Energizing and Electrifying Emerging Markets with Renewables

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Last week I went to the World Bank’s Energy Week in DC.  It was an exciting event in which the World Bank hosted “energy and finance industry executives, senior donor and developing country government officials, stakeholders and leading-edge thinkers of the energy sector”.  Seminars discussed energy efficiency, rural electrification, alternative energy resources, and climate change.  The Global Energy Assessment was an interesting topic discussed by US renewable energy trade organization and private sector.  If you’ve been paying attention to renewable energy there was nothing new, except the passion to engage the emerging markets. 

•    Solar PV construction is fast, uses established technology for low risk project development and is highly dependent on project financing.

•    Subsidies distort market

•    BioMass is highly risky and often needs to be balanced against the impact on the environment and food

However, a new bit of info was China considering or enacting a “feed in tariff” to spur renewable energy development.  It seems that many countries are looking into the incentive plans that feed in tariffs offer in spurring renewable energy. Without a monetary reason countries that are behind the curve for energy and have a lot of capacity for pollution need to realize that renewable energy can establish energy capacity quickly in the same way cell phones now cover most of Africa rather than landlines.  Some of the things I’ve been investigating with regards to projects in emerging markets is combing the carbon credit appetite for projects focused on Re in say Tanzania or Kenya. It can help to get some of the project development to the next level of negotiations.  Climate change was a hot topic at this conference, with both sides of the table offering compelling thoughts.  Climate change is a worldwide problem which doesn’t respect borders or differentiate between polluters and non-polluters and lack of energy prevents economic development and keeps people poor among the strongest positions.

The Rural Energy Access seminar discussed the biggest pollutants among the poor as being biomass stove cooking.  Haiti is the classic example of biomass usage gone wrong.  Nearly 90% of Haiti is lost to deforestation.  To compare, nearly 90% of Tanzanian’s uses bio-mass to cook with, but re-growth is quick, and biological coverage extensive.  dissigno’s project in Tanzania focuses on kerosene lanterns as a source of indoor air pollution.  We can’t really address cooking, because it’s a sector in itself.  At least most of the cooking I saw in Tanzania was done in another area or room, away from the family area.  But I imagine that the woman cooking inhales quite a bit of particulate and smoke while making meals.

Based on this I attended a seminar and demonstration on cook stoves. The technology spans improved stoves made from locally available materials such as those created by a Grameen Shakti enterprise to a German company making efficient stoves and importing them to Africa for sale.  Gramen Shakti’s model is impressive.  Not only do they have the backing of the Grameen Bank’s network (impressive to say the least), but they use local vendors, local materials and enable the local community to gain value from the supply chain, manufacturing and service.  To me it seems ideal.  However, I’m sure the German stove will give it a run for their money.  Their stoves appeal to the middle class as an aspirational product. The issues however, is that these improvements deal with efficient use of the same bio-mass material.  I didn’t see any programs that address an investigation in renewable energy cook options.

More about electrification and micro finance tomorrow.

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4 Comments

  1. For those of you that haven’t seen dissigno’s work you should check it out on their site.

    I’m really thrilled people are realizing the benefits of distributed generation in the developing world – particularly with regard to lifecycle cost effectiveness of not having to install transmission lines + the incentive to stay efficient and use less energy than you produce locally.

    As for renewable cooking options, solar cooking has always fascinated me as a concept, but it seems that it takes for ever… did you get any info to the contrary? were there really no other substitutes to biomass mentioned at the conference? Seems a bit ridiculous given that Haiti in particular is about out of biomass. There needs to be an alternative soon, or they’ll invent one.

  2. Thanks Ian! Appreciate the shameless plug too. Distributed power is the way to go. The things I see getting in the way for wide scale use is the cost and the O&M. Both can be overcome with strong companies in country with good supply chains, providing micro finance loans, and incorporating service into the mission. This is a huge business opportunity, and first to market companies will really benefit while providing benefit to the consumers.

  3. BTW I didn’t see any solar cookers in Africa. I saw a few in Haiti when I was there in 07, but not many people used them. The thing with cooking is that there is a social element to it in addition to the technology. I guess that it’s possible to overcome and change habits, but it takes time and patience. For example in Haiti, I heard about a program to help people shift from charcoal to propane. But the program failed because the women cooking couldn’t regulate the temps and cooking time as easily. For charcoal they knew exactly how much to put into a braizer, light it, put the pot on and leave. The amount of charcoal burned for the right time to cook the food, and as the fuel burned down the cooking temp cooled. They used that same technique with propane and ended up burning their food because the propane lasted a lot longer and didn’t taper off in temp. The program was abandoned. I think too, there is an element of the population wanting to have products that rich people have, and not products for poor people. A solar oven was for a poor person, they thought. Obviously many of these cultural things can be overcome, but the training and marketing needs to be incorporated with the distribution of technology.

  4. Prakti Design in southern India also has some pretty cool stoves, meant for the bottom of the pyramid. There is an interesting cluster of design / microfinance / distribution building up in this area.

    Solar ovens are cool, but costly and limit cooking techniques. You can’t open the pot while you’re cooking, so how do you stir the food? how do you add ingredients? In general, the acceptance is low and it’s too costly to be a viable business.

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