, and the whole community is based on coal. But it makes the environment… So how do you change that? There's some ideas here. What's going on?

AN: The dust, the dust. It does not come from the coal mine.

ST: Yeah.

AN: It comes from the thermal power plant.

ST: From the plant?

AN: Yeah, you see the white dust in the air?

ST: In the U.S. on the coal plants, we have scrubbers that scrub this out before it goes up.

S3: We have the technology, but the quality is not good.

ST: It makes it more expensive. What are some of the other challenges in the community?

Speaker 4: Except for poor air quality, it’s perfect.

ST: So you don't want you don't want coal to go away?

S4: Coal is the life of the community so we cannot leave it immediately.

ST: If Vietnam wanted to switch from coal what could they do instead? I talked to the local experts about electricity alternatives and their challenges.

BVD: Although we consider coal to be the backbone of Vietnam energy industry, we also think about importing LNG to run gas power plants. The gas power plant can start and stop the generator very quickly, so it can balance the intermittency of renewable energies, which are unstable sources, such as solar and wind power, to ensure the power system can operate constantly. Vietnam has good potential to develop solar energy especially in the central region and south. However, one drawback of generating solar power is its demand for a large land area. Vietnam is a densely populated country, so land use is competitive with other kinds of production. Therefore, solar power development has certain limitations.

ST: What do you think about the public perception? What do they think about the energy situation here?

Ngo To Nhien: There are some people who have a good knowledge when they are talking about the environment and clean energy.

ST: Yes.

NTN: But most of the people in Vietnam, they want to have cheap.

AHT: The consumers they are very sensitive to any change in the price of electricity. For example, when the government announced that the electricity price will be increased by 8%, for example, so people are taking up very quickly.

ST: Right right

BVD: We are aware that coal-fired power releases emissions such as CO2 to the environment, which is an issue, not only in Vietnam, but all over the world. However, it’s competitive in price compared to other sources of energy, other sources of power. Coal power costs about 6 to 7 cents per kilowatt hour. Solar power costs 9 to 10 cents. Wind power is about 11 to 12 cents. Gas power costs around 13 to 14 cents. Therefore, we made a decision based on the lowest margin cost, the most affordable is selected first.

ST: Coal is cheap and local, at least in the beginning, and provides millions of jobs, not just in the coal and power industries, but all the other industries that depend on it. Coal allows a country to lift itself out of poverty and increase the standard of living with all its citizens, often by making the affordable products that the rest of the world buys. But like all benefits these come at a cost- local pollution. And the global issue of CO2 emissions. Because it's cheap and local and established, China, India, Vietnam and many other developing nations, mostly in Asia, plan to continue to expand their coal use in the coming decades. If developed nations want to help them reduce their air pollution and CO2 emissions in our one shared atmosphere, we could help them develop on some other energy source. Coal alternatives that are more accessible, reliable, and affordable are topics for a future film.
Switch On Episode 4
Off-Grid Energy Solutions

1 billion people still live without electricity, mostly in rural areas where the power grid doesn't reach. Dr. Scott Tinker goes to rural Kenya, to see how micro solar solutions– sold by local entrepreneurs, paid for with mobile phone banking– can bring light for literacy, water for farming, and cultural connection to off-grid families.

Runtime: 15:36 | Languages: EN


Scott Tinker: Across the developing world, governments and utility companies are working to expand the grid to provide electricity the one billion people still don't have it. This is mostly happening in and around rapidly growing cities where populations are dense, and existing infrastructure can be extended. Still for many, often rural, customers, grid electricity is unavailable or unaffordable. They need off-grid energy solutions.
There are nearly three billion people today who still live with little or no energy, and what I want to know is how they'll finally get it.
So this is, sort of, what it was. That's the future.
I'm Scott Tinker and I study energy. Come with me around the world to meet people and communities as they ‘Switch On’.
So you told me when we were driving here this morning you saw giraffes. In the Maasai territories of Kenya, I met with Isaiah, a Maasai tribesmen who's also a traveling salesman.
So we're standing under power lines right now, which I didn't expect.

Isaiah: Yeah, this was a government project, but there is no power supply to the community here. To take the electricity from this place to the homes there will take time. It will be a little bit costly.

ST: I asked Kenyan Energy Consultant Elsie Mbugua about the country's rural electrification efforts. The grid is really extending quickly.
What percentage of the country actually gets access to the grid now?

Elsie Mbugua: You know, depending on who you talk to you might be between the 50 and 70 percent range. That's significant from where we were even a decade ago.

ST: It's crazy

EM: Yeah, most of the grid passes through the, sort of, the central part of the country. I would say much of the northern part of the country and western parts of the country a lot more needs to be done. In many ways we have limited resources within government and so you have to be very thoughtful about where you're putting your money.

ST: Often this means that bringing electricity to the most remote areas becomes a lower priority.
Isaiah works for M-KOPA, a Kenyan company stepping in to provide electricity where the grid does not.

Isaiah: And they are listening to the M-KOPA Radio, and they are saying it's very good because it is portable and it has a very clear sound.

ST: That's perfect. And they get good reception here.

I: Yes, and they get the news of what is happening all over the world. As well, they have the light, so they light the house. They have kids who go to school. So the light is helping the kids do their homework in the evening.

ST: Right. Isaiah, you were raised in this community.

I: Yes.

ST: You went to school here.

I: Yes.

ST: Did you have any electricity in school or home?

I: Not at all. No we didn't have any.

ST: So this is really changing lives?

I: This one is automatically changing our life and it is putting us to another standard.

ST: Yeah, that's interesting.

EM: What we're currently seeing at the moment is there's a significant number of startups. Young very bright entrepreneurs who've come to resolve and actually get people who are not connected to the grid access to power.

ST: Companies like M-KOPA hire young locals who know the area culture and language to sell home solar systems. Isaiah and I were here to install it.
Nice to meet you. Well we should probably get started. We got the kit.
These home solar systems consist of a battery that's powered by a small solar panel on the roof. It can charge a portable radio, flashlight, or cell phone, run some low wattage LEDs in the house. Even run a very efficient TV.
In Nairobi, I met with M-KOPA’s Director of Marketing, Pauline Githugu.

Pauline Githugu: We have about 200 staff who are within the call center.

ST: 200.

PG: Yeah, and the basic activity here is to support our customers, making sure he knows that it's you know on credit. He knows how to pay for it, and then we switch it on.

ST: Young people.

PG: Yes, I'd say our average age here is probably 28 maybe even younger within the call center. The payment for this is done by mobile money.

ST: So that comes through a mobile network?

PG: Yes, that comes through a mobile network. So this device has a SIM card, so it operates like a mobile phone. Say I want to pay 50 cents today. I'll go to the phone and I will pay M-KOPA, okay? And once it recognizes that, M-KOPA sends a message to the customer on this device that you now have one day of credit.

ST: So there's mobile technology that's allowing all of this transaction to happen.

PG: Absolutely. Yes, yes.

I: Hello, so I can activate it now. Okay.

ST: Showtime. So we count to three. Three, two, one.

I: You think that it is very good?

ST: Oh yes. Congratulations.

I: They are very happy.

ST: Wonderful. This doesn't look like something I want to drink, Pauline.

