Texas Bureau of Economic Geology Director Scott W. Tinker vs Energy Poverty

Guest “Switch On!” by David Middleton

New Documentary “Switch On” Combats Energy Poverty

January 14, 2020

For much of the past two years, Bureau of Economic Geology Director Scott W. Tinker has been traveling the world to film a crucial documentary that illustrates the crisis of energy poverty. Some 2.5 billion people live in some form of energy poverty today. Access to secure energy impacts all other major humanitarian issues, including hunger, shelter, clean water, education, healthcare, human migration, empowerment of women, and more. Those who do not have energy access suffer from energy poverty.  

With partner and Emmy-winning filmmaker Harry Lynch, Tinker has produced Switch On, a new film which examines the very human story of energy poverty to raise awareness of this global problem. They traveled to rural villages and urban slums in Colombia, Nepal, Kenya, Vietnam, and Ethiopia to discover some of the creative approaches being deployed to bring electricity, water pumps, cook stoves, and irrigation to those with no energy.  

Switch On builds on the remarkable popularity of Tinker and Lynch’s award-winning global energy film, Switch. Switch On will be screened this spring in limited release, but a trailer can be viewed here: https://vimeo.com/366525473.

“Energy poverty is pervasive,” Tinker said. “Eradicating it will impact the whole world in countless positive ways. It’s not just the right thing to do. It’s the only thing to do.”

For more information about Switch On, visit SwitchOn.org, and to help end energy poverty, contact the Switch Energy Alliance at info@switchenergyalliance.org

Bureau of Economic Geology

Scott Tinker even dresses like a geologist…

Scott Tinker
Another geologist
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John MacDonald
May 21, 2020 10:54 am

I once investigated an approach to a mountaintop drill site in southern Bolivia. To get there we forded a major river and hiked for 2 days on mountain trails. We passed through a small village where it seemed the best thing they had was an almost empty schoolroom enhanced only with a faded blackboard painted on the wall. There was no modern energy supply anywhere. But the kids all wore big grins.

Ron Long
May 21, 2020 10:54 am

Good for Scott Tinker and his supporters for making the video about Energy Poverty. As an exploration geologist I have been in many poverty areas and find one common thread: there is a layer of corruption above them taking advantage of them and enriching themselves in the process. This is one of the barriers to aid agencies assisting persons living in poverty, the aid is detoured by the corruption. Good luck to Scott Tinker and Texas in getting more energy, in various forms, into the households around the world. The other geologist looks like the Exxon Ferrari guy. Just saying.

May 21, 2020 10:55 am

Some Hogwash for you: ““Energy poverty is pervasive,” Tinker said. “Eradicating it will impact the whole world in countless positive ways. It’s not just the right thing to do. It’s the only thing to do.”

No, it’s not the only thing to do and it should only be done in selected cases. Have we learned nothing from our China experience? No, we help only countries devoted to democracy. No communists, autocrats, and no dictatorships!

Reply to  David Middleton
May 21, 2020 12:34 pm

I have to disagree. I still say no help to potential or current enemies. And we should err on the side of caution.

Reply to  jim2
May 21, 2020 1:49 pm

Jim, let’s not get ourselves confused.
The Chinese people (for example) are not recalcitrants – it’s their CCP government that wants to make trouble for the rest of the world.

The ordinary people in these oppressed countries are just trying to get by in their lives just as we who luxuriate in democracies and free market economies do.

If our politicians and the UN could find a way to stick it to the CCP without hurting the ordinary citizens that would be great.

On 2nd thought, forget I said that about the UN. Useless chumps that they are.

Reply to  Mr.
May 22, 2020 11:59 am

Mr. It will be the Chinese government who directs their weapons that we paid for against us. It’s sad their people will be affected, but we have to yank our dollars away from China ASAP and let the country sink. If things get bad enough, maybe the Chinese citizens can have a revolution like we did and we can then reconsider based on the new order of things. Capitalism, personal freedoms, and free markets have gone a long way making the USA the powerhouse it is even though there are warts – nothing is perfect, just the best that can be had. There are plenty of countries with lots of resources that are backwards.

