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Clean Power Sun over West Africa

Published on May 14th, 2014 | by Silvio Marcacci

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Is 3,000 MW Of New Nigeria Solar Power A Model To End Energy Poverty?

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May 14th, 2014 by  

When Europeans first explored Africa, they called it the “Dark Continent” because of its vast unknown expanses, but in recent years that name could have been better applied within the context of energy poverty and fossil fuel reliance.

Fortunately, a major new renewable energy announcement is shining a light on Africa’s biggest economy, illuminating a bright clean energy future for the entire continent in the process.

Nigeria has signed a series of agreements with SkyPower FAS Energy, a joint venture between SkyPower Global and FAS Energy, to develop and operate 3,000 megawatts (MW) of utility-scale solar photovoltaic power plants over the next five years.

$5 Billion, 30,000 Green Jobs From Nigeria Solar Power

The agreements were finalized through a Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement between Canada and Nigeria during the World Economic Forum on Africa, and will start bringing zero-carbon distributed generation online in phases, starting as soon as 2015.

All told, the solar agreements are worth an estimated $5 billion in capital requirements, and will create more than 30,000 green jobs in Nigeria over the life of the projects – many of which will be sourced through local businesses and partners.

The new solar energy installations will be located in the Delta State of Nigeria, long known as the country’s most prolific oil-producing region, and may herald a shift away from fossil fuels. “It represents a continued effort to provide clean and renewable energy that can be sustained for decades to come,” said Doctor Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan, Delta State Governor. “Delta State: Beyond oil into solar.”

Renewables Key To Ending Africa’s Energy Poverty

And while adding new solar capacity sounds like a good idea for Nigeria, it could also hold the key to bringing millions of people out of energy poverty and meeting Africa’s fast-growing energy demands, while potentially leapfrogging over fossil fuels.

Roughly 600 million people live without access to electricity across Africa, a number expected to surge to 645 million by 2030 – roughly two-thirds of the worldwide total, according to the International Energy Agency. And most of those people will want to plug in cell phones and watch television without a gasoline-powered generator, or illuminate the night and cook without kerosene or charcoal.

Nokero solar light bulbs

Nokero solar light bulbs image via CleanTechnica

In the near term, solar energy is expected to play a major role in Africa’s clean energy transition. Solar PV demand across the continent is expected to reach up to 6 GW by 2018, according to NPD SolarBuzz. “In the past 12 months, new plans for large PV projects have emerged across Africa,” said Susanne von Aichberger, NPD Solarbuzz analyst. “PV projects in the 100MW range have now become common as a means of expanding power generation capacity quickly.”

Over the long term, renewable energy could change the equation and create climate wealth where once only energy poverty existed. Africa’s renewable energy capacity is expected to quadruple to roughly 120 gigawatts (GW) by 2030 if investors dedicate funds to the region, reports the International Renewable Energy Agency.

Still, even though solar PV could mitigate the need for transmission lines while stimulating economic development in the region, financing is hard to come by. One avenue toward that investment goal could be international carbon financing through the Clean Development Mechanism. The World Bank estimates 44 countries across Africa could develop 170 GW of low-carbon power generation from 3,200 projects – more than twice the region’s current installed capacity.

“The energy deficit in Sub-Saharan Africa is enormous…it is estimated the African countries will need to spend at least 6% of their GDP on energy over the next 10 years,” said Dana Ryanskova of the World Bank. “Clean technologies may be viable alternatives worth exploring, but getting there is daunting.”

Innovative Investment Approach For A Sustainable Economy

That’s why announcements like the Nigeria solar PV projects are so important. The $5 billion in capital investment will come from a combination of bank debt, development bank financing, and equity partners. Through an innovative investment approach, Nigeria not only gets clean energy, but it also builds a sustainable economy.

“The signing of these agreements and commencement of these groundbreaking projects in Nigeria clearly demonstrate the country’s commitment to clean, renewable energy,” said Sabri Asfour, SkyPower FAS Energy general manager. “Combined expertise in infrastructure development and construction will generate a large number of new jobs, support skills development, and increase prosperity of the regions of the country where these solar projects will be built.”

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About the Author

Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate-focused public relations company based in Washington, D.C.



