Your blog author was recently involved in a power outage. An overnight microburst with winds at 100 mph and higher took down a large double oak tree, which narrowly missed the house, but did end up taking down the power lines for the entire neighborhood. The only sounds the next morning were chainsaws and the constant hum of a neighbor’s generator. The generator-empowered neighbor offered to ‘power us all up’ and even set up a charging table for people to recharge their laptops and mobile phones.
In a way, what they did (besides demonstrating outstanding neighborly behavior) was to establish a microgrid – a small, independent area capable of providing its own power without the existing electric infrastructure. We lost power for a week and this was a problem for us - but it's nothing compared to what many in the world live every day. This post is about the ways in which microgrid projects may make a difference in the struggle to increase the use of renewable energy, and to “power up” parts of the world (such as in Africa or currently in Puerto Rico) where not having power is not a mere inconvenience, but a matter of moment-to-moment life and death, as well as allowing economic development to advance.
From the US Department of Energy, a microgrid is a local energy grid with control capability, which means it can disconnect from the traditional grid and operate autonomously. To understand how a microgrid works, first understand the grid. The grid connects homes, businesses and other buildings to central power sources, which allow us to use appliances, heating/cooling systems and electronics. But this interconnectedness means that when part of the grid needs to be repaired, everyone is affected. This is where a microgrid can help. A microgrid generally operates while connected to the grid, but importantly, it can break off and operate on its own using local energy generation in times of crisis like storms or power outages, or for other reasons.
A microgrid can be powered by distributed generators, batteries, and/or renewable resources like solar panels. Depending on how it’s fueled and how its requirements are managed, a microgrid might run indefinitely.
A recent article on this topic intrigued me, and then (perhaps because I was super-attentive to the topic) I found a flurry of recent stories about the increasing applicability of microgrids, for a wide variety of deployments and reasons. This one caught my attention because it centers on Pittsburgh – the city singled out by US President Trump when he announced that he was exiting the Paris Climate Agreement (and is now the leader of the only country not in that agreement). 'I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris', said President Trump. The mayor of Pittsburgh, Bill Peduto, said in return, ‘We stand with the world, and will follow the agreement’. That little interchange already had me focused on Pittsburgh just a little more than other cities.
From the article:
Usually, power grids rely on a far-flung network. For example, a person making toast might be drawing electricity from miles away. A microgrid is a local, independent power grid that can run without electricity from the main network.
A pilot site for microgrids is at the Pitt Ohio trucking company in nearby Harmar, Pa. Jim Maug, director of building maintenance, eagerly showed a reporter the building's green credentials last month. A wind turbine twisted near the parking lot. Solar panels tiled the roof. And in the truck bay, electric forklifts ran on batteries fueled by the renewable power.
"We're anticipating about a seven to eight-year return on investment," said Maug. The project cost about $325,000, he added.
Of course it’s not just the clearly tangible ROI that Pitt Ohio gets as a benefit. They also have the ability to continue operations during outages, independent of the main grid.
That’s a nice-to-have. For parts of the world, this is a must-have. In a recent Economist magazine Special Report on Africa, there’s a segment called “Good night, gloom” which is quite eye-opening.
It starts with (excuse the pun) a jolt.
Of all the measures of (Africa’s) poverty, few are starker than that about two-thirds of its people have no access to reliable electricity.
That’s 620 million people with no access to electricity, most of them in villages and on farms. This is not a convenience issue. This costs lives.
In Nigeria each year an estimated 36,000 women die during pregnancy or childbirth, many because they deliver their babies in the dark in clinics such as the one in Makoko, a slum perched on stilts above a lagoon in Lagos, Nigeria’s biggest commercial city.
The article goes on to more optimistic news, luckily. Africa has been adding renewable power via thousands of projects, at an amazing rate. The problem (just look at a map of Africa) is geography (see map below).
…generating power is useful only if it can be sent to where it is needed, and in many parts of Africa electricity grids seldom stretch beyond big cities. Adding a house to the grid even in a compact country such as Rwanda typically costs about $2,000, which is more than the country’s average annual income per person. The APP reckons that expanding grid power across Africa to reach almost everyone would cost $63bn a year until 2030, compared with the $8bn a year that is being spent now.
So the answer, much like in Pittsburgh, is microgrids (called minigrids in the article).
Increasingly, projects are being launched to power these remote villages and farm areas with microgrids. According to the article,
a study by the Rockefeller Foundation in India found that when minigrids were installed in villages, small businesses increased their sales by 13% and incomes rose across the area. “If you want to drive the productive use of electricity and move people up the economic ladder, then you need a minigrid,” says Deepali Khanna of the Rockefeller Foundation. The Smart Villages Initiative, which has brought together scientists from Cambridge and Oxford Universities to get minigrids adopted more widely in poor countries, found that once smallholder farmers have electricity, they quickly adopt a range of other technologies such as irrigation pumps and smartphones to get long-term weather forecasts. “You then soon find support industries springing up to feed this higher level of economic activity in the villages, together with a general increase in well-being,” says John Holmes, a co-leader of the initiative.
