We clarify the mechanisms through which rural electrification can contribute to rural development. Through a detailed case study analysis of a community-based electric micro-grid in rural Kenya, we demonstrate that access to electricity enables the use of electric equipment and tools by small and micro enterprises, resulting in significant improvement in productivity per worker (100–200% depending on the task at hand) and in a corresponding growth in income levels in the order of 20–70%, depending on the product made. Access to electricity simultaneously enables and improves the delivery of social and business services from a wide range of village-level infrastructure (e.g., schools, markets, and water pumps) while improving the productivity of agricultural activities. We find that increased productivity and growth in revenues within the context of better delivery of social and business support services contribute to achieving higher social and economic benefits for rural communities. We also demonstrate that when local electricity users have an ability to charge and enforce cost-reflective tariffs and when electricity consumption is closely linked to productive uses that generate incomes, cost recovery is feasible.
Gathu Kirubi, brings strong analytical skills and demonstrated management experience cutting across renewable energy, rural development and micro-finance. Aside from holding a PhD in Energy & Rural Development from the University of California Berkeley, a premier institution in the field, Kirubi brings to Solar Transitions over 10 years experience in innovation and leadership in designing and managing rural energy projects in East Africa. In 2001, Kirubi won the prestigious Ashden Award in recognition of "leadership and innovation in pioneering the start-up of a revolving fund credit scheme that supports schools and micro-enterprises with energy efficient wood stoves in Kenya.
In addition to consulting on energy and microfinance with a number of organizations including UNDP, Arc Finance, E+Co, and Faulu-Kenya, Kirubi is also a Lecturer at the Environmental Sciences Department, Kenyatta University, Nairobi,where he teaches courses on energy, technology, and sustainable development. His main interests in the project are the linkages between rural access to electricity and income generating activities, including small and medium size enterprises.
November 2, 2016 - Scientific AmericanWith 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:
Isa Ferrall is a MS/Ph.D. student in the Energy and Resources Group and Renewable and Appropriate Energy Lab at the University of California, Berkeley. She is interested in the impact of renewable energy on rural electrification, global development, and the domestic energy sector. Previously, Isa gained experience on both the technical and applied sides of renewable energy. She researched innovative energy materials at Duke University as a National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenge Scholar and at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory as a Department of Energy Intern. She also has analyzed system data for Off-Grid Electric, a solar home system company operating in east Africa. Isa graduated Magna Cum Laude from Duke University in 2015 with distinction in Mechanical Engineering and a Certificate in Energy and the Environment.
The Borneo Post, August 17: KUCHING: Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Adenan Satem’s move to cancel the plans to construct Baram dam has earned himself compliments from Dr Daniel M Kammen, a distinguished professor of renewable energy at the University of California, Berkeley.
Speaking on the sidelines of a luncheon talk on ‘Building alternative renewable and sustainable energy capacity for economic growth and development in Sarawak’ hosted by Batu Lintang assemblyman See Chee How here yesterday, Kammen regarded the step taken by Adenan as ‘a rare thing’ that had only been taken by only a handful of brave world leaders.
“The Chief Minister of Sarawak has taken a huge and important step cancelling the contract for a mega dam because it wasn’t likely to produce the rural energy that was needed, it wasn’t bringing international financing and instead to invest in a sustainable Sarawak.
“That is a rare thing. I only know a few global leaders who have been that brave, Jerry Brown the governor of California, the chief minister of Sarawak. There are also a few leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel who I think have taken a major step to make clean energy the standard.”
Kammen, who is the founding director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL), acknowledged that while cancelling the contract for the construction of the big dam was important, the state had to pursue other clean energy such as solar and biomass.
“Of course, I would like to see a little more change because if you’re not going to build the next big dam, but you’re building all those new industrial buildings all around town not equipping them with solar, which I feel is a loss of opportunity.
“Find a few of these new investments like many of the communities around here where they are building lots of new development and tell them ‘your building contract, we’ll grant it but we want to see solar on roof top, we want to see biomass combustion system out back. You’re generating clean energy and we’ll make sure you get paid for it’.”