PG: No it's not, so these are a representation of just how much kerosene a family would use if they were not using a M-KOPA device. So these are 365 bottles, which is just about about the same amount of time a customer needs to pay off for one of our products. So you can imagine this is all they inhale for close to a year and for many years.

ST: Right. They had to spend money on this too.

PG: Yes, so it's actually a displacement product. So instead of paying for this, then you now pay for clean energy that you eventually own and don't have to pay for at the end of it.

ST: So this is it. If you don't have the ability to use your phone and pay, you don't do this.

PG: No, you can't do this.

ST: This is the heart of this. Is this something that Kenya, M-KOPA, and others can share and export to the world?

PG: Absolutely! I think this is something that we've proved can really work, but it is really predicated on the existence of a good mobile network.

EM: It's phenomenal that you have technology that allows people who did not have access to financial services to finally be able to pay for their goods. That's a game changer. That means kids can actually study in areas where that would not have been possible before. It's sort of the dynamic. It's a domino effect that that touches on every aspect of people's lives.

ST: These home solar systems won't run a stove or refrigerator, but they bring light for reading and connection to the outside world to change lives at a cost that off-grid customers can afford. And cost is a significant concern. Though the grid already reaches this rural neighborhood outside Nairobi, farmer John Cadenda has found an energy solution that works better for his finances and needs.

John Kidenda: And then I have the tomatoes, which requires a lot of attention.

ST: Would all of this grow with natural rainfall or do you have to use more water?

JK: Nothing. You get nothing.

ST: Really, it wouldn't grow at all?

JK: You know the next rain we expect here is in March.

ST: It's january now.

JK: We are in January.

ST: So you have to irrigate.

JK: I have to irrigate.

ST: How does the water get from your system to the plants?

JK: I could get a solar system that has a pump that has solar power, and this being Sub-Saharan Africa that to me was key where I can just use the solar energy, which is available like 365 days a year. I've been having the pump for the last four months and there's no single day I've not had sun.

ST: Really?

JK: I've never used an electric pump because what I do I have a tank and I just pump water to the tank. And if it's in the evening I want to do sprinkling, I just put on and it works.

ST: So you're pumping water to a tank

JK: Yes

ST: It's elevated, and then when you need it

JK: I just use it.

ST: You use gravity.

JK: Here we have the solar panel.

ST: What's the capacity of these?

JK: 80 watts each so total of 160 watts.

ST: What does a system like this cost?

JK: You give them a deposit of $100, they supply you the equipment. So what you're supposed to do after that is you pay $45 a month, for the next 12 months. And the system is all yours. And what I get from the farm, I can comfortably pay the $45.

ST: Okay, so your costs are covered here by what you get every month.

JK: Comfortably, comfortably.

ST: That's fantastic.
Samir Ibrahim is the American-educated, Silicon Valley-style entrepreneur, who started SunCulture that built John's system.

Samir Ibrahim: Most farmers in Africa live off-grid, and they live in rural areas like this. They make up two-thirds of the workforce. Farmers make money in two ways- they either sell their crops, or they sell milk from their livestock. Both of those two things need water, but rain is unpredictable, undependable. It leaves them one bad rainy season away from being completely wiped out. Where most farmers use these buckets and they fill buckets up from a water source, which is either on their farm or nearby. And they fill it up with 20 liters of water.

ST: 50 pounds.

SI: And they're lulling it around for the domestic needs for their agriculture needs, and it's heavy. 70% of the of the farmers in Africa are women

ST: Yeah.

SI: Our farmers actually tell us that the woman of the household spends over 17 hours a week lifting weights for their livelihood.

ST: Yeah.
Whoa it's way down there.

JK: It’s really deep. We hand dug it.

ST: So how deep is the water itself? It looks like the top of the water is at least 10 feet.

JK: It should be more than 50 feet deep the whole way

ST: 50 feet?

JK: 50 feet, yeah. So it's really deep.

ST: So you got a lot of water in here.

JK: I pump the whole day. I have the water all year round also.

ST: Wow.

JK: Initially I used to pull the water manually with a bucket and a rope. That was really tough.

ST: So can you do this without a well like this? Is it possible?

JK: To farm? No. If it's possible then you have to tell me the seasons. When you have the rinse, and you know what that means? You'll have it at the same time with everyone.

ST: Right.

JK: So the market you all meet at the market.

ST: Too much supply, no demand.

JK: Now I can just time when I want to plant or even harvest. I can play with the market- the demand and supply.

SI: In Africa, we have 60% of the world's unused farmable land.

ST: Of the world's unused?

SI: Of the world's unused farmable land. We're the only continent when we talk about water scarcity, it's not a physical water scarcity, it's an economic water scarcity. People just can't afford to pull the water up, so this is good for five acres, and most farmers here have just about two. When you think about selling water pumps, you have to be very careful to not over spec because we have precious resources underground.

JK: We are very food insecure, and the reason is we've not made farming profitable, and I think that's why the food production systems are failing in Africa. We don't have youth engaged in farming. The average age of the farmer is increasing. You find that up to 50 year olds are the ones doing the farming. You need to cut on overhead costs. One of it is the energy consumption like now, if you're using electricity or diesel to pump your water, definitely that would be very expensive. If you want to make the farming profitable, the youth will not walk away from it.

SI: Africa only contributes to about 15% of global agriculture output and is projected to import 100 billion dollars of food in the next 20 years. My dream is to prove this out in a way where we get dozens of companies doing this with hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of acres under irrigation, with modular energy management services and a system so that people can plug in other appliances. And that people have the choice of what they do. I mean, we're very fortunate, we can choose what we do, when we use power, when we take a shower, when we watch TV. We want to give people that choice. We want to give people that freedom. I think it has to do with energy. I think it has to do with connectivity.

ST: Sure.

SI: But I think it's giving people the freedom to choose how they do, what they do, and when they do it. And I think that we can get there. Not only across Kenya, but across Africa and around the world. I think in five years, we'll have picked up steam.

JK: What I just do now, I just place it to a location I want it to pump and it's a simple setup.

ST: You just physically connect it in the pump? It starts when the sprinkler goes?

JK: Yes, Are you ready?

ST: I'm ready, yeah. Let's sprinkle. Yeah, I can hear it.

JK: There you have it.

ST: Wow, that's spraying! I mean, it's spraying far.

JK: Yes, and I think what would be good is for me to get four sprinklers at the same time.

ST: Now you're thinking big.

JK: Yes!

ST: Across the developing world, several things are coming together to make small solar energy systems possible. Inexpensive solar panels, LED lighting and small electronics and appliances that keep getting cheaper are more efficient. Mobile phones and electronic banking that allow payment of microloans, and tech startups that want to combine them to serve off-grid customers. Wherever there's plentiful sun, these things are making home solar systems affordable and available, and they'll help millions of people begin to experience the benefits of energy.

I: This is a very nice country today.

ST: Yeah, that's beautiful.
Switch On Episode 5
Hydropower in Africa

Many countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America aim to build hydroelectric projects, large and small, to bring electricity to their growing cities and power their economies. Join Dr. Scott Tinker in Ethiopia, at the construction site of Africa’s largest dam, to understand the key issues of building hydro here and across the developing world.