However, to get this done, it’s going to take projects, project management capability, and project managers. Have a look through this document (Click on the image below – or here to download it for free). In it you see the need for projects of which I speak:
To achieve universal electricity access by 2030, the current pace of expansion will have to double. It is estimated that off-grid solutions will supply 50-60% of the additional generation needed to achieve universal electricity access by 2030.
It’s important work and project managers will play a key role. I provide the following links if I have piqued your interest even a micro-amount.
Consider this a transitional blog post. The last one was (a bit tongue in cheek) about the opening of the Northwest Passage and other ‘good’ things to come from climate change. It features an Alaskan connection.
This one covers the connection between the US Department of Defense and global climate change, as covered by Scientific American. As you’ll see, one of the major pieces of that story is about the effects of climate change on the Arctic from a military viewpoint. Again, Alaska is a highlight.
This post is transitional from a past-present-future perspective, because the next few blog posts will reflect the fact that your humble blogger is traveling to Alaska to experience that part of the world for the first time and to share some perspective on climate change, project management, and the environment while actually witnessing glaciers, changes to the landscape, and stories from local people. So stay tuned. This show is heading North and West from its usual New England, USA home.
So, on to our three-part story based on the very recent (June 2016) “Preventing Tomorrow’s Climate Wars” article from Scientific American. The three components to the story are:
I'll show quotes from this article in 'indented italics'. Before discussing the three specific military/climate interactions, there is some very good background and context to be shared about the way in which the military has got involved. Even though the argument about climate change (in the US, anyway) has become highly politicized, the military is not about to wait for politicians to finish that debate. They work from facts – they have to – and the fact is that climate change (in the Department of Defense’s [DoD] own terms) is “an accelerant of instability” and a “threat multiplier”.
You can read the roadmap the DoD came up with here.
The article says
This past January the department issued a directive telling senior leaders they must now assess and plan for the risks posed by climate change. One new expectation is that humanitarian assistance and disaster response, limited to occasional missions in the past, will become part of almost every deployment, because the number of natural disasters worldwide is increasing significantly.
Although this may make the military sound more like the Red Cross or a UN relief organization, it actually makes strategic sense. Consider that countries which face disaster (e.g. droughts) for extended times, often become failed states and destabilizing factors in key regions, often breeding terrorism – in turn a major threat to US citizens at home and abroad as well as to peace-loving inhabitants of any country.
In October 2015, three former defense secretaries, two former secretaries of state, and 40 senators, military commanders, and national security experts – Republicans and Democrats – published a full-page open letter as an advert in the Wall Street Journal saying that climate change is “shaping a world that is more unstable, resource-constrained, violent, and disaster-prone”.
Next, I’ll briefly review the first two bullets from above (African Drought and Pacific Storms) and close with the piece on the Arctic because it mentions Alaska and will make a good segue to the next few posts which will emanate from the 49th US State.
Africa – a dangerous mix of drought and terrorism
Rapid population growth in Africa is a huge concern. In fact, we recently blogged about it. This large and growing population is heavily dependent on rain-fed subsistence agriculture. Changes in the environment – particularly drought – and the follow-on effects of crop failures, outbreaks of disease, combined with ethnic and religious rivalries, can “tip fragile states” (and there are many of them) toward war. The signs of climate change are not imaginary – they are real, and physical. Take Nigeria as an example. Its Lake Chad has lost more than 90% (you read that correctly – only 10% remains) of its original size to drought. Effects from the drought, combined with a perceived-to-be-ineffective Nigerian government, have enabled Islamist insurgent group Boko Haram (now allegiant to ISIS) to rise to power.
The US DoD has funded projects to study this relationship and to predict where this deadly combination may show up next. A University of Texas project has indeed yielded a “hot zone” map which shows where new conflicts would be most likely, enabling the military to get a strategic edge in preparing for response and/or preventing the threat from occurring in the first place.
The Pacific – stormy seas could enable dangerous conflicts
The South China Sea is a critical trade route, through which more than ½ of the world’s trade by ship passes. China is now engaged in huge projects, building military bases on – and even physically enlarging - islands in that sea which are claimed by the Philippines and other countries.
The connection here is that the Philippines recently experienced Super Typhoon Haiyan. The US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel responded with an aircraft carrier and 13,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines to provide food, freshwater, and supplies. You can sense (correctly) that this was – aside from a humanitarian response – also a strategic move to build alliances with countries in the region to counter China’s assertive moves. Again: a relationship between climate and conflict.