As part of the measures to encourage the use of renewable and sustainable energy, he opined that the government should strengthen the feed-in tariff mechanism that existed on paper but not used in the country, adding that the businesses or firms wanting to sell back power to the grid should be given the right to do so.
“You can’t just say it and walk away. You have to fund some small companies to start to prove it happens and that requires hard work and that’s the next step. So we have to see it take place, not just to say we have it.
“I know there are many countries that have very good policies on paper but you have to follow it up. Because biomass is so plentiful here coupled with the solar resources that are so good and the micro-hydro, you have to make it happen.”
He said often when people hear about projects to build solar panels and wind turbines, they resisted because it was something that they were unfamiliar with and concerned over the cost, without realising how cheap things had become over the years.
“There is now international financing available (for these projects) from many different agencies, not just the World Bank, the US but new Green
Climate Fund is ramping up right now so that it can spend US$100 billion a year on projects. This is a much broader fund, it supports clean energy projects worldwide.”
Kammen, who last visited Sarawak in June last year and had paid a courtesy call on Adenan, said he was interested to work with Sarawak Energy Bhd and the state government on the analysis needed to put together a clean energy plan.
On Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE), Kammen opined that it was not a good project as it required the construction of 10 mega dams in n the state, which to him, did not make sense.
“The forests are not only critical for nature but many people make their living off them. Sarawak doesn’t have a deficit of energy, there is actually a lot generated.
“The challenge is that we have to convert that to clean energy. So you need to develop roof top solar, large scale solar. In Peninsular Malaysia, they have large solar projects just near the airport. They are generating solar power, putting it back into the grid. Projects like that need to happen here.”
Dr. Rebekah Shirley directs RAEL's projects for sustainable energy in Borneo
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and United States President Barack Obama announced Tuesday two new initiatives mobilizing up to $1.4 billion to finance India’s commitment to universal energy access.
Minigrids are renewable energy-based electricity generators that serve a set of consumers. They make up a major part of Modi’s promise to provide electricity to all Indians by 2019. Many have asked whether minigrids could be the next big opportunity beyond the grid. And with this influx of capital, Modi is well-positioned to put that question to the test as he looks to power the more than 18,000 villages that currently lack electricity.
Because there are far less sustainable ways for India to meet its ambitious targets, part of the pathway to the global goal of universal access to electricity by 2030, the stakes are high and the world is watching.
“We believe that these remote areas which have been left out cannot be serviced with the regular grid,” Tarun Kapoor, joint secretary of India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, said last week at EnergyAccessX, an event that took place in San Francisco as part of the annual Clean Energy Ministerial. He asked the audience to provide feedback on a draft national policy outlining how microgrids and minigrids can provide cost effective off-grid energy. “We will have a model of grid connected microgrids,” he said.
As the policy acknowledges, while the world has seen tremendous growth of solar home systems in the developing world, barriers continue to stall the expansion of minigrids.
“When you look at the actual experience with minigrids, it’s not just not as good as the potential, but many have massively underachieved,” said Dan Kammen, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley and a U.S. Science Envoy.
Minigrids are a more obvious fit for areas where the concentration of homes and businesses is too far to connect to the existing grid but large enough to provide economies of scale. So it is harder for the minigrid sector to take off in countries with less population density, let alone less regulatory support, than India. Technological improvements and cost reductions have helped minigrids overcome some of the barriers they once faced, but development banks and aid donors play a key role in catalyzing the growth of the minigrid industry.
Scattered across the tables at EnergyAccessX were booklets from Sierra Club and Oil Change International giving international public finance a big red F for distributed clean energy access. The recommendations for multilateral development banks included increasing funding for off-grid and minigrid clean energy projects and moving beyond pilot projects to incorporate off-grid and minigrid lending into core energy portfolios.
Minigrids raise challenges that more traditional development donor investment practices are not always well adapted to confront, said Justin Guay, climate program officer at the David and Lucille Packard Foundation in San Francisco. This is due in part to a disconnect between the expertise and incentives of most development bank staff, who tend to focus on extensive due diligence for a small number of large projects, and the new opportunities to reach energy impoverished customers, which require numerous smaller investments with higher risk.