Pat from kerbob
Reply to  jim2
May 21, 2020 6:40 pm

Jim I used to think similar, worried about 3rd world countries “working with China”.
But I’ve learned better in that westerns countries and NGOs are peddling their green BS and trying to stick the third world with useless solar and wind plus keep them locked into subsistence farming
Eternal poverty

Then China shows up with Belt and Road and a big bucket of money to build coal fired power plants, ports, roads, mines, etc.

If we don’t want the 3rd world to work with China we probably shouldn’t be actively working to hold them down

Peter Buchan
Reply to  Pat from kerbob
May 21, 2020 9:56 pm

Pat – Well put.

You’ve put your finger on, not the only, but one of the key blind-spot failures of Western and particularly US diplomacy over the past 30 years – namely the arrogant, ahistorical assumption that the West is somehow imbued with innate, timeless wisdom and talent coupled to the right to “lead in all things”.

Don;t get me wrong: the advantages the West enjoys are many and clear of course, but many of them are the result of historical and cultural endowment
– and momentum – stretching back hundreds of years. Denying this in favour of a deeply flawed narrative has led to systematic miscalculation and, ultimately, to the current geopolitical and economic impasse.

Chasing profit above all else, and informed by ideologically flawed lies, the USA was only too happy to reject science and history to outsource its manufacturing base wherever it stood to gain in the short term. Instead, it chose debt and a new unproven ideology named “The Service Economy” – a technical-sounding term for a metaphor in which we celebrate the achievements of row upon row of remora suckerfish and cleaning wrasse distributed down the body of a shark (the political class and banks). Now that the mistake has become evident the moral and diplomatic bankruptcy of the West …and the US in particular… has become evident and, like a petulant child, it seeks to blame others for daring to fill the void after decades of abuse, mismanagement and missed opportunities. All that is left is (more) ideology and hard power rather than a renewed focus on old-school diplomacy.

All this vapid scurrying, chest beating and baying about “China!” and “Russia!” would be more amusing if it weren’t so dangerous, let alone futile. Many saw this coming of course – all you had to do is read and travel more widely, and with open eyes.



Alan Robertson
Reply to  jim2
May 23, 2020 7:51 am

“…we help only countries devoted to democracy…
It doesn’t take much for someone to realize that Socialism in all of its forms and by whatever name, is nothing more than yet another means to the end of concentrating wealth and power over others, into the hands of the fewest people, possible.
“Democracy” is not a cure- all for that disease. Look around, evidence abounds.

History gives us looks at many who have gained or maintained their stature, through the exploitation of those in weaker circumstance. Some things never change.
It isn’t the labels which those of tyrannical bent apply to themselves, or the banners they display; it’s their nature and their methods and the rationalizations which they use to justify their thoughts and actions.

Carl Friis-Hansen
May 21, 2020 11:08 am

Scott W. Tinker is surely doing a good and important job and from what I have seen on the website, he is correct in many details.
But focusing too much on the details may not do it.

Investment in sensible electric infrastructure is needed. This will pay itself back sooner or later in increased productivity.
It is very bad that World Bank has decided they will no longer finance coal power plants, which would, I assume, be the most rational thing to do.
When you first have the coal plants, you can begin to build a sustainable grid and get the industrialization up and running.

Abolition Man
Reply to  David Middleton
May 21, 2020 12:54 pm

Do you consider sugarcane ethanol a viable energy source in the tropics?

Reply to  Abolition Man
May 21, 2020 2:34 pm

If you can make more money producing ethanol from sugar then do it. If it extends the oil supplies and makes fuel cheaper, then do it.

In the US ethanol in fuels is a big giveaway to large agri-products companies and to some oil companies in a position to qualify for the subsidies. On and economic level it is just a way to waste money without having to face corruption charges.

