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Net negative carbon energy for economic development

Early stages of economic development are often associated with damage to the environment caused, among other activities, by increasing use of polluting energy sources. The so-called Environmental Kuznets Curve concept argues that a country can afford more advanced, cleaner technologies only after having achieved a sufficiently high stage of development. This, however, need not be the case if such technologies already exist in other countries. The task is to identify how to achieve sustainable development, in particular, by introducing clean energy sources into local communities.

In this pilot project we explore the opportunities for a bottom-up approach to the solution of the problem of clean energy provision to local communities in developing countries. To construct a comprehensive framework combining the development of new technologies, application of a novel legal and ethical framework in combination with economic analysis, and investigation of the direct effect of the pollution reduction achieved by using the new technology on population health, we bring together academics and business experts in solar energy, economics, health, law and ethics.

Polluting fuels are widely used as the main energy source in the majority of rural households in the developing countries. Kerosene is used for indoor lighting in more than half of African rural households. According to the WHO (2021),

“Around 2.6 billion people cook using polluting open fires or simple stoves fuelled by kerosene, biomass (wood, animal dung and crop waste) and coal. Each year, close to 4 million people die prematurely from illness attributable to household air pollution from inefficient cooking practices using polluting stoves paired with solid fuels and kerosene. Household air pollution causes noncommunicable diseases including stroke, ischaemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer. Close to half of deaths due to pneumonia among children under 5 years of age are caused by particulate matter (soot) inhaled from household air pollution.”

The lack of efficient and clean energy sources is one of the primary reasons for food and water deprivation in developing countries. Insufficient energy infrastructure hinders water purification and delivery, leading to inadequate sanitation and the easy spread of diseases. Vast quantities of agricultural and horticultural output in Africa go to waste because of the lack of adequate sources of energy for handling, processing, and storing foodstuffs. In 2020, 2.37 bln people had no access to adequate food, 930 mln were severely food-stressed, and 30 percent of the global population experiences water stress and lack of potable water. Our aim is to develop compact solar energy units that can be easily installed at a small scale in a rural community and thus reduce indoor pollution and improve the quality of living. Compact clean energy sources can be further used in food processing and storage and in powering water facilities. This will further help to improve sanitation and health. Better health and quality of living mean more opportunities for education and literacy.

We will work with a multidisciplinary team of energy engineers, legal scholars, economists, together with local governments, non-governmental organisations and manufacturers, and, most importantly, with the users of the new technology, to ensure the efficient and equitable distribution of its benefits.

This project will lay the foundation for further interdisciplinary research in the bottom-up approach to sustainable development. Our research will lead to ethical engineering and economic solutions helping to solve the problem of economic deprivation and harm to health caused by lack of energy and the use of polluting energy sources in rural communities in developing countries.

Our idea is:

(i) to develop and install “New Energy Units” (NEU), the compact solar energy generators, in rural areas,

(ii) to provide a comprehensive assessment of their net benefits based on the evaluation of economic and welfare effect, and

(iii) to formulate the underpinning legal and ethical framework that will ensure maximal benefit to the users and equitable distribution of welfare gains from the new energy.

In this subsequent, large interdisciplinary project, we plan to install the new solar energy units, for example, for indoor kitchen ventilation, in three countries of direct interest, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda (ten units each).

The project will be further extended to India. An additional merit of our project is that the NEU will have net negative carbon output. This is in contrast to the existing so-called green energy units which are net zero-carbon during operation, but during the mining, manufacture, and recycle/disposal stage they cause emissions which must be neutralised to meet the 2100 target. This calls for the net negative carbon approach to energy, as the net zero is not sufficient. Our project is an important step in this new direction.

Meet the Principal Investigator(s) for the project

Dr Harjit Singh
Dr Harjit Singh - Dr Singh received his BEng, and MEng (IIT Roorkee, India) with specialisation in Mechanical and Thermal Engineering disciplines and PhD (University of Ulster, UK) in experimental evaluation of natural convective heat transfer in CPC solar collector cavities. He was a Senior Lecturer in Renewable Energy at the Kingston University London (2009-2011) prior to accepting the current position. He has six years of research experience on various EU, EPSRC, the Carbon Trust and Defra funded projects. Dr Singh was previously a Lecturer of Mechanical Engineering at National Institute of Technology Hamirpur, India. His research focuses on various aspects of solar energy systems, energy use in built environment. Topics currently being researched into include design and development of novel concentrating solar collectors, vacuum insulation panels and building retrofit for improved energy efficiency.

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Project last modified 13/10/2023