The Future: It’s Electrifying!

Load shedding. That’s what large parts of the world call scheduled electricity cuts. In countries like South Africa it’s so routine, that the state power utility has launched an app to tell you when and for how long to expect to be in the dark — so you know whether to cook dinner early! South Africa, like much of the wider world, looks set to benefit from the global movement away from fossil fuels to clean sources of electrification.

In today’s Sunday Magazine, you’ll learn about one organization that’s doing exactly that. We also look at how solar is taking the rest of the world by storm, from the rise of electric cars in the U.S., to e-rickshaws in Bangladesh, to floating solar panel farms in Singapore and Japan’s ambitious plan to install solar panels on the roof of every home. This is certainly solar electricity’s moment in the sun.

a new solar system

Singapore Shine

Earlier this month, the Southeast Asian city-state of Singapore unveiled one of the world’s largest floating solar farms: 122,000 panels spanning an area the size of 45 soccer fields. The game-changing, government-run project could reduce annual carbon emissions by about 32 kilotons while quadrupling solar energy production by 2025. The project will produce enough power to run Singapore’s five water treatment plants. Pivoting from its oil-refining past, with Royal Dutch Shell recently halving capacity there, Singapore is looking to a greener future by positioning itself as a regional hub for carbon trading and sustainable development services.

Australia’s ‘Sun Tax’

It’s pretty bright Down Under and almost 3 million (out of 8.3 million) Australian households now boast solar panels, a number that’s expected to double over the next decade. By 2025, the new head of the Australian Energy Market Operator wants the electricity grids to be able to run on 100% renewable energy. But now some Australians say they’re being punished for doing good. Homes with solar panels whose owners export excess electricity onto the public grid could be taxed in an attempt to prevent electricity “traffic jams.” Authorities say it’s a fair move, but some environmentalists argue homeowners should be rewarded, not penalized, for the clean energy they provide.

South Africa’s Solar Shacks

In South Africa, huge numbers of people who live in informal settlements — shacks made from cardboard and tin and erected on any available land — are still living in the dark. One project, Energy 4 Wellbeing, is turning on the lights in the Qandu-Qandu informal settlement in Cape Town by providing solar minigrids. “There’s no running water, no electricity and it’s on a wetland. Most people are unemployed . . . it is dirt-poor,” Jiska de Groot, a clean energy expert at the University of Cape Town, tells OZY. De Groot’s team is now building solar towers and connecting them to the shacks. With three towers built so far, residents have lighting at night and can charge their phones, although refrigeration, which requires more energy, is still a problem. Having won last year’s Newton Prize for her work on urban energy transformations, de Groot and colleagues are now working on a new project on solar-powered fridges. The response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive, she says, especially because solar energy is safe. Previously, some shacks were illegally connected to the electricity grid, leading to fires and electrocutions.

Land of the Rising Sun

Japan already leads the world in solar capacity per square meter. Now, in order to meet its ambitious 2030 emissions target (reducing its 2013 rate of carbon output by 46%), the roof of every building could be fitted with solar panels. The country, which is about the size of California, plans to have 108 gigawatts of solar capacity online within a decade. How? Half of all federal government and municipal buildings will be fitted with solar panels, while many office buildings and most farms will be required to have solar capacity. But that’s not all: The nation’s trade ministry also says every house and apartment built after 2040 must have at least one solar panel, with countries such as South Korea set to do similarly.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Even as manufacturing in this city and across the Rust Belt collapsed over the past several decades, the U.S. found itself the largest importer of lithium-ion batteries, the power source for electric vehicles. President Joe Biden has set the target of achieving a carbon-free electricity sector by 2035, but doing so would require a solar energy workforce four times its current size — some 231,000 people. If Biden’s American Jobs Plan is passed, it could create a million jobs in renewable energies. The U.S. president has also proposed investing $174 billion to take on China in the electric vehicle (EV) market. That investment would help U.S.-based auto manufacturers to produce the vehicles, establish tax incentives for car buyers and build a national network of EV chargers. The plan also proposes electrifying 20% of school buses and the federal fleet, including U.S. Postal Service vehicles.

