SEATTLE, Washington — The inability to fully afford and use electricity is referred to as energy poverty, and it affects more than 1.2 billion people across the world. Corey Lien, the founder of nonprofit DOMI, sat down with The Borgen Project to talk about energy poverty in Taiwan and how it can be solved by helping people switch to renewable and efficient technology at an affordable cost.
Taiwan, a small island nation off the south-eastern coast of China, is fortunate to have a poverty rate of only around 1.5 percent. According to Lien, there are three classes of poverty in Taiwan, with the lowest class including about 4,000 people. These people live in heavily-subsidized housing for around $6 to $19 USD per month, but electricity costs them between $25 to $62 USD over the same month.
These high costs make people cut down on electricity use, which makes it difficult to work after dark and use air-conditioning and cooking appliances. DOMI’s work with those living in energy poverty in Taiwan involves the installation of solar panels and light-emitting diode (LED) lightbulbs to replace traditional bulbs.
When deciding which solution to pursue, DOMI looks at income, infrastructure, education, community connection and other indicators to determine how best to tackle the problem. Solar panels provide a host of benefits to a household. Aside from energy independence, households can sell excess electricity generated back to the grid, providing extra income for the family. The panels also absorb some of the heat, leading to savings on air conditioning costs. As demand for renewable energy increases, so too will the value of homes equipped with solar.
These systems do have a large start-up cost, which can make the idea of switching to solar daunting at first. To counter this, DOMI provides a consultation to determine the best way to switch, whether using a community or individual system, and whether to take out a low-interest loan for the system or take advantage of the Taiwanese government’s Million Rooftop PVs Grant to help pay for the costs of switching. The grant program promotes awareness and investment in solar panels, sets five-year targets and helps customers navigate application and building. It also provide financing for local governments to subsidize community usage.
LED lighting greatly reduces the long-term cost of energy for families living in energy poverty in Taiwan, despite the higher cost of the bulbs. The average lifespan of LED bulbs is seven-and-a-half times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs, and LEDs use about 70 percent less energy to create the same amount of light. The lower amount of energy used to create light also generates less heat, which can lower air conditioning bills.
LEDs do not use mercury, so there is no added hazard if they break. DOMI’s own LED bulbs are particularly beneficial for those living on tight budgets, as the bulbs are more efficient and less expensive than typical bulbs on the market. As a bonus, they come with a two-year warranty.
DOMI’s work with people living in energy poverty in Taiwan has reached 1,500 households. While this may seem like a small number of families in a country of more than 23 million people, the real effects come in the form of what Lien calls a “ripple effect”. DOMI’s message spreads through the people and businesses it helps to create sustainable, prosperous communities and change the world.
– Lucas Woodling