Runtime: 23:19 | Languages: EN

Scott Tinker: One billion people live in Africa. Less than half of them have electricity. Most of that comes from hydroelectric dams. Many African nations have large river systems, and so, like many countries have done in Europe and the Americas, they began their energy development by building dams. This started in the late 1950s, continues to this day, and will continue into the future, since Africa has only begun to tap its vast hydro potential. To understand the benefits and challenges of building these new projects, I went to see the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Africa's newest and biggest. The issues they're managing here will be the same ones other countries navigate as they develop hydropower.

ST: There are nearly 3 billion people today who still live with little or no energy and what I want to know is how they'll finally get it. So this is sort of what it was, and that's the future. I'm Scott Tinker and I study energy. Come with me around the world to meet people and communities as they Switch On.

ST: Kifle Horo is an engineer working for Ethiopia Electric Power on this and other dams for 30 years. He's now the manager of this entire project. Kifle, this is unbelievable.

Kifle Horo: Yeah, it's a big job.

ST: I mean, this wall just goes forever, you can hardly see the other end.

KH: Yeah it's so nearly 5.2 kilometers, maybe 3.6 3.8 miles.

ST: And this is not the main dam.

KH: This is not the main dam. It's the second dam.

ST: Right, the long one but not the

KH: The long one, not the tall one.

ST: So we're on the upstream side where it's going to fill, let's go look at the other side of the dam. The downstream. So we're at the top of the spillway.

KH: Gate to the spillway, will be automatically controlled depending on the inflow.

ST: This is called the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance. Why renaissance? What does that mean?

KH: Ethiopia was great some centuries ago, that's why we call it a renaissance. Coming back to our greatness. So we have two powerhouses. We have 10 units here and six units there. The total intended capacity is around 6.3 gigawatts.

ST: So that's six or seven nuclear reactors.

KH: Exactly this is a big plot.

ST: Why is Ethiopia building this dam? Because, like most African countries, its energy demands are rising and that's because its cities and industry are growing. Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, looks like any big U.S. city. In fact, it has a bigger population than all of them, except New York. But this is not unique to Ethiopia. In countries across Africa, cities are growing. Across Latin America and especially across developing Asia, it's happening too. 150 million people move to cities each year. Almost half the people in the developing world already live in urban centers. By 2050, it will be closer to 70 percent. The future of the developing world is urban. Meeting the huge energy demands of these densely populated urban centers will be a great challenge. And in Ethiopia, like much of Africa, hydro will play an important role. I met with Dr. Sileshi Bekele, Ethiopia's minister of water and energy. How was the damn, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, how was that conceived?

Sileshi Bekele: Well, the grand and you know cascade of dams is a Blue Nile that has been in the tow since the 1960s. The US spirit of reclamation identified these sites in Ethiopian Blue Nile gorge. The construction started in 2010.

ST: It's a big investment, GERD, I've read, some five billion dollars plus or minus. How was that financing put in place and where does it stand today?

SB: The financing is purely by people in the government of Ethiopia. People buy bonds, and also provide gifts to the construction of the dam. So you can say all walks of life really contribute to the dam.

ST: So no external funds? SB: No external funds.

ST: I read that you had a vision in the government: 100 percent electricity by 2024 I think I read by 2025, yes. Are we still on track for that?

SB: Yeah there is a grid expansion, that grid expansion brings energy from the grid from GERD and other previous dams. Recently we completed our national electrification program where through that kind of approach you can only reach 70 percent of the country. So GERD plays very seriously in the overall economic growth of the country and the well-being of the people.

ST: Financing the dam and distributing its electricity are two of the biggest challenges in any hydropower project. And not everyone agrees on how to solve them. I met with Rudo Sanyanga from International Rivers, an anti-dam advocacy group.

Rudo Sanyanga: One of the biggest challenges is that they are very expensive, for the countries they are in debt, the countries for generations. Secondly, Africa needs energy right now. These dams take long. Most of the electricity goes to industry and to urban centers, leaving out the majority who in Africa tend to live in the rural areas. Africa needs other energy options because grid electricity will not breach the energy poverty.

ST: Interesting. These things are really expensive, especially big ones. How are they financed? What's the process there to say we're going to build a 5 billion dam. How are we going to get the money?

RS: The money is from loans.
ST: From loans.

RS: The World Bank, following the world commission on dams had stopped funding large hydro. The Chinese came in to take that space.

ST: This Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, is it better or worse than the typical project or the same?

RS: I’ve heard African governments kind of actually admiring the courage, if I may use the term, yeah that Ethiopia took. You know you didn't need that outside um support to go ahead and knowingly that it's slated at 4.8 and I think 1.8 is coming from China.

ST: 1.8 billion?

RS: To build the dam. But nobody talks about that 1.8, it's like they're raising everything right within Ethiopia.

ST: In many African countries, China has traded infrastructure funding for mineral rights which could lead to conflict in the future. Chinese involvement in these projects is an important question. I had heard someone say that there were Chinese workers here or is that true?

Sileshi Bekele: There is one contract which we recently gave to a Chinese company. The main contractor is actually an Italian, yeah. You see at the site at peak time we have around 10,000 local people. 10,000 local workers and it ranges from semi-skilled to skilled professionals. And that's where we have around 200 to 300 expatriates.

ST: I see, okay. To get an outside perspective on the dam's financing, I called the Reuters Africa Bureau but they hadn't heard anything about Chinese funding. Wow, this is, the scale of this is just crazy. What's the capacity of one of these?

SB: One generator is 400 megawatts.

ST: 400 and that's 24/7 365. That's always on if you want it on.

SB: Yes. ST: That's crazy! And there's 16 of these in this whole facility?

ST: How much water, just ballpark, is moving through this?

SB: 350, 330 meter cube.

ST: 350 cubic meters every second. Unbelievable. I did learn that one Ethiopian contractor had been fired and charged with fraud, another challenge in this kind of project. But overall, I had a very positive impression of the dam and its construction team. What is this dam, how will that contribute to lifting up Ethiopia economically?

SB: The country is leading toward industrialization. Well agricultural based industrialization. So for industry, having reliable and cheap electricity backbone.

ST: We've seen some small villages here that are probably unelectrified, I would think. Cooking inside with wood and other things.

SB: So the government has an aggressive program to electrify the country as well.

ST: So you'll be able to provide electricity to citizens of Ethiopia.

SB: And also we are connected to the neighboring countries we are building a big transmission line with a capacity of over one thousand megawatts to Kenya, which will be even to be connected to the southern African grid.

ST: Right.

SB: That's not only for Ethiopia, I think it's the pride for Africans, as well not to Ethiopians alone.

ST: Yeah, for all of Africa. However, like any dam on a river that crosses borders, this one has challenges with international politics. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam sits on the Blue Nile, upstream of both Sudan and Egypt. While those countries have built their own dams, Egypt in particular is worried about Ethiopia using and controlling the Nile's headwaters.

Mohammed Morsi: If the Nile river's water decreases by a single drop, then our blood is the alternative.

