Integrating solar photovoltaic (PV) panels with remote, off-grid microgrids will drive rapid growth of distributed renewable energy systems in rural and remote areas worldwide, affording greater numbers of communities, agricultural areas, and small businesses access to cleaner, more reliable, and more efficient energy generation. Such growth has the potential to literally and figuratively empower millions to improve their lives and living conditions.
Diesel engine generators are still the norm when it comes to remote microgrids, but growing adoption and spread of distributed renewable energy technology and smart microgrids is changing that. As recently noted, solar is now cheaper than diesel in India. “The primary driver for remote microgrids over the next years will be the integration of solar photovoltaics (PV), a technology that will help reduce fossil fuel consumption,” according to a forecast from Pike Research.
Solar PV and Remote Microgrid: A Winning Combination
In a new report entitled “Remote Microgrids,” Pike forecasts that growth in the global remote microgrid market will surge to more than 1.1 gigawatts (GW) by 2017, from 349 megawatts in 2011, possibly exceeding that of all other microgrid market segments combined. Projected revenue for the market segment ranges between a high exceeding $10.2 billion and a baseline scenario of $4.5 billion that assumes the global economy continues to falter. Even the more conservative baseline estimate indicates a healthy, growing market over the next five to six years.
“The global remote microgrid segment is the most attractive of all microgrid segments from a revenue perspective,” says senior analyst Peter Asmus. “Recent research – also reflected in Pike Research’s recently updated Microgrid Deployment Tracker – indicates that this sector is far more robust than previously reported, and with solar PV prices continuing to decline, is poised for substantial growth, even without government incentives.”
Solar PV and Microgrids in Developing Countries
Developing countries will be the main beneficiaries, and markets, for remote microgrids powered by solar PV and other clean, renewable energy resources. More than 80% of the world population resides in developing countries, yet these individuals consume only 30% of global energy production, Pike’s researchers note.
Populations and living standards are rising in many of these countries, though access to affordable grid power continues to lag behind. With the costs of solar PV having fallen precipitously, remote solar PV-powered microgrids are seen as a way of meeting growing energy demand in a stable, affordable, and environmentally friendly manner.
“Remote microgrids can serve as the anchors of new, appropriate scale infrastructure, helping to accelerate a shift to smarter ways to deliver both electricity and humanitarian services to the poor,” Pike points out.
Investments from a number of international agencies and private foundations will help spur growth and demand. The United Nations, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Clinton Climate Initiative, and the Bill Gates Foundation, among others, have all gotten behind the push.