Several years ago, it was coal that brought a great deal of the progress needed in the rural areas. Much have changed over the years. With the advancement of energy technologies, going back to mining and processing coal no longer makes much sense. Politicians who promise to bring back coal-related jobs simply don’t have a grasp of reality.
Advanced economies are already turning to renewable sources of energy and it makes sense for developing economies to do the same, unless they’re limited by urgency that they have nothing but cheaper fossil fuels to exploit.
Of course, it’s not enough to simply state here that renewable energy is the better option to help development in rural areas. That’s why it’s important to highlight and explain the following points.
Renewable Energy Creates Employment
Who says there are no jobs in renewable energy? In the United States, for example, the solar and wind energy industries are reportedly creating jobs 12x as fast as that of the rest of the country’s economy. According to a study published by the Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate Corps program, the US solar and wind industries have expanded at an average growth of 20% in recent years. The same can be replicated in poorer rural areas, in Africa in particular.
Based on World Bank data, wind, solar and biomass energy create 4.6, 5.4, and 7.4 direct jobs respectively for every one million dollar of spending. They also create 4.9, 4.4, and 5.0 indirect jobs as well as 8.4, 9.3, and 12.4 induced jobs for every million invested. Coal pales in comparison as it only creates 0.8 direct jobs, 2.9 indirect jobs, and 2.3 induced jobs for every one million dollars spent.
The employment generation potential of renewable energy does not only mean jobs in the renewable power plants. As mentioned in the data above, there are also indirect and induced jobs created by renewable power plants especially solar, wind, and biomass. These job opportunities emerge because of the rise of industries in a locality and in response to the purchasing power created by the direct jobs generated by the renewable energy plants.
Governments that support renewable energy are helping create employment for their citizens. It provides an option for those who resort to overseas employment. Africans, for example, would likely prefer getting employed locally especially when taking into account how costly it is for them to send money back home.
Negligible Import of Energy Carriers
What makes renewable energy a better option for promoting economic progress in rural areas is the fact that not every rural area can become a site for coal or oil mining. There are more viable places for wind and solar plants as compared to coal and other fossil power plants. Wind and sunlight don’t have to be imported whereas coal power plants have to import the coal they need if it’s not available locally.
For renewable energy, including geothermal and hydroelectric power, what may have to be imported are only the equipment and construction materials needed to build the power plants. The fuel is sourced locally and is often available for free. This means money circulates in the local economy. There’s virtually no outward money flow, which is good for advancing the local economy at a faster rate.
Localities with their own renewable energy plants may even have excess power supply, which they can sell to neighboring areas. Again, this is helpful in boosting the local economy.
Access to Cheaper Power
Places that have their own power plants have lower power prices. This is largely due to the law of demand and supply. Increasing power supply in an area leads to the dropping of power prices. Everyone wants cheaper power, and this does not only benefit consumers. It is also another factor for improving local economic progress.
Cheaper power can be similarly achieved with the construction of coal plants (which are usually regarded as cheaper and more profitable). However, coal plants don’t offer the same advantages renewable energy does. Notably, coal plants have to import the coal they need for fuel and they are far from clean.
Promotion of Commercial and Industrial Growth
The introduction of electricity to an area initiates a chain reaction that leads to economic activity and progress. It can also bring about the rise of industries through rural small business ideas. For places that already have power supply, the introduction of new power plants creates more power supply which means lower power prices. This, in turn, makes an area attractive for industrial investments.
Access to power or electricity is vital in addressing poverty especially in places like Africa. Electricity does not only allow locals to have power for lighting. Affordable, abundant, and dependable power supply is necessary to power up communications, education, agriculture, industrialization, and even entertainment. In many parts of Africa, renewable energy is deemed more viable since it costs less in the long term as compared to bringing electricity from large scale power plants.
Renewable Energy Means Clean Power
Renewable energy is clean energy. Wind and solar power farms may take up significantly wider areas as compared to what’s needed for fossil power plants but this drawback is effectively compensated by the clean power produced. Some wind farms may even serve as tourist destinations. Renewable energy does not adversely affect local ecologies and create problems such as illnesses among locals, especially those who reside near coal-fired power plants. The absence of pollution alone is a major benefit for the rural areas where renewable power plants are built.
Some may argue about the existence of clean coal technology but this is something widely contested. Coal pollution mitigation technologies do exist but clean coal-based power production is more like a myth. It also does not help that not many coal power plant investors are willing to spend for coal pollution mitigation solutions as this can reduce their profits.
There’s no doubt that renewable energy can help in rural development. With proper management and government support, it can pave the way for economic advancement especially in poorer countries. It is a viable solution for addressing poverty and jumpstarting efforts to create or accelerate economic activity. It is a worthwhile investment option that also comes with a very important bonus: clean energy that does not contribute to environmental degradation and global warming.