Download the report from UNIDO, LBNL, and RAELhere and access the larger Green Jobs research program here.
The ongoing debate over the cost-effectiveness of renewable energy (RE) and energy efficiency
(EE) deployment often hinges on the current cost of incumbent fossil-fuel technologies versus
the long-term benefit of clean energy alternatives. This debate is often focused on mature or
‘industrialized’ economies and externalities such as job creation. In many ways, however, the
situation in developing economies is at least as or even more interesting due to the generally
faster current rate of economic growth and of infrastructure deployment. On the one hand, RE
and EE could help decarbonize economies in developing countries, but on the other hand, higher
upfront costs of RE and EE could hamper short-term growth. The methodology developed in
this paper confirms the existence of this trade-off for some scenarios, yet at the same time
provides considerable evidence about the positive impact of EE and RE from a job creation and
employment perspective. By extending and adopting a methodology for Africa designed to
calculate employment from electricity generation in the U.S., this study finds that energy savings
and the conversion of the electricity supply mix to renewable energy generates employment
compared to a reference scenario. It also concludes that the costs per additional job created tend
to decrease with increasing levels of both EE adoption and RE shares.
Climate Policy and Networks Division, United Nations Industrial Development OrganizationUNIDO,
Energy Technologies Area, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
The ongoing debate over the cost-effectiveness of renewable energy (RE) and energy efficiency (EE) deployment often hinges on the current cost of incumbent fossil-fuel technologies versus the long-term benefit of clean energy alternatives. This debate is often focused on mature or ‘industrialized’ economies and externalities such as job creation. In many ways, however, the situation in developing economies is at least as or even more interesting due to the generally faster current rate of economic growth and of infrastructure deployment. On the one hand, RE and EE could help decarbonize economies in developing countries, but on the other hand, higher upfront costs of RE and EE could hamper short-term growth. The methodology developed in this paper confirms the existence of this trade-off for some scenarios, yet at the same time provides considerable evidence about the positive impact of EE and RE from a job creation and employment perspective. By extending and adopting a methodology for Africa designed to calculate employment from electricity generation in the U.S., this study finds that energy savings and the conversion of the electricity supply mix to renewable energy generates employment compared to a reference scenario. It also concludes that the costs per additional job created tend to decrease with increasing levels of both EE adoption and RE shares.
J.W. Marriott Hotel, 1331 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC
Refreshments will be served
Efforts to address the energy challenges in sub-Saharan Africa have been animated by two main debates. First, what is the role for renewable energy sources versus fossil fuels in addressing the Region’s generation shortfall? Second, what is the role for centralized versus distributed generation capacity in addressing energy poverty? The U.S. is an established partner in many African countries and has played an important role in helping to shape the Region’s energy systems. Under the new Administration, energy issues will remain central to development efforts, and these same debates will continue to influence the Region’s energy future.
Please join Oxfam and the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) at the University of California Berkeley for thelaunch of two reports, each focusing on one of these debates. The launch will include a discussion with the authors of the reports who will share their expert perspectives and answer questions from the audience.
Daniel M. Kammen,Distinguished Professor of Energy at the University of California, Berkeley; Founding Director of the
Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL); Science Envoy, U. S. State Department;
Nkiruka Avila, Research Scholar, RAEL, Energy and Resources Group, UC Berkeley
James Morrissey,Researcher, Oxfam America
Respondent: Katherine Steel, Energy Director, Power Africa
November 2, 2016 - NatureWith prices for renewables dropping, many countries in Africa might leap past dirty forms of energy towards a cleaner future
At the threshold of the Sahara Desert near Ouarzazate, Morocco, some 500,000 parabolic mirrors run in neat rows across a valley, moving slowly in unison as the Sun sweeps overhead. This US$660-million solar-energy facility opened in February and will soon have company. Morocco has committed to generating 42% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
Across Africa, several nations are moving aggressively to develop their solar and wind capacity. The momentum has some experts wondering whether large parts of the continent can vault into a clean future, bypassing some of the environmentally destructive practices that have plagued the United States, Europe and China, among other places.