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Costly Charge

While lithium-ion technology is a step forward compared to the lead-acid batteries of the past, complaints have persisted around the batteries’ durability, transportation difficulties and prohibitive cost. Although prices have fallen by 98% over the past three decades, the batteries are still a major factor contributing to higher prices of EVs. Why? The cathodes in lithium-ion batteries require metals such as nickel, lithium, cobalt and manganese to store maximum amounts of energy. Not only are these metals expensive to mine, they are environmentally costly and ethically questionable. Congolese cobalt mines linked to some EV companies have been exposed for using child labor.

Green and Clean

New developments in the world of lithium mining aim to solve some of these issues. Currently, lithium is extracted largely through hard rock mining and from underground reservoirs, processes that can result in serious negative environmental impacts such as contaminated waterways and soil. But that could change very soon. Recently in Germany, California and England, high-grade lithium deposits have been found in geothermal waters. Extracting lithium from these waters is projected to use less water and land and emit less carbon. Could green lithium be the future of battery tech?

Energizing Future

Solid-state lithium batteries could become an important, nay revolutionary, successor to the liquid-based lithium equivalents used to power vehicles today. Rather than depending on the latter’s toxic, often highly flammable liquid electrolyte, solid-state batteries employ a solid electrolyte, which eliminates the need for a cooling element. It also optimizes energy-storing capabilities and battery life. These futuristic batteries could potentially bring down manufacturing costs, making electric vehicles cheaper for customers. Several manufacturers are chasing this holy grail of battery tech — researchers at Cuberg in Silicon Valley, Saft R&D and Harvard University are all working on designing and developing solid-state batteries.

China Concerns

So who’s dominating the battery industry? China makes the most lithium-ion batteries in the world, with 93 factories compared to four in the U.S. China also manufactures the most solar panels, contributing 80% of the global supply in 2019. Furthermore, the country has one of the largest solar farms in the world, located in Qinghai province. “But buying Chinese solar panels to reduce emissions is like using gas to put out a fire,” writes Henry Wu, a researcher at the Center for a New American Security think tank. Why? Because to make the raw materials needed to produce the panels, China uses coal-powered electricity. But that’s not even the biggest problem — there are human rights issues too. Last month, the U.S. blocked some Chinese manufacturers of the raw material polysilicon, used in building solar panels, due to allegations the companies were using forced labor. Wu suggests the U.S. should look at changing its supply chains to European producers to avoid reliance on China and to expand its domestic supply of renewables.

mustang sally goes electric

No Greased Lightning!

Now, as concerns over fossil fuel use and climate change take center stage globally, car manufacturers have decided that electric vehicles are the future. Classic American motor brand Ford, for instance, plans to roll out the F-150 Lightning pickup truck next year. And ol’ Mustang Sally’s gone electric too: Ford’s Mustang Mach-E was named this year’s North American Utility Vehicle of the Year, bringing its iconic design into the carbon-free age. It can be charged super fast and has an extended range battery so you can go the extra mile.

A Lightbulb Moment

The idea of electric vehicles has been around for some time. The invention of the alternating current motor in the late 19th century even saw some claim to have conceived of a car that ran on “cosmic rays” — though that story is disputed. The real game-changer in making mass-manufactured electric vehicles a reality is the lithium-ion battery. Without them, we wouldn’t even have modern devices such as smartphones. The battery, invented by Nobel Prize-winning chemist Stanley Whittingham in the 1970s, has decades later proved revolutionary for the electric vehicle world: It boasts a greater energy output and weighs less than its lead-acid counterpart. Since the 1970s, Whittingham’s invention has been refined by numerous other scientists who have made versions of the battery that are safer and more practical.

