The Beam interview series, edition 7: Daniel Kammen
To lighten up your week and give you even more energizing thoughts, we publish interviews from our partner The Beam twice a week.
The Beam takes a modern perspective at the energy transition, interviewing inspirational people from around the world that shape our sustainable energy future.
This week, Anne-Sophie Garrigou, journalist at The Beam, interviewed Daniel Kammen, professor in both the Energy Resources Group and the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley, where he also directs the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL). Kammen is working to overcome a lack of basic energy resources and inefficient and unsustainable energy practices — problems that he believes may be the largest contributors to human, environmental, and global health problems today.
The Beam: What is the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) and what is its goal?
Daniel Kammen: RAEL is a research and implementation group focused on developing new techniques to examine the benefits and costs of decarbonization and energy access strategies for homes, cities, nations and regions. Specific RAEL projects focus on elements of this continuum for energy access for the poor, notably in East Africa, Central America, and in South East Asia, for community sustainability, and for decarbonizing entire power grids. The power grid model, SWITCH, is in widespread use, in the US, China, Kenya, Chile, Nicaragua, with versions for India and Mexico under development.
How can the transition to a clean energy landscape reduce social inequalities? How do you envision this happening?
Clean energy systems can be significant levers to promote social equity. The non-rival nature of many clean energy systems is an important part of that story, but so is understanding and acting to address the environmental injustices of energy inequality and pollution clustered where poor and minority groups live.
My own laboratory has a major international program in using clean energy initiatives to address conflict in areas such as South Sudan, Myanmar, inner-city US locations, and can be found at:
How does solar power generate social change?
One of the most important aspects of renewable energy is that the resource can be shared; and that the use of one community does not generally impact others (true for solar and wind, a bit more complex for hydropower) ability to use the same resource. That means that well-designed clean energy systems can actually become vehicles to share resources more equitably (e.g. community mini-grids, or apartment buildings with shared rooftop solar). As always financing is an issue where the traditionally disadvantaged need more support, but with the costs of clean energy up front, the route exists to set up new infrastructure to directly support poor individuals and communities.
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