“African nations do not have to lock into developing high-carbon old technologies,” wrote Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the United Nations, in a report last year. “We can expand our power generation and achieve universal access to energy by leapfrogging into new technologies that are transforming energy systems across the world.”
That's an intoxicating message, not just for Africans but for the entire world, because electricity demand on the continent is exploding. Africa's population is booming faster than anywhere in the world: it is expected to almost quadruple by 2100. More than half of the 1.2 billion people living there today lack electricity, but may get it soon. If much of that power were to come from coal, oil and natural gas, it could kill international efforts to slow the pace of global warming. But a greener path is possible because many African nations are just starting to build up much of their energy infrastructure and have not yet committed to dirtier technology.
Several factors are fuelling the push for renewables in Africa. More than one-third of the continent's nations get the bulk of their power from hydroelectric plants, and droughts in the past few years have made that supply unreliable. Countries that rely primarily on fossil fuels have been troubled by price volatility and increasing regulations. At the same time, the cost of renewable technology has been dropping dramatically. And researchers are finding that there is more potential solar and wind power on the continent than previously thought—as much as 3,700 times the current total consumption of electricity.
This has all led to a surging interest in green power. Researchers are mapping the best places for renewable-energy projects. Forward-looking companies are investing in solar and wind farms. And governments are teaming up with international-development agencies to make the arena more attractive to private firms.
Yet this may not be enough to propel Africa to a clean, electrified future. Planners need more data to find the best sites for renewable-energy projects. Developers are wary about pouring money into many countries, especially those with a history of corruption and governmental problems. And nations will need tens of billions of dollars to strengthen the energy infrastructure.
Still, green ambitions in Africa are higher now than ever before. Eddie O'Connor, chief executive of developer Mainstream Renewable Power in Dublin, sees great potential for renewable energy in Africa. His company is building solar- and wind-energy facilities there and he calls it “an unparalleled business opportunity for entrepreneurs”.
Power outages are a common problem in many African nations, but Zambia has suffered more than most in the past year. It endured a string of frequent and long-lasting blackouts that crippled the economy. Pumps could not supply clean water to the capital, Lusaka, and industries had to slash production, leading to massive job lay-offs.
The source of Zambia's energy woes is the worst drought in southern Africa in 35 years. The nation gets nearly 100% of its electricity from hydropower, mostly from three large dams, where water levels have plummeted. Nearby Zimbabwe, South Africa and Botswana have also had to curtail electricity production. And water shortages might get worse. Projections suggest that the warming climate could reduce rainfall in southern Africa even further in the second half of the twenty-first century.
Renewable energy could help to fill the gap, because wind and solar projects can be built much more quickly than hydropower, nuclear or fossil-fuel plants. And green-power installations can be expanded piecemeal as demand increases.
Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco and South Africa are leading the charge to build up renewable power, but one of the biggest barriers is insufficient data. Most existing maps of wind and solar resources in Africa do not contain enough detailed information to allow companies to select sites for projects, says Grace Wu, an energy researcher at the University of California, Berkeley. She co-authored a report on planning renewable-energy zones in 21 African countries, a joint project by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in California and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in Abu Dhabi. The study is the most comprehensive mapping effort so far for most of those countries, says Wu. It weighs the amount of solar and wind energy in the nations, along with factors such as whether power projects would be close to transmission infrastructure and customers, and whether they would cause social or environmental harm. “The IRENA–LBNL study is the only one that has applied a consistent methodology across a large region of Africa,” says Wu. High-resolution measurements of wind and solar resources have typically been done by government researchers or companies, which kept tight control of their data. The Berkeley team used a combination of satellite and ground measurements purchased from Vaisala, an environmental monitoring company based in Finland that has since made those data publicly available through IRENA's Global Atlas for Renewable Energy. The team also incorporated geospatial data—the locations of roads, towns, existing power lines and other factors—that could influence decisions about where to put energy projects. “If there's a forest, you don't want to cut it down and put a solar plant there,” says co-author Ranjit Deshmukh, also an energy researcher at Berkeley.
