Energy exec sees distributed power

SUBHEAD: Duke Energy Ex-CEO wants to power the world with local distributed clean alternative energy.

By Bill Loveless on on 23 August 2015 for USA Today -

Image above: Duke Energy's Oconee Nuclear Plant near Seneca N.C. Duke says a rate increase is needed cover $141 million for safety and security measures at its nuclear station near Seneca N.C. From (

Jim Rogers spent 25 years as the chief executive of electric and natural gas utilities in the U.S., the last seven as head of Duke Energy, the biggest electric power company in the country.

Now, in his retirement from the energy business, Rogers has taken on a new mission: Bringing electricity to the 1.2 billion people in the world who live without it.

In a new book, Lighting the World, Rogers calls for new steps by governments, financial institutions and entrepreneurs to bring light to remote areas in Africa and other regions where flickering candles and dangerous kerosene lamps are often the only options at night.

The book, which publisher St. Martin's Press plans to release Tuesday, lays out a vision that eschews the traditional approach to spreading electricity of constructing large coal, gas and nuclear power plants, and promotes instead a reliance on local production, small-scale connections and alternative forms of energy, such as solar panels, whose costs are coming down.

That may seem surprising coming from someone once responsible for developing and maintaining tens of billions of dollars in generating stations and transmission lines. But Rogers, who stepped down as Duke's CEO in 2013, says it shouldn't be.

"We can't bring electricity to the rural areas of the world using an old-fashioned industrial grid based on building more coal plants and running copper lines from timber pole to timber pole across Sub-Saharan Africa, or running cables underwater to connect the archipelago of Indonesia," Rogers writes. "The environment and financial impediments make that impossible.

Instead, we'll do it with modern technology: solar and other clean energy sources, new kinds of batteries, LED lights, efficient cook stoves and TVs, and plenty of innovations that now are surfacing."

Rogers and his co-author Stephen Williams, offer a number of examples of grass-roots efforts which are slowly introducing solar lamps and small solar-panel systems to villages and homes in Africa, India and other regions. Among them are Solar Sister, which trains women as sales agents for solar systems in Uganda, Tanzania and Nigeria, and Green Villages, which for small fees provides solar lamps in remote parts of India as well as local solar charging stations for cell phones.

Rogers himself is the co-founder of the Global BrightLight Foundation, a non-profit organization that has distributed more than 60,000 combination solar lanterns and phone chargers in eight countries including Rwanda, Uganda, Haiti and Guatemala.

But all of these efforts, while commendable, are insufficient, he says. To scale up the response, Rogers calls for governments in the low-income world to designate locally owned and operated franchises with exclusive rights to sell solar systems and other energy services within specified areas, a move he says would enable private companies to attract the capital necessary to bring electricity to the people.

"What is missing today is the political will to create these franchise areas alongside the state-owned utilities," he says. "As of now, the state-owned enterprises don't have the capital to expand into rural areas. These franchises will let private business raise those funds. There's enough money available in government aid programs, investment capital, and development finance to address the issue."

Rogers criticizes the World Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Obama administration for programs that aim to electrify poor nations, but focus primarily on massive central power stations controlled by state enterprises.

"Right now, the U.S. program, called Power Africa, is only using $1 billion of $7 billion allocated for the program for distributed, renewable generation in rural areas," Rogers says. "I think much more of this money should flow to those underserved areas. We have to convince government agencies that they'll get more bang for every dollar invested in distributed energy generation than from grid-based systems."

Ultimately, the U.S. and other Western nations may learn from electricity innovations in the Third World as they seek solutions to curbing carbon emissions that contribute to climate change, he adds. After all, it's easier to build a new sort of electricity network from the ground up than to overhaul an older, massive system.

"I try to keep the rural poor in mind when I think about power. First, I feel grateful for what we have here in the United States, which became nearly fully electrified back in the 1930s and 1940s, under the federal government's Rural Utilities Service. And second, I feel obligated to help bring electric power to those around the world who don't have it. But I hope to find a way to deliver it that doesn't involve the heavy pollution of power plants, or the complex grid of electrical wires,"

Rogers says;
"It's very clear to me that the system of electric power we have in North America and Europe, which is now being instituted in much of China and India and elsewhere, is not sustainable for the future of the planet. So we're going to have to figure out something else, and soon."

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