Columbia World Projects Announces Launch of Two Projects in Ghana and Uganda to Improve Energy Access

October 25, 2019

Columbia World Projects (CWP) is pleased to announce the launch of two new projects that emerged from CWP’s 2018 Forum on expanding access to energy. The meeting brought together 35 experts on energy from inside and outside of Columbia to identify specific projects that CWP could develop and that would bring research and scholarship to bear on expanding reliable access to clean energy to populations in need around the world.

“These projects have the potential to expand energy access for millions of people, which we know can play a critical role in enabling economic opportunity, health, gender equality, food security and environmental sustainability. They underwent a rigorous evaluation and design process, and we’re hopeful that, using Columbia research, they will yield positive outcomes and ultimately improve lives,” said Nicholas Lemann, the director of Columbia World Projects. “With three projects now out in the field, Columbia World Projects is in full swing and fulfilling our mission to address global challenges in innovative ways. And we’re confident that what we learn from these projects will also enrich the scholarship that takes place on Columbia’s campus.” 

The projects are outlined below:

Combating Household Pollution With Clean Energy

Nearly 3 billion people around the world use traditional cookstoves and fuels. According to the World Health Organization, the resulting air pollution leads to an estimated 4 million preventable deaths per year. In Ghana, about 70% of households cook by burning biomassincluding wood, charcoal and crop residue in open fires. While there have been significant public and private investments in efforts to encourage the use of clean cookstoves over the last decade, new approaches are needed to achieve substantial changes in air quality and health. The project aims to increase the adoption of innovative clean cooking technologies that reduce household air pollution. The project takes a new comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach to addressing the problem that (1) integrates behavioral approaches to understand and overcome obstacles to adopting clean-cooking technologies; (2) deploys an array of clean technologies, rather than providing households with a single option; (3) aims to transition entire communities to new cookware and energy sources in order to achieve significant health benefits that cannot be realized through the transition of only a few households in any given community; and (4) examines broader infrastructural and regulatory barriers to adoption in order to facilitate transitions based on community needs. The project will focus on a region within Ghana with nearly 30,000 people — with the hope of dramatically and measurably improving their public health, while also contributing to women’s empowerment in the region, economic development and improved environmental quality.  If successful, this effort should provide lessons that can be applied throughout Ghana and Africa more generally.

The project is undertaken in partnership with Kintampo Health Research Centre, Ghana Health Service; the government of Ghana; and the Clean Cooking Alliance. It is led by Dr. Darby Jack (Columbia Mailman School of Public Health); Dr. Kelsey Jack (University of California, Santa Barbara); and Dr. Kwaku Poku (KP) Asante (Kintampo Health Research Centre, Ghana Health Services)

Using Data to Catalyze Energy Investments

Access to energy is critical for expanding economic opportunity, ensuring food security and achieving other key measures of human development. This project aims to increase access to energy in target regions of Uganda, unlocking economic opportunity across the region. The project will achieve this by collecting and analyzing data – making useful information widely accessible to assist in predicting where energy investments can lead to potential income generation. The data will be used to help the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and other partners invest in entrepreneurs and entities to expand access to energy in a sustainable way. The data will also be made available to private and public investors, to assist them in determining potential strategies for funding clean energy to populations in need of reliable access. As part of the project, Columbia researchers will develop and deploy new methods for mapping energy demand, using the latest data gathering methods. The analysis will support a productive, sustainable and growing energy market.

The project is a partnership with the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF). It is led by Dr. Vijay Modi – (School of Engineering, Earth Institute),  Dr. Suresh Sundaresan (School of Business), Dr. Markus Walsh (Center for International Earth Science Information Network, Earth Institute), John MacWilliams (Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy, School for International and Public Affairs) and Philippe Benoit (Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy, School for International and Public Affairs).

Columbia World Projects develops projects through Forum meetings, which are held a few times each year. The meetings bring together topic experts from inside and outside of Columbia University to address a fundamental challenge facing humanity. The participants have a range of backgrounds, and are asked to come to the Forum with concrete project proposals for how research and scholarship can be brought to bear to address some facet of the challenge. The goal of the Forum is to identify the projects that, within five years, have the greatest potential for addressing the challenge and improving people’s lives while also enriching research and scholarship. After promising project ideas are identified in the Forum, they undergo a rigorous design phase, at the end of which Columbia World Projects senior staff decides whether to implement them. Columbia World Projects has held six Forum meetings and is currently evaluating and designing projects that emerged from those meetings. More projects will be announced in the coming months.