The amount of green energy that could be harvested in Africa is absolutely massive, according to another IRENA report, which synthesized 6 regional studies and found potential for 300 million megawatts of solar photovoltaic power and more than 250 million megawatts of wind. By contrast, the total installed generating capacity—the amount of electricity the entire continent could produce if all power plants were running at full tilt—was just 150,000 megawatts at the end of 2015. Solar and wind power accounted for only 3.6% of that.
The estimate of wind resources came as a surprise, says Oliver Knight, a senior energy specialist for the World Bank's Energy Sector Management Assistance Program in Washington DC. Although people have long been aware of Africa's solar potential, he says, as of about a decade ago, few local decision-makers recognized the strength of the wind. “People would have told you there isn't any wind in regions such as East Africa.”
The World Bank is doing its own studies, which will assess wind speeds and solar radiation at least every 10 minutes at selected sites across target countries. It will ask governments to add their own geospatial data, and will combine all the information into a user-friendly format that is freely available and doesn't require advanced technical knowledge, says Knight.“It should be possible for a mid-level civil servant in a developing country to get online and actually start playing with this.”
SOUTH AFRICA LEADS
In the semi-arid Karoo region of South Africa, a constellation of bright white wind turbines rises 150 metres above the rolling grassland. Mainstream Renewable Power brought this project online in July, 17 months after starting construction. The 35 turbines add 80 megawatts to South Africa's supply, enough to power about 70,000 homes there.
The Noupoort Wind Farm is just one of about 100 wind and solar projects that South Africa has developed in the past 4 years, as prices fell below that of coal and construction lagged on two new massive coal plants. South Africa is primed to move quickly to expand renewable energy, in part thanks to its investment in data.
Environmental scientist Lydia Cape works for the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, a national lab in Stellenbosch. She and her team have created planning maps for large-scale wind and solar development and grid expansion. Starting with data on the energy resources, they assessed possible development sites for many types of socio-economic and environmental impact, including proximity to electricity demand, economic benefits and effects on biodiversity.
The South African government accepted the team's recommendations and designated eight Renewable Energy Development Zones that are close to consumers and to transmission infrastructure—and where power projects will cause the least harm to people and ecosystems. They total “about 80,000 square kilometres, the size of Ireland or Scotland, roughly”, says Cape. The areas have been given streamlined environmental authorization for renewable projects and transmission corridors, she says.
But for African nations to go green in a big way, they will need a huge influx of cash. Meeting sub-Saharan Africa's power needs will cost US$40.8 billion a year, equivalent to 6.35% of Africa's gross domestic product, according to the World Bank. Existing public funding falls far short, so attracting private investors is crucial. Yet many investors perceive African countries as risky, in part because agreements there require long and complex negotiations and capital costs are high. “It's a real challenge,” says Daniel Kammen, a special envoy for energy for the US Department of State and an energy researcher at the University of California, Berkeley. “Many of these countries have not had the best credit ratings.”
Elham Ibrahim, the African Union's commissioner for infrastructure and energy, advises countries to take steps to reassure private investors. Clear legislation supporting renewable energy is key, she says, along with a track record of enforcing commercial laws.
South Africa is setting a good example. In 2011, it established a transparent process for project bidding called the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP). The programme has generated private investments of more than $14 billion to develop 6,327 megawatts of wind and solar.
Mainstream Renewable Power has won contracts for six wind farms and two solar photovoltaic plants through REIPPPP. “This programme is purer than the driven snow,” says O'Connor. “They publish their results. They give state guarantees. They don't delay you too much.” Although the country's main electricity supplier has wavered in its support for renewables, the central government remains committed to the programme, he says. “I would describe the risks in South Africa as far less than the risks in England in investing in renewables.”
For countries less immediately attractive to investors, the World Bank Group launched the Scaling Solar project in January 2015. This reduces risk to investors with a suite of guarantees, says Yasser Charafi, principal investment officer for African infrastructure with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) in Dakar, which is part of the World Bank Group. Through the Scaling Solar programme, the IFC offers low-priced loans; the World Bank guarantees that governments will buy the power generated by the projects; and the group's Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency offers political insurance in case of a war or civil unrest.