For a long time Brazil has always been on the brink of an oil shortage. Sugarcane ethanol was a different way to get a larger liquid fuel supply. At times it also provided a nice source of cash for certain politicians.

Reply to  Bartiromo
May 22, 2020 8:50 am

From what I remember, it’s possible to economically make ethanol from sugar cane because of it’s high sugar content. Brazil has the type of climate that makes large sugar cane plantations possible. Here in the US, only southern Florida comes close to having such a climate.

Reply to  Abolition Man
May 21, 2020 5:02 pm

Makes perfect sense…burn food.

Exchange rate was highest I’ve seen at over 5:1 reals/usd last week so the scam appears to be working.

Meanwhile, If they hadn’t cut the cane think of all the carbon it would have sequestered.

Pat from kerbob
Reply to  meiggs
May 21, 2020 6:45 pm

The main issue with the biofuel sugarcane is cutting down all the tropical forest to grow it

That too was part of the message of Planet of the Humans, sugar cane and palm oil plantations are the real danger to the rainforest

Not cattle ranching

But you only ever hear about cattle destroying the forest

It’s green energy once again

Abolition Man
Reply to  meiggs
May 22, 2020 8:04 pm

Sugar cane, unlike corn, is not really a food. It grows like a WEED in the right conditions like a tropical island or savannah/forest interface. Why not encourage a second liquid fuel source for transportation as Dr. Zubrin described in “Energy Victory?”
Just to be clear, I am not in favor of corn ethanol or clear cutting tropical forests! I would prefer to see forests sustainably harvested and food left in an edible form, not wasted in ICEs that aren’t designed for it. I’ve built too many custom homes to ever believe wood is not a renewable resource and while I will discourage anyone from eating excess sugar, my elk-green chile enchiladas made with blue corn tortillas are to die for!

Phil Rae
May 21, 2020 11:58 am

I served as a co-chair with Scott at an event some years ago in Kuala Lumpur.

At the time, I thought he was in thrall of renewables, despite his geology background. I stress that this only my impression at the time and I may have got that completely wrong.

So, I look forward to checking out the movie and, hopefully, being pleasantly surprised.

Kevin kilty
Reply to  Phil Rae
May 21, 2020 10:01 pm

I attended a lecture of his in Laramie, Wyoming some ten years or so ago, and he sparred with some of the geoscience students quiet effectively. He pointed out the absurdity of some of their cherished stances on oil exploration versus the environment. I’d say he is a pragmatist.

Abolition Man
May 21, 2020 12:52 pm

Modern civilization needs vast amounts of energy in several forms; a liquid fuel for transportation (although LNG and other gases work well in some instances); a gaseous fuel, primarily for cooking and heating (my apologies to cavemen still using charcoal) and massive amounts of electricity for lighting and powering modern devices and appliances.
GangGreen has prevented impoverished Third Worlders from achieving liberty and prosperity by stymieing all energy development except Unreliables, which are vastly more expensive. If only we could fulfill the CAGW alarmist’s dreams of a fossil-fuel-free Utopia by sending them to live somewhere with only their pet Unreliables. At least we wouldn’t have to worry about them returning without some modern petroleum products! GangGreen are racist eco-imperialists who wish the human race to fail in our reach for the stars!

May 21, 2020 1:13 pm

Most of the world’s poor live in the equatorial tropical zones 20-30 degrees either side of the equator. So luckily, they aren’t in dire need of home heating to stay alive like the poor are in the cooler temperate or polar regions. While an electrical grid would be helpful no matter what powers it, these extreme poverty ridden areas aren’t going to be getting that any time soon as the cost to provide electricity infrastructure to the home (bamboo hut) becomes too expensive and they couldn’t afford the infrastructure cost of installation or the cost of the electricity, so low tech solutions is a place to start.

