Renewable tech brings power swarming through the world’s poorest villages
Swarm grids, an innovative technology designed to work with renewable energy sources, are bringing reliable electricity to some of the world’s poorest and remote regions for the first time, providing a major boost to the livelihoods of those who live there.
Around 789 million people worldwide still have no access to electricity, seriously hampering their opportunities for development. But the installation, with the support of the UN development Programme (UNDP), of so-called “swarm grids” in vulnerable communities, from Laos to Mozambique to Vanuatu, is demonstrating that low-cost renewable energy solutions can be an effective alternative to more expensive large-scale grid connections.
The first step to a great future
“This is the first step into a great future”, says Reuben Natamatewia, the Paramount Chief on Lelepa Island, part of the archipelago of 83 islands that make up the nation of Vanuatu, one of the poorest countries in the world.
Mr. Natamatewia is excited by the potential of a swarm grid that has been installed on the island, which, like the vast majority of the nation’s islands, has never been connected to the national grid. Until now, the inhabitants of these islands have had to make do with polluting diesel generators or individual solar home systems, which have a limited capacity, barely providing enough power to charge a mobile phone. The installation promises to be a game-changer for Lelepa.
“Once our village is fully electrified, we will be able to refrigerate our daily fish catch. An electric water pump will provide drinking water to villagers. At the school, teachers and students will be able to use the copy machine and printer. Thanks to sewing machines, women producers will be able to increase their handicrafts production.”
The pioneering swarm grid project, which is supported by UNDP, with financing from Germany, consists of sturdy power cubes, which look like large car batteries, and are charged by a solar array. The power stored in the cubes is fed to individual households, or community buildings such as health centres, via cables buried underground. Because the cubes are inter-connected, power outages are far less likely: if one cube fails, power can be supplied from the other cubes. And, as the energy needs of the community grow, more cubes can be added.
The Lelepa swarm grid is a pilot project, but the Vanuatu government has plans to extend it to many more of the country’s off-grid islands, and transition to 100 per cent renewable energy.
As UNDP technical adviser Alexandra Soezer explains, the swarm grid is a far more cost-effective solution than the options previously available on Vanuatu’s islands. “In Malekula island, UNDP built a traditional minigrid, where each household connection cost around $6,000.00. In contrast, the connection per household on Lelepa island works out at around $1,200”.
Light is life
“Light is not only light. It is life, and a better life for us here,” says Teung, the chief of Thai Phai Bai village which, along with nearby Ko Bong, is now benefiting from clean energy delivered by a swarm grid installed with UNDP support.
Ko Bong and Thai Phai Bai are too remote to be part of the national grid and, like the inhabitants of Lelepa Island, anticipate that the arrival of cheap, reliable electricity will have a transformative effect on their lives, with benefits including improved health care, education and commercial opportunities.
However, for the UNDP-backed projects to be sustainable, it is essential that members of vulnerable, poor communities can afford to pay for the electricity generated. In Lelepa, where the priority is the electrification of community buildings and infrastructure, a pay-as-you-go model is being put in place for households connections, whilst in Ko Bong and Thai Phai Bai, a community group is managing the swarm grid, and is establishing an electricity fee that is deemed reasonable for the villager
Bringing electricity to millions
The success of these projects highlights the huge difference that electricity has on some of the world’s poorest people, and the relatively low level of investment needed to make it happen. The potential for bringing electrical power to millions more people is extremely high, says Ms. Soezer.
“According to 2018 figures, there are still 789 million people without access to electricity. By scaling up low-cost swarm grid programmes, we could bring electrification to around 80 per cent of these people, at a cost of around $400 to $500 per connection. Each household could end up paying less than $2.00 per month”.
To be able to scale up, and achieve these results, governments, with support from bodies such as the UN-backed Climate Investment Platform, will still need to secure the necessary loans and grants, but the swarm grids projects show that, given the political will, the ultimate goal of universal access to clean, reliable, and affordable energy, is both technically feasible, and realistic.
Explainer: Commission proposes to expand digital tools in EU company law
What are the objectives of the Commission’s proposal?