Zambia, the first country to have access to Scaling Solar, has won two solar projects that will together provide 73 megawatts. Senegal and Madagascar were next, with agreements to produce 200 and 40 megawatts, respectively. Ethiopia has just joined, and the IFC will give two further countries access to the programme soon; its target is to develop 1,000 megawatts in the first 5 years.
MAKING IT FLOW
That power won't be useful if it can't get to users. One of the big barriers to a clean-energy future in Africa is that the continent lacks robust electricity grids and transmission lines to move large amounts of power within countries and across regions.
But that gap also provides some opportunities. Without a lot of existing infrastructure and entrenched interests, countries there might be able to scale up renewable projects and manage electricity more nimbly than developed nations. That's what happened with the telephone industry: in the absence of much existing land-line infrastructure, African nations rapidly embraced mobile phones.
The future could look very different from today's electricity industry. Experts say that Africa is likely to have a blend of power-delivery options. Some consumers will get electricity from a grid, whereas people in rural areas and urban slums—where it is too remote or too expensive to connect to the grid—might end up with small-scale solar and wind installations and minigrids.
Still, grid-connected power is crucial for many city dwellers and for industrial development, says Ibrahim. And for renewables to become an important component of the energy landscape, the grid will need to be upgraded to handle fluctuations in solar and wind production. African nations can look to countries such as Germany and Denmark, which have pioneered ways to deal with the intermittent nature of renewable energy. One option is generating power with existing dams when solar and wind lag, and cutting hydropower when they are plentiful. Another technique shuttles electricity around the grid: for example, if solar drops off in one place, power generated by wind elsewhere can pick up the slack. A third strategy, called demand response, reduces electricity delivery to multiple customers by imperceptible amounts when demand is peaking.
These cutting-edge approaches require a smart grid and infrastructure that connects smaller grids in different regions so that they can share electricity. Africa has some of these 'regional interconnections', but they are incomplete. Four planned major transmission corridors will need at least 16,500 kilometres of new transmission lines, costing more than $18 billion, says Ibrahim. Likewise, many countries' internal power grids are struggling to keep up.
That's part of what makes working in energy in Africa challenging. Prosper Amuquandoh is an inspector for the Ghana Energy Commission and the chief executive of Smart and Green Energy Group, an energy-management firm in Accra. In Ghana, he says, “there's a lot of generation coming online”.
The country plans to trade electricity with its neighbours in a West African Power Pool, Amuquandoh says, but the current grid cannot handle large amounts of intermittent power. Despite the challenges, he brims with enthusiasm when he talks about the future: “The prospects are huge.”
With prices of renewables falling, that kind of optimism is spreading across Africa. Electrifying the continent is a moral imperative for everyone, says Charafi. “We cannot just accept in the twenty-first century that hundreds of millions of people are left out.”
Link to the article:
Small-scale microgrids are increasingly seen as the most promising way to bring electricity to the 1.3 billion people worldwide who currently lack it. In Kenya, an innovative solar company is using microgrids and smart meters to deliver power to villages deep in the African bush.
by Fred Pearce
Plugging into electricity for the first time is a big deal. Ask Peter Okoth. Until late last year, he struggled to make a go of his bar on the main street in Entasopia, a small, dusty town in Kenya’s Rift Valley, five hours from the capital Nairobi and 30 miles from the nearest grid power line. Then, he hooked up to a new solar-powered microgrid that serves local homes and businesses.
Now Okoth has eleven light bulbs, he says proudly — and enough power to run a TV and a sound system for his customers. Seventy people show up some evenings to watch, listen and buy his food and drink. His profits will soon
Photo: (c) Fred Pearce
SteamaCo agent John Pambio monitors the controls at the solar-panel hub in Entasopia.
buy a refrigerator to keep the beer cold in the searing desert heat, and a big screen to show satellite sports channels. “We will be staying open till midnight,” he says. And he has just bought construction materials for ten guest rooms. “When you next come, you must stay here.”
