Energy and informality: Powering change
Seventy-nine percent of people living in developing countries — a quarter of humanity — don't have access to electricity. Of those who do, many acquire it illegally, leading to financial, legal, and safety issues. Sustainable, plentiful, and affordable energy is a global issue, but it reaches even greater importance in the developing world, where the question of affordability is critical. Programs working on energy in the context of informal urban communities often offer ways to provide electricity in slums, or focus on giving the poor incentives to obtain power legally. Read on to see how the question of energy and informality is addressed in six cities across the globe — then join the conversation in the comments below.
Simple steps toward lighting Mumbai's settlements
Carlin Carr, Mumbai Community Manager
Electrifying informal communities in Mumbai provides an essential foundation for all other development endeavors. "Electricity is vital, not only for its direct benefits on health and welfare, but also because it can serve as a gateway for other kinds of development by means of increased access to information, facilitation of education, and reduced workload for certain mechanical tasks," writes David Schaengold in a 1996 paper that makes the case for wind and solar power in Mumbai slums. While many slum areas have access to electricity, the illegal connections come through middlemen who charge exorbitant rates. The hefty price tag leaves many still in the dark for many hours of the day.
Tailors, dry cleaners, and woodworkers with home-based micro-businesses spend long hours in their small workspaces, and despite having tube lights in their dwelling, the cost forces them to labor in the dark all day. A group of students from Mumbai's St. Xavier's College heard about a simple, affordable lighting solution being experimented with in other parts of the world and decided to test it in Mumbai's slums. The idea is to take 1.5 liter plastic bottles, fill them with water and bleach and then seal the container with glue to secure the elements inside for five years. The students then hoist the bottles from a hole they drill in shack rooftops so that the bottle is half inside and half outside. The principles of refraction of light allow sunlight, as it passes through the bottle, to illuminate the inside of the houses. As long as the sun is out — in Mumbai, nearly the entire year — the homes will have full days of free light.
Of course, this solution is not the full answer to electrification in slum communities. The refraction process only works during the day, and since the students only piloted the project a few months ago, the bottles have yet to endure a monsoon season. The rains not only take a toll on rooftops, but many slum communities add plastic covers over their homes for extra protection. However, Radhika Lokur, one of the four founders of Jal Jyoti — the name they've given to their bottle-lighting initiative — sees this innovative approach as a quick, low-cost, and environmentally friendly approach to illuminating lives.
In the few months since launching Jal Jyoti, the group has installed 23 bottles in three different settlement communities in Mumbai. One widow to whose home they brought light said she woke up to sunlight for the first time in her life. Her one-room shack has no windows and had no opportunity for natural light until the bottle was installed. It's these stories that have excited the small team, which will soon double its size and engage a small army of 100 volunteers through the university. Lokur says that their goal is to involve the community — their own at St. Xavier's as well as the slum communities. Their approach is to train local residents in the process of installation, using bottles from local recyclers who collect the plastic from trash-choked shorelines and, eventually, charging nominal fees for the entire procedure. Their 1.5 liter bottles of hope beg the question: why aren't more simple, low-cost solutions to basic services being piloted all around the city — or are they?
Setrum mudah dan hemat
Julisa Tambunan, Jakarta Bureau Chief
Greater Jakarta accounts for 20 percent of the country's power use. However, with informality dominating its urban landscape, electricity is not evenly distributed across the city. Facilitating access to alternative energy for the low-income population in informal settlements thus becomes crucial. Studies show that for now, most street vendors take lighting expenditure for granted, but any reduction in the cost of energy will have a direct bearing on their profit margins. Therefore, energy diversification is needed now more than ever.
Penggunaan energi di Jakarta masih belum mengusung asas berkelanjutan. Khusus untuk penerangan saja, kota berpenduduk mencapai 10 juta orang ini menguasai 20 persen sumber daya listrik negara. Padahal kenyataannya, pembagian listrik di Jakarta tak merata, mengingat banyaknya pemukiman informal di seluruh pelosok kota. Pencurian listrik bukan hal aneh lagi. Kabel-kabel listrik yang menjuntai tak beraturan juga menimbulkan ancaman bahaya tersendiri.
Macam-macam Pasokan Energi
Listrik di DKI Jakarta sebagian besar dipasok oleh Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN / Perusahaan Listrik Negara). Secara umum, listrik tersedia untuk semua rumah tangga di wilayah Jabotabek dan permintaan meningkat setiap tahun. Namun, layanan ini tidak stabil, karena masih sering terjadi pemadaman bergilir atau fluktuasi tegangan. Belum lagi pemukiman informal yang tentu tak mendapat aliran listrik, sehingga kasus-kasus pencurian listrik banyak terjadi.