E-rickshaws

If you’ve ever visited Southeast Asian capitals such as Bangkok or Jakarta, you’ll have been struck — though hopefully only figuratively — by the huge number of tuk-tuks, motorbikes and rickshaws plowing through the streets. As ever more people in the region move to urban areas and a growing middle class enjoys greater purchasing power for privately owned vehicles, governments are finding that they need to reimagine urban transport systems in order to meet emissions targets. Thailand is one country looking to position itself as an electric vehicle hub, with electric ferries recently launched on Bangkok’s aquatic thoroughfare, the Chao Phraya River. Meanwhile, a team of designers and experts from the Asian Development Bank have helped roll out e-rickshaws, or pedicabs, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in a bid to establish a sustainable source of transport.

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Formula E Racing

One of the biggest gripes with electric motors centered for years on power. No longer: Though the Formula E motorsport was seen as counterintuitive and even a lesser form of entertainment by petrolheads when it first held races in 2014, as the electric car market revs up, it’s only natural that the racing world has started to follow suit. Technological advances mean batteries can power cars for longer race periods, which in turn leads to a more thrilling sporting spectacle. Formula 1, the marquee international motorsports competition, has itself put forward an ambitious plan to become more sustainable via a net-zero racing emissions impact by 2030.

what’s next for charger installations?

From the Sun’s Rays to Your Car Engine

Still, a battery is a battery, meaning someday, whether in your neighborhood or out on the open road, it will run out and need to be recharged. But here’s a cool, clean solution: Solar power could become the cheapest and most eco-friendly way to charge an electric vehicle, even at home. While you’ll need to add extra solar panels to your residential system (experts estimate on average eight to 14 solar panels are needed to power an EV), the cost benefit of charging from home far outweighs the initial outlay. Alternatively, using electricity from the grid to charge your EV can be twice as expensive as going the solar route. Not to mention, it’s worse for the environment.

Kansai Electric's Mega Solar Power Station Tour

From the Sun’s Rays to Your Car Engine

Still, a battery is a battery, meaning someday, whether in your neighborhood or out on the open road, it will run out and need to be recharged. But here’s a cool, clean solution: Solar power could become the cheapest and most eco-friendly way to charge an electric vehicle, even at home. While you’ll need to add extra solar panels to your residential system (experts estimate on average eight to 14 solar panels are needed to power an EV), the cost benefit of charging from home far outweighs the initial outlay. Alternatively, using electricity from the grid to charge your EV can be twice as expensive as going the solar route. Not to mention, it’s worse for the environment.

On the Road

EVs may be the future of ground transportation, but for people living in rural areas — as one in five Americans do — the choice isn’t yet so clear-cut. For the most part, charging stations are concentrated in urban areas and along interstate routes, and while today there are more than 100,000 across the country, six years ago there were just 16,000. Huge changes, however, are in the works: President Biden’s proposed $2 trillion infrastructure plan includes building a nationwide network of EV charging stations that will number at least 500,000 by 2030.

Soaring Demand

But will that suffice? California Gov. Gavin Newsom is set to ban the sale of new gasoline-powered cars by 2035. As a result, the California Energy Commission reports the Golden State will need 1.2 million EV charging stations by 2030 to support the expected surge in electric car ownership. And California isn’t the only one set to implement major change. Electric automaker Rivian is planning to install chargers in all 56 of Tennessee’s state parks and in rural areas of Colorado, while other manufacturers are set to open charging stations to electric vehicles of all stripes.

The Twitch Renaissance

In the world of livestream gaming, there’s one platform that stands head and shoulders above the rest. Forget your Facebook Gaming, Caffeine or Owncast. Twitch is where it’s at. After initially gaining popularity with video game livestreamers, today it’s so much more — a place for painting tutorials, political sofa chats and even a space where preservers of at-risk languages get together by the millions.

Amid all this, Twitch is facing massive challenges: Cryptocurrency gambling is threatening to upend the platform, with “crypto casinos” paying the platform’s most popular users millions of dollars to livestream their slot playing antics. The undertones of toxic masculinity and chauvinism that have dominated the gaming world for decades still linger. Then there’s the controversy around bans by — and of — a range of actors.

With viewership skyrocketing over the past year and future growth expected to maintain a similar trajectory, today’s Daily Dose takes you on a journey through the weird and wonderful world of Twitch — who to watch, what to look for, and what to expect.