Most settlements in rural Kenya are dark at night. Only a third of the East African country’s residents have access to the national power grid. Harvesting the sun makes obvious sense in places like Entasopia. Hundred-dollar photovoltaic (PV) panels for installation on home roofs have been on sale for years. But the meager five watts that most such systems provide is only enough to power a couple of LED lamps each evening and a mobile phone charging point, and the batteries constantly need replacing. The country is full of discarded PV cells, defunct batteries, and disappointed customers.
But now, larger central village PV units linked by underground cable to dozens of houses and business are starting to transform lives. For a ten-dollar installation fee, the people of Entasopia can connect to a village microgrid and buy a share of a thousand times as much power. Village homes are filling with household appliances like refrigerators and washing machines, and the businesses on the main street are powering everything from welding equipment and fuel pumps to hair driers.
Microgrids are small electricity generation and distribution systems that operate independently of larger grids. Typically they rely on local sources of renewable energy, such as river flows, wind, biomass, or, most widely, the power of the sun. There are no official statistics on how many there are, or what their total power output is. But a recent study by U.S.-based Navigant Research, which studies new energy technologies, suggested that their combined generating capacity might now exceed 750 megawatts worldwide. They are, says Daniel Kammen, of the University of California,
Microgrids answer a criticism of rooftop solar, which some say can lock communities into energy poverty.
Berkeley, “a true hot-bed of innovation popping up all over the world.”
n countries such as Kenya, whose economies are growing faster than either conventional, centralized electricity generation or power grids, the potential of microgrids to electrify powerless communities is huge. Many believe they provide the only likely route to deliver UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon’s goal of bringing electricity to the 1.3 billion mostly rural people globally who currently lack it. And they answer a charge often made against roof-top solar power systems, which critics say can lock communities into energy poverty by offering only tiny amounts of power for each household.
Entasopia is as remote as it gets. It is close to the border with Tanzania, at the end of a bumpy laterite road that winds its way from Magadi, a town some 30 miles to the east. Its single street comprises houses fronted by tin-roofed buildings with businesses ranging from butchers and general stores to bars and mobile phone shops. It is where Maasai livestock herders in their bright traditional dress come to buy and sell, topping up their mobile phones before disappearing back into the bush. And it is where people from other Kenyan tribes such as the Luo, Kikuyu and Kamba have congregated since an irrigation project fed by rivers from nearby hills started watering fields of fruit and vegetables for sale to Kenyan cities.
Joseph Nyagilo, field manager for microgrid pioneer SteamaCo, picked out Entasopia for a microgrid in 2014 because of the town’s strong business activity, which he believed could benefit from the extra power that a such a
Photo: (c) Fred Pearce
Nancy Kasia now uses solar power to pump fuel at the filling station she owns in Entasopia.
system can provide. He is proud of the transformation.
At the village filling station, Nancy Kaisa uses solar power to pump fuel. “I had a diesel generator before, but this is much cheaper and easier,” she explains. John Owino, a repairman squatting in the sun outside his workshop, says he can now carry out welding repairs that once had to be sent to distant towns. And Okoth, the entrepreneurial bar boss, said lights meant he can now get up and start work at 4 a.m. Only the owner of the kiosk selling rooftop PV panels seemed gloomy. He was getting on his motorbike to find sales in a neighboring village that did not have a microgrid.
“Light from roof systems can improve quality of life, but only microgrids can lift people out of poverty,” says Emily Moder, SteamaCo’s software manager. “They are the next step up. And by allowing people to build businesses and another source of income, they improve the resilience of rural communities against drought or climate change.”
But SteamaCo is going further. In the past three years, it has been pioneering the use of smart meters in microgrids, and it now has 25 village grids across Kenya, supplying up to 10,000 people and businesses. The
SteamaCo’s solar panels were installed in the village chief’s yard at a cost of $75,000.
idea is to link the supply hardware to pre-payment services that use the country’s popular mobile phone-based banking system, M-Pesa. Cloud-based software keeps track of supplies and payments, alerting customers by text messaging when their credit runs low. There are no contracts, no bills, and no revenue collection problems. Customers can top up their credit, in amounts as small as a few cents. But once the credit expires, the lights go out.
