SEATTLE, Washington — The concept of solving rural poverty with renewable energy seems odd on the surface. The issues plaguing renewable energy such as costs, efficiency and returns on investment make it virtually unsuitable for poor, rural environments. It is after all, in places like this where the opportunity for such bold initiatives hardly exists. However, in Brazil, where an abundance of renewable resources like hydropower and sugarcane (ethanol) generate electricity every day, the country is optimistic about solving one issue with the other.
Common Rural Issue and a Localized Solution
A typical issue facing impoverished communities, like those in Brazil, is that households have little to no access to electricity. These villages are undeveloped and off the national grid; their countryside location would make centralized electricity costly and yet these families make far less money than do typical, urban households.
Fortunately, a variety of available, renewable resources such as geothermal, solar and wind-based energies are localized, requiring no expensive connection to a centralized grid. Despite their costly initial price, the upkeep on these resources is quite cheap, which is perfect for the country’s developing rural communities. The main challenge in implementing these forms of energy is the initial cost.
The Brazilian government is looking for optimal methods to cover the expensive installation costs for these energy systems without allocating too much of their budget. Likewise, private sector financiers rarely take on such insecure investments, especially when the community is an impoverished one. This poses a great challenge when it comes to solving rural poverty in Brazil using renewable energy.
Power in the Geography
Interestingly, Brazil’s scenery may provide a solution to its problems. Due to an expansive coastline, Brazil has excellent access to wind energy and with a variety of flowing rivers, including various tributaries of the Amazon River. Hydropower is abundant, powering 12% of the nation as of 2016. Current environmental conflicts in the country regarding the Amazon Rainforest notwithstanding, Brazil has an extensive record of responsibly using its natural resources.
Over the years, while explicitly stating its main goal is universal access to electricity, the government has also focused on implementing strategies that utilize the country’s array of renewable resources. International bodies see this as a wise decision morally, strategically and economically. For example, it would implement a localized system rurally.
How Electricity Can Change Brazilian Lives
In rural Brazilian communities, basic access to electricity could change the lives of millions of impoverished families. Issues such as flooding, drought and the availability of arable land plague the poorest of Brazil’s rural areas. Optimistically, studies on this subject show that an increase in available technology not only increases farming productivity but also allows for safer preservation of farmed food, not to mention easier access to potable water.
Despite the optimism regarding technology-based solutions, the nation still has plenty to do towards solving rural poverty. In the Northeast, a primarily rural region, 7.5 million people live in extreme poverty. Exclusion remains the biggest challenge for these people. However, the implementation of bold projects by both the government and private organizations has started to show positive signs. One initiative to bring water to the state of Ceará led to an improved quality of life for 100% of affected citizens. The government hopes that these people will gain more opportunities through access to electricity, and so far, the solution to that issue is renewable energy.
An End to Energy-Poverty
While challenges in solving rural poverty in Brazil remain, the fight against energy-poverty has nearly ceased. As of 2018, Brazil reports having 100% access to electricity, nationwide. In the face of this victory, the country also reports a steadily decreasing rural poverty rate, namely in the North and the Northeast — the country’s poorest regions. While success slowly rolls in, Brazil will have to plan for more ways to combat rural poverty.
– Joe Clark