Sementara itu, Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), minyak tanah, batu bara, dan biomassa dalam berbagai bentuk merupakan bahan bakar utama yang digunakan oleh rumah tangga Jakarta. Penggunaan batubara tak signifikan di kalangan rumah tangga, namun sangat umum digunakan oleh perusahaan komersial kecil seperti produksi tahu dan tempe. Minyak tanah bersubsidi sebelumnya tersedia di mana-mana dengan bandrol Rp 3,000 per liter, namun kebijakan subsidi ini kemudian dihapus oleh pemerintah dengan harapan masyarakat akan berpindah ke LPG, sehigga sekarang harganya mencapai Rp. 10,000 per liter. LPG pun makin banyak digunakan di Jakarta untuk memasak. Namun, LPG sendiri bukan tak menimbulkan masalah. Tabung gas sering dbilang "bom waktu" oleh masyarakat yang tinggal di pemukiman padat, karena sering meledak dan menimbulkan korban.
Menurut data Badan Pusat Statistik, pengeluaran bulanan rumah tangga miskin untuk keperluan energi adalah sejumlah sekitar Rp. 112,280, lebih dari setenganya dihabiskan untuk biaya listrik saja. Jika demikian, artinya memang sudah waktunya Jakarta mencari sumber-sumber energi baru yang lebih murah dan berkelanjutan. Namun, siapakah pemasoknya? Jika sektor swasta diharapkan untuk turut serta memecahkan masalah ini, apakah ada pangsa pasarnya?
Pangsa Pasar: Pedagang Kaki Lima
Menurut data Badan Pusat Statistik (BPS), ada 92.751 pedagang kaki lima yang beroperasi di DKI Jakarta pada tahun 2005. Tak ada data pasti jumlah pedagang kaki lima saat ini, mengingat statusnya yang informal. Namun, jumlahnya dianggap terus berlipat-lipat setiap tahunnya. Pedagang kaki lima yang berjualan di malam hari membutuhkan penerangan yang baik, karena berpengaruh pada pendapatan harian mereka. Kasus yang banyak terjadi adalah para pedagang kaki lima ini akhirnya melakukan sambungan listrik liar atau mencantol secara ilegal. Tapi tak melulu seperti itu. Baterai basah dan kering sering digunakan untuk penerangan di kalangan pedagang kaki lima.
PLN Distribusi Jakarta Raya dan Tangerang yang khawatir akan sambungan-sambungan listrik liar pun siap meluncurkan program LISKO atau listrik koin untuk para pedagang kaki lima yang siap diluncurkan dalam waktu dekat. Hanya dengan Rp. 1,000, konsumen bisa menikmati listrik berdaya 900 watt selama 30 menit. Jika habis, tinggal masukkan koin baru. Persis seperti penggunaan telepon umum.
Sementara itu, salah satu perusahaan energi raksasa pun mulai menyasar para pedagang kaki lima untuk memasarkan produk lampu solar yang merupakan teknologi berkelanjutan. Lampu solar tersebut dinilai jauh lebih efektif dari segi biaya dan mampu menggantikan lampu neon bertenaga baterai (atau sambungan liar) yang umum digunakan para pedagang.
Comercio informal en el DF dependiente de los "diablitos"
María Fernanda Carvallo, Mexico City Community Manager
Illegal extraction of energy is one of the main informality problems in Mexico City. According to the Federal Electricity Commission, the theft of energy in the Mexico City Metropolitan Area results in losses of more than seven hundred million dollars a year. Informal electricity merchandisers, known as "devils," face a plethora of time-consuming and expensive requirements if they are to be regularized under the government's framework, and therefore make a living instead by obtaining electricity outside the legal and regulatory framework. Beyond the obvious legal issues, this unregulated electricity merchandising can overload facilities and lead to fire and electric shock.
En México, la distribución de la energía es responsabilidad del Estado por medio de la Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE), sin embargo el sector energético representa un atraso en la infraestructura, por lo que los precios del servicio no son competitivos. Ante la necesidad de tan valioso insumo y la vulnerabilidad de la población, el robo de energía es uno de los grandes dilemas de la Ciudad; de acuerdo a la CFE el robo de energía eléctrica en la ZMVM se traduce en pérdidas por nueve mil millones de pesos al año. Además del latente peligro por la sobrecarga de las instalaciones que son causa potencial de incendios y descargas eléctricas.
La extracción ilegal de luz es una más de las problemáticas derivadas de la falta de medios de vida sustentables de los comerciantes, pues bien para regularizarse deben de establecerse bajo los permisos y requerimientos de la Delegación, el pago de una renta de un local y de los servicios básicos, así como el pago de los impuestos respectivos por la actividad comercial. Ante esta problemática, los comerciantes ambulantes generan estrategias para generar alguna actividad que permita obtener un ingreso sin comprometer su actividad económica bajo el esquema normativo y legal.