Entasopia’s PV hub, renting space in the yard of the village chief, cost $75,000 to install. It has 24 panels with a maximum generating capacity of 5.6 kilowatts. A control box below houses the smart meter that measures and controls power to each of the 64 customers in town and also communicates remotely with payments software, cutting off power when credit is exhausted. In remote areas such as Entasopia, where wi-fi is largely absent, all data is sent by SMS. “One bar of mobile signal is all we need,” says Moder. “We can be everywhere.”
The site agent keeping a day-to-day eye on things in Entasopia is John Pambio, a young electrical engineer living down the street from the village chief, who also runs a shop repairing mobile phones and TVs. Pambio cleans the PV cells once a week and troubleshoots for customers suffering outages, trips, or damaged cables. The biggest power demand, he says, is at night, when lights, TVs, and sound systems come on. That is not a great match with solar energy production, which of course is in daylight hours. But, like most village hubs, Entasopia has battery storage sufficient for at least 24 hours of use.
Commercial microgrid PV systems still charge prices for power that are quite high. SteamaCo — and the microgrid partners that it increasingly licenses — charge between two and four dollars per kilowatt-hour. That delivers lighting more cheaply than kerosene, and power more cheaply than a diesel generator. But it is double the price of state-subsidized grid power in a city like Nairobi.
SteamaCo co-founder and chief technical officer Sam Duby believes that, just as microgrids are changing life in villages like Entasopia, so they have the potential to transform the prospects for scaling up solar energy elsewhere in Africa and the developing world.
First, replacing roof systems with village microgrids provides for the first time the amount and reliability of power that rural people want, which is enough to change their lives and livelihoods. Secondly, the smart metering that links village supply systems to pay-as-you-go charging networks, resolves the constant bugbear of village power systems — how to collect
Microgrids provide the amount and reliability of power that rural people want, which is enough to change their lives.
revenues from customers in poor and remote places. And thirdly, the data supplied by the smart metering has the potential to unlock the major financing that “Steama” is Swahili for “power.” But for Duby, the power is as much about data as electricity. Now, when he and his potential investors switch on their laptops in Nairobi and access the dashboard where data from the villages and payments systems is collated and analyzed, they can probe how thousands of the world’s poorest people use electricity and what encourages them to use more.
“Nobody has had this kind of data before,” says Moder. “It lowers barriers to investment, because the data provide greater certainly about payback. You can give investors real projections that aren’t a total guess.” Duby says the data also offer governments or donors the chance to directly subsidize solar power as it is purchased — a microgrid version of the feed-in tariffs that have kick-started solar and wind power in Europe.
The stories the data from places like Entasopia tell are not all good news. For instance, there is the experience of Margaret Mwangi, who set up a hair salon in the room behind her tiny general store across from Okoth’s bar. When Mwangi got solar power, she bought a refrigerator for selling cold drinks and a blow-drier for the salon. But each head of African hair takes 30 minutes to dry, and the power needed is costing too much. “Last month I paid 14,000 shillings [about $140] for electricity,” she complains. “I can’t afford that.” She has stopped paying, and her shop is now dark.
The reason for her problem is clear, says Nyagilo, the SteamCo field manager. Mwangi’s blow-drier is among the biggest power users in the village. Back in Nairobi they can see the power surge when she turns it on. Thirty minutes of use costs double the 50 cents extra that Mwangi charges her customers for the blow dry, but she says she dare not charge more. “Margaret used to be our biggest customer here. We want her to stay,” Nyagilo says. He is planning to offer her a special deal to get her back on line — maybe a flat-rate $50-a-month charge.
Back at SteamaCo’s headquarters in a small business park outside Nairobi, Moder opens up the data dashboard on her laptop. Zooming in on the Entasopia numbers, she trawls to see how much power Mwangi, Okoth, and their other customers tap from the microgrid, and how much they pay and when. Most customers top up 50 cents each evening to watch TV and keep the lights on. Some lose track of what they are paying and need help. “We need different tariff structures for different people,” she says. “But
Even though our customers are poor, they have purchasing power and know how to use it.’
with smart meters that is easy to do.”
