Developing Nations Rush to Renewables

October 29, 2014

Technology leapfrog in progress.


A study of 55 nations — including China, Brazil, South Africa, Uruguay and Kenya — found that they’ve installed a combined 142 gigawatts from 2008 to 2013. The 143 percent growth in renewables in those markets compares with an 84 percent rate in wealthier nations, which installed 213 megawatts, according to a report released today by Climatescope.

The boom in renewables is often made for economic reasons, Ethan Zindler, a Washington-based Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst, said in an interview. An island nation like Jamaica, where wholesale power costs about $300 a megawatt-hour, could generate electricity from solar panels for about half as much. Similarly, wind power in Nicaragua may be half as expensive as traditional energy.

“Clean energy is the low-cost option in a lot of these countries,” Zindler said by telephone. “The technologies are cost-competitive right now. Not in the future, but right now.”

Greenpeace Blog:

Even as more than 300 million people still wait for electricity in India,  Dharnai in Bihar declared itself energy-independent today with the launch of Greenpeace’s solar-powered micro-grid. The 100 kilowatt (kW) micro-grid currently provides quality electricity to a population of more than 2200 in Dharnai village of Jehanabad district in Bihar.

“We had tried everything in the book to get electricity for the last 30 years. But we haven’t seen a single speck of hope. While India was growing leaps and bounds, we were stuck here with kerosene lamps and expensive diesel generators. But now I can proudly say that Dharnai is a leader in innovation. We have established our identity as an energy-self-sufficient village and can compete with the country in its race to growth,” said Kamal Kishore a resident of Dharnai.

The solar powered micro-grid is a comprehensive, first of its kind enterprise that provides electricity to more than 400 households and 50 commercial establishments. This includes 70 kW for electricity generation and 30 kW for 10 solar powered water pumping systems of three horsepower each. The 100 kW micro-grid also takes care of 60 street lights, energy requirements of two schools, one health centre, one Kisan Training Centre and 50 commercial establishments. It gives the village the mandate to not just a better life but also an ambition.


  • THE TOP TEN: China, Brazil, South Africa, India, Chile, Uruguay, Kenya, Mexico, Indonesia, Uganda
  • China ranks #1, but Brazil is close behind at #2: China received the highest ranking as the largest manufacturer of wind and solar equipment in the world and the largest demand market for said equipment.
  • South Africa, Kenya and Uganda were among the top scorers: All have significant clean energy projects and programs; South Africa has surged ahead with nearly $10bn of clean energy investment undertaken in the last two years.
  • Latin American and Caribbean nations were buoyed by Brazil, but also relative newcomer Uruguay: While Brazil still dominates, Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole is emerging as a destination for clean energy investment.
  • Small-scale renewables offer the most efficient way to provide energy access to vast numbers of people living without power. Tanzania has the most advanced regulation to encourage these types of projects, with a host of small power projects in the pipeline.
  • Demand for clean energy is growing faster on a percentage basis in these countries than in more developed nations. From 2008-2013, Climatescope nations added 142 GW (a bit more than the current total installed capacity of France) of new, non-large hydro renewables capacity. That represented a 143% growth rate. By comparison, wealthier OECD nations added 213GW, posting a clean energy capacity growth rate of 84%.
  • Climatescope shows that countries are rapidly strengthening their policy frameworks: Stronger policies attract more clean energy investment.


14 Responses to “Developing Nations Rush to Renewables”

  1. The 100 kilowatt (kW) micro-grid currently provides quality electricity to a population of more than 2200

    100,000 / 2200 = 45

    That’s 45 watts of nameplate capacity per capita.  Probably closer to 9 watts average (20% CF).

    This is enough to charge cell phones and run radios and some LED lights.  It is barely sufficient for even a small local industry such as sewing.  Refrigeration?  Television?  Electrified transport (even e-bikes and scooters)?  Forget it.

    Yes, this is better than nothing, but these people will still leap at any opportunity to get “real electricity”.

    • Good point. And I also wonder about how they are powering lights at night. Battery storage, or are they in fact running a gasoline/diesel generator at night and only using solar in the daytime?

      • Streetlights are claimed, so obviously there is some storage.

        What I’d like to know is if there are any innovative (cheap, reliable and long-lasting) energy-storage technologies being employed.  For instance, if there’s a freezer in the local medical clinic, does it run on batteries overnight or is there a system to freeze brine or generate liquid ammonia which provides cooling for the overnight hours without electric power?  Since batteries are a major weak link, working around them is a plus.

  2. Just did a bit of googling to learn more about the Tunur Project, which is the subject of the above Youtube video that is labeled “Saharan solar power opens energy corridor to Europe.”

    Well actually, they haven’t opened anything. Yes, the Tunur Project is real, and has spent about $10 billion so far. But they haven’t opened an “energy corridor,” and indeed the proposed recipient of the power (the UK) hasn’t approved a budget to finance it. The project is in danger of collapsing if the UK doesn’t come through with the money. The “energy corridor” will, if built, be the first of its kind, an HVDC transmission line. A big problem may be getting a right-of-way for these power lines that will stretch across central Europe to the UK. If the right-of-way is granted and the UK forks up the cash, it is hoped to have at least one HVDC line up and running by 2018.