RS: We've got a political crisis now with the Nile and it dates back when the Nile treaty was signed. Being sponsored by the British. Giving Egypt and Sudan exclusive rights to the water. Then the Nile countries formed their own, in the last decade, they formed their own grouping and came up with their own agreement and they are basically saying we don't recognize this colonial treaty. We also have a right to, to the Nile. And Ethiopia rightly says so. We have all this water and you can't deny us use of this water.

ST: At the University of Addis Ababa Dr. Yacob Arsano is an Ethiopian hydropolitics expert. So what does the dam allow Ethiopia to do with the water currently? The water that Ethiopia can keep and use and what it will have to release down through Sudan and to Egypt, is there a plan for that yet?

Dr. Yacob Arsano: There's a lot of rainfall in Ethiopia from June to September, so that is the time the dam gets filled. The filling will take uh between five and seven years and there is also a provision that if there are drought years, then the filling of the dam does not take place. Egypt does not really want big projects in the upstream. But actually, on this dam, Egyptians are much much more conciliatory because Egypt and Ethiopia have been negotiating through a panel of experts between, you know, leaders of the governments of the three countries.

ST: Right, so there are plans in place to sell that electricity.

YA: Yes, oh yes oh yes.

ST: It's an exciting opportunity. The electricity, the revenue from that electricity, that's a big thing and that maybe encouraged some of these.

YA: Yes, yes. You know this water must be thought to be owned by everybody in the basin which means the water is shared. But how to do this, they have to work together on it from an economic point of view, from an environmental point of view, from political point of view, from all points of view.

ST: Kiya Gizahenge is one of Dr. Arsano’s graduate students studying Ethiopian public opinion of the dam. Does it change the status of Ethiopia then? Does it make Ethiopia more prominent?

Kiya Gizahenge: Among the regions, yeah because we are selling electricity to Kenya and Sudan and we are using the river which was not possible for centuries and no other upstream countries have been able to do that.

ST: Now it'll make a lot of electricity when it's completed. What do the people think will happen with that electricity?

KG: So as you know, like there are a lot of electric power cuts even in Addis, so that's what people want.

ST: We've had a couple in our hotel.

KG: Exactly. So it has been common nowadays tough power cuts uh even in the capital, so later on in the other parts, so be it through this dam or other hydroelectric dams, people need it.

ST: So when you're visiting with the people what are their perceptions of the dam?

KG: So it depends on who you talk to. When the construction of the dam started people were not so enthusiastic about the dam.

ST: So at first they didn't trust the government, just another big project.

KG: If you go closer to the dam, they didn't, they were not even aware that there was a dam being used.

ST: The people that live nearby?

KG: In the valley, but then later on the involvement of Egypt uh the fact that the president threatened war against Ethiopia and everything became a national issue. It was a threat to
the nation. So people started drifting from looking at the dam from political propaganda to a national project.

ST: And people started to say ‘This is our water, this is our silt and our soil’.

KG: But what was interesting, from our research, was most of the people we interviewed were not focused on that. They were more focused on how this can bring the nation together and how uh us as a generation, we can build a legacy.

ST: Talk a little bit about what your experience is, when you started working on these it was a good thing.

RS: Yes it was a good thing. I was working for the national parks department of Zimbabwe and working on Lake Kariba. As you know, when Kariba was built it was the world's largest dam. I was very proud to be like part of that whole system and what men had created but then I started visiting the fishing camps. Most of them were the residents of what they called the Gwembe Valley which was flooded by Lake Kariba. And they used to grow their crops and live in that valley but when the dam was filled they were moved off the valley to higher ground but that higher ground is very desert-like, semi-arid. The soils are not good for agriculture and people were struggling.

ST: So their way of life before depended on the river. They didn't have electricity or energy but they weren't in poverty because they used the resources of the river.

RS: In the best of cases that we have, people have been compensated for lost assets, right, but they've not been compensated for livelihood loss. And they we find over and over again, three four years down the line, people are struggling to survive.

ST: Back at the damn site, I talked to Abraham Fisseha, an Ethiopian journalist who's written about the several thousand people who are being displaced by this project. We're sitting here on the upstream side of the GERD. In a few years we would be under about 140 meters of water and there used to be people that lived here in this area and they're going to be displaced as this fills. How did they live?

Abraham Fisseha: It was a very primitive way of living. Sometimes they are dependent on fishing, but no farm, no other activities. The real location is to give them a better life. They have never been to school, they have no access to clean water, so now with relocating them, schools are open, clinics are open. So at least, at the minimum, they have access.

ST: Are many of these part of your family?

Ethiopian Patriarch: This is my whole family. I’m blessed to be able to sit with all of them.

ST: So your life is very different now.

Ethiopian Patriarch: We used to live in the bush. We knew nothing of the outside world. Now our children go to school. Wives get medication. Babies get vaccines. I swear to God, my life was completely different. I’d never seen a car, a road. I feel myself blessed.

AF: As a journalist when I was talking to them, even they have never seen a police force or a judge or a newsletter in their life. Now they are coming to a modernization, they start talking about justice, they start talking about medicine. Now they are having those things. I'm not saying that it's enough, but there is a difference from the previous life to the current one.

ST: So the electricity, which will come to this pole, comes from the new dam. Your little boy will be able to go to school now.

Ethiopian Mother: I’d be very happy to see my children read and write.

ST: I hardly got a complete picture of these people during my afternoon at the village but they, like most Ethiopians I met, seemed enthusiastic for change and hopeful for a more modern future. As you think about Ethiopia and its future, 10, 20 maybe even 50 years down the road, how do you see that playing out?

AF: We like to see more schools, more clinics, more infrastructure, and we like to see more students going to school.

ST: Absolutely.

AF: That is what is the wish of the Ethiopian people.

ST: So this project has the potential to really change that landscape.

AF: It has already changed the life of Ethiopians because we have small dams here and there. That has already shown yes how it changed the life of people. So with this mega project definitely there will be a big change.

ST: Keep reading.

SB: Without electricity, transformation of economy and coming out of poverty is impossible. So energy is everything, basically. Therefore to improve the livelihood of people you need reliable and sufficient energy. So GERD really adds a lot of value in that within European context.

RS: Africa needs energy. We can't totally rule out that hundred percent of dams are not good but they have to be properly selected, designed, so that they have minimal impacts and the beneficiaries of that dam should be the people who need it most.

ST: Since I visited, Ethiopia is nearing completion of the dam and nearing an agreement with Egypt on the schedule to fill its reservoir. An important step for hydropolitics throughout Africa as water and energy demands continue to grow. There will surely be more challenges in this and other African hydropower projects but I got the feeling that the people and their leaders are ready to meet.
Switch On Episode 6
Building Solar Microgrids Part 1

For hundreds of thousands of off-grid villages around the world, building their own solar-powered microgrid may be the fastest way to get electricity. The Arhuaco tribe in remote Colombia has asked a solar nonprofit for help. Dr. Scott Tinker joins them to learn what it takes to plan, fund and build a solar microgrid far off the beaten path.

Runtime: 21:42 | Languages: EN

Scott Tinker: One billion people today have limited access to electricity that's unreliable, unaffordable, or unsafe. Another one billion people have no electricity at all. Most of them live in remote areas so far off the electric grid that it won't be coming to them any time soon. These are people like the Arhuaco, a tribal nation in Northern Colombia. Most Arhuacos live on small family farms in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. They come down once a week to trade goods and see friends. They've lived this way for many centuries since before the Spanish arrived in Colombia. They grow their own food, make their own clothes, and still speak their own language, Ikʉ. They've never had electricity and still don't, except in a handful of villages like Sabana Crespo, where a couple of years ago the Solar Electric Light Fund or SELF installed a solar microgrid.

