Fossil fuel fans have been frantically pitching their favorite products as the only way to eradicate “energy poverty” in underserved communities, but it appears that they are losing the battle, at least as far as diesel power generation goes. The door is beginning to close on growth markets for small scale diesel, as the cost of renewable energy has dropped to the point where it meets, and often beats, diesel on both price and performance.
In the latest development, the multinational agency IRENA has just announced a new $46 million round of new funding for renewable energy projects that either replace existing diesel generators, or provide clean electricity to off grid communities that previously had none at all.
More Big Bucks For Renewable Energy To Replace Diesel
The new pot of $46 million is the third in a planned seven-round series of renewable energy funding from IRENA, the International Renewable Energy Agency. The series aims at putting up half the cost of renewable energy projects in underserved communities, with the aim of attracting additional investment for the balance.
While diesel for power generation only accounts for about five percent of global petroleum consumption, small scale diesel generators are considered “low hanging fruit,” ripe for replacement by renewables.
To that end, the IRENA projects are selected competitively based on innovation, and on their ability to scale up and be replicated elsewhere, in addition to their ability to solve specific local electrification problems. In the Round 3 funding, four projects were selected out of 70 applicants:
Antigua and Barbuda: A 4 megawatt wind and solar project will receive USD $15 million to provide energy to desalinate water and increase climate resilience. The project will avoid 8,275 tonnes of CO2 per year.
Burkina Faso: A 3.6 megawatt solar PV mini-grid project will receive USD $10 million to provide modern energy services to more than 12,000 local families. The project will avoid 2,500 tonnes of CO2 per year.
Cabo Verde: A 2 megawatt hybrid grid-connected solar PV and wind project will receive USD $8 million to provide a 100 per cent renewable energy solution for the Island of Brava. The project will avoid 4,665 tonnes of CO2 per year.
Senegal: A 2 megawatt solar PV mini – grid project will receive USD $13 million to supply electricity to rural villages. The project will avoid 3,200 tons of CO2 per year.
Even if diesel and renewables were equal in cost, in island communities and remote villages the real issue is reliability of supply. With a storage component, locally harvested renewable energy can insulate residents from supply chain interruptions that crop up when fuel has to be imported over long distances or unreliable routes.
Renewable Energy And Water Desalination
Like the Burkina Faso project, the Cabo Verde funding also provides renewable energy for water desalination, and that brings us to the general topic of desalination and energy consumption.
As with the small scale diesel market, until recently the desalination field would have been a reliable growth market for fossil fuels. Desalination of seawater is growing in importance as a source of safe, potable water, and conventional desalination processes requires copious amounts of energy.
CleanTechnica has been visiting Abu Dhabi as a guest of the Emirate’s Masdar renewable energy financing and research corporation this week, and we had a chance to check out four cutting edge desalination demo projects that are designed for maximum efficiency.
The ultimate aim is to come up with systems that can be powered exclusively by renewable energy, and to that end a fifth demo project at the facility is being installed this year that will include solar harvesting. The other four projects in the demo facility run on grid-supplied electricity, which includes a 10 megawatt solar array on the grounds of Masdar City, and a 100 megawatt concentrating solar power plant in Abu Dhabi’s Western Region desert.
It was good! We also got an up-close look at the innards of some of those mysterious tanks and trailers that occupy the facility, such as this cross-section…
…of the material filling this desalination tower:
The tower part of the process occurs after pre-treatment, in which organic material and other non-salt elements are removed. Pre-treatment has to strike a delicate balance between purifying the water effectively without reducing the salt content, in order for the desalination step to achieve maximum efficiency. In this particular project, the filler material is designed to maximize efficiency by expanding the surface of contact between the salt water and a desalination chemical.
The demo project has an 18-month timeline and it kicked off about three months ago, so we’ll check back in about 15 months (or earlier) for an update.
During our visit we also learned part of the reason why renewable energy is Abu Dhabi’s end game for desalination. The country currently relies on 30-year-old thermal desalination technology based on cogeneration, an energy-conserving strategy that was considered cutting edge in its day. Cogeneration involves recycling waste heat from power plants for various purposes, in this case desalination. If Abu Dhabi wants to transition its power generation to renewables — and it does — then it must also decouple its desalination technology from conventional power plants.
All photos by Tina Casey except top photo, solar installation at Vanuatu via IRENA.