“Development funding agencies can’t really go out and fund a hundred $1 million dollar rural electrification projects. The paperwork is massive, there’s a vetting process for all constituents, and they want traceability in terms of where all dollars are going and what payback is going to be,” Fluidic Energy CEO Steve Scharnhorst told Devex. The International Finance Corp., the World Bank’s venture capital arm, has invested in his clean energy company, which is leveraging its metal and air batteries to store electricity in renewable energy minigrids in emerging markets.“If you can bring scale through a minigrid and do 100 villages or 500 villages and make it a consolidated financial effort where the agencies are vetting a half dozen partners for a large investment, it makes it easier to get done.”
The Global Facility on Mini-Grids aims to remove the barriers constraining the expansion of low cost, clean energy minigrids in emerging markets, Malcolm Cosgrove-Davies, global lead for energy access at the World Bank, told Devex.
The group will host an event focused on minigrids in Nairobi, Kenya, later this month to evaluate successful minigrid projects. It will evaluate successful minigrid projects to understand what has worked from technology to policy to finance. Case studies might include the Infrastructure Development Company Limited program in Bangladesh, which has been called the most successful off-grid program in the world. Events such as these represent one way the global development community can rally market actors around a common vision and build momentum for minigrid market growth, said Kristina Skierka, campaign director of Power for All, a key organizer of EnergyAccessX.
For these success stories to scale in Africa, minigrids must rely on champions who can mobilize the money needed to bridge the market imperfections.
“I’m becoming increasingly obsessed with minigrids,” said Andrew Herscowitz, coordinator for the United States government’s Power Africa initiative. He said it is incumbent on donors and governments to give minigrids a chance to be a part of the solution beyond India. “We have to try,” he said.
Herscowitz named two partners in Beyond the Grid, a Power Africa sub-initiative, as examples of companies that are demonstrating points of commercial viability across multiple places on the African continent. He mentioned Powerhive, which partners with utilities and independent power producers to provide microgrid electricity, and Virunga Power, which develops, invests in, and operates rural distribution grids.
In Tanzania, Devergy, which deploys minigrid systems for low income people in rural villages, is partnering with Simusolar, which provides and finances energy efficient appliances, to test out a combined offering of microgrid and off-grid systems. Michael Kuntz, the San Francisco-based co-founder of Simusolar, said this effort will serve as a case study for how the two approaches are complementary rather than competitive.
Similarly, he hopes the Indian government will provide data as it implements its micro-grid and minigrid policy. Its success will depend on the details, from how the system is designed and presented, to how incentives from stakeholders are aligned, to how the product life cycle is managed, Kuntz said.
As Paris 2015 Conference approaches, this new essay collection points way to providing off-grid energy for world's bottom billion
Opinion pieces from experts tackling the idea of energy as a catalyst for sustainable development - health, food security, education gender equality, governance, security and employment.
Smart Villages: New Thinking for off-grid communities worldwide comprises 16 essays written by scientists and leading thinkers from around the world. 1.3 billion people worldwide still lack access to modern energy, preventing economic development in these communities. The book reviews up-to-date accounts promoting energy access in remote areas of the world. Insights will inform leaders, policy-makers and communicators, as well as encourage a wider debate internationally.
Contributors include Professor Daniel M. Kammen, Professor of Energy at the University of California, Dr Christiana Thorpe, recently retired Chief Electoral Commissioner of the Sierra Leone National Electoral Commission, Professor Deepak Nayyar, former Chief Economic Adviser to the Indian government, and Professor Benjamin K. Sovacool, Director of the Danish Center for Energy Technologies. The foreword has been provided by Tun Ahmad Sarji bin Abdul Hamid, former Chief Secretary to the Government of Malaysia.
The volume was compiled by Professor Sir Brian Heap, who says, "we publish these essays with policy makers and decision takers in mind - planners of sustainable off-grid well-being faced with the demanding challenges of lifting the bottom billion out of the poverty trap". Its publication fits well with the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All initiative (se4all.org) and the new Sustainable Development Goals, post-September 2015.