SteamaCo’s origins lie in an NGO called Access:Energy set up in 2009 by Duby and current CEO Harrsion Leaf on the shores of Lake Victoria. It trained local craftsmen in making wind turbines from scrap metal. But its technology has come a long way. Renamed SteamaCo, it installed its first microgrid system with smart metering in 2013, on Remba, a remote fishing island in Lake Victoria. Since then, expansion has been fast. By mid-October, the company had 25 village grids across Kenya, with an additional five in Tanzania, Benin, Rwanda and Nepal, and five more ready for completion in Kenya by year’s end. “In 2016, we want hundreds of grids in dozens of countries,” says Moder.
In its first years, the company financed its work with aid money and research grants. But early investors also included the Vulcan Capital, set up by Microsoft founder and philanthropist Paul Allen. And now Duby and Leaf are raising money from equity funds that want a commercial return from the revenues of selling electricity. “We want to show this business can be profitable,” says Moder. “Even though our customers are poor, they have purchasing power and know how to use it. They don’t want charity, and we treat them as responsible consumers.” For instance, with revenues above $10,000 in its first year, SteamaCo’s microgrid in Entasopia is likely SteamaCo provides a very personal service. Nyagilo has toured hundreds of remote villages in the past three years, knocking on doors and probing business accounts to conduct instant assessments of their suitability for a microgrid. And he keeps returning to check on his customers. These days,
Powered by solar panels and biomass, microgrids are spreading slowly across India, where 300 million people live without electricity. But can these off-grid technologies be scaled-up to bring low-carbon power to tens of millions of people?READ MORE
when he visits Entasopia, he is besieged by people who turned down connection the first time around but now want to sign up.
Soon such personal service from one of the company’s top officers will probably be replaced by more anonymous operations, as companies purchase SteamaCo’s hardware and software. Most likely, they will communicate with customers via call centers. But, if smart microgrids take hold at the pace their proponents hope, the change to rural economies and lifestyles in Kenya and elsewhere in the developing world could be massive and permanent.
When the sun sets in the Rift Valley now, the lights come on in Entasopia. Instead of retreating into their homes, villagers hit the street, shop at the stalls, and head for the bars, where drinking cool beer and watching the early-evening TV news is still a novelty. Soon Peter Okoth and rival bar operators will switch on their sound systems. The night is young.
On the road out, Nyagilo passes the neighboring village of Ngurumani, which is swathed in darkness. “This,” he says, “is our next village for a microgrid.”
In Africa, hydropower is one of the largest renewable power contributors to energy generation, however with climate change wreaking havoc across the continent, water is becoming a scarce commodity in certain areas.Dr Daniel M. Kammen, founding director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL), and International Rivers’ Lori Pottinger discuss hydropower at length, identifying the climate risks and the addition of alternative renewable technologies in the East Africa region.
The African energy sector is generally speaking, underfunded, under-capacitated and in some places embattled. An estimated 70% of Africans have no access to grid-based electricity.
Blackouts and energy shortfalls are the norm in many places. Given this difficult landscape, taking advantage of opportunities to increase reliability, develop local sustainable resources, and support both on- and off-grid users is a powerful opportunity not to be missed.
The East African Power Pool (EAPP), which serves 10 countries, is at a critical junction.
It has the potential to play a key role in driving energy investments in the region for years to come but its heavy focus on costly large dams – and the lack of analysis on the risks that climate change brings to those investments – puts the region at high risk.
The plentiful renewable energy resources available to the region in the form of solar, wind, biomass and geothermal energy mean that it doesn’t have to be this way.
Hydropower faces climate risks
As currently configured, the EAPP will rely heavily on some of Africa’s largest most controversial hydropower dams, including Ethiopia’s Gibe III Dam on the Omo River, and Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile.
Currently, about a quarter of electricity generated in EAPP countries comes from hydropower (higher than the global average but acceptable). Guture investments will create a much greater dependence on hydropower at a time of changing river flows and other climate disruptions.