This proposal aims to cut red-tape and improve transparency and trust in the business environment in the single market. It will achieve more digitalised and connected cross-border public services for companies and reduce the administrative burden for companies carrying out cross-border activities, in particular for SMEs.
How will it help companies?
The proposal will significantly reduce administrative barriers when companies use company information from business registers in cross-border situations, including in administrative or court procedures:
- When companies set up subsidiaries or branches in another Member State, the proposal will ensure the application of the “once-only principle”. This means that companies will not need to re-submit the information already available in their business register, and business registers will exchange that information through BRIS.
- Companies will be able to use a multilingual EU Company Certificate to provide essential information about their company, e.g., when taking part in public tenders, in the context of tax or authorisation procedures or when applying for funding in another Member State.
- Companies may use a multilingual model for a digital EU power of attorney to authorise a person to represent the company in another Member State.
- Companies do not need to obtain an apostille on certified documents or information from business registers, and on certain notarial documents, when such documents are presented in another Member State.
- The proposal reduces the need for certified translations of company documents or information provided by business registers.
How much will the proposal reduce the administrative burden on companies?
By making more company data publicly available in business registers and at EU level through BRIS, and by improving the reliability of such information, the proposal will reduce the overall administrative burden on companies and in turn facilitate access to finance and the creation of businesses. It will apply to around 16 million limited liability companies and 2 million partnerships in the EU.
Companies planning to engage in cross-border business activities, or to create cross-border subsidiaries or branches, will benefit from recurrent annual savings (administrative burden reduction) of around €437 million per year thanks to administrative simplification, including the application of “once-only principle”, abolishing the apostille, and introducing an EU Company Certificate.
How will it help small and medium enterprises (SMEs)?
SMEs account for 98-99% of limited liability companies in the EU, and around 40% of SMEs are engaged in cross-border activities and operations or cross-border investments. SMEs in particular will benefit from the reduction in administrative burden and increased legal certainty, and also from easier access to company information, as they have less financial and administrative resources than large companies.
This proposal helps to make it easier for SMEs and start-ups to expand and scale-up cross-border in line with the 2020 SME Strategy for a sustainable and digital Europe and the EU Start-up Nations Standard.
How will it improve transparency in the business environment?
The proposal will make more information about companies publicly available in particular at EU level through the Business Registers Interconnection System (BRIS). It covers important information for investors, creditors, consumers and authorities about:
- groups of companies,
- single shareholders of single-member companies,
- the place of central administration and the principal place of business of companies,
- EU branches of non-EU companies.
It will also make searches for information about companies in the EU easier by allowing a search through BRIS and, at the same time, through two other EU systems interconnecting national beneficial ownership registers and insolvency registers, while respecting the existing rules for access to each system.
How will it improve trust in the business environment?
First, the proposal will improve reliability of company information in business registers across the EU and thus ensure that such information can be trusted in cross-border situations. In particular, the proposal requires Member States to ensure that:
- administrative or judicial control, as well as a legality check, of the instruments of constitution takes place when new companies are created and in case of any changes to those documents;
- uniform checks of company information (e.g., checking legality of the company’s name, object) are carried out before the information is entered in business registers.
Second, the proposal will ensure that company information in business registers is up-to-date by:
- asking companies to make timely updates of their information in business registers, and to confirm once a year that the information is up-to-date;
- asking business registers to make new information received from companies publicly available as soon as possible;
- ensuring that sanctions are applied where companies do not file information or file it late to business registers.
How does this proposal relate to the existing company law framework?
The proposal respects the different legal traditions and systems in Member States, including the possible involvement of notaries in company law procedures, and does not aim to modify them.
The 2019 Digitalisation Directive ensured that company law procedures can be carried out online, and in particular that companies can be set up online. This proposal is complementary and provides for the second step of digitalisation of EU company law. It focuses on increasing the availability of company information, in particular at EU level, and on removing administrative barriers when companies and public authorities use such information in cross-border situations, through the use of digital tools and processes.
It does not introduce new systems but builds on existing ones, for example on BRIS that is operational since 2017 and connects all Member State registers. It is also in line with EU rules on electronic identification and trust services (the eIDAS Regulation and its ongoing revision to establish a framework for a European Digital Identity).