The eclectic scope of the book covers a range of viewpoints on the complex problem of energy access in developing countries. On the supply side, it asks, what are the scientific and technological advances of today and tomorrow that could transform the way that energy, particularly electricity, could be made more readily available for rural transformation? On the demand side, what are the enabling factors that make energy access a catalyst for sustainable development in off-grid villages? What framework conditions need to be put in place so that local entrepreneurs can establish enterprises to deliver and make productive use of energy in remote villages, the home of some 1.3 billion poor and underserved?
As Dr John Homes, project co-leader commented from his Oxford office "it is rare for such a diverse and high-profile group of authors to be included in a single volume. We hope that this collection will bring home the importance of coordinated action on the part of governments, private investors and development funders to realise the UN's vision of sustainable energy for all by 2030. While the challenges are considerable, the potential pay-off in terms of outcomes for the bottom billion could be tremendous."
Smart Villages: New Thinking for off-grid communities worldwide is published by Banson.
The book is available to view for free at http://e4sv.org/new-thinking
Keywords: off-grid energy; village power; decentralized energy, energy services, energy innovation.
Two critically important and interlinked challenges face the global community in the 21st century: the persistence of widespread energy poverty and the resulting lost economic opportunity; and intensifying human-driven climate disruption. These crises are inexorably linked through the energy technology systems that have so far provided the vast majority of our energy: biomass and fossil fuels. Both the energy service crisis and the climate crisis have become increasingly serious over the past decades, even though we have seen greater clarity over the individual and social costs that each has brought to humanity.
The Sustainable Energy Imperative:
The correlation between access to electricity and a wide range of social goods is overwhelming. However, access to improved energy services alone does not provide a surefire pathway to economic opportunity and an improved quality of life. In Figure 2 we show the correlations that exist between electricity access across nations and a variety of measures of quality of life, such as the Human Development Index (a measure of well-being based in equal thirds on gross national income, life expectancy, and educational attainment). Other indicators studied include gender equality in educational opportunity, and the percentage of students who reach educational milestones. All of these indices improve significantly and roughly linearly with access to electricity. At the same time, the percentage of people below the poverty line, and childhood mortality, both decline with increasing energy access1.
Figure 1: A village micro-grid energy and telecommunications system in the Crocker Highlands of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. The system serves a community of two hundred, and provides household energy services, telecoms and satellite (dish shown), water pumping for fish ponds (seen at center) and for refrigeration. The supply includes micro-hydro and solar generation (one small panel shown here, others are distributed on building rooftops). Photo credit: Daniel M. Kammen.
Figure 2: The Human Development Index (HDI) and various additional metrics of quality of life plotted against the percentage of the population with electricity access. Each data point is country level data a specific point in time. For additional data, see Alston, Gershenson, and Kammen, 20151.
Today the gap between global population and those with electricity access stands at roughly 1.3 billion, with energy services for the unelectrified coming largely from kerosene and traditional biomass, including dung and agricultural residues. This ‘access gap’ has persisted as grid expansion programmes and population have grown.
Grid expansion has roughly kept pace with the increase in the global population. About 1.4 billion people in 2013 are completely off-grid, and many ostensibly connected people in the developing world experience significant outages that range from 20-200+ days a year. The majority of these off-grid residents are in rural and underserved peri-urban areas. Current forecasts are that this number will remain roughly unchanged until 2030, which would relegate a significant portion of the population and the economies of many of the neediest countries on earth to fragile, underproductive lives with less options than they could otherwise have. Traditional grid extension will be slowest to reach these communities. Unless the advances in both energy and information systems that have occurred over the past decade are more widely adopted, there will be little if any chance to alter this trend.