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Safer Spaces

Twitch has gained an unfortunate reputation as a breeding ground for people perpetuating misogynistic or racist comments. But streamers such as Xocheergurlox, a New York City-based Call of Duty fan (who asked not to be identified by her real name), are actively fighting back against the toxicity. “I’ve curated my space to be safe for me and my community,” she tells OZY, “and that’s honestly one of my greatest accomplishments.” Thanks to her community, Cheer says she’s no longer worried about losing a chunk of her audience when she “raises money for bail funds, yells at people with a MAGA clan tag, or just ha[s] casual political conversations with chat.”

Pushing Boundaries

Last month, Twitch temporarily banned two top streamers for posting “sexually suggestive” content. Streamers Amouranth and Indiefoxx were censored for creating ASMR content from their beds, which the platform deemed as having broken its rules. Twitch is also having to contend with increasingly popular “hot tub streams” taking place under the platform’s Just Chatting category. It responded to the burgeoning trend by creating a standalone Pools, Hot Tubs, and Beaches category. But not everyone is convinced. “The way that women are viewed now on Twitch is sexual . . . it is what it is,” streamer Anderson tells OZY. “The trends that are going on like the hot tub stuff . . . I could care less. At the end of the day, it’s not my body, but I do know some people view that as detrimental.”

Tackling Hate

Alexis Anderson, a 24-year-old out and proud Black woman who goes by the username AlexisAyeee, says the hurtful commenters can be subdued. “We actually have people who are trolls and end up viewers or essentially learn the error in thinking the way they think,” the variety streamer tells OZY. Black women are severely underrepresented in the gaming and streaming communities. “[It’s] another reason why I started streaming,” Robin Meadows of North Carolina, a horror game streamer who goes by the name Ohitsrobinm, tells OZY. “I noticed all of them were mainly white women, [and] white men so [I decided] instead of complaining about it, I’ll just join.” Today, Meadows boasts over 12,000 followers and has built a surprisingly positive community within the horror gaming niche.

twitch around the world

Know When to Fold ’em

This is the story of how one streamer got Twitch banned — from an entire country. Partaking in online gambling through a foreign casino company is illegal in Slovakia, a central European country of 5.5 million people. So, when the Slovakia-based user behind the dDandis account began streaming poker games to his 35,000 Twitch followers last month, trouble with the authorities soon ensued. His actions resulted in all Slovak Twitch users losing access to the site. But the affair speaks to a bigger problem for the platform: About two-thirds of Twitch viewers are outside the U.S. and the company regularly finds itself at odds with its global audience due to what some streamers say are poorly defined rules and regulations.

Czech Me Out

As alluded to earlier, Twitch isn’t only for gamers. In 2018, it added a host of new categories, including one for artists. For streamers such as the Czech Republic-based Petra Zemánková that’s been a game-changer. “I’d seen a couple of artists from [other countries] start streaming and (I) have been really inspired to do the same,” she tells OZY. “So, one day I just decided to turn on the stream.” Today, thousands of viewers tune in to watch the 22-year-old draw.

Preserving Culture

New Zealand-based streamer Broxh uses Twitch as a vehicle to keep Maori traditions alive. Over 1.3 million people follow him, joining in to watch as he carves wood and plays video games. Such is the interest in his channel that Broxh makes a living from the platform — even after disabling an option to donate through his channel. His followers and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern alike see him as a role model for showing youth how to make a living while helping to preserve Maori culture. His videos have even earned him a comparison to Bob Ross.

Preserving Languages

It might seem counterintuitive that a video game platform has become an important pillar in efforts to safeguard disappearing languages, but it’s one of the many applications of Twitch. In 2019, an online petition linked to the hashtag #CatalanLoveTwitch, signed by both streamers and viewers, resulted in Catalan being added to the hundreds of languages already available on the platform. Other petitions are currently circulating in a bid to add Basque and Galician to the platform, regional languages that are particular to Spain.

political firebrands

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The New Campaign Trail

By the time the 2028 presidential election swings around, millennials and Gen Zers are projected to be the most pivotal of all the electorate voting blocs. They also make up a majority of Twitch’s user demographic, and that’s why left-leaning politicians such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang have been quick to itch the Twitch. Has it worked? “I would say that authenticity . . . and sincerity, are actually really valued in our politicians, even though this is kind of an irony-poisoned generation,” Pennsylvania-based streamer and activist Michael Breyer, known on Twitch as Central_Committee, tells OZY. “Ilhan Omar or Rashida Tlaib, who are . . . all in, fighting their guts out and [are] not media polished, not mediated through five different focus groups. They’re coming out there and reacting and being accessible.”