The Arctic – breaking the ice
There is no place on earth where warming is occurring faster than in the Arctic. And this is causing fundamental changes to the geography to the point where the Northern Sea Route north of Russia, and the Northwest Passage north of Canada are now open to travel and energy exploration during a good portion of the year. This is new – and due to rapidly melting sea ice. Russia is the leading military power in the Arctic, and president Vladimir Putin has not missed the importance of the changing geography.
In what are apparently direct orders from President Vladimir Putin, Russia’s military has created a Joint Strategic Command North, dedicated to protecting the nation’s interests in the Arctic Circle. The command has reopened cold war bases across Russia’s Arctic coastline, including one at Wrangle Island, only 300 miles from Alaska.
But it’s not just Russia that is very, very interested in the Arctic. Countries you may not expect to be ‘players’ are intensely interested in the newly-opened oil and gas resources that could be available. Singapore and India – countries which are exceedingly un-Arctic – are pushing to join the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental organization of the eight countries which border the Arctic or hold Arctic Territory [Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, the United States (Alaska), Canada, Denmark (Greenland), and Iceland (where it passes through the small offshore island of Grímsey)].
It took a while to get there but you do see a connection to Alaska here. And that great land will be the source of the next few posts.
Keep your (bald eagle) eye out for them!
Pop goes Africa
Busy marketplace in Lagos, Nigeria. Photo courtesy of The Guardian.
We estimate that this blog post will take you about 3 minutes to read. Stop reading for just a moment, and pause. Make a picture in your mind of 240 newborn babies. That is how many infants will be born in Africa as you read this post.
Another way to put this, given the projections: African population growth would fill an empty London five times a year.
Okay, you say – that’s all very interesting, but what does this mean to me, to my organization, to me, to projects, to project management? What’s this doing in a project management blog?
Well, we blog about the triple-bottom line. That means economic, ecological, and social aspects of business and sustainability in general. The story that triggered this idea for us appeared in the most recent edition of Scientific American, and it came under that journal’s heading of sustainability. But when we dug deeper (that’s what we do for you here!) it turned up some very project-oriented data, information, knowledge, and wisdom.
As any good PM would do, let’s start with some orientation and some facts and figures:
Here’s a chart that pretty strikingly shows the difference in projected growth among the continents of the world:
So there is your population data, in pretty striking form. Here are some additional facts and figures:
We’ve talked about the facts and the expected results. Let’s discuss the cause and ways to deal with it from a social perspective. It will lead to even more connections to ‘green by definition’ projects.
What has led to this population increase? It’s not just more babies. Ironically some of this comes from very good news, and is the result of projects and initiatives to improve the lot for Africans. For example, thanks to better practices in agriculture and the ability to move and store food (we’ve blogged about this recently), life expectancy has increased. “The 12 million Africans born in 1955 could expect to live only until the age of 37. Encouragingly, the 42 million Africans born this year can expect to live to the age of 60.” (see full article in The Guardian by clicking on the link).
So – the health of families has improved. People are living longer. One outcome is this burst in population. It’s apparent that this large population is not sustainable. What’s the best reaction to this?
According to Scientific American’s Robert Engleman the solution comes from empowering women. What’s the connection? Is there any evidence to show that it has worked? And, selfishly, is there any connection to project management?
From the Scientific American article:
“A significant fertility decline can be achieved only if women are empowered educationally, economically, socially and politically. They must also be given easy and affordable access to contraceptives. Following this integrated strategy, Mauritius has lowered its fertility rate from six to 1.5 children; Tunisia's rate dropped from seven to two. Men also have to relinquish sole control over the decision to have children and refrain from abusing wives or partners who seek birth control. For such efforts to succeed ultimately, government leaders must encourage public and policy conversations about slower population growth.”
There’s much more to that angle – we suggest reading the entire article. There’s other aspects also, though. Is there a connection to education of women?
Again, from the article:
“Education spurs young people to seek contraceptives and to plan smaller families as they learn about the world, their bodies and the potential to steer their own destinies. African women with no education have, on average, 5.4 children, according to the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. Women who have completed primary school have, on average, 4.3 children. A big drop, to 2.7, correlates with completion of secondary school. For those who go on to college, fertility is 2.2.”
Yes, there are examples of projects that assist in family planning, in education, generally with population control and management. Here are a couple of examples.
Below are some of the references for this post. We encourage you to read more about this issue and the ways in which it may impact you as a project manager, no matter where you are in the world – and the potential for the impact in the opposite direction – that is, your ability to have an impact on the issue as a project manager.