May 17, 2017 Djuan Coleon

The Link Between Energy Security and Building Sustainability

We will not be able to solve the world’s energy challenges unless we are committed to solving the world’s poverty challenges. Building Smart Cities, the Green Economy and Sustainable Development goals cannot be reached without dealing with poverty. Energy Poverty is a crisis that has to addressed just as we address the transition from fossil fuels to renewables. How do we bridge the gap between energy poverty and the green economy?


“Energy planning often takes place far from those without energy access; leaving them unseen, unheard and under-represented. ” -Helen Clark Administrator United Nations Development Programme


In the photo a woman is stacking Yak Dung to use as fuel for all energy needs including cooking as shown with the child in front of a pot of food. As we frame this global green economy and envision all the jobs that are going to be created. How does this impact the over two billion people around the globe who are in energy poverty? The discussion about Energy security must be framed beyond just reliable, uninterrupted energy supply and clean energy sources but also access. There are costs associated with leaving marginalized populations out of access to energy sources. For instance according to the Poor People’s Energy Outlook 2016 nearly 50% of the health facilities in India don’t have access to electricity which is about 580 million people. When hospital facilities don’t have access to energy it exacerbates the health issues of the people subject to treatment by these facilities.

In Kenya, for example, only 25% of facilities have a reliable energy supply, and blackouts happen at least six times a month, for an average of 4.5 hours at a time. This “directly affects services such as childbirth and emergency treatment, and limits night-time services. It can also lead to wasted vaccines, blood and medicines that require constant storage temperatures. Backup generators can be extremely expensive,” –Claire Provost

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United Nations Sustainable Development Goal number 1 is to end poverty. Global energy goals to reduce our carbon footprint utilize renewable energy sources should not be mutually exclusive to ending poverty. Let us consider that 90% of power generation is water intensive.

“Global water withdrawals for energy production in 2010 were estimated at 583 billion cubic metres (bcm), or some 15% of the world’s total water withdrawals. Of that, water consumption – the volume withdrawn but not returned to its source – was 66 bcm. In the New Policies Scenario, withdrawals increase by about 20% between 2010 and 2035, but consumption rises by a more dramatic 85%. These trends are driven by a shift towards higher efficiency power plants with more advanced cooling systems (that reduce withdrawals but increase consumption per unit of electricity produced) and by expanding biofuels production. ” (report International Energy Agency)

If we continue to require more water to produce energy then how does this affect water security? What about marginalized populations who have scarce access to clean water? According to a United Nations report over 783 million people do not have access to clean water globally.  It is estimated that almost 8 million people a year die from water related diseases and natural disasters. Natural disasters are on the rise due to Climate Change and its impacts that disproportionally affect marginalized populations. Everything leads back to dealing with the challenges of poverty. The U.S. Department of State Energy Security and the Georgia Council of International Visitors invited me to have a dialogue about Energy Security and Sustainability as a global issue.

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The United States is not exempt from the complexities and challenges of dealing with Energy Security and Energy Poverty.


The United States is not exempt from the complexities and challenges of dealing with Energy Security and Energy Poverty. Today marks 1,222 days and the City of Flint Michigan, in these United States STILL does not have access to clean drinking water. The lack of access to clean water is going to leave lasting negative health impacts on the citizens of Flint. Compounding the health issues in Flint is the attempts by our government to repeal the Affordable Care Act. We will pass more legislation like the 2009 AMERICAN RECOVERY AND REINVESTMENT ACT that allowed low to moderate income communities be able to bridge the gap and get access to energy efficiency programs and funding to modernize their homes and cut energy costs?

“Much of the U.S. energy system predates the turn of the 21st century. Most electric transmission and distribution lines were constructed in the 1950s and 1960s with a 50-year life expectancy, and the more than 640,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines in the lower 48 states’ power grids are at full capacity. Energy infrastructure is undergoing increased investment to ensure long-term capacity and sustainability; in 2015, 40% of additional power generation came from natural gas and renewable systems. Without greater attention to aging equipment, capacity bottlenecks, and increased demand, as well as increasing storm and climate impacts, Americans will likely experience longer and more frequent power interruptions.” (American Society of Civil Engineers, Infrastructure Report Card)



When we realistically look at the state of our energy infrastructure in America we cannot believe that we can “flip a switch” and change our energy grid to completely renewable energy sources overnight. Recently the City of Atlanta became the 27th city in America to commit to be 100% renewable energy municipality. The timeframe is by 2035 so in the interim we are going to have to work together with all stakeholders in the communities from the utility companies to the residents in LMI communities to make sure everybody benefits in the transition.  We have to be willing to explore new approaches and technologies like microgrids to increase resiliency and sustainability in our cities as well as the developing world with marginalized populations.

“From a global sustainability macro-perspective, the real work that needs to be done is in the developing world, the people that will determine the fate of our planet. If countries in Africa and Asia follow in our past footsteps when it comes to energy infrastructure, we are doomed. Clearly, instead of dumping our rejected products and technologies in emerging economies, ideas such as the microgrid would instead place these regions of the world at the forefront of appropriate scale technologies that solve, rather than create, problems. ” – Peter Asmus Associate Director, Energy Navigant Research

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The City of Brunswick Georgia has a poverty rate of 42% and our team wanted to figure out a way to provide solar access to the residents in the city. A team that includes the city of Brunswick, PURE and Georgia Power was selected to participate in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar in Your Community Challenge in an effort to make solar energy accessible to those in the low-to-moderate income communities.

Called PUREBrunswick, the team also includes PURE Cities — an organization with a focus on climate justice and sustainable development — the Roosevelt Lawrence Community Center and the Boys and Girls Club.

“We are thrilled that our team was selected to join the challenge,” said Djuan Coleon of PURE Cities located in Atlanta. “Our project will benefit the people of the city of Brunswick and the Golden Isles and increase the area’s solar energy by producing 100 kilowatts of solar power, demonstrate an innovative new business model that can scale nationwide and also demonstrate that solar is a viable option for low and moderate (income) residents in our state.”  When dealing with the challenges of energy we also must realize an address the challenges of poverty and access if we are truly going to be able to build resilient and sustainable communities.

PUREBrunswick Solar Initiative


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