To the Left or to the Right?

But Twitch wasn’t always a lefty bastion. In the past, it’s been used by right-wing extremists to stream deadly attacks. The Republican Party has lagged in attempts to connect with young voters on Twitch, but Rep. Madison Cawthorn, a Republican from North Carolina, has been vocal about harnessing its potential power. Meanwhile, some extremists have been drawn to the platform due to its reputation as a money-making machine and as an alternative to apps such as Parler. The leader of far-right group Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, is believed to have operated a stream on Twitch that was quickly shut down after a newspaper drew attention to the account.

Political Influencers

Long before established politicians took to Twitch, a cadre of political influencers found stardom there, inhabiting the liminal space between punditry and reality TV stardom. Hasan Piker, one such commentator, has a global audience of over a million users. How’d he do it? In large part by live streaming his own coverage of the 2020 presidential election. Political influencers are drawn to Twitch so they can exist in the “gray area between journalism, and . . . an old op-ed,” says political influencer Breyer.

Collaborative Communities

Twitch’s interactive chat feature is key to helping streamers connect with their audiences — and to keeping political influencers honest. “[We have] a lot of people in a community together, which allows you to get to more consensus positions and objective truths,” political and news streamer Brad Wydra, who goes by TouringNews, tells OZY. “If I’m being fact-checked in real time, it’s going to be a lot harder to misreport and get incorrect information out.”

the future of twitch

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Art in Real Time

The boundless possibilities Twitch serves up has streamer and artist ProperArtist, aka Collin Reynolds of Nashville, Tennessee, very excited indeed. “Do you have any idea how cool that is for a young up-and-coming artist to be able to watch someone they look up to craft a work of art in real time and ask questions/get feedback?” he tells OZY. “The support among artists is unlike anywhere I’ve seen before.”

Gone Gambling

Missed playing the slot machines in your local casino? You could always turn to Twitch (just not in Slovakia). Be careful, however, of getting sucked in: Streamer xQc quit gambling on Twitch after admitting he had become “slightly, if not moderately” addicted. He was equally alarmed when learning that nearly 2,000 people who had watched his exploits then used a promo code from his channel to sign up for online gambling sites. Many viewers also used promo codes gleaned through big name Twitch streamer Matthew “Mizkif” Rinaudo, who is paid to stream his gambling. These deals often target the young and vulnerable who, unlike Rinaudo, don’t have millions of dollars to burn through.

Money, Money, Money

When the gig economy went kaput last year thanks to COVID-19, many talented gamers and others turned to platforms like Twitch to shore up their income. Twitch claims 91% of the video game streaming market and hosts about 2 million viewers per day, with serious streamers making about $10 per viewer. That means the elite often net up to $30,000 per month. Top streamers such as Ninja, who has an army of 16.8 million followers, make up to $20 million a month. Not bad for a side hustle. However, it’s not necessarily easy money. To profit big from Twitch, one needs affiliate status. “As a smaller streamer, you can’t survive,” says Wydra, who reports that Twitch takes about 50% of a streamer’s subscription proceeds. To earn more, he said he accepts donations through Paypal and Venmo.

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Forward-thinking

With more than 1 billion people predicted to be participating in online gaming and esports by 2025, Twitch’s clout is set to explode. New categories ranging from art, food and drink to science and technology, sports and fitness, talk shows and podcasting, show that the platform has big plans. “I feel like we’re kind of already seeing it,” streamer Anderson tells OZY. “The future of Twitch isn’t going to be just gaming anymore.”