We take a break from pure capitalism to honor the human, animal, and environmental-minded side of the renewable business. This is Part II of a continuing series; Part I is here.

The energy market is ruthlessly competitive. American consumers want cold beer and warm showers from low-cost utilities, and the "green-ness" of the electricity is of minimal concern to the average user.

This pits solar firm versus solar firm and wind power firm versus wind power firm. More broadly, this mindset pits renewable energy against the entrenched incumbents of coal, gas and nuclear, which are armed with their $0.09 per kilowatt-hour power. The struggle for renewable energy firms will be even more Darwinian when subsidies and incentives subside.

Amidst this furious economic struggle, it's easy to lose track of some of the softer benefits of distributed energy and renewables, as well as the humanitarian aspects of the green energy business and its people.

Here are a few examples:

blueEnergy develops hybrid wind-solar energy systems for isolated communities -- its first program is deep in Nicaragua. The firm manufactures low-tech wind turbines to create local jobs and uses the energy systems as community battery-charging stations that power schools, community centers and health clinics and charge private batteries. In some cases, the energy systems power small micro-grids, where several buildings are wired directly to the power center.

ToughStuff has developed a modular range of affordable solar-powered energy solutions to address the three main power needs of poor consumers in the developing world: lighting, mobile phones, and radios. Like many of these frontier power firms, this allows users to eliminate kerosene lamps. 

HuskPower provides community-level power plants in India using rice husks, a by-product of rice milling, as the feedstock. Sources claim that their biomass gasification system can provide electricity at less than 10 cents per kilowatt-hour with a capital cost of less than $0.75 per watt.  The firm has installed 60 mini-power plants that power about 25,000 households in more than 250 villages and hamlets. On average, each power plant serves about 400 households and replaces approximately 42,000 liters of kerosene and 18,000 liters of diesel per year. This one looks like a real success story.

The Maasai solar-powered LED lighting and efficient stove project in East Africa, with help from the ICSEE, saves energy and labor while creating jobs, better health and reducing deforestation. You can donate by following this link.

Richard Komp has enabled people in Nicaragua, India, Rwanda, Peru, Mali, and Haiti to fabricate solar panels as cottage industries in their neighborhoods and villages. His projects are listed here.

SolSolution leverages the PPA model to install solar on schools but re-invests the "profits" towards education programs.  They are in the midst of fundraising for their first project -- a 3-kilowatt system on a private school in Sudbury, Mass.

Suntech has partnered with Grameen Shakti (Muhammad Yunus’ organization) in Bangladesh to sell solar home systems with microcredit. It is a sustainable model to drive rural electrification that has been extremely successful thus far, with approximately 200,000 installs in 2010, according to Suntech. 

East Africa's Masaai installing solar to power LED lighting and charge cell phones.