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Energy merchants display their wares in Kenya

A kind of fairground is taking shape in the center of Nairobi. The inventors, the technical men, the world energy experts, and possibly the dreamers, are here to demonstrate their ideas on how the world can escape from the grip of petroleum. The United Nations energy conference is just a week away.

Booths, tents, pavilions, and marquees are springing up in gay shapes and colors. Windmills of all shapes and designs spin overhead in the wind. Solar energy devices occupy a great deal of the space. Even an improved version of the little "jiko," the traditional African cooking pot, modified to economize on charcoal, is on show. It was devised at the Swiss Bellerive Foundation run by Prince Sadruddin Agha Khan, and is being demonstrated by an elderly Swiss craftsman, Emile Hass, whom the Kenyans have dubbed "mzee jiko) (old man jiko).

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In Kenya alone 20 million tons of wood is consumed every year in firewood and charcoal. One of the features of the conference is to be a procession, headed by Indira Gandhi, of African women bearing firewood on their heads through the city. At a press briefing this week, the secretary-general of the conference, Enrique V. Iglesias, said it was estimated that 2 billion people throughout the world depend on wood and charcoal for heating and cooking.

The United States is contributing generously to the exhibition with a large exhibit called "USA Renewable Energy," in which 13 exhibitors are showing their ideas, in adition to an international communication agency exhibit devoted to solar energy.

The exhibit presents a cross section of renewable energy technology indicating the scope and direction of energy research and its application in the United States. It comprises government, private industry, and nonprofit organizations -- "a snapshot of the economic and social coming of age of renewable energy technologies."

The private sector is to exhibit programs for producing marketable renewable energy equipment in the fields of sun, wind, and biomass.

A giant Lockheed Super Hercules belonging to the Mexican government-owned oil company Pemex, flew into Nairobi this week bringing 10 tons of exhibition material and a complete pavilion.

The Mexican Institute of Petroleum is mounting a complete outdoors exhibit -- possibly to show that oil is not dead yet.

Among the government leaders due to speak at the conference is Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. One of his proposals is understood to be a new World Bank energy development agency for the poor nations who have no conventional energy resources. Mr. Trudeau is due to have talks with third world leaders at the conference, including Mrs. Gandhi.

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Secretary-General Iglesias, at his press briefing this week, said the conference would heavily feature the plight of the poor third-world countries in their search for energy. He hoped it would awaken an awareness of the critical energy situation in the third world; help them to assess their own resources in renewable energy; set up a series of work programs to help the third world, and speed up alternate energy development in certain areas. Vital to the third world, he said, was the availability of money. He estimated that $80 billion a year would be necessary to do all this in the coming years.

But the conference is expected to show heavy political undertones. What willbe the attitudes of the industrialized countries to the third world's undeniable plight? Can the kind of money that is going to be needed to set up the third world in its development of alternative energy sources be found?

The third world has high hopes that this conference may extricate it from its looming energy problems, but there is more than a feeling abroad in African and other poor countries that the developed nations may want to keep what is left of conventional energy for itself, and leave the poor countr ies to battle on in the search for new and renewable sources

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