From super-efficient homes in the United States to an ingenious plan for extracting fuel from living forests in Indonesia, promising projects are expanding the reach of clean, affordable energy.
UN-led climate talks beginning November 30 in Paris may determine the course of high-level action to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Plenty of smaller projects across the globe, however, are showing what can be done right now—in one village, one town, one city block.
Check out six short and sweet stories about innovators—each recipients of funding from National Geographic's Great Energy Challenge—who are making a difference.
How Energy-Efficient Homes Can Fight Poverty
With 48 million Americans living below the poverty line, many are faced with difficult decisions between, for example, heating the house or buying groceries. A passive house—super-insulated and airtight to keep energy bills low—can help. Habitat for Humanity built six of them for low-income families in Washington, D.C. "It's basically as energy efficient as building gets," says Dan Hines, senior construction supervisor for the project.
What If One Tree Had Everything You Needed?
"I always tell people, nature knows best," says conservationist Willie Smits. He believes the best way to save Indonesia’s forests is to tap them: His Masarang Foundation collaborates with local people to harvest juice from the sugar palm and turn it into food, electricity, materials, and jobs.
One Man’s Quest to Save Uganda’s Forests
Sanga Moses remembers playing in the forest when he was a child. Now, in that village where he grew up, he says, "there's no forest left." His group, Eco-fuel Africa, helps farmers turn agricultural waste into clean and affordable cooking fuel. Instead of cutting down trees for firewood, communities are building businesses that sell sustainable energy.
How a Town-Size Solar Grid Is Changing Lives in Haiti
In Haiti, where nearly three-quarters of the population lacks access to electricity, even a few watts can be life-changing. Allison Archambault of EarthSpark International explains how her group pioneered a first-of-its-kind solar-powered smart grid in the rural community of Les Anglais. The goal is to go beyond solar lanterns. "The first watt is the most life-changing," she says, "but everybody aspires to higher levels of access."
Could This Stove Save Thousands of Lives?
Trained as an artist, Art Donnelly applied his sculpting talent to a problem far removed from the art world: deaths from indoor air pollution. Close to three billion people rely on smoky open fires for cooking. Donnelly, the founder of SeaChar, designed a cookstove that can run cleanly on corncobs and other biomass, turning it into charcoal in the process.
“Solar Entrepreneurs” Bring Light and Hope to Rural India
Without power, "people aren't reading, they're not working, they're not sleeping," says Ajaita Shah. "They're not living." She launched Frontier Markets, which brings clean energy via solar lanterns and home lighting kits to rural villages in Rajasthan, India. It's done so by transforming a thousand local women into solar entrepreneurs.
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