The Triple Helix @ UChicago

Fall 2017

"Clean Energy: Energy for Everyone" by Anshika Bajpai


Perhaps two of the most pertinent problems of our age are the issues of clean energy and equitable energy distribution. The solutions to both of these go hand in hand. As energy production becomes more efficient and relies less on rapidly depleting resources, availability improves and distribution becomes more equal.

It is not enough, however, to focus solely on developing clean energy technology while neglecting its application to areas in need of better energy distribution, assuming that the former will naturally follow as a consequence of the latter - because it may not be so. The two must be built in tandem. Solar cell technology has been developed for years in the United States, with increasing levels of efficiency – the latest innovations led to jump in efficiency from 13% to 33%. However, their commercial use has not increased at the same pace, with Germany and China overtaking the United States in 2016 and 2017. [1] 

A reliable supply of energy has become essential in almost every sphere of work that individuals and societies find themselves in – be it in industry, or domestic use – which is why addressing these two issues as pertinently as possible should be one of the primary concerns of the global community. And working on resolving them simultaneously rather than tackling each independently may actually yield better results in terms of enhancing the landscape of global energy consumption. For instance, installing solar panels in underdeveloped areas that do not receive adequate energy services would provide invaluable insight into the ground level problems associating with implementing the technology. Furthermore, much of the hindrance to greater energy efficiency results not from lack of research and development in clean energy technology but from a lack of commercialization and widespread use of these technologies. Testing this technology in a real-world context could serve as the basis of research into how pre-existing technology can be incorporated effectively into daily, commercial use.

The marriage of the solutions to these two problems can be illustrated, for instance, by the work done by the non-government organization ‘Gram Power’ in north India. Their mission is to find clean energy solutions in remote areas that lack sufficient energy distribution. Because the local climate provides for abundant sunlight year-round, they decided to provide rooftop photovoltaic cells to the village community. In addition to a unaffordable costs of energy, the inhabitants of the area also faced problems regarding poor accessibility due to their remote location often leading to payment defaults, and energy theft. By installing personal, smart ‘micro-grids’ instead of the conventional power grids, the problem of transport and maintenance of heavy-duty machinery in these remote areas was effectively combated. Additionally, installing compact smart meters brought the entire circulation system online, enabling much more transparent administration, remote bill payment, and policing. By turning to clean energy solutions instead of relying on conventional distributions, ‘Gram Power’ was able to simultaneously tackle the issues of affordability, transport, regulation, payment defaults, and environmental sustainability, improving the overall landscape of energy consumption in a remote, rural area.

Clean energy is abundant, and cheaper in the long run, because the resources required are free, abundant, and renewable. The difference in costs traditionally lay in the initial installation, and costs associated with changing infrastructure to suit new methods of production. However, according to the World Economic Forum, due to recent developments in technology, producing solar energy is cheaper than conventionally producing energy from fossil fuels, right at the offset, in over 30 countries [2]. It can be locally sourced, depending on the geography of the region, and provided indiscriminately to all residents. The problems of energy efficiency and equal distribution of energy have solutions lying intertwined. It only makes sense, therefore, that these should be addressed concurrently.


[1] "China Targets 70 Gigawatts of Solar Power to Cut Coal Reliance." May 16, 2014. Accessed November 20, 2017.

[2] Griffin, Andrew. "Solar and wind power cheaper than fossil fuels for the first time." The Independent. January 04, 2017. Accessed November 20, 2017.

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