En la delegación Miguel Hidalgo, se instaló el llamado diablito a uno de los transformadores de la CFE, por medio del cual se establecen conexiones ilegales para la extracción de luz. Instalado en el Metro Tacuba, más de 300 comerciantes del tianguis se encuentran conectados al mega diablito.
Bajo la lógica de que el estado debe de proveer este servicio de manera legal, la CFE inició un operativo para desconectar las instalaciones ilegales de la colonia Tacuba, y de acuerdo a las autoridades delegaciones y dirigentes del tianguis, una estrategia de regularización del servicio fue la inversión de 10 millones de pesos de la remodelación del tianguis para hacer fijos los puestos y dotarlos de tomas regulares de electricidad, así como el pago por el servicio por parte de los comerciantes bajo un esquema tarifario fijo. No obstante, entre el grupo de comerciantes se ha encontrado resistencia para transitar a un esquema formal, pues de evadir el pago de la luz ahora tendrían que pagar una tarifa comercial, por lo que a pesar del operativo de eliminación del mega diablo, los comerciantes han vuelto a conectarse a la luz de manera ilegal a través de diablitos distribuidos en los transformadores aledaños de la zona.
A nivel federal, una vertiente del programa Oportunidades brinda un apoyo adicional a la población en condiciones de pobreza a través de la entrega de $50 pesos bimestrales para el pago de la luz de los hogares; si bien este apoyo no está dirigido a la actividad comercial, puede ser un ejemplo para el desarrollo de iniciativas de apoyo energético dirigida a los comerciantes en proceso de regularización.
Affordable electricity in Rio's low-income communities
Catalina Gomez, Rio de Janeiro Community Manager
Illegal electricity connections are not uncommon in many places around the developing world, especially within low-income communities, and Rio de Janeiro is no exception. With recent infrastructure programs benefiting several favelas, basic services like water and electricity that once were scarce are now available to many. Now that Rio has achieved good coverage of basic services, the next big challenge is how to provide them at an affordable price, and how to give low-income families incentives to "become legal" and pay for their services.
Expanding electrical access to low-income families is a national priority in Brazil. A key element is making the service more affordable, as well as encouraging a culture of payment for basic services among low-income residents. That is why in early 2010, the federal government launched a subsidy called Tarifa Social de Energia Elétrica (TSEE), which benefits more than 10 million families annually, from all across the country.
The purpose of the TSEE is to offer discounts from their electricity bills to families that earn up to half of the monthly minimum wage (R$622, equivalent to USD$311) per capita. The discount ranges from 10 percent to 65 percent, depending on the level of "legal" consumption. (If the monthly consumption is less than 30 KWh, the discount is 65 percent; if it is less than 100 KWh, the discount is 40 percent; and if it is less than 220 KWh, the discount is 10 percent.) An average discount for a low-income family that consumes less than 65 KWh per month is around R$25 (USD$13), which, for example, allows them to buy several additional kilos of beans.
In order to receive the TSEE benefits, families need to be registered with the registry for social programs, called Cadastro Unico. This is the same registry system as for Bolsa Familia, the well-known conditional cash transfer program that benefits more than 13 million low-income Brazilian families. This integrated data base is a fundamental part of the management of services targeted to the poor, as it allows agencies to avoid duplication of efforts and encourages better targeting. Once the family is registered at the Cadastro Unico, it only needs to provide its registry number to the local energy company to be eligible for the electricity subsidy.
LIGHT, the local energy company, has reported that around 150,000 families benefit from the subsidy (mostly in Rio de Janeiro). Still, there need to be greater efforts to reach more families (there are an estimated 400,000 families in the state of Rio that are eligible, but who aren't benefiting from the program). That is why the local government, through the Municipal Social Assistance Secretariat and LIGHT, is currently promoting an "active search" of families who aren't yet benefitting from the subsidy. This search is done mostly through home visits, conducted by teams of LIGHT employees and representatives from 44 social assistance centers from all over the city. Eligible families can also benefit from the program Efficient Communities, which offers families education on how to save energy in their homes. In addition, the program provides free fluorescent bulbs and other energy-saving appliances, including new refrigerators that require less energy consumption.
Although there is still much work to be done in reaching families eligible for electricity subsidies and education initiatives, Rio is "lighting" its way to expanding affordable electricity, as well as reducing illegal connections.
Creating opportunities from challenges: Exploring energy alternatives off the grid
Victoria Okoye, Lagos Community Manager
In the last decade, Lagosians have grown accustomed (and even adapted) to the city's widespread and consistent power outages, which can last minutes, days, or even weeks. The impact – lack of power and the alternative, reliance on costly generators – cripples daily activities for residents, businesses, and industries, even the city's international airport. Despite its estimated electricity demand (12,000 MW), the whole of Lagos State, including its metropolis, receives less than 1,000 MW from the national power grid. That said, Lagos consumes between 40 and 45 percent of the nation's entire energy. It's Lagos that is also largely responsible for the country's overall carbon footprint.