    Main Source:

    While I wish the project well, I also think it’s important to keep a sense of realism in this discussion. Announcing “Saharan solar power opens energy corridor to Europe” is, at this point in time, wishful thinking. I actually do hope it happens, but I don’t think we gain much by pretending it exists when it hasn’t yet even received approval.

    • I should have waited a little bit longer before posting, because I found a bit more info.

      Project Tunur is financed by the DESERTEC Foundation. That’s where the $10 billion came from that was used to build the solar thermal plant. It is still a big money loser, but hopefully one day will become profitable.

      Here is the DESERTEC web site:

      Two lines near the top of their web page say a lot:

      “The DESERTEC idea has never been about delivering electricity from Africa to Europe, but to supply companies in desert regions with energy from the sun instead of oil and gas.

      The DESERTEC idea has never been about, only providing electricity for households and industry, but also to further the process of desalination, so that sea water could become drinkable.”

  3. jimbills Says:

    The first thing I think when I see something like this is manipulation of data to justify a business as usual approach to climate change, and that’s not helped when the source is Bloomberg (Climatescope is a division of Bloomberg media – both the Bloomberg article and the Nanowerk article use it as the source).

    This is a phenomenon I think we’re going to see a lot of – a building story about how the free market is solving greenhouse gas emissions – and it’s concerning to me. I think the environmental movement as a whole should have it under consideration when examining these sources, because the first inclination will always be to embrace good news when it comes, as there’s little to none out there.

    If it’s not considered, the risk is a blindness to the direction we’re actually heading in. We’ll think we’re improving, when in fact we’re not, and it’s getting worse by the day. I see some of that thinking here, and if it’s happening here, where we should know better, I figure it’s happening on a grander scale elsewhere.

    I looked over the Climatescope report. It’s here:

    Click to access climatescope-2014-report-en.pdf

    Besides the BAU cheering, it’s a method of ranking nations outside the OECD by how much they’re investing in and building out renewable energy (excluding large-scale hydro). That’s fine, but you have to look deeper into the data to decipher the bigger picture, and that’s that all of these countries are building fossil carbon energy faster than they’re building renewable energy, and that the overwhelming amount of renewables gains are in just 3 of the countries (China, Brazil, and South Africa).

    The main point of the report is that renewables have risen 142 gigawatts in these 55 countries from 2008 to 2013. That’s great, of course. Here’s what’s not emphasized in the report. Tell me if these countries are really leapfrogging or not:

    1) The report divides the regions into three basic areas – Africa, Asia, and Latin America plus the Caribbean. According to the report, in Africa, 2 GW of an installed 77 GW are non-large hydro plus other renewables (or 3%). In Asia, it’s 345 GW of an installed 2436 GW (14%). In Latin America and the Caribbean, it’s 31 GW of an installed 355 GW (9%). The total of all the non-large hydro plus other renewables in all the 55 countries considered is 378 GW of an installed 2868 GW, or 13%. From that 13%, Asia takes 91%, Latin America and the Caribbean takes 8%, and Africa takes less than 1%.

    2) So, Asia takes the lion’s share of this report. In 2008, the total of all installed electricity from all sources was 1605 GW. In 2013, it was 2436 GW. A portion of that rise was non-large hydro plus other renewables. However, coal use rose by over 400GW from 2008 to 2013. In other words, in just 5 years, coal use grew by more than the total of all non-large hydro plus other renewables in Asia put together (not just its growth in the period). Not only that, it grew by more than the total all the non-large hydro plus other renewables in all the 55 countries combined (not just its growth).

    3) Also in the report but not mentioned:

    In Latin America and the Caribbean, natural gas plus oil & diesel use grew faster from 2008 to 2013 than non-large hydro plus other renewables. The vast majority of the gains in the region in non-large hydro plus other renewables were from Brazil. Interestingly, Latin America and the Caribbean uses very little coal.

    In Africa, coal use grew more from 2008 to 2013 than all the installed non-large hydro plus other renewables in the region combined (not just its growth). Natural gas use grew more from 2008 to 2013 than all the installed non-large hydro plus other renewables in the region combined (not just its growth). Oil and diesel use grew from 2008 to 2013 to a nearly equal level to all the installed non-large hydro plus other renewables in the region combined (not just its growth). The vast majority of the non-large hydro plus other renewables gains in Africa were from South Africa.

  4. redskylite Says:

    Electrifying Dharnai a village in the state of Bihar, near the eastern border of India may have been a modest project, but certainly it came with batteries and the good folks of the village at least have non fossil fuelled light at night.

    Quick facts on the micro-grid:

    – Provides electricity to more than 2,400 people, 450 households and 50 commercial establishments, including two schools, a training centre and a primary healthcare centre.

    – 100 kW micro-grid: includes 