Am I linking to this story because at this time of year we start to look forward to the future?  Or am I doing it because Christmas Day is a good day to tell a story of good news?

Or is this story instructive in how betting on the future can be one of betting on hope and not negativity. 

For Sara Ruto, the desperate yearning for electricity began last year with the purchase of her first cellphone, a lifeline for receiving small money transfers, contacting relatives in the city or checking chicken prices at the nearest market.

Charging the phone was no simple matter in this farming village far from Kenya’s electric grid.

Every week, Ms. Ruto walked two miles to hire a motorcycle taxi for the three-hour ride to Mogotio, the nearest town with electricity. There, she dropped off her cellphone at a store that recharges phones for 30 cents. Yet the service was in such demand that she had to leave it behind for three full days before returning.

That wearying routine ended in February when the family sold some animals to buy a small Chinese-made solar power system for about $80. Now balanced precariously atop their tin roof, a lone solar panel provides enough electricity to charge the phone and run four bright overhead lights with switches.

“My main motivation was the phone, but this has changed so many other things,” Ms. Ruto said on a recent evening as she relaxed on a bench in the mud-walled shack she shares with her husband and six children.

As small-scale renewable energy becomes cheaper, more reliable and more efficient, it is providing the first drops of modern power to people who live far from slow-growing electricity grids and fuel pipelines in developing countries. Although dwarfed by the big renewable energy projects that many industrialized countries are embracing to rein in greenhouse gas emissions, these tiny systems are playing an epic, transformative role.

That's what small scale solar will provide: An epic transformative role. One reason I say that gas is the bridge fuel to the future, is how positive sounding much of the research on solar power is. Combine breakthroughs in energy efficiency, LED lighting and solar generation with breakthroughs in energy storage/batteries, we could be on the verge of something wonderful - and epic and transformative.

Under the gas as bridge fuel scenario, we get to 2030 and the world is far different than it was in 2010.  Or if we go under the UK's energy policy, the world of 2030 is the same as 2010, and more mistakenly it makes the dangerous assumption that any technology in 2030 is the exact same as today. 

We in the "advanced" world can learn from Kenya: We too can replace much of our lighting needs entirely via solar. Not all. Not even most. But easily enough to make obsessing over when will the lights go out even more of an expensive waste of time. Another thing we can stop being paranoid about is the developing world in an inexorable race for scarce oil and gas.

Or we can look for problems instead of solutions - choose the small picture, the conservative and the past.

The study, "Can unconventional gas be a game changer in European gas markets?", says that although unconventional gas development will not be a "game changer" for European gas markets overall, it could have a significant impact in individual countries, although this would probably not happen during the next decade.


More on the Oxford Study soon.

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