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Ashden Awards: Proximity Designs, Myanmar

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The Ashden Awards uncover and reward sustainable energy pioneers in the UK and across the globe, to date it has given out 170 prizes. Proximity Designs was one of the five international winners in the 2014 awards.

Bringing energy to agriculture for the first time in Myanmar 

Key facts

– 58% of Myanmar’s population depends on agriculture (about 23 million people).

– Irrigating just a small plot of farm land requires about 3,000 litres of water a day.

– 132,864 households have purchased at least one of Proximity’s irrigation products, generating a total of $197 million (£131m) in increased rural income.

Background

Until very recently, the only way for farmers in Myanmar to water their crops was to manually lift buckets of water from wells and carry them through the fields. This was backbreaking and time-consuming work and meant that only small areas of crops could be watered at a time.

About the company

Myanmar-born Debbie Aung Din and husband Jim Taylor saw how this lack of energy was holding the country back and decided to move here in 2004 after decades working in development and public policy. They decided to focus on designing affordable products for Myanmar’s farmers and arrived from America with just two treadle pumps to start them on their design journey. Originally known as IDE Myanmar, Debbie and Jim founded Proximity Designs in 2008. Although a grant-funded NGO, it operates on a social enterprise model, so charges appropriately for its products and services.

As well as designing and manufacturing affordable treadle pumps, drip irrigation kits, and water storage equipment, Proximity has ventured into distributing low-cost solar energy lanterns, farm advisory services and microfinance loans throughout Myanmar. On average, its products and services increase rural incomes by $250 a year.

The Award

Proximity won the 2014 USAID Ashden Award for Energy and Agriculture.

The Ashden judging panel said:

By introducing appropriate, sustainable technologies to irrigate Myanmar’s fields, Proximity is increasing incomes, transforming lives and bringing hope to rural communities after decades of neglect.

Progress since its Award

Since winning, Proximity’s field teams have received sales training from Whitten and Roy Partnership through Ashden’s business support programme, as this was seen as being fundamental to its growth and expansion plans. This was particularly important to Proximity, as political and economic reforms are increasing the presence of imports and it’s important for the social enterprise to drive strong sales amidst growing competition. Additionally, Proximity will be launching a solar powered irrigation pump later in 2015, and is keen for it not to displace its range of treadle pumps already on the market.

As of January 2015, Proximity Designs has provided over 370,000 products and services, benefitting over 475,000 people. It employs 415 people, and its distribution reaches nearly 80% of Rural Myanmar.

Plans for the future

Proximity continues to adapt to the needs of this rapidly changing country. As well as developing innovative low-cost solar water pumping systems, it’s currently expanding its range of financial inclusion products as well as access to it farm extension services. Product wise, Proximity is looking to cooperation among different business units to further the social enterprise mode. These new products will allow it to extend further into rural Myanmar, making life easier for more of Myanmar’s farmers and smallholders.

Find out more at http://www.ashden.org/winners/Proximity14

Watch a video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZH2C5yzYKt4

Photo: Ashden Awards via Flickr

Further reading:

An Ashden evening with Ed Davey and Zac Goldsmith

Abundance and Ecotricity among winners at Ashden Awards

‘Sustainable energy champions’ announced as Ashden Award finalists

Eurostar Ashden awards £30,000 to sustainable travel businesses

20 questions with… Sarah Butler-Sloss

Energy

Responsible Energy Investments Could Solve Retirement Funding Crisis

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Energy Investments
Shutterstock / By Sergey Nivens | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/nivens

Retiring baby-boomers are facing a retirement cliff, at the same time as mother nature unleashes her fury with devastating storms tied to the impact of global warming. There could be a unique solution to the challenges associated with climate change – investments in clean energy from retirement funds.

Financial savings play a very important role in everyone’s life and one must start planning for it as soon as possible. It’s shocking how quickly seniors can burn through their nest egg – leaving many wondering, “How long your retirement savings will last?

Let’s take a closer look at how seniors can take baby steps on the path to retiring with dignity, while helping to clean up our environment.

Tip #1: Focus & Determination

Like in other work, it is very important to focus and be determined. If retirement is around the corner, then make sure to start putting some money away for retirement. No one can ever achieve anything without dedication and focus – whether it’s saving the planet, or saving for retirement.

Tip #2: Minimize Spending

One of the most important things that you need to do is to minimize your expenditures. Reducing consumption is good for the planet too!

Tip #3: Visualize Your Goal

You can achieve more if you have a clearly defined goal in life. This about how your money can be used to better the planet – imagine cleaner air, water and a healthier environment to leave to your grandchildren.

Investing in Clean Energy

One of the hottest and most popular industries for investment today is the energy market – the trading of energy commodities. Clean energy commodities are traded alongside dirty energy supplies. You might be surprised to learn that clean energy is becoming much more competitive.

With green biz becoming more popular, it is quickly becoming a powerful tool for diversified retirement investing.

The Future of Green Biz

As far as the future is concerned, energy businesses are going to continue getting bigger and better. There are many leading energy companies in the market that already have very high stock prices, yet people are continuing to investing in them.

Green initiatives are impacting every industry. Go Green campaigns are a PR staple of every modern brand. For the energy-sector in the US, solar energy investments are considered to be the most accessible form of clean energy investment. Though investing in any energy business comes with some risks, the demand for energy isn’t going anywhere.