ST: There are nearly 3 billion people today who still live with little or no energy. And what I want to know, is how they'll finally get it. So this is sort of what it was, and that's the future. I'm Scott Tinker and I study energy. Come with me around the world to meet people and communities as they Switch On.

Robert Freling: This is the central array here, 12 and a half kilowatts of solar power, and it’s now changed the lives of this community

ST: Yeah, how did you discover Sabana Crespo and get involved in this village?

RF: Well it all happened when Danilo Villafañe, a leader of the Arhuaco people, came to Washington DC and requested our support to come in and bring solar power to his and several other villages here in the Sierra Nevada mountains in Northern Columbia.

ST: That is a remarkably rapid transformation for indigenous people to make though right?

RF: It's true, not everybody in the world wants this. We would never go and impose our solutions on a community that has not invited us. For example, they have asked us not to
to bring power to their homes.

ST: So this array, this micro grid, is powering more of the community center type thing?

RF: Correct. This is all for community-based needs.

ST: Of the many non-profits building solar micro grids, Solar Electric Light Fund is one of the leaders. They've installed more than a hundred in developing communities using an aid based model which has several key steps. First, a community requests the system. Then a donor funds the equipment. Next SELF installs it and teaches the community to manage it. Finally the community raises money to maintain and replace the system when needed. And that's the plan here, too. The solar micro grid powers lights in the school and health center and on the streets at night. It also helps power the community store and their coffee operations, the only crop they trade with outsiders. Both of these will help pay for replacement of the battery solar panels or other equipment as it wears out. Steve McCarney is SELF’s project manager for Latin America.

Steve McCarney: This project had another component and that has to do with sustainability.

RF: We recognize that if we were to power everything with solar energy it was going to take a lot and we were trying to minimize the use of batteries.

ST: I’m just, my head's going to other options, renewable options, of course you got this beautiful river here.

SM: Yeah, the hydro was the technical solution and a day we came in here they said ‘no hydro’.

RF: The elders of the village, the Mamos, decided that it wasn't in conformity with some of the spiritual values that they hold sacred. Apparently one of the intake pipes from the hydro plant was going to cut through sacred waters. And so they basically nixed the whole plan and it forced us to reevaluate our solutions going forward.

ST: So cultural components play pretty large in probably everything you've done around the world, I would think, in different ways.

RF: Yeah and especially with a group like the Arhuaco, they take their cultural values very seriously. And if they say no, that's pretty much the final answer.

SM: So the need is here. It can't be met by hydro under the current belief, but everywhere in the seven villages, solar was a reliable option.

ST: Yeah, yeah, so what's the size of, in terms of people, the human population, we've seen a lot of folks coming in and out of this village, how many does it serve?

RF: The catchment area for this village is approximately 17,000 people.

ST: 17,000 people! So your 12 and a half kilowatt microarray, and some smaller ones around, is actually servicing a community of 17,000.

RF: You've seen what a little bit of energy can do, right? We think about a few watts, or a few thousand watts, in the United States, it's nothing. But a few thousand watts of energy make all the difference in the world.

ST: I wanted to visit one of the families living in the catchment area, to see what life looks like without modern energy of any kind. The Arhuacos took me to the farm of one of their tribal elders. He lives here with his wife and daughters, their husbands, and lots of grandkids. Using farming methods passed down over centuries, the Arhuacos grow what they need. So this feeds everybody. What is this? For grinding. All right, here we go! Everything here is produced with manual labor. This press is their only machine. What did we make, sugar cane? Is good? That's good, I wouldn't drink it every night, but it's pretty good. I think he's done this before, look at that. That's good! This looks like a pretty good life, but it's a hard life. Infant mortality rate is 50%. Except for subsistence farming, there are few opportunities to do anything else. And so, many of their young people are leaving to look for work in the outside world. Arhuaco elders have realized that, to keep their communities intact, they need electricity, but in a way that's appropriate for their culture. When it gets dark here, there's no light but fire, so I needed to leave too. I had a long walk ahead of me, and on it, I decided we would partner with SELF to install a solar micro grid.

ST: Steve and his wife, Osi McCarney, an operations manager for SELF in Colombia, took us to Gunchukwa, an Arhuaco village on the other side of the mountain. Here my son Derek and Doug Ratcliff, both from our own non-profit the Switch Energy Alliance, would go through an Arhuaco cleansing ritual in their sacred waters. Osi showed us how it's done. These are democratic societies led by elders, like the one i'd met at his farm, and spiritual leaders called Mamos. Thank you for welcoming us to your village and we appreciate very much the nice ceremony that we went through this morning. It's very meaningful to us and we want to extend our respect back to you.

Osi McCarney: They want to have a communication with us about what are the reasons that we are here. And what they would like for us to bring.

ST: We are in a partnership with SELF and Switch, so our interest is to understand your needs. And if you have a need for electricity, in a way that we could help you, we would like to learn that. But only to the extent that you want it. And we would work with you to bring electricity to your village and work with you to teach you how to maintain.

ST: Here as in Sabana Crespo the Arhuacos decided they did not want electricity in their homes, to preserve their traditional way of life, but they wanted lights and fans in the village meeting hall and communal kitchen and a street light in the square. All to encourage community gatherings. And they wanted a refrigerator in their store to sell cold drinks and popsicles, a real luxury here, which would help fund the upkeep of the solar microgrid. We promised to help provide it, but first, we needed someone to fund the equipment. Just 100 miles from the Arhuaco tribal reserve is the modern port city of Santa Marta Colombia. We went there to an energy conference to try to find support for our solar installation. Our plan was to spread the message to as many people as we could. Alright! I love it when a plan comes together.

Derek Tinker: 30 pounds of magnets. Here we go!

ST: Some in Spanish, that's good. To try to raise funds for the microgrid, we met with executives from Ecopetrol, the Columbia national oil company. So we came to Ecuador and Colombia in January this year and partnered with SELF to electrify part of a village and we made a commitment to try to come back.

Ecopetrol Executive: This is a part of the responsibility of the companies who are involved in the energy industry, to try to bring prosperity to those communities.

ST: It's just the participation in something that's here, but global. Things were looking good. He set us up with their vice president of sustainability.

Eduardo Uribe: In essence, let me make sure I understand. In essence, what the product of your organization would be communications about a project with alternative sources of energy. Help me to understand why an oil company would do this and how will we benefit from it? Yeah, that’s the question I have.

ST: So oil companies like us, because we don't try to make anybody look like a winner and a loser, we try to make energy a winner, okay and feature it for all that it is. And at the end of the day people walk away from our educational materials and say ‘Ah I think I understand things that I never understood before’.

EU: And how do people, how will people know that we have participated? Because I have to go and tell people this story. Because, in essence, a private company, we have shareholders you have to explain every dime we spend. So we have to make sure we are very careful with that. That's why I have to think about it carefully and talk about it inside my company.

