Crowdsourcing to Eliminate Energy Poverty

by Alison Kibe

Energy costs make up a disproportionate amount of a low income household spending so energy prices, recently at 3.2% increase per year, create a greater burden on lower incomes (Hodge, 2014). As a result, some households cannot afford to heat or cool their homes without assistance. Under some circumstances, households may even forego energy use in months they need it most. This is not a small issue, with the official poverty rate in 2013 at 14.5%— or about 45.3 million people (U.S. Census Bureau, 2014). Gridmates, a startup founded in 2014, thought of a new platform to reach those in need—through the electricity grid. Continue reading

Expanding the Frontiers of Energy: Pay-as-You-Go Energy

by Alison Kibe

With little to no access to electricity grids in rural areas of Africa, the Nairobi based startup M-KOPA solar launched in 2012 as an effort to provide affordable solar energy units to households in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. A recent press release announced that M-KOPA is entering its fourth round of investment worth $12.45 million (Jackson, 2015). The money will be used to add products to M-KOPA’s line, expand business into East Africa, and license their products for use in other markets (Jackson, 2015). The start up also won the Zayed Future Energy prize in February. Worth $1.5 million, the money will be used to start a development program called M-KOPA University that will focus on developing employees’ business and technical skills (Mutegi, 2015). Continue reading

Funding for Energy Initiatives in Africa: U.S.-Africa Clean Energy Finance Initiative

by Alison Kibe

The U.S.-Africa Clean Energy Finance (ACEF) initiative launched at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012. As of August 2014, the U.S. had pledged $30 million to fund ACEF. The United States Trade and Development Agency’s (USTDA) January 2015 press release announced the two entities in charge of funding AFEC, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and USTDA, have both obtained initial funds for AFEC projects. Both organizations are involved with connecting private American businesses to international development projects. The goal of ACEF is to promote privately financed clean energy projects with the hope that ACEF acts as a catalyst for economic development and promotes U.S. foreign policy goals in Africa. Continue reading

Green Roofs: Calculating the Benefits

by Alison Kibe

The known benefits of green roofs are nothing new; they can reduce building heating and cooling costs, aid in the remediation of the “heat island effect” often observed in cities, and reduce storm run-off. With this in mind, and perhaps putting aside risks and costs associated with green roofs, should I install one? Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, a non-profit industry association for green roof companies, strives to make that an easier question to answer via its Green Roof Energy Calculator (GREC) (greenbuilding.pdx.edu). Developed by University of Toronto and Portland State University and funded by The US Green Building Council, GREC estimates annual cost and savings estimates for office and residential buildings with just a few clicks of the mouse. Continue reading

Using Sound to Detect Air Infiltration in Buildings

by Alison Kibe

Since 2013, the US Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE) has been funding research at the Argonne National Laboratory and the Illinois Institute of Technology to develop technology that uses sound to detect and quantify air infiltration in homes and buildings. If you imagine that it is the dead of winter and you’re staring at a hole on the side of your home, the chance you decide that something ought to be done about it is probably high. Air infiltration caused by air leaks and poor insulation is a problem that can reduce the building efficiency and as a result raise heating and cooling bills. What many people don’t realize is that all of the small gaps in windows, walls, and doors can add up to a sizable opening. Given their small size, they may go unnoticed unless tested for. Continue reading

Material Architecture: Graphene and Carbon Nanotube Applications for Energy

by Alison Kibe

With the availability of cost effective and easily scalable synthesis methods, researchers have begun working with porous and 3D graphene and carbon nanotube (CNT) structures. Wang, Sun, and Chen (2014) wrote a review article outline uses for foam-like structures of CNTs, graphene, and hybrids of the two. Using a process called chemical vapor deposition, it is possible to construct defect free 3D architectures. This type of method is currently used in thin film production, i.e. production of semiconductor wafers in photovoltaic cells. Continue reading

Solar Power Duo: A Perovskite and Silicone Based Semiconductor

by Alison Kibe

A 2013 article for Nature by Michael McGehee puts forth that perovskites (CH3NH3PbI3) – a family of semiconductor crystals – would quickly change the world of photovoltaics with their cheap and simple design. Solar cells produced for commercial use typically contain silicone semiconductors that can easily incur defects during the production process that cause efficiency losses over time and reduce the life span of a solar panel. However, they have shown the highest rates of efficiency (17 – 23%) compared to other potential semiconductor materials – until now. Continue reading