European Security Spending to Grow 10.6% in 2023, Driven by the Financial Sector
Growing security needs, new regulations, and the increasing risk of ransomware attacks due to the current geopolitical situation continue to drive European security spending. According to IDC’s Worldwide Security Spending Guide, total European spending will grow 10.6% in 2023. Spending in the region will continue to see almost-double-digit growth over the forecast period, with total spend reaching $71 billion in 2026.
The U.K., Germany, and France are the top spenders on security, together accounting for over half of the European security market. In Central and Eastern Europe, Czech Republic will have the fastest growth in 2023, at over 12% YoY.
“IDC research shows that ongoing disruptions and a dynamic threat landscape have led European organizations to rethink their cyber resilience and proactively ensure their organization maintains good cyber hygiene,” said Romain Fouchereau, research manager, IDC European Security. “Adopting zero-trust principles to harden security measures and implement secure access controls across networks, applications, and devices has become a top priority, with a defined strategy and support from senior management for new investments and initiatives.”
European spending on software will lead YoY growth in 2023, with approximately 11% YoY growth, but security services will see the largest spending in 2023, reflecting its key role for European organizations across industries.
“We’re seeing that in addition to software and hardware, European companies also have a very real need for security services to guarantee their continued operations and regulatory adherence,” said Vladimir Zivadinovic, senior research analyst, IDC European Data and Analytics. “This is especially true for organizations with limited competencies in security, especially SMBs in less digitally mature verticals such as media, manufacturing, and healthcare.”
In 2023, the finance sector will have the highest spending in Europe, driven by the need for data protection and regulatory compliance. At the same time, market dynamics are pushing financial institutions to increase their responsiveness and agility. Security services will be pivotal to unlock the full potential of their internal IT teams to focus on new services and improved customer experience.
Finance will be closely followed by manufacturing, with the government sector having the third-largest spending in 2023. Manufacturing will continue to focus on protecting its industrial assets, which will be increasingly connected with the enterprise IT network. The government sector will continue to invest in data protection and in executing its digital transformation initiatives, which are being targeted by ever more sophisticated ransomware attacks.
IDC’s Worldwide Security Spending Guide quantifies the global revenue opportunity for both core and next-generation security purchases with detailed forecast data for security spending by 20 industries across nine regions and 44 countries.
Lemon peel, flax fibres hold keys to eco-friendly car parts
Natural materials including farm waste can make autos and other industries more sustainable, less toxic
By HELEN MASSY-BERESFORD
Think of the car or construction industry and lemon peel, corn starch and almond shells hardly come to mind. Yet manufacturers may rely increasingly on such raw materials as Europe seeks to reduce waste – from both agriculture and plastics.
New high-performance industrial materials from farm waste emerged from the BARBARA project, pointing the way to stepped-up innovation in the European bioeconomy.
Funded in a partnership between the EU and the private sector, the project used agricultural residues including lemon peel, corn starch, almond shells and pomegranate skins as additives for biopolymers, which occur in living organisms such as plants and can be used in manufacturing.
The result: prototypes of car parts and construction moulds made using the 3D printing expertise of Spain-based Aitiip Technology Centre.
‘The most exciting thing from our point of view is that there are no residues, only resources,’ said Berta Gonzalvo, research director at Aitiip, which coordinated the three-and-a-half-year project. ‘Automotive and construction pieces have been successfully validated, demonstrating that a circular economy is possible and contributing to reducing environmental impact.’
The EU is spurring the development of products derived from materials of biological origin, part of a push not just to cut waste but also to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and to make industrial goods safer.
The EU bioeconomy has been expanding for a decade, reaching €2.4 trillion in 2019, and has further growth prospects, according to an October 2022 study.
In a sign of the high expectations for bio-based industries, the EU in 2014 established a €3.7 billion joint undertaking with them to spur research in the field. This was followed in 2022 by a €2 billion initiative with players ranging from farmers to scientists to overcome technical, regulatory and market barriers for bio-based products.