The EAPP has identified hydropower projects that will almost double the EAPP’s current installed capacity, which means that an estimated 60% of the grid’s power will come from Ethiopian hydropower generation alone.
Not enough information exists about the risks involved in hydropower dams in East Africa to justify such heavy growth in hydropower.
The EAPP Master Plan does not include an analysis of the effects of climate change on the regional power strategy. It makes no attempt to address the impacts of possible droughts on the region’s economy.
The EAPP would be wise to shift its priorities to include a much greater proportion of renewable energy sources like solar, geothermal and wind, and to take greater account of climate risks to large hydropower projects.
Bridging the energy divide
Decentralised renewable energy sources are also more appropriate for bridging East Africa’s large energy divide.
Mini-grids and community energy programmes can greatly build local energy access and economic opportunity, which can be the ‘seeds’ of growing regional grids.
The clean, non-hydro energy potential of the East African region is vast and developing it can lead to strong economic, social and environmentally beneficial development.
A renewables based energy sector can meet the rapidly growing energy needs of the region, making additional progress in increasing energy access, in a way that achieves environmental sustainability.
With so many people living off-grid in the region, a balanced focus on grid-connectivity and on pay-as-you go and other off-grid and mini-grid clean energy solutions is a key step that governments in the region can enable, and that the international aid and business communities can support.
Our recent work on the ‘information-energy’ nexus and the strong performance of private providers of off-grid solar-based energy services (such as M-KOPA and SunnyMoney) indicates that diversified strategies have the potential to build capacity to serve all in the east African region.
It has been estimated that the region’s solar resource alone is sufficient to provide the needed energy resources for each nation within the EAPP.
Available non-hydro renewable electricity sources account for roughly 80% of the identified hydropower projects in the EAPP Master Plan.
Leapfrogging hydro to a broad base of renewables would be far less risky in a changing climate.
Leading by example
A good example of an energy sector that is already planning for climate risks to hydropower is Kenya. The east African country has increased its percentage of climate-safe geothermal electricity while reducing its dependence on hydropower.
Kenya is on pace to expand its geothermal production from just over 500MW to over 3,000MW in just a few years.
Geothermal is today the least-costly form of on-grid generation in Kenya, with costs as low at 8.5 cents/kWh, one third of the fossil fuel costs.
The geothermal story in Kenya is not unique. Wind could rival geothermal as a growth industry. New discoveries (such as the incredibly rich wind resource at Lake Turkana).
Challenges do remain, with the off-grid population and expansion of energy programmes for the poor being key issues (but where efforts from the growing private sector pay-as-you-go programmes of M-KOPA, SunnyMoney and others are making progress).
At the industrial level, however, the expansion of clean, on-grid energy can also bring about new industrial potential.
Even while taking the prudent step to dramatically reduce the planned use of hydropower, Kenya is planning a new industrial corridor built around clean geothermal, wind, and solar energy.
What is taking place in Kenya can and should happen elsewhere in the region.
About the authors:
This editorial piece is based on the findings of “A Clean Energy Vision for East Africa: Planning for Sustainability, Reducing Climate Risks and Increasing Energy Access” (2015) by Daniel Kammen.
Dr Daniel M. Kammen is the Class of 1935 Distinguished Professor of Energy at the University of California, Berkeley, with parallel appointments in the Energy and Resources Group, the Goldman School of Public Policy, and the Department of Nuclear Engineering.
He was appointed by then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in April 2010 as the first energy fellow of the new Environment and Climate Partnership for the Americas (ECPA) initiative.
Lori Pottinger, works on the Communications and Africa Programme at International Rivers. Pottinger has worked on Africa’s rivers since the 1990’s. “A healthy river is such a remarkable thing, it gives so much to so many people; we're working across the continent to keep Africa's rivers healthy and flowing. If I wasn't working on rivers, I'd be doing what I can to save the world's oceans and coral reefs.”
 Alstone, P., Gershenson, D. and Kammen, D. M. (2015) “Decentralized energy systems for clean electricity access“, Nature Climate Change, 5, 305 – 314. DOI: 10.1038/NCLIMATE2512