Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Delivering energy through entrepreneurs in developing markets

A great look at how power is now being successfully distributed to the poor in developing countries (Nature via HN):

The quest is on to find the best way to bring clean power to rural areas. Mixing local development work with Silicon-Valley-style entrepreneurship, engineers, scientists and economists are setting up independent 'microgrids' that can be deployed quickly and cheaply one community at a time. Those leading such electrification schemes aim to create small-scale renewable-energy systems, building an archipelago of light across the developing world and helping remote communities to kick their dependence on fossil fuels.

Such efforts have often failed in the past, as subsidies lapsed or infrastructure collapsed. But today's entrepreneurs are better placed to succeed. A new generation of cheaper photovoltaic panels and wind turbines can be managed with simple smart-grid devices. The price of fossil fuels has soared over the past decade, making renewable energy more competitive. And the United Nations has set a goal of achieving universal access to electricity by 2030, providing political impetus.

“The ambition is there, and the economics are making a lot more sense now than they were a few years ago,” says Richenda Van Leeuwen, executive director for energy access at the United Nations Foundation. But the challenge remains extreme. A 2012 analysis by the International Energy Agency projects that, on the basis of current plans, the percentage of people without access to electricity will fall from 19% in 2010 to 12% in 2030 — leaving nearly 1 billion people still in the dark. Achieving universal energy access would mean increasing investments from a projected $14 billion to $49 billion a year, the agency says. Centralized grids are expected to provide only about 30% of the solution in rural areas.

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