In conclusion, if you want to start saving for your retirement, then clean energy stocks and commodity trading are some of the best options for wallets and the planet. Investing in clean energy products, like solar power, is a more long-term investment. It’s quite stable and comes with a significant profit margin. And it’s amazing for the planet!

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Energy

What Should We Make of The Clean Growth Strategy?

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Clean Growth Strategy for green energy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By sdecoret | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/sdecoret

It was hardly surprising the Clean Growth Strategy (CGS) was much anticipated by industry and environmentalists. After all, its publication was pushed back a couple of times. But with the document now in the public domain, and the Government having run a consultation on its content, what ultimately should we make of what’s perhaps one of the most important publications to come out of the Department for Business, Energy and the Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in the past 12 months?

The starting point, inevitably, is to decide what the document is and isn’t. It is, certainly, a lengthy and considered direction-setter – not just for the Government, but for business and industry, and indeed for consumers. While much of the content was favourably received in terms of highlighting ways to ensure clean growth, critics – not unjustifiably – suggested it was long on pages but short on detailed and finite policy commitments, accompanied by clear timeframes for action.

A Strategy, Instead of a Plan

But should we really be surprised? The answer, in all honesty, is probably not really. BEIS ministers had made no secret of the fact they would be publishing a ‘strategy’ as opposed to a ‘plan,’ and that gave every indication the CGS would set a direction of travel and be largely aspirational. The Government had consulted on its content, and will likely respond to the consultation during the course of 2018. And that’s when we might see more defined policy commitments and timeframes from action.

The second criticism one might level at the CGS is that indicated the use of ‘flexibilities’ to achieve targets set in the carbon budgets – essentially using past results to offset more recent failings to keep pace with emissions targets. Claire Perry has since appeared in front of the BEIS Select Committee and insisted she would be personally disappointed if the UK used flexibilities to fill the shortfall in meeting the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, but this is difficult ground for the Government. The Committee on Climate Change was critical of the proposed use of efficiencies, which would somewhat undermine ministers’ good intentions and commitment to clean growth – particularly set against November’s Budget, in which the Chancellor maintained the current carbon price floor (potentially giving a reprieve to coal) and introduced tax changes favourable to North Sea oil producers.

A 12 Month Green Energy Initiative with Real Teeth

But, there is much to appreciate and commend about the CGS. It fits into a 12-month narrative for BEIS ministers, in which they have clearly shown a commitment to clean growth, improving energy efficiency and cutting carbon emissions. Those 12 months have seen the launch of the Industrial Strategy – firstly in Green Paper form, which led to the launch of the Faraday Challenge, and then a White Paper in which clean growth was considered a ‘grand challenge’ for government. Throughout these publications – and indeed again with the CGS – the Government has shown itself to be an advocate of smart systems and demand response, including the development of battery technology.

Electrical Storage Development at Center of Broader Green Energy Push

While the Faraday Challenge is primarily focused on the development of batteries to support the proliferation of electric vehicles (which will support cuts to carbon emissions), it will also drive down technology costs, supporting the deployment of small and utility-scale storage that will fully harness the capability of renewables. Solar and wind made record contributions to UK electricity generation in 2017, and the development of storage capacity will help both reduce consumer costs and support decarbonisation.

The other thing the CGS showed us it that the Government is happy to be a disrupter in the energy market. The headline from the publication was the plans for legislation to empower Ofgem to cap the costs of Standard Variable Tariffs. This had been an aspiration of ministers for months, and there’s little doubt that driving down costs for consumers will be a trend within BEIS policy throughout 2018.

But the Government also seems happy to support disruption in the renewables market, as evidenced by the commitment (in the CGS) to more than half a billion pounds of investment in Pot 2 of Contracts for Difference (CfDs) – where the focus will be on emerging rather than established technologies.

This inevitably prompted ire from some within the industry, particularly proponents of solar, which is making an increasing contribution to the UK’s energy mix. But, again, we shouldn’t really be surprised. Since the subsidy cuts of 2015, ministers have given no indication or cause to think there will be public money afforded to solar development. Including solar within the CfD auction would have been a seismic shift in policy. And while ministers’ insistence in subsidy-free solar as the way forward has been shown to be based on a single project, we should expect that as costs continue to be driven down and solar makes record contributions to electricity generation, investment will follow – and there will ultimately be more subsidy-free solar farms, albeit perhaps not in 2018.

Meanwhile, by promoting emerging technologies like remote island wind, the Government appears to be favouring diversification and that it has a range of resources available to meet consumer demand. Perhaps more prescient than the decision to exclude established renewables from the CfD auction is the subsequent confirmation in the budget that Pot 2 of CfDs will be the last commitment of public money to renewable energy before 2025.

In short, we should view the CGS as a step in the right direction, albeit one the Government should be elaborating on in its consultation response. Its publication, coupled with the advancement this year of the Industrial Strategy indicates ministers are committed to the clean growth agenda. The question is now how the aspirations set out in the CGS – including the development of demand response capacity for the grid, and improving the energy efficiency of commercial and residential premises – will be realised.

It’s a step in the right direction. But, inevitably, there’s much more work to do.

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