  • Bob_Wallace

    Presley – read the Executive Summary. And more if you’re really interested in how Africans are going to be generating electricity going forward.

    http://www.irena.org/DocumentDownloads/Publications/IOREC_Key%20Findings%20and%20Recommendations.pdf

  • Presley K. Wesseh Jr.

    All of us would agree on the imperative that nowhere in the world is the need for electricity so high than in Sub-Saharan Africa. The World Bank reports that one in every ten Africans lacks access to reliable electricity. Renewable power like solar is great and there is no doubt about it.

    However, these investments are usually more expensive and their scale of power
    generation is relatively low (compared with fossil fuels). Considering Africa’s thin financial resources and huge power needs, can its economy really be built on renewables? What is Nigeria doing with all the cheap coal resources? Indeed, coal-fired electricity generation is by far cheaper with larger output capacity. It is good to provide electricity to each person, one at a time, but wouldn’t it be better if hundreds of thousands of people can have access to reliable electricity all at the same time?

    It is understood that our Energy Policy seeks to promote three major objectives: ‘boasting real GDP’, ‘providing energy for all’ and maintaining a clean environment. While the first two objectives are usually in the same direction, the last one goes the opposite way. If you cannot get all at the same time, then why not focus on the urgent ones? At this transitional stage, Africa’s priority should turn towards growing its real GDP and providing energy for all its inhabitants. This means that Africa should utilize its cheap resources (coal, oil, etc) and cheap environment in order to have a competitive advantage.

    For instance, investing the $ 5 billion in coal as opposed to solar technologies, would present greater opportunities both in terms of job creation and power generation. Africa cannot follow the current Western Model if it must become competitive. We are told that we must leapfrog, whatever that means! Is this ideology realistic given Africa current situation? How many examples of leapfrogging
    can be pointed to in the West? In fact, the USA recently withdrew from the Kyoto
    Protocol on grounds that the stipulated emissions reduction targets were
    economic burden.

    There is no secret behind China’s rapid development. The country has learned to use its cheap resources (cheap coal and cheap labor) and cheap environment (void of stringent environmental regulations). More than 99.9% of Chinese have access to reliable electricity with 69% of electricity coming from coal.

    I think Africa has something to learn from China. Of course, putting into place the right kind of institutions should also be a necessary economic fundamental for Africa.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Coal plants are expensive to build. Once built they require a continuous supply of fuel.

      Wind and solar are not expensive to build and “fuel”.

      The route to economic success for Africa, and the rest of the world, it to leave fossil fuels behind and to move quickly to renewables.

      Every solar panel you purchase and install today is going to give you almost cost free electricity for 50, 100 or more years.

      Africa, with its lack of capital, would find it very difficult to adapt to extreme climate change. The richer countries can install more air conditioning, import food from places where it can be grown, pay more for food than poorer countries, and rebuild out of the range of rising waters.

      Africa is likely to suffer more and more climate wars. You already are fighting because nomadic people can no longer support their herds on their traditional lands and are attempting to push farmers aside.

      Africa probably has more to fear from climate change than any other continent.

      Don’t let the coal and oil industries steer you down a path that will damage your future. Don’t let short term greed destroy.

      • Presley K. Wesseh Jr.

        Renewables are environment-friendly and there is no doubt
        about it. However, when the focus is to provide energy for all, then they are not reliable and should not be an option
        for Africa at the present moment. According to the African Development Bank 2012 Report, Africa’s share of global emissions is less than 4%. If this statistic is anything to go by, then why should Africa take responsibility for climate change at the costs of speedy industrialization? If Africa is able to industrialize faster using its cheaper resources (like the bigger economies did), income will be available to pay for air conditioning and food when climate change persists. The USA for instance generated close to 70% of electricity from coal during its period of industrialization simply because coal is by far cheaper (both fixed and variable costs combined) in terms of its electricity generating capacity. Arguments in favor of renewables
        are not based along these lines (every investor knows that fossil based electricity is by far cheaper).

        Looking back, there have been a large number of failed renewable energy projects in Africa over the last 25 years; and these projects have hindered development by raising expectations and then failing to deliver. Renewables are seasonal. For instance, solar would be more productive during the dry season, hydro during the rainy season and wind during the night. How can any economy possibly industrialize based on such unstable electricity generating systems?

        The truth is, if Africa must become competitive, then deep changes are required in the way it consumes and produces. Our policy makers will have to develop realistic models based on African characteristics. Powerful countries usually benefit at the expense of weaker ones. In other words, for smaller economies to become larger, they cannot expect solution from bigger powers. Until African leaders come to this realization, everything remains theory!