ST: Yeah, we'd love to work with you.

EU: Thank you, no I would too, let me think about it a little more.

ST: It was pretty apparent this wasn't going to happen. This is not their kind of energy and their Arhuacos are not their customers. I understand their position, but still, it was disappointing. But we weren't ready to give up. What other resources could we tap into? There were lots of excited young geologists at the conference. We asked a few of them if they might like to help with our solar microgrid project. One of the things we'd like to talk about is whether or not younger people, you all count, are interested in that?

Young Geologist: I think that it would be kind of something bad for those people. Because I mean, they've lived that way for hundreds of years and that's the way they live, so it depends on what the energy would be used for.

DT: My observation, when we were in the village, with the Arhuacos, I agree I think that the people there seemed content you know and it was interesting to me because I expected to I didn't know what poverty was, but now they are seeing their young people leave the village and one of their leaders said we're losing sight of our culture and we need to do our best to teach our community about what it means to be Arhuaco. And we need energy in order to help build that.

ST: Yeah, it's tough to say is it a good thing or a bad thing, it's hard to qualify that. I mean have you seen some of that, Mayra?

Mayra Vargas: I mean if they have electricity there with solar panels, they will remain sustainable. I think it will bring quality to their life actually.

ST: If we come back here and can bring electricity to a village is it something you'd like to join us and do? Would you like to come with us and do that?

MV: Certainly, I would really like to do that.

ST: Put on the work clothes with shovels and wrenches and wires in our hands, putting up solar panels.

MV: I would really like to do that.

ST: The older executives may not have been able to help but these young professionals were ready to volunteer their time. And that inspired us to make it happen. It took us a year, but we finally organized and raised some funds for our return trip to Gunchukwa. People and equipment converged from the tiny village of Pueblo Bello, the end of the pavement before the road heads into the jungle.

OM: So everybody that is going to pull is up, right?

ST: We asked our friends at REC Solar, who you may remember from our first film, Switch, to donate the solar panels.

OM: Yay another one!

ST: The panels don't make electricity at night, which is when the Arhuacos need it most. And during the day, their output is inefficient in morning and evening and intermittent if there's cloud cover. This means that every solar micro grid must have a large battery system capable of storing a few days worth of energy. Since we had limited funding, my wife and I bought this one ourselves. The batteries were made in China, shipped to LA, trucked to Ohio for testing, then trucked again to Miami. There they joined the solar panels which had made a similar trip from Singapore, for another boat ride to Barranquilla, Colombia. From there they pass through three different trucks and finally into ours.

SM: Well I guess we got over the first challenge, there'll be a few more.

ST: To install the solar micro grid our team of 17 people had made a long journey themselves. All our students and young professionals, Steve and Osi from SELF, all of us from Switch, were volunteers. As we made the four hour drive into the jungle, I was struck by how much energy, diesel fuel, jet fuel, and gasoline it had taken to get everything here. And how much money. The equipment and provisions cost more than fifty thousand dollars. If we had to pay for the volunteers and their transportation, it could be over one hundred thousand. A solar micro grid, it turns out, is a macro project. It would take a similar commitment, people, resources to bring a solar microgrid to any one of hundreds of thousands of rural villages around the world like Gunchukwa. But we would focus on just this one.
Switch On Episode 7
Building Solar Microgrids Part 2

Join Dr. Scott Tinker, Solar Electric Light Fund and a team of volunteers as they return to the jungles of Colombia to build a solar microgrid– as utilities, nonprofits and entrepreneurs are doing across the developing world. With the help of the Arhuaco villagers, for the first time ever this remote community will have the power to Switch On.

Runtime: 25:26 | Languages: EN

Scott Tinker: After assembling a team and procuring the equipment we had come back to the tiny Arhuaco village of Gunchukwa to build the solar microgrid, as we had promised on our visit last year. Before we could begin, the Arhuacos invited our volunteers to also go through the cleansing ritual in their sacred river.

Volunteer: So we are going to put this one one on the right.

ST: There are nearly 3 billion people today who still live with little or no energy. And what I want to know is how they'll finally get it. So this is sort of what it was, that's the future. I'm Scott Tinker and I study energy. Come with me around the world to meet people and communities as they Switch On. It takes a lot of expertise to build a solar microgrid, especially in very remote areas. Fortunately, Steve from Solar Electric Light Fund has spent his entire career doing exactly this.

Steve McCarney: We do want to start off as square as we can.

ST: He planned every step of the install and would train the team as we went along. He had accounted for, and Derek had procured and shipped, every part. The boards to build the concrete foundations, the screws to hold them together and the tools to build them. These included a few power tools and in their fully charged batteries, we even brought in electricity. Even with all our preparation, on day one, we hit our first hurdle. The frames for the solar panels weren't made correctly. You know, see if there's a drill bit this size we can just tap a little bit of a new hole in there. You know what it might be, this one is uh yeah those are pretty close actually.

SM: What if you board those two out that you're mating right there and board them out and give a little on each side.

ST: I could, that’s the one, all right buddy here we go. Once we had re-drilled the holes for all the brackets we discovered some of the braces were the wrong length. This is weird too, these are all 35 this one's 30. Look we have two more holes here then you could shorten this one and make it like this, yep, and then we could do that but this is what they did right there. Yeah or we can take them all apart and these are a pain to put together but, and you can see where they messed up. They’re multiple holes, multiple holes in those.

SM: How difficult would it be to get everything to be 35?

ST: We could do it. We could do it.

Derek Tinker: Yeah we have plenty of batteries.

ST: That one is easy to make a 35 because it already has one of the holes correct. When we get the second bracket, because we have to get another little L bracket, then we'll have to drill a new hole but that could be done. And then the one that's a 30 over there would need two new holes. And then I don't know what you got here, the one that's out you were already measuring, what are those down there?

SM: That one was a mix. It was a 30 and a 35.

ST: Without our files and power tools this small challenge could easily have derailed the entire project. Instead, some of us reworked the frames while others took advantage of the wet earth to dig the foundations.

SM: It's a good idea to have that big piece of wood over there because if you level point to point you don't know what's happening over there so we want to level all the way across. Let's go with that, that'll be good. We got just a couple more nails to put in on this side. These guys are anxious to try this all right. Right now we should be about an inch off.

DT: Yep, we are.

SM: We've got a pretty good line, we've got a little this distance here to do adjustments so we're off to a pretty good start. I think with that and the sunset coming let's call it a day. Good work everybody!

ST: See how we do. 103 and a half.

DT: oh that's even better, actually.

ST: One of our few hired professionals was a mason to prepare the concrete and pour the foundations. The grid part of a solar micro grid is the wiring that runs underground from the solar panels to the battery and between the huts. For this, the Arhuaco farmers brought their own skill set and the stamina to dig hundreds of feet of trenches for the conduit. The village had built a small hut to house the battery, which given its weight, would require its own foundation. A great couple of days I think nobody's backs are broken yet, but we're getting close. We were thinking about what we could do and thought we'd leave a little momento for the future. We thought we'd leave it for the distant future. So what we're going to do before we pour the last concrete mold, is we have a time capsule. And this says ‘For our friends, the wonderful people of Gunchukwa, from your friends at Switch and SELF’. And then you sign your name. Sign it here and we put it in here and it goes in the concrete and the concrete goes all around. So it'll be there for 10,000 years for somebody to find. Grab that in, let's put this in for all time, there we go! This is perfect sun, no trees, great clearing. As long as we don't get the goats doing the tango on these things. First panel! It's good!