Advances in off-grid systems
Recently we have seen an emergence of off-grid electricity systems that do not require the same supporting networks as the traditional forms of centralized power generation. These technological innovations are as much based on information systems as they are directly about energy technology. While traditional electricity grids can gradually pay off (amortize) the costs of expensive generation, transmission and distribution capital equipment across many customers and across many decades, a new business model is needed to rapidly bring energy services to the rural and urban poor. Mini-grids and products for individual user end-use such as solar home systems have benefitted from dramatic price reductions and performance advances in solid state electronics, cellular communications technologies, electronic banking, and in the dramatic decrease in solar energy costs2. This mix of technological and market innovation has contributed to a vibrant new energy services sector that in many nations has outpaced traditional grid expansion.
The comparison between the utility model of central-station energy systems and this new wave of distributed energy providers is instructive. Traditional dynamo generators and arc lighting perform best at large scale, and they became the mainstay of large-scale electric utilities. The classic utility model of a one-way flow of energy from power plant to consumers is now rapidly changing. The combination of low-cost solar, micro-hydro, and other generation technologies coupled with the electronics needed to manage small-scale power and to communicate to control devices and to remote billing systems has changed village energy. High-performance, low-cost photovoltaic generation, paired with advanced batteries and controllers, provide scalable systems across much larger power ranges than central generation, from megawatts down to fractions of a watt3.
The rapid and continuing improvements in end-use efficiency for solid state lighting, direct current televisions, refrigeration, fans, and information and communication technology (ICT, as seen in Figure 1) have resulted in a 'super-efficiency trend'. This progress has enabled decentralized power and appliance systems to compete with conventional equipment for basic household needs. These rapid technological advances in supporting clean energy both on- and off-grid are furthermore predicted to continue. This process has been particularly important at the individual device and household (solar home system) level, and for the emerging world of village mini-grids3.
Diverse Technology Options to Provide Energy Services for the Unelectrified:
With these technological cornerstones, aid organizations, governments, academia, and the private sector are developing and supporting a wide range of approaches to serve the needs of the poor, including pico-lighting devices (often very small 1 – 2 watt solar panels charging lithium-ion batteries which in turn power low-cost/high efficiency light emitting diode lights), solar home systems (SHS), and community-scale micro- and mini-grids. Decentralized systems are clearly not complete substitutes for a reliable grid connection, but they represent an important level of access until a reliable grid is available and feasible. They provide an important platform from which to develop more distributed energy services. By overcoming access barriers often through market-based structures, these systems provide entirely new ways to bring energy services to the poor and formerly un-connected people.
Meeting peoples’ basic lighting and communication needs is an important first step on the 'modern electricity service ladder' 4. Eliminating kerosene lighting from a household improves household health and safety while providing significantly higher quality and quantities of light. Fuel based lighting is a $20 billion industry in Africa alone, and tremendous opportunities exist to both reduce energy costs for the poor, and to improve the quality of service. Charging a rural or village cell phone can cost $5 – 10/kWh at a pay-for-service charging station, but less than $0.50 cents/kWh via an off-grid product or on a mini-grid.
This investment frees income and also tends to lead to higher rates of utilization for mobile phones and other small devices. Overall, the first few watts of power mediated through efficient end-uses lead to benefits in household health, education, and poverty reduction. Beyond basic needs there can be a wide range of important and highly-valued services from decentralized power (e.g., television, refrigeration, fans, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning, motor-driven applications) depending on the power level and its quality along with demand-side efficiency.
Experience with the 'off-grid' poor confirms the exceptional value derived from the first increment of energy service—equivalent to 0.2-1 Wh/day for mobile phone charging or the first 100 lumen-hours of light. Given the cost and service level that fuel-based lighting and fee-based mobile phone charging provide as a baseline, simply shifting this expenditure to a range of modern energy technology solutions could provide a much better service, or significant cost savings over the lifetime of a lighting product (typically 3-5 years).
Mirroring the early development of electric utilities, improvements in underlying technology systems for decentralized power are also being combined with new business models, institutional and regulatory support, and integrated information technology systems5, 6. Historically, the non-technical barriers to adoption have been impediments to widespread adoption of off-grid electricity, and in some cases they still are. A lack of appropriate investment capital also hampers the establishment and expansion of private sector initiatives. Furthermore, complex and often perverse policy environments impair entry for clean technologies and entrench incumbent systems. Subsidies for liquid lighting fuels can reduce the incentive to adopt electric lighting. In addition, the prevalence of imperfect or inaccurate information about quality can lead to market spoiling4 and is also manifested by a lack of consumer understanding and awareness of alternatives to incumbent lighting technology.
