A farmer in Nairobi, Kenya displays his home-made fuel briquettes. (Photo Credit: Bernard Pollack)

Worldwatch Institute: Five Renewable Sources of Energy for Farmers in Developing Countries

Many of the world's poorest people are rural farmers with no connections to power grids or large-scale energy sources. Most of their day-to-day energy currently comes from the burning of wood and charcoal, practices that contribute to air pollution, deforestation, and the loss of precious time and energy collecting firewood.

Today, Nourishing the Planet introduces five sources of renewable energy that are meeting the demands of poor farmers and allowing them to improve their harvests and their lives.

1. Solar Energy: Solar energy is widely harvested in two basic ways. The first is the use of solar panels, which use photovoltaic cells to convert solar radiation directly into electrical current. Such installations are efficient and versatile but have high start-up costs. The second is solar heating, which harnesses the heat of direct sunlight to boil water and cook food, activities which often constitute more than 25 percent of a household's energy use.

2. Wind Energy: Small-scale wind turbines typically have capacities up to several hundred kilowatts (kW), which in some cases is enough to power an entire village. Wind power can often be used in regions where solar is less effective, and can generate power at night or during storms. This makes wind energy a viable way to generate energy, and an excellent complement to a solar system.

3. Biogas: Biogas can be an excellent source of free, renewable energy for poor farmers. Biogas is mostly methane that is released from any organic matter that is decaying in the absence of oxygen. Biogas can be captured from animal manure, vegetable scraps, and even human waste, and used as a clean source of energy. The sludge leftover from biogas can be used as safe organic compost because pathogens that may be harmful to humans have been inactivated by the heat.

4. Micro Hydropower: Micro hydroelectric power is different from typical hydroelectric power because it doesn't attempt to significantly interfere with the flow of the river. Typically rated at a maximum capacity of 300 kW hours, the micro hydro systems don't dam rivers, but instead divert a stream of water that flows downhill through a pipeline dropping into the turbine. The turbine then generates electricity which can be stored in batteries and transported to where villagers may need it most.

5. Biomass Briquettes: Biomass briquettes are made of readily available waste materials, including potato peals, banana peals, dry leaves, and paper that shredded and pounded together into a fuel briquette that burns longer and cleaner than charcoal.

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Source:  Worldwatch Institute, “Five Renewable Sources of Energy for Farmers in Developing Countries.” Copyright 2012. www.worldwatch.org.