The EU produces around 60 million tonnes of food waste and 26 million tonnes of plastic waste a year.
Making industrial materials from renewable sources including waste is set to become increasingly important and projects like BARBARA are just the beginning, according to Gonzalvo.
When BARBARA began in 2017, only one biopolymer was available for 3D printing. The project increased the number of bio-based materials using a combination of industrial biotechnology, nanotechnology and advanced manufacturing technologies.
It came up with new processes for the extraction and use of compounds such as natural dyes, biomordants that fix dyes, antimicrobials and essential oils from pomegranate, lemon, almond shells and corn.
Doors and dashboards
BARBARA created eight materials containing pomegranate and lemon pigment, pomegranate biomordants, lemon fragrance and almond shell that could be used instead of existing plastics. The new materials led to different colours, aromas, textures and antimicrobial properties.
The 11 partners also printed prototype door trims and a dashboard fascia for the car industry as well as a mould for truss joints for the construction sector.
The new materials have better mechanical, thermal and even aesthetic properties.
As a result, they can be used to improve the quality of the end material, even adding a colour or fragrance.
While the project has ended, the participants hope the technology can move forward to the demonstration phase within the next four to five years. That would show the possibilities for large-volume production.
With the global biopolymer industry growing 6% a year and the European sector expanding 30% annually, Gonzalvo said the EU is in a prime position to lead the way.
‘We are one step closer to a real circular economy,’ she said. ‘Waste can be a resource and not just waste.’
On the plastics front, the research outlook also looks promising.
In Europe, only 14% of plastic waste was recycled domestically in 2020, according to the European Commission. The remaining 86% was incinerated, landfilled, littered or exported, highlighting the need to establish a more sustainable system.
With production of plastics set to increase in the medium term, reducing their environmental footprint is all the more important.
The ECOXY project, funded through the same public-private partnership as BARBARA, looked for bio-based alternatives to plastics known as “fibre-reinforced thermoset composites,” or FRTCs.
While FRTCs are light and strong, their green credentials are lacking. Besides being derived from fossil fuels, they can’t be recycled and are often made from toxic materials including an endocrine-disrupting chemical compound called bisphenol A.
‘Fibre-reinforced composites are being used more and more, so these bio-based composites should be able to substitute them in all the fields where they are used,’ said Aratz Genua, a researcher at CIDETEC, a Spanish institute that coordinated ECOXY.
The project, which ran in parallel with BARBARA, included a consortium of 12 research and industry partners from across Europe.
They took as their starting point materials deemed to comply with the three Rs: recyclable, reshapable and repairable. While these 3R materials had already been patented by CIDETEC, they had a downside.
‘We had made it more sustainable, but we were still working with products derived from oil and the most commonly used one is derived from bisphenol A,’ said Genua. ‘We had the opportunity to go one step further and make it more sustainable by using bio-waste to create bio-based FRTCs.’
The consortium looked to lignin, derived from wood and plant fibres. It used bio-based resin from lignin with flax fibres as a reinforcement to manufacture a demonstrator, in this case the backseat panel of a car.
‘Being able to upscale and manufacture a demonstrator was really good,’ said Genua. ‘We started with small quantities of materials, and we have shown that these are usable at an intermediate scale.’
The real challenge was to make sure the new material would have comparable properties to the ones currently in use.
Bio-based resins demonstrated very good properties, equivalent to those derived from fossil fuels, according to Genua. But there is room for improving the strength of the flax fibres.
Future research could include exploring the use of bio-based carbon fibres, also extracted from lignin.
‘We will continue working on the development and optimisation of bio-based 3R resins for different applications,’ Genua said.
For example, the EU-funded BIO-UPTAKE project is working on ceiling panels for the construction industry.
‘In these cases, not only flax fibre but also bio-based carbon fibre will be used,’ said Genua.
In the short term, the new materials are better for the health of workers handling them during manufacturing.
In the long term, the environment will benefit thanks in no small part to the resulting reduction in waste.
Research in this article was funded via the Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU), which in 2022 was followed by the Circular Bio-based Europe Joint Undertaking (CBE JU). The article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.
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