One simple improvement is solar thermal hot water, which is relatively easy to achieve, as simple as a black garden hose coiled up in a box with a plastic 8 mil sheet over it. To heat that kind of water would take a lot of electricity or FF to heat the same. That is just one example that the Third world already uses a lot of, (a barrel on the roof) and there are are much higher tech versions that are much more efficient, such as what you see at tropical resorts such as in Costa Rica. Solar thermal hot water actually makes a lot of sense, especially in these tropical zones.

Other low tech improvements that can be as simple as gravity fed water filtration (the old stainless steel tried and true Berkey water filter for eg.) and having a source of UVC light treatment, along with some chlorine treatment to make potable drinking water. It doesn’t take a lot of electricity to operate a UVC light treatment source to treat a fair amount of potable water, which some solar panels could provide for enough clean water for an entire village. They don’t need potable water for washing/laundry, or a flush toilet assuming they can become that advanced.

Much of the Third world burns damp biomass (dung, wood scraps, grass, leaves etc) in open fires which they say causes widespread respiratory health issues. Drying that wet biomass out to 8% and running it through a pelletizer allows that same fuel source to be burnt much cleaner and mostly smokeless in a small tin cup sized burner, including a small 2″ chimney made out of PVC pipe that exhausts to the outside of the bamboo hut. Cooking is now a much more safe endeavour for the family hut with the same fuel source they previously used. Small pellet machines that run with a 12 Hp Briggs and Stratton can make enough dry bio-pellets from this dung and combustible materials they already burn, for an entire village supply for a month, in a day. Now there is a business for an industrious travelling pellet maker that can do 30 villages a month. You can also make make concentrated animal feed pellets out of grass or crops, out of the same pellet machine, increasing local agricultural productivity.

For the remote poor village that won’t be getting grid power anytime soon, some small scale solar might be practical, if just to run a community refrigerator to store medicines, and charge cell phones/tablets and radios, assuming they have cell service in their locale. Even better, if in hilly/mountainous terrain is micro hydro. I have worked on many such systems utilizing water pumps as turbines, and motors as generators. You can do so with off the shelf fairly inexpensive equipment, even using induction motors on stand alone. You need to reverse engineer the pump curve for the specific installation metrics, (head and flow) but it works at very good efficiencies. Then with a load controller, maybe every bamboo hut could have a mini fridge and some electric LED light at night. Along with charging the cell phone/tablet etc. This costs a little more, but is a start.

As someone said upthread, the problem is usually corrupt politics at some level in the country, municipality or village that makes most everything nearly impossible. Until they can fix their local politic, it will be difficult to lift these poor people out of extreme poverty. But there is a place to start, and it can be small baby steps to begin with until the country can industrialize and bring grid power to rural poor areas.

Curtis D Cushman
Reply to  Earthling2
May 22, 2020 11:43 am

Gabon could supply hydro power to much of that part of the world. Lots of precipitation and mountainous terrain. The problem is the distribution grid. These things have to be built in the rain forest and then maintained. Rural electrification in the US was accelerated by the fact that many, if not most, of the farming areas and their supporting towns were already prosperous. This is not true in Central Africa, for example. You can build it, but then, who pays to keep it going?

Reply to  Curtis D Cushman
May 22, 2020 1:19 pm

Gabon would be wise to develop its significant hydro power resource, but it would probably only be utilized for the cities and various industry that high voltage transmission lines can deliver. Trying to wire up rural Africa in the jungle with distribution circuits to small towns and more rural areas probably will never happen, hence the theme of this post which is Switch On, about coming up with alternative ideas for improving basic living standards that are affordable for these desperately poor people. There are some simple and inexpensive solutions that can make a difference, and it would be best if the people pay for it themselves, so as they maintain and fix it when something doesn’t work. Maybe the West helps out with some of the initial cost and expertise to assist the set up, but then they have to run it and make the improvements and maintenance with their own ingenuity and hard work.

Look forward to the full video release, and am pleased that WUWT would even explore this topic for bettering the lives of hundreds of millions of desperately poor peoples with some some basic low tech solutions.