SM: You're just getting them in these spots, so these two already here then this one looks like it's gonna need to be loosened.

Volunteer: We got 36.8 ,so we got a 35.5.

SM: Yep, the voltage goes down as it heats up. If you come out here in an hour that voltage will have dropped and that's what we expect.

Volunteer: Hey Steve, we got 34.4.

SM: Okay, so what's going to happen is all those voltages are going to add up to something now over 100 volts dc. Which is something to be respected.

ST: All right!

SM: All right! We got a kilowatt in here. Three kilowatts.

ST: Congratulations! At last we had the panels installed but this was just the first step.

SM: Okay now i'm going to just pull it all through.

ST: While we finished wiring them, the Arhuacos built a fence to separate the now electrified equipment from children and animals. With the conduit trenches dug, we were ready to place the light for the village square in its foundation. The Arhuacos had turned a tree into this light post. The green tropical hardwood was nearly as heavy as steel. This was something the Arhuacos wanted to encourage communal gatherings. It's fitting that it took a community to lift it into place.

DT: I always wanted to be a brace.

ST: Right down the chute. After we ran the conduit and wiring between the buildings we had to run it within them.

SM: Essentially what we're doing is we're protecting the wiring from kids, animals, because animals do like to chew and tubing is going to encase the wiring.

ST: Steve showed us how to install the lights in every hut.

SM: When you buy the light, you get this. So what we did was built these up on flat pieces of pressure treated wood that the termites won't eat and all you need to do is get it about as good as you can. Not like that, but more like down. That's pretty flat right there yeah that looks like it. Alright, I'm gonna let go and i'm gonna come back with some more stuff for you guys. A lot of electricity is about bringing the power to the load, which is the lights, and then switches are what interrupt that power. If you make a bad connection. It's just like a switch, it just breaks that continuity and then nothing happens and then you don't know is it that connection is it that connection? One error here means checking sometimes five or six places, which really sets the whole group back especially if it's Friday night and the goats cooking and you're trying to figure out why your circuit isn't lighting and everyone else is.

ST: They can put a little glue on there and then. I'll stand up here in the middle and pray. Perfect. Come on, here we go. I hear it. I think it passed, yeah it passed through, you should feel it too. Yes yes!

SM: We spoke a lot about sustainability and the achilles heel to all of these mini grid systems is the battery. So the more times the light gets used, the more time the ceiling fans are running, the bigger the battery has to be. And the harder it is then to raise the funds to replace the battery when the time comes.

ST: This refrigerator is what the Arhuacos plan to use to raise those funds. They hope to sell enough cold drinks and popsicles over the next eight to ten years to raise the ten to fifteen thousand dollars for the replacement battery.

Osi McCarney: It’s very exciting that, you know, everything is going as planned. It's the only place where they will find cold juice.

DT: That's a big fridge. That's better than my fridge.

ST: That's a lot better than your fridge. The battery equipment is technologically complex and when fully charged, dangerous, so we needed more professionals to make sure it was installed correctly. The battery will store electricity made by the panels when there's good sun, then distribute it over the microgrid when the Arhuacos need power. Which could be at night or when it's raining.

SM: This is the inverter, it converts the 24 volt dc battery into 120 volt ac electricity just like we have back in the states. Clean, smooth, continuous. May it be used well. This is as professional a battery rack as you can use really in these small systems. This is really top quality industrial stuff. And we got it because it's a lead acid battery, it's technology is pretty well known and it's very safe in use compared to let's say some of the new coming technologies that have some flammability issues. So it should be a nice clean battery and at the end of its life, all the lead can be recycled so we're trying to do our part to keep the environment clean. Good work fellas! As a battery, that's as pretty as they get.

ST: The battery is certainly the biggest challenge of the solar micro grid, but it's also what makes it possible.

SM: This is in place.

ST: Solar micro grids are being built in off-grid villages around the world by non-profits like SELF, for-profits that lease them to communities, and government utilities when they're a faster solution than stringing power lines. They may not make enough power for energy-intensive needs, like small businesses, but they can provide people communication and connection through cell phones, radios, and tv. And bring light to encourage literacy, security, and community. Solar micro grids are allowing off-grid communities like this one to take their first steps into the modern era. Tonight we would turn the lights on for the first time ever in Gunchukwa. The village prepared for a celebration. Meanwhile, our Colombian professionals taught the young village leaders how to maintain the battery. This is very foreign technology for them, but from now on, they'll be the ones responsible for their electricity systems. It was Friday night and the goat was cooking and it was time to see if everybody got their connections right. So we gathered everyone in the village square to turn the lights on, together. It's a very exciting time. A year ago we came as strangers to Gunchukwa. Today we are here as friends. You have taught us patience and balance with nature and we have brought you electricity and light. We trust in your wisdom and the wisdom of your mammos to use it very wisely. And we look forward to being with you in the future. And now we're going to count backwards from five .We will say five four three two one light, together. We will do it very loudly. Are you ready? In espanol and english, ready. Five! Four! Three! Two! One! Light!
Switch On
Join Dr. Scott Tinker on an amazing global adventure to remote corners of Africa, Asia and Latin America to meet leaders, entrepreneurs and everyday citizens working to eradicate 'energy poverty' in their countries. In a journey that's enlightening and emotional, uplifting and unforgettable, Switch On will change the way you look at energy and the developing world forever.
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Scott Tinker, Chairman

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Termination/Access Restriction

SEA reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to terminate your access to the Site and the related services or any portion thereof at any time, without notice. To the maximum extent permitted by law, this agreement is governed by the laws of the State of Texas and you hereby consent to the exclusive jurisdiction and venue of courts in Texas in all disputes arising out of or relating to the use of the Site. Use of the Site is unauthorized in any jurisdiction that does not give effect to all provisions of these Terms, including, without limitation, this section.

You agree that no joint venture, partnership, employment, or agency relationship exists between you and SEA as a result of this agreement or use of the Site. SEA's performance of this agreement is subject to existing laws and legal process, and nothing contained in this agreement is in derogation of SEA's right to comply with governmental, court and law enforcement requests or requirements relating to your use of the Site or information provided to or gathered by SEA with respect to such use. If any part of this agreement is determined to be invalid or unenforceable pursuant to applicable law including, but not limited to, the warranty disclaimers and liability limitations set forth above, then the invalid or unenforceable provision will be deemed superseded by a valid, enforceable provision that most closely matches the intent of the original provision and the remainder of the agreement shall continue in effect.

Unless otherwise specified herein, this agreement constitutes the entire agreement between the user and SEA with respect to the Site and it supersedes all prior or contemporaneous communications and proposals, whether electronic, oral or written, between the user and SEA with respect to the Site. A printed version of this agreement and of any notice given in electronic form shall be admissible in judicial or administrative proceedings based upon or relating to this agreement to the same extent and subject to the same conditions as other business documents and records originally generated and maintained in printed form. It is the express wish to the parties that this agreement and all related documents be written in English.