        • Bob_Wallace

          Coal Was cheaper. Coal is not any longer cheaper.

          Do some research. Find out how much it costs to build and fuel a coal plant. Then come back and we can talk some more.

          You’ll need the “overnight cost” of the coal plant. The cost to finance. (Remember there will be a few years of construction during which interest will be accruing but no income produced.) And then the fuel and maintenance costs.

          If you don’t have current numbers then you can’t make wise decisions. —

          BTW, if “every investor” knows that fossil fuels are cheaper then why is Warren Buffet investing billions in wind and solar?

          • Presley K. Wesseh Jr.

            Coal is still cheaper Wallace. I have the 2010 version of ‘IEA Report’ on projected costs of electricity generation (I can send you the document if you give me your email). In the USA for instance, the total costs of coal-fired power generation per MWh (including overnight costs, investment costs, decommissioning costs, fuel costs, custom costs and operation & maintenance costs) lie between 72 and 94 US dollars at the 5% and 10% discount rates respectively; compared with 216 and 333 US dollars for solar pv power generation.

            These economies have already solved their electricity problems, so they can do anything. The only incentive for private investment in renewables now is the large government subsidies (mostly in the form of feed-in tariffs).

            I am not saying that it is wrong to invest in renewables, I only deny that it is the right time to do so. Africa should solve its electricity problems first. China has also set ambitious renewable energy targets, but only after solving the electricity needs.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Presley, let me give you the link to the 2014 EIA cost projections for 2019.
            http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/electricity_generation.cfm

            And then let me inform you that those numbers are pure garbage.
            http://cleantechnica.com/2014/01/10/horrible-eia-forecasts-letter-cleantechnica-readers/ http://cleantechnica.com/2014/04/16/just-eias-renewable-energy-outlook-20-years/
            Take a look at the EIA 2019 estimates (first link).

            Look down at wind (onshore wind). The EIA is saying that wind will cost 8.03 cents/kWh in 2019.

            In 2011 and 2012 onshore wind in the US sold for an average of 4 cents/kWh. Add back in the PTC (Production Tax Credit subsidy) and the cost is about 4.5 cents.

            We have preliminary information that the average selling price for onshore wind in the US in 2013 was 2.1 cents. That would be about 3.5 cents without the PTC.

            The EIA is projecting that wind will cost twice as much five years from now as it does today. Their PV solar prices are just as flawed.

            Even if their coal prices are correct (which they probably aren’t) wind and solar are cheaper than coal.

            Now, are there any newly built coal plants in Africa for which we have reliable cost figures? It’s generally safer to start with real world costs and work off those.

            PS, Chna has not solved their electricity needs. China is still under supplied. China started with coal, China had a terrible air pollution 30 years ago when I was first there. China is now trying to move away from coal.

          • Presley K. Wesseh Jr.

            ‘Garbage’ is not the word I will use to describe numbers produced by a reputable institution like IEA. Even the data you provided from EIA show that, except for onshore wind (which is even less productive compared with offshore), all the others like offshore wind, solar pv, solar thermal and hydro, are more costs intensive compared with coal. In fact, if one considers the capacity factor in relations to actual demand, then onshore wind becomes even more expensive.

            I have confidence in the IEA data because I am aware that the Chinese government pays huge sum of money in feed-in tariffs to producers and suppliers of wind energy, simply because wind generated electricity cannot still compete with coal power in the market (I know this because I have researched into it). I cannot send you this paper now because it hasn’t published yet but you could take a look at these two:

            http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1364032113005832

            http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140988313001904

            You asked an interesting question about costs figures for coal-fired plants in Africa. Can there really be one, when the vast majority of African countries have long depended on hydro? Whether or not costs figures for coal power are available for Africa, the long years of learning effects and advancement in coal technologies have made them cheaper, even for Africa to begin with. Does anyone earnestly think that Africa’s electrification rate would be this low, were sufficient amount of coal-fired plants built and commissioned 30 years back (when you first visited China)? Look at South Africa; why is the electricity rate high? The answer is simple: close to 70% of electricity comes from coal.

