By Toni Allen
Posted on 2021-12-03
At the intersection of STEM education and social justice is communications. How many times a day does the average person in the United States check their smartphone, tablet, laptop, or another connected device to stay abreast of the news, market changes, social communications, hobbies, work-related issues, household tasks, education, and similar communications?
In developing countries, one of the biggest development challenges is effective communications, which impacts numerous aspects of daily life as well as the ability to improve life for their citizens.
However, renewable energy is helping to mitigate these issues, making it easier to bring reliable communications to a wide range of daily activities, as well as bringing equity to those in need in developing countries.
As a topic that can be differentiated for almost all school age groups, renewable energy has numerous types, such as wind, solar, hydroelectric, tidal, geothermal, and some forms of biomass. These forms of energy are self-renewing in most cases, and they help lower the amount of greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere.
Developing countries have had challenges with providing sufficient energy for communications systems. As renewable energy technology continues to improve, costs decrease, and these technologies become a better option for providing power in developing countries, especially to the communications grid.
Let's look at some examples that can be used in the classroom to facilitate discussion of these science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) topics.
With much unrest in Africa following decolonization, the United States sent contractors to help build a series of hydroelectric dams to improve energy availability, both in general and specifically for mining operations in Zaire, now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Named Inga I and II, these dams harnessed the power of the Congo River, Africa's second-longest river, at Inga Falls, one of the world's tallest waterfalls.
When the third dam, Grand Inga, is completed, it's estimated that the river's flow will produce approximately 93 gigawatts of energy. That's the equivalent of almost 34,000 wind turbines!
Per capita, Kenya leads the world in solar power systems that are installed—typically small household systems that enable the powering of smartphones or similar devices that improve education and communications about crop status for farmers, provide telemedicine visits, and similar opportunities. Kenya also leads the African continent in geothermal energy production at 200 megawatts, with the potential to increase this production to 10 gigawatts.
While India's large population is supported by renewable energy, the country is the world's largest consumer of coal, which can cause serious air quality problems. India is trying to lessen its dependence on coal, with a combined aim of reaching 175 gigawatts of renewable energy, including 100 gigawatts from solar, 10 gigawatts from biomass, 60 gigawatts from wind, and 5 gigawatts from small hydroelectric by 2022.
At the same time, private investors in India are taking a more ambitious approach, promising 270 gigawatts of renewable energy production in the near future.
In the past, the issue at the heart of bringing power and communications to the most poverty-stricken areas of our world has been the cost of either extending power lines to remote communities or creating power generation facilities in these communities. The benefit of using renewable energy systems include being able to provide power to these communities using lower-cost generation systems, such as solar panels, small wind turbines, micro-hydro, and similar options that make it less expensive to provide these communities with power for refrigeration, small industry, communications, and other important needs.
Renewable energy is also being used in developing countries to provide a range of additional benefits, including the following:
By using renewable energy to boost developing countries' communications grids and provide additional power to households, quality of life can improve exponentially. In fact, the adaptations that have occurred in education due to the COVID-19 pandemic—telelearning, for example—could be employed to help educate children and adults worldwide about everything from basic language arts, mathematics, science, and the humanities to food safety, health, trades, business, and legal issues.
Remote access to education, medical help, employment, information, government resources, and similar communications can help improve quality of life further by providing meaningful support instead of a mere handout.
By teaching students about how renewable energy systems work, students can not only learn important STEM concepts, but also how these resources are being used to reduce poverty levels in developing countries—while providing new opportunities through improved communications.
Toni Allen is a contributor and editor at Commodity.com, a leading resource on commodities markets and trading. In her spare time, Allen enjoys spending time with her family and exploring the outdoors.
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