Why I Give Watts

As some of you may know, I recently joined the Board of Directors of GIVEWATTS, a global nonprofit providing clean, free light to schools and clinics in the developing world. Following is a guest blog post I wrote on the GIVEWATTS website, the full post of which can be found here.

This is a truly worthy cause and I hope that you will join me in giving watts where they are needed.

Why I Give Watts

Energy represents the greatest challenge of our generation. Whether you are concerned with the dwindling supply of conventional energy sources, the environmental effects of those sources, or the social effects of global energy inequities, the story is the same: our status quo issimply unsustainable. During my first trip to Kenya I also recognized just how much the future of energy will be shaped by the developing world, whose demand for energy is growing at an extraordinary rate. If developing countries make the same mistakes that we (the most developed countries) have made, dark and terrible times are ahead.

GIVEWATTS is addressing this problem. 2.5 BILLION people–nearly half the world’s population–don’t have reliable access to electricity so rely on wood, kerosene, or other forms of CO2-producing “conventional biomass” for light and heat. Much of Africa falls into this category. Many African villages either operate with no light at night–meaning they cannot be educated or productive at night, furthering the wealth gap between them and the more developed world–or they burn fuels such as kerosene for their heat and light. The fumes from the kerosene not only damage the environment; they also cause respiratory illness in those nearby, reducing life expectancy and increasing healthcare costs. Furthermore, because fuel is expensive, it keeps the population in poverty.

Conventional efforts to address this issue have been largely ineffective. Creating the infrastructure for a modern electric power grid requires significant resources–and time–and too often corruption stands in the way of any real benefit. The GIVEWATTS solution empowers the people directly. By providing solar powered lamps and flashlights (solar powered heating and power generation coming in the future) to African schools and clinics, we help them break the cycle of poverty, illness, and environmental damage. The lamps charge all day then provide clean, free light as late as they are needed into the night.
The economics of this approach are extremely compelling. GIVEWATTS charges $25 (€20) to donate 1 watt of power to an African village. The watts produce light in renewable energy solutions, are used every day and has a life expectancy of 10 years (if solar; it also might require new batteries after 2-3 years) so the $25 donation provides 3,652 days of clean, free light to students, teachers, clinical staff, and patients, depending on which project is chosen. By contrast, it costs $0.21 per day, $775 per 10 years, for light from a dirty kerosene lamp (assuming current prices of about $1 per liter of kerosene and a consumption of 1,5 liters per week). Much of the African population lives on less than $1 per day per person, so paying 20% of that for dirty energy is a big deal.

This is what I love about the GIVEWATTS solution: by donating only $25 from the US, you reduce $775 of cost in Africa! This is INTELLIGENT wealth transfer from one part of the world to the other–a far cry from the ineffective, inefficient, corrupt transfer that we have been trying for decades. What’s more, each watt that is donated reduces CO2 emissions, alleviates a major healthcare epidemic (significantly reducing healthcare costs), and closes the development gap.

Another reason I support GIVEWATTS is their commitment to transparency. When you donate a watt of power, it is tangible and you understand the precise effect it will have. At givewatts.org we publish ongoing updates about the specific installations we have done so you can see your watts in action.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I support GIVEWATTS because of its people. I have known Jesper Hornberg, the founder, for years. I know him to be a man of highest quality and integrity. I have looked in his eyes and seen the true will to do good in the world and I know he has the talent to realize such a vision. It was one of the greatest honors of my life when he invited me to join the GIVEWATTS Board of Directors with a specific focus on developing US operations and I accepted it without hesitation.

So there you have it: a problem that must be solved, the best solution I have ever seen to that problem, and a great team to see it through. I hope you will join me in supporting GIVEWATTS. Together we will change the world–one light at a time!

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