Tom Abbott
May 21, 2020 2:23 pm

From the article: “Some 2.5 billion people live in some form of energy poverty today. Access to secure energy impacts all other major humanitarian issues, including hunger, shelter, clean water, education, healthcare, human migration, empowerment of women, and more. Those who do not have energy access suffer from energy poverty.”

I like the term “energy poverty”. It’s a good description of the situation.

Pat from kerbob
Reply to  Tom Abbott
May 21, 2020 6:47 pm

It is a bigger thing in canada where there is more green energy, like ontario

John F. Hultquist
May 21, 2020 9:23 pm

We live in a rural setting with electricity distributed by a local Public Utility District (PUD); power is purchased and is mostly from large dams on the Columbia River (Oregon & Washington).

Thus while electricity is available there are still poor people that have difficulty paying all their bills. The PUD will handle a contribution added onto a client’s monthly bill. One must opt-in and select an amount. Charities in the community will establish a list of those needing help, and from various sources including that passed through the PUD, “energy poverty” is averted.

There may be other ways, so check alternatives if you are willing and able to contribute.

May 21, 2020 10:12 pm

Bravo Scott Tinker.


Up early, with a breakfast of a Vitamin D pill washed down with Tonic Water (Quinine). Good thing I skipped the Gin, because I’m already grumpy.

Here is my complaint:
I’ve been writing since 2002 about the failure of green energy to provide useful (dispatchable) electrical power, due to intermittency and diffusivity.
Since then, tens of trillions of dollars have been squandered by incompetent/corrupt politicians on green energy scams – that are not green and produce little useful energy.
Excess winter deaths in the United Kingdom total up to 50,000 per year, often triple the per capita rates of Canada and the USA, because of needlessly high energy costs and poor housing insulation, etc.

We are now seeing a huge reaction to the Coronavirus scare, and rightly so – schools closing, sports and cultural events cancelled, restaurants closed, etc. [After 2 more days of research I changed my opinion of the lock-downs]

So how is it that the green energy scam, propelled by the global warming/climate change scam, has been allowed to continue? Is it that 50,000 needless Excess Winter Deaths don’t count, but the risk of dying of coronavirus is serious? Maybe it‘s because everyone of a certain age is at risk from the coronavirus, but only the elderly-and-poor die from energy poverty – the inability to heat their homes due to excessively high energy costs caused by wind-and-solar-power scams.

Yes I’m grumpy, but with good reason. Deaths are deaths – it doesn’t matter if you are killed by the coronavirus or by the phony green actions of incompetent and corrupt politicians.

I’m going back to bed and hibernating – turning the electric blanket up to nine – see you in the Spring.

Regards, Allan

May 22, 2020 2:12 am

Come to the UK. Energy poverty is a serious problem here.

May 22, 2020 2:34 am

I believe Energy Poverty is a symptom of another problem — corruption, Green Energy, rotten government/legal system. Is there energy poverty in Venezualla? Germany?

Give people the freedom to work their way out of it and they might do it. Or they might value something else — clan ties, religion, tradition.

Let’s not go building things for societies until we know they will value, maintain, and grow the projects themselves. I hope the geologist addresses these issues.

Curtis D Cushman
May 22, 2020 11:48 am

Hi. DId this one come on?

Peter D. Tillman
May 22, 2020 6:58 pm

Nice post, Dave. As usual. Keep up the good work!

Love the photo!
“Scott Tinker even dresses like a geologist…”
I do too…

May 23, 2020 7:45 pm

I’ve been following Scott Tinker’s work with the Bureau at Texas for many years. He does good work. I used many slides from his excellent presentations-with appropriate citation-in my lectures in Energy Resources as well as in Introduction to Geology sources. My other life is as an exploration geologist and I spent many years exploring for and mining copper-the essential metal for electrifying any country. Copper consumption is a good proxy to define First, Second, and Third world countries. Look it up

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