            Judging by the past, the vast majority of countries were able to solve their electricity problems either from coal or other fossil sources, not renewables! It beats my imagination for anyone to disprove that China has solved its electricity problem. The country enjoys more 99% electrification rate and has become the factory of the world because of its cheap and reliable electricity and cheap labor; It is only timely to switch to cleaner sources!

            Pollution has been an issue in China but the fact is, people have the purchasing power. Why is this so…? The Chinese have learned to use a cheap recipe for production, i.e. cheap resources and cheap environment. With all the pollution, Chinese still have one of the longest life spans in the world.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I did not call IEA number garbage. But I certainly did call the EIA 2019 prediction numbers garbage. They are pure garbage.

            China has not solved its energy problems. They are choking to death on pollution. They must make improvements and soon. China is also facing significant fresh water problems. Coal is a major consumer of water.

            Lifespan. China was 97 out of 193 (2013 WHO). That puts them right in the middle.

            Capacity is calculated into the LCOE. Learn more.

            Do some work and get some realistic costs for new coal plants. Check overnight costs and don’t forget to add in the cost of capital. The cost of building a new coal plant in the US (were we to build one) is estimated to be so high that the cost of electricity would be in excess of 15c/kWh. Even more expensive than nuclear.

            Learn what the current costs of wind and solar are. Learn about the cost of geothermal.

            Africa is going to have problems financing coal plants. The Word Bank and several large investment banks have decided to finance no more coal plants.

          • Presley K. Wesseh Jr.

            Both IEA and EIA data are pointing to the same conclusions about renewables, and that is, they are more cost intensive. It is therefore hard to understand why one will be accepted (IEA) and the other described as garbage (EIA). What additional work is needed to be done, when there already exists reliable costs figures to infer from? Well, if there are claims that these data are garbage, then perhaps the work of finding realistic ones should be directed to those who claim so.

            All of the five central rationales offered in favor of renewables (infant industry argument, level playing field argument, adverse environmental effects argument, resource depletion argument and green employment argument) are greatly flawed. A more scientific discussion shall be documented on this.

            I find this conversation especially interesting because, for the first time, there is a sixth argument in favor of renewables; ‘they are said here to be more costs effective’. If this is really the case, will there be any need for the huge subsidies (by far) from governments around the world? There would in fact be no basis for the first and second arguments in favor of renewables (infant industry and level playing field arguments).

            Going back to China, there is electricity access for more than 99% of the population (due largely to coal). I want to think that no one will disprove how well the economy is performing. Isn’t it just the right time to gradually switch towards cleaner energy sources; leaving ‘electricity access’ and ‘economic growth’ unaffected?

            China is in the middle with lifespan but beating many African countries (most of which are struggling at the bottom of the list). Water? China is not switching to renewables because of water issues; it has built its economy and this is just the right time to gradually switch!

            Isn’t it just the right time for USA and other industrialized nations to switch towards cleaner energy sources too? Why didn’t these countries consider the environment back then? Was there lack of awareness of potential damage to the climate? Were renewable resources unavailable or the development of renewable technologies a challenge? The truth is, most renewables are intermittent (seasonal) and their scale of production is too low to serve any transitioning economy. Wind, for instance, tends to blow stronger at night (off-peak hours); so that the electricity produced from wind facilities tends to be less valuable. Are we calculating how long it will take Africa to build its economy on renewables?

            If the costs of building a coal-fired plant in the US is high, then that is simply because of the price that the US has placed on carbon! There are now stringent environmental regulations right? Can anyone expect the US government to create incentives for more coal-fired power plants? Don’t you think the politicians have to justify the millions of dollars paid as subsidies for renewable power generation? Should we also forget that the US shale gas revolution has a role to play?

            In short, this is not the right time for Africa to set ambitious environmental targets. African countries should opt for the very traditional coal-fired technologies (not even CCT which would be more costly). But the thing is, you said it all rightly; the World Bank cannot finance these projects! Why should the World Bank do so? Wouldn’t that be a contradiction? These are the people telling Africa to avoid fossil electricity!

            Again, this draws on one of my central points; African leaders should come to the realization that it is Africans themselves that will develop Africa! Why are most African governments unable to finance their electricity projects? Africa produces and holds as reserves, the world’s largest amount of diamonds, gold, platinum, chrome, cobalt, vanadium and manganese. Where are the rents from these precious mineral resources?