Testing laboratories that rate the quality of the lighting products and disseminate the results are an invaluable step in increasing the quality and competitiveness of new entrants into the off-grid and mini-grid energy services space. The Lighting Global (https://www.lightingglobal.org) programme5 is one example of an effort that began as an industry watchdog, but has now become an important platform that provides market insights, steers quality assurance frameworks for modern, off-grid lighting devices and systems, and promotes sustainability through a partnership with industry.
An Action Agenda for Energy Access:
The diversity of new energy service products available, and the rapidly increasing demand for information and communication services, water, health and entertainment in villages worldwide has built a very large demand for reliable and low-cost energy7. Combining this demand with the drive for clean energy brings two important objectives that were for many years seen as in direct competition with alignment around the suite of new clean energy products that can power village energy services.
To enable and expand this process, a range of design principles emerge that can form a roadmap to clean energy economies:
Establish clear goals at the local level: Universal energy access is the global goal by 20307, but establishing more near-term goals that embody meaningful steps from the present situation will show how what is possible and at what level of effort. Cities and villages have begun with audits of energy services, costs, and environmental impacts. A number of tools are often cited as excellent starting points, including the climate footprint assessment tools like http://coolclimate.berkeley.edu, and the HOMER software package (http://www.homerenergy.com) used by many groups to design both local mini-grids and to plan and cost out off-grid energy options
Empower villages as both designers and as consumers of localized power: Village solutions necessarily vary greatly, but clean energy resource assessments, evaluation of the needed infrastructure investment, and, most often neglected but most important, the social structures around which sufficient training exists to make the village energy system a success. In a pilot in rural Nicaragua, once the assessment was complete8 movement from evaluation to implementation quickly became a goal of both the community and a local commercial plant.
Make equity a central design consideration: Community energy solutions have the potential to liberate women entrepreneurs and disadvantaged ethnic minorities by tailoring user-materials and energy plans to meet the cultural and linguistic needs of these communities. National programmes often ignore business specialties, culturally appropriate cooking and other home energy needs. Thinking explicitly about this is both good business and makes the solutions much more likely to be adopted.
References & Further Reading:
Alstone, Peter, Gershenson, Dimitry and Daniel K. Kammen (2015) Decentralized energy systems for clean electricity access, , , 305 – 314.
Alstone, Peter, Gershenson, Dimitry and Daniel K. Kammen (2015) Decentralized energy systems for clean electricity access, Nature Climate Change, 5, 305 – 314.
Zheng, Cheng and Kammen, Daniel (2014) An Innovation-Focused Roadmap for a Sustainable Global Photovoltaic Industry, Energy Policy, 67, 159–169.
Casillas, C. and Kammen, D. M. (2010) The energy-poverty-climate nexus, Science, 330, 1182
Azevedo, I. L., Morgan, M. G. & Morgan, F. (2009) The transition to solid-state lighting. Proceedings of the IEEE97, 481-510 (2009).
Mileva, A., Nelson, J. H., Johnston, J., and Kammen, D. M. (2013) SunShot Solar Power Reduces Costs and Uncertainty in Future Low-Carbon Electricity Systems, Environmental Science & Technology, 47 (16), 9053 – 9060.
Sovacool, B. K. The political economy of energy poverty: A review of key challenges. Energy for Sustainable Development16, 272-282 (2012).
SE4ALL. (2013) Global Tracking Framework (United Nations Sustainable Energy For All, New York, NY).
Nkiruka Avila is a graduate student in the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley. She graduated with Summa cum Laude honors in Petroleum Engineering from the University of Oklahoma. She has worked in various sectors of the energy industry, from engineering design and production to end-use distribution and marketing. Her current research interests include renewable energy integration, sustainable energy development and rural electrification.