Extending a reliable energy supply to all the city's residents is a long-term goal. In the meantime, individuals and even the state government explore their own solutions.
For entrepreneurial youth, the energy supply challenge marks a business opportunity. Across the city, mobile phone-charging stations have cropped up in markets and motor parks. For this business venture, set-up requires as little as a small generator for power and a multi-socket dashboard. Relatively low market-entry costs and the general demand for phones are two factors making this a thriving business. Visitors can come to the shop or station, leave their handset, and pick it up later, fully charged.
In Agege, operators say they started out charging 50 Naira to charge a phone; in a day, they were able to make more than 3,000 Naira through the business.
A second intervention is a recently launched waste-to-energy initiative by the Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA). In December 2012, the LAWMA announced its pilot activity generating energy from waste produced at Ikosi Market, the city's largest fruit and vegetable market. This year, LAWMA plans to expand to other markets in the city.
In the waste-to-energy process, waste is stored, then transferred to a combustible chamber where the contents is heated. The heat from the combustion process boils water, and the steam produced can be used directly to generate electricity, or to power a turbine that in turn produces electricity. The electricity can then be distributed to the local power grid.
According to a Siemens report on Lagos as part of its African Green City Index, the city generates an estimated 276 kilograms of waste per person each year. However, the report estimates that only 10 percent of waste generated in the city is collected, and then transferred to either the city's three landfills or two temporary sites. Proper collection and management of waste could go a long way toward supporting future opportunities to convert it to alternative sources of energy.
Although effective waste management in the city is still a challenge, waste-to-energy production kills several birds with one stone: the process produces clean energy with reduced greenhouse gas emissions; it supports the recycling of biomass and other wastes; and it provides an energy alternative in lieu of consistent shortages.
The challenges of making recycled coal affordable for the poor
Katy Fentress, Nairobi Community Manager
Chardust Ltd. is a Nairobi-based company that for over a decade has pioneered the technique of converting discarded or unusable charcoal waste into fuel briquettes.
The company sources its raw material from local dealers and retailers. Charcoal that is less than one centimetre in diameter is generally impossible to sell on the market due to the fact that it falls through the grills of jikos (commonly used Kenyan charcoal burners) and is thus mostly useless for sale at a retail level.
The process of making Chardust involves breaking down charcoal fragments, crushing and sieving them into a fine powder, milling it, adding binders, and finally compressing the results into small pillow-shaped briquettes.
Chardust Ltd. produces two kinds of briquettes: high-grade and low-grade. The low-grade product has a higher ash content and is thus more difficult to light and has a lower energy output. That said, in the context of space or water heating this is considered preferable, as the lower energy briquettes burn for longer periods of time and don't risk overheating the immediate surrounding environment.
While the high-grade version of the briquette is more practical for common household use, the problem is that it cannot cater for the lower niche of the market that uses charcoal as its sole form of cooking fuel. Briquettes made from recycled materials are inevitably more expensive than the backstreet charcoal available to people in lower-income neighborhoods.
As a result, Chardust is mainly used by commercial enterprises (hotels, restaurants, poultry farms) or, at a retail level, sold in supermarkets and bought by middle-to-high-income customers who will burn it for the occasional barbeque.
Since 2005, Chardust Ltd. has been buying charcoal dust from the informal settlement of Kibera, which is relatively close to their factory in Lang'ata. This was originally done as part of a World Bank-funded project but, more recently, is simply done through trusted agents who collect the refuse fragments and powder and sell them on in bulk to the company.
Unfortunately, with charcoal dust going at around 1000 Kenyan shillings a ton (just over $10), the profit margins for slum dwellers to sell it are extremely low and not really worth their while.
According to Chardust company founder Matthew Owen, a few years ago the company attempted to circumvent the value-adding chain of distribution and set up Chardust kiosks directly in the slums. However, a combination of facts that included customer distrust and low profit margins, compounded by the presence of city officials demanding to see documentation and attempting to extract bribes, resulted in the project being discontinued.
"Charcoal is cheap in Kenya because it is unlicensed," says Owen. "Until the government decides to force people to comply with environmental laws, it will be impossible to make Chardust cheap enough for domestic consumption at the lower end of the market."
Questions for discussion:
- What kind of cooking fuels do people use in low-income urban areas around the world?
- What, if any, successful recycled briquette projects have there been that have proved popular amongst the poorer sections of cities?
- If the government cracks down on illegal charcoal making and selling, it will create a loss of jobs and push the price of charcoal up. In what way could products like Chardust compensate for this loss of income and rise in price?