            Whatever the case is now, there are alternatives. Africa should locate partners that are willing to work well in its interest. I am sure China will be willing to build these plants at reasonable costs.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Presley, I’m not going past your first paragraph.

            “The cost of large-scale solar projects has fallen by one third in the last five years and big solar now competes with wind energy in the solar-rich south-west of the United States, according to new research.

            The study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory entitled “Utility-Scale Solar 2012: An Empirical Analysis of Project Cost, Performance, and Pricing Trends in the United States” – says the cost of solar is still falling and contracts for some solar projects are being struck as low as $50/MWh (including a 30 percent federal tax credit).”
            “Another interesting observation from LBNL is that most of the contracts written in recent years do not escalate in nominal dollars over the life of the contract. This means that in real dollar terms, the pricing of the contract actually declines.

            This means that towards the end of their contracts, the solar plants (including PV, CSP and CPV) contracted in 2013 will on average will be delivering electricity at less than $40/MWh. This is likely to be considerably less than fossil fuel plants at the same time, given the expected cost of fuels and any environmental regulations.”

            http://reneweconomy.com.au/2013/big-solar-now-competing-with-wind-energy-on-costs-75962
            “Utility-Scale Solar 2012: An Empirical Analysis of Project Cost, Performance, and Pricing Trends in the United States

            http://emp.lbl.gov/sites/all/files/lbnl-6408e-ppt.pdf

            Wind then…

            “The prices offered by wind projects to utility purchasers averaged $40/MWh for projects negotiating contracts 2011 and 2012, spurring demand for wind energy.”

            “2012 Wind Technologies Market Report”
            http://www1.eere.energy.gov/wind/pdfs/2012_wind_technologies_market_report.pdf

            – 2013 PPA prices in US interior averaged 2.1 cents / KWH – Eric Riser LBNL #windpower14
            http://cleantechnica.com/2014/05/08/2013-ppa-prices-us-interior-averaged-2-1-centskwh-windpower-2014-part-2/
            Can you understand how unlikely it would be for the price of wind to rise from less than 5c to 8.6c?

            Do you not see that the EIA predictions for PV solar are nonsensical?

          • Bob_Wallace

            No, I’m going further.

            Subsidies? Do you not understand the external costs of coal?

            The high price of coal due to the price placed on carbon in the US? The US has no price on carbon.

            I’m sorry, you don’t know enough to form an opinion.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Presley, I have traveled very little in Africa, nothing but Morocco which hardly counts as even a minimal sample.

            I assume Africa has followed the same path that much of Asia has taken in putting phones in people’s hands. They didn’t first run a land line to everyone and then get them a cell phone. They took advantage of the latest technological advantages and skipped the cost/time of stringing wire.

            China built coal because that was the least expensive option for them at the time.

            France built nuclear because that was the best way for them to get off OPEC oil.

            Neither had cheaper, cleaner, faster to install options when they picked their paths. Both are now moving to renewables.

            Do you see a parallel?

          • Presley K. Wesseh Jr.

            Wallace, any environmental regulation on CO2 emissions from energy is a price on carbon; be it implicit or explicit! I am surprised that this is also challenged here!

            The US is not willing to research in coal plants anymore; there is a certain level of electricity access now, shale gas is available and billions of dollars spent as subsidies and R&D for renewables. It wouldn’t be surprising at all to come up with costs analysis in favor of renewables (at least spending has to be justified). I have been saying this over and over and again.

            The thing is, if the costs of solar electricity generation can really fall from $333/MWh (IEA data) to as low as #50/MWh (what you claim) due to R&D and learning by doing in these technologies, then imagine how low the costs of coal power would go (from $94/MWh) if further research and learning is achieved in these technologies! Unfortunately, Africa cannot do this for itself!

            It is good you agree that China built coal plants, and France nuclear, because those were the best options available! What parallel are you then suggesting for Africa? Install solar and wind technologies to continuously suffer low scale and unstable power supply? Is this the best option available to restore hope to the millions of Africans living without electricity? Visit Liberia (where I come from) and Sierra Leone – less than 2% of the population enjoys publicly supplied electricity (not even stable ones). Can industries depend on solar and wind to produce? How much production, if any?

            Do you really have an idea of what the real costs of renewables are for Africa? The low energy content, siting problems, capacity factors – These conditions result in a need for conventional backup generation capacity so as to preserve the stability of the electric grid and prevent power shortages; these adjustment costs (which are not included with costs analysis for renewables) increases associated costs substantially! There are no arguments along these lines!