Changes to Terms

SEA reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to change the Terms under which the Site is offered. The most current version of the Terms will supersede all previous versions. SEA encourages you to periodically review the Terms to stay informed of our updates.

Contact Us

SEA welcomes your questions or comments regarding the Terms:

Switch Energy Alliance
10900 Stonelake Boulevard, Building 2, Suite 100
Austin, TX 78759

Email Address:


Effective as of January 01, 2020

Privacy Policy

Protecting your private information is our priority. This Statement of Privacy applies to www.switchon.org and Switch Energy Alliance and governs data collection and usage. For the purposes of this Privacy Policy, unless otherwise noted, all references to Switch Energy Alliance include www.switchon.org and SEA. The SEA website is a energy education site. By using the SEA website, you consent to the data practices described in this statement.

Collection of your Personal Information

In order to better provide you with products and services offered on our Site, SEA may collect personally identifiable information, such as your:

  • First and Last Name
  • Email Address

Please keep in mind that if you directly disclose personally identifiable information or personally sensitive data through SEA’s public message boards, this information may be collected and used by others.

We do not collect any personal information about you unless you voluntarily provide it to us. However, you may be required to provide certain personal information to us when you elect to use certain products or services available on the Site. These may include: (a) registering for an account on our Site; (b) entering a sweepstakes or contest sponsored by us or one of our partners; (c) signing up for special offers from selected third parties; (d) sending us an email message; (e) submitting your credit card or other payment information when ordering and purchasing products and services on our Site. To wit, we will use your information for, but not limited to, communicating with you in relation to services and/or products you have requested from us. We also may gather additional personal or non-personal information in the future.

Use of your Personal Information

SEA collects and uses your personal information to operate its website(s) and deliver the services you have requested.

SEA may also use your personally identifiable information to inform you of other products or services available from SEA and its affiliates.

Sharing Information with Third Parties

SEA does not sell, rent or lease its user lists to third parties.

SEA may share data with trusted partners to help perform statistical analysis, send you email, provide user support, or arrange for deliveries. All such third parties are prohibited from using your personal information except to provide these services to SEA, and they are required to maintain the confidentiality of your information.

SEA may disclose your personal information, without notice, if required to do so by law or in the good faith belief that such action is necessary to: (a) conform to the edicts of the law or comply with legal process served on SEA or the site; (b) protect and defend the rights or property of SEA; and/or (c) act under exigent circumstances to protect the personal safety of users of SEA, or the public.

Tracking User Behavior

SEA may keep track of the websites and pages our users visit within SEA, in order to determine what SEA services are the most popular. This data is used to deliver customized content to users whose behavior indicates that they are interested in a particular subject area. Collected data is never sold or used for advertising purposes.

Automatically Collected Information

Information we automatically collect when visiting an SEA website includes the follows:

  • IP address
  • Location and timezone information
  • Device information
  • Web browser information
  • Page view statistics
  • Video view statistics
  • Browsing history
  • Usage information
  • Cookies and other tracking technologies (e.g. user sessions, pixel tags, etc.)
  • Log data (e.g. access times, access duration, etc.)

Information is used for the operation of the service, to maintain quality of the service, and to provide general statistics regarding use of the SEA website.

User Account Privacy

Our company values the privacy of our users and takes appropriate measures to protect their personal information. We understand that some users may want their personal information to be de-identified or disassociated from their account or deleted entirely, and we have developed policies to address these requests.

User Account Deletion Request

If a user wishes to delete their account entirely, including all associated data, they may login to their account, access their account settings and delete their own account. Alternatively, they may submit a request to our support team at classroom.support@switchon.org. We will review the request and take appropriate action to delete their entire account as well as all personal information as soon as possible.

User Account Data Retention

We will retain user data only for as long as necessary to provide our services and comply with legal or contractual obligations. Once the data is no longer necessary for these purposes, we will take appropriate steps to de-identify, disassociate or delete the data.

User Account Third-Party Sharing

We will not share user data with third parties except as required by law or as necessary to provide our services. In such cases, we will take appropriate measures to ensure that the third party protects the user's personal information in accordance with our privacy policy.

User Account Data Inquiry

If you have any questions or concerns about our user account data, please contact our support team at classroom.support@switchon.org.

Use of Cookies

The SEA website may use “cookies” to help you personalize your online experience. A cookie is a text file that is placed on your hard disk by a web page server. Cookies cannot be used to run programs or deliver viruses to your computer. Cookies are uniquely assigned to you, and can only be read by a web server in the domain that issued the cookie to you.

One of the primary purposes of cookies is to provide a convenience feature to save you time. The purpose of a cookie is to tell the Web server that you have returned to a specific page. For example, if you personalize SEA pages, or register with SEA site or services, a cookie helps SEA to recall your specific information on subsequent visits. This simplifies the process of recording your personal information, such as billing addresses, shipping addresses, and so on. When you return to the same SEA website, the information you previously provided can be retrieved, so you can easily use the SEA features that you customized.

You have the ability to accept or decline cookies. Most Web browsers automatically accept cookies, but you can usually modify your browser setting to decline cookies if you prefer. If you choose to decline cookies, you may not be able to fully experience the interactive features of the SEA services or websites you visit.


This website contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the content or privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of any other site that collects personally identifiable information.

Security of your Personal Information

SEA uses technical safeguards designed to secure your personal information and protect against unauthorized access to or alteration of your personal information. Unfortunately, no data transmission over the Internet or any wireless network can be guaranteed to be 100% secure. Transmission of all Site information including sensitive information is encrypted using secure socket layer technology (SSL). While we strive to protect your personal information, you acknowledge that: (a) there are security and privacy limitations inherent to the Internet which are beyond our control; and (b) security, integrity, and privacy of any and all information and data exchanged between you and us through this Site cannot be guaranteed.

Children Under Thirteen

If you are under the age of thirteen, you must ask your parent or guardian for permission to use this website. If you are a parent and you have questions regarding our data collection practices, please contact us using the information provided at the end of this Privacy Policy.

Email Communications

From time to time, SEA may contact you via email for the purpose of providing newsletters, announcements, promotional offers, alerts, confirmations, surveys, and/or other general communication. In order to improve our Services, we may receive a notification when you open an email from SEA or click on a link therein.

If you would like to stop receiving communications via email from SEA, you may opt out of such communications by following the instructions on the email..

External Data Storage Sites

We may store your data on servers provided by third party hosting vendors with whom we have contracted.

Changes to this Statement

SEA reserves the right to change this Privacy Policy from time to time. We will notify you about significant changes in the way we treat personal information by sending a notice to the primary email address specified in your account, by placing a prominent notice on our site, and/or by updating any privacy information on this page. Your continued use of the Site and/or Services available through this Site after such modifications will constitute your: (a) acknowledgment of the modified Privacy Policy; and (b) agreement to abide and be bound by that Policy.

Contact Information

SEA welcomes your questions or comments regarding this Statement of Privacy. If you believe that SEA has not adhered to this Statement, please contact SEA at:

Switch Energy Alliance
10900 Stonelake Boulevard, Building 2, Suite 100
Austin, TX 78759

Email Address:


Effective as of January 1, 2020