            If traditional backups are needed to maintain stability of power supply, then wouldn’t it be more economical to commit all financial resources to traditional generation from the the very start? More besides, are we considering the political risks? Can African politicians accommodate the massive subsidies associated to renewables?

            I hope not to make any further comments! Thanks for the opportunity to learn. More importantly, thanks for giving me a direction to research.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Try learning more about renewables, Presley. “Coal”, as an executive at Deutsche Bank stated. “is a dead man walking”.

            You might wish to look around at the Sub-Saharan *African countries that are installing wind, solar and geothermal and see how they are avoiding the perils of coal and utilizing 21st Century technology. *

  • Paulbee

    Toys!

    This stuff might replace an hour or two of kerosenes lamps, but it does nothing for industry, health care, water supply, sanitation.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Never spent any time living with kero lighting, did you Paul?

      The stuff makes for nasty, nasty air and significant health problems with long term exposure.

      Furthermore, where’s the rule that we must do everything for big business and nothing for the people with the least? This is making it possible for the people at the bottom of the economic ladder to help themselves. To improve their lives and, after systems are paid off, to free up some precious money for other uses.

      • Paulbee

        I had long term exposure and I’m obviously fine. Besides, people used the lamps in well aerated spaces, else they use wax candles.

        I get exasperated by socialist oriented westerners who want to save us with their new found, newfangled renewables.

        Africans are a growing, changing, industrializing people, eager to go to Universities, earn degrees, buy cars, and build homes. These “people with the least” don’t need pansy mambi-pambi band-aid power systems, like solar light bulbs.

    • JamesWimberley

      You are factually wrong as to health. Vaccines need a cold chain, which is hard to assure in in rural Africa offgrid. The Danes have developed a solar medical fridge that is saving lives (CleanTechnica link).

      • Paulbee

        If you think Vaccines are the only things Africans need, you have obviously never lived there.

        People need full fledged hospitals with MRI, X-Rays, Air-conditioning, surgery suits, food storage and refrigeration, not TOYS.

    • jeffhre

      Be sure to read the article for the utility scale projects-don’t just rely on the pictures of the kids with their study lamps.

      “Nigeria has signed a series of agreements with SkyPower FAS Energy, a joint venture between SkyPower Global and FAS Energy, to develop and operate 3,000 megawatts (MW) of utility-scale solar photovoltaic power plants over the next five years.” This passage indicates their are some very large industrial scale toys for grown-ups!

  • Kyle Field

    Great article and exciting to see a perfect opportunity for the millions in africa without access to regular power to skip the ramp up that the rest of the world went through. Also a huge opportunity for any large scale utilities, investors looking to get in on the front of the (energy) revolution.

  • JamesWimberley

    Good news. Nigeria joins the large club of oil exporters that realize that maximising the return from diminishing oil reserves of oil implies not burning it for electricity. Even shambolic Venezuela has begun. (Cheap petrol for cars is another matter.)

    Utility solar will not solve the grid problems faced by many developing countries. A grid is a natural monopoly. Poor countries don’t usually have the ethos of public service and professional competence needed to run them well (whether they are formally in the public or the private sector), and incompetent patronage rules.

    • Jan Veselý

      I’d also prefer the Bangladesh model – FV panel, battery and LED light to every family as a beginning and then focus on power for better agriculture, clean water, sanitation, …

      • Bob_Wallace

        We need a pincer movement.

        Micro-solar, like the 2,000,000 Bangladesh homes are now enjoying, and fossil fuel replacements for the grid where it exists.

        “Over the past decade, since the Bangladesh government launched a rural electrification programme supported by the World Bank and other international aid bodies, the number of off-grid installations in the country has rocketed. In 2002, installations rates stood at 7000; today that figure has exploded to nearly 2 million and counting, with average installation rates now topping 80,000 a month.

        “A typical customer would give a 15% down payment, and then the balance would be made over a period of 24-36 months,” he says. “A typical system would be 50W – for LED lights, a black and white TV connection and mobile phone charger, with four-hour back-up up every day. The cost of everything would be US$300-325, and a household would typically pay US$8-10 for that every month.”

        Moin says that even being able to power these relatively modest appliances makes a big difference to people’s lives. “It’s unbelievable, and until you see it, it’s very difficult to explain. Let’s say you go to a rural remote home and they’re burning kerosene lights, suddenly overnight (because it only takes four hours to install a typical system) that home has proper lights and connection to TV – it’s transformational. And the quality of life keeps on improving – in terms of late hour education, and even in shops, they’re keeping them open later into the night.”
        http://www.pv-tech.org/friday_focus/friday_focus_how_bangladesh_became_the_worlds_biggest_domestic_off_grid_pla
        “SunEdison Turns to Big New Markets for Solar Power

        The solar-panel installer is replacing diesel engines in villages in India and other Asian countries.

        Last week SunEdison, one of the largest installers and financers of solar power, announced a new project that will deliver solar power to 30 villages in India. It’s already equipped one of these villages with solar panels, a small distribution grid carrying electricity to more than 70 houses, and battery backup system to provide electricity around the clock. ​”​

        http://www.democraticunderground.com/112717205

        • Shiggity

          The combination of LEDs, solar PV, Li-ion batteries, and wireless cell phones is transforming 3rd world countries. Going from burning oil to this combination literally increases the wealth of a family 10-100x. They go from burning oil for light to joining the global economy.

          I agree with Jan that a distributed model is far superior than trying to build out an entire grid.

    • Ronald Brakels

      Utility scale solar won’t solve grid problems in developing countries, but I think it can be a big help. No more mysterious fuel shortages resulting from political infighting or when fuel slated for domestic consumption somehow accidentally ends up on the international market and a big wad of cash mysteriously ends up in someone’s pocket. Solar power is much harder to interupt than oil, gas, or coal power and that helps insulate supply from interference and even if all the solar panels are stolen they’ll still end up supplying electricity to people in a rather more distributed fashion, so even the destruction of a solar farm won’t result in the destruction of its generating capacity.

      • JamesWimberley

        The image of solar rustlers is picturesque, but do they exist anywhere? The gear is large, bolted down, and requires experts to instal somewhere else. Note that the Eastern provinces of the Congo and Somalia – about the most anarchic and violent places on the plenet – have thriving mobile phone operators. Presumably they pay warlords for protection, but the warlords depend on the service too and can’t risk being cut off. Many remote base stations rely on very thievable diesel fuel, though there is a movement towards solar.

        • Ronald Brakels

          I’ve never heard of any utility scale solar being stolen, but if law and order breaks down and there are desprate people around, they will steal anything that isn’t tied down and quite a few things that are bolted to the ground. Despite not being desperate, I have to say many Australians didn’t behave too well when the Melbourne police went on strike in 1923. In times and places, looters have broken down perfectly useable buildings to get at the steel rebar inside the concrete to sell as scrap metal.

          As for requiring experts to install, on a small scale Africa has a vast number of hands on experts who can wire together generators, batteries, solar panels and so on. But as these people generally don’t have formal training and learn by trail and error, the error part can sometimes be pretty disastrous. Occupational health and safety is a concept that has quite a way to go in Africa. But it does mean that panels could be put to use for DC purposes, perhaps not efficiently though, and some people might wire together transformers from old microwave oven cores or whatever.

          On a larg scale, there can be a lot of incompetence because the person running an operation can be in charge because he is someone’s cousin or brother-in-law rather than because he knows what he is doing. And sometimes the person in charge can have formal training but because they are “upper class” refuse to get their hands dirty to get the practical knowledge that is required to really understand how a system works. (In Japan, an industrialisation success story, they are proud of how their Emporer gets his hands dirty in the yearly rice planting ceremony.) And often local culture interferes with safe and efficient operations. For example, South Korea, which is now a developed country, has had disaster after industrial disaster resulting from lower downs being psychologically unable to tell their superiors, “Dude! You’re screwing up!” They have introduced safety procedures and training to specifically work around this problem, but it still results in serious accidents even today.

          • Bob_Wallace

            For micro-solar there are good training programs that teach the new entrepreneurs what they need to know. There’s one program that trains women to be installers at the village level.

            These systems should be mostly plug and play. And with today’s cell phone system an expert is only a call away.

          • Ronald Brakels

            And these little solar DC systems are extremely safe. It is the AC generators that tend to cause problems. Just a couple of months ago two men in Bauchi in north-east Nigeria were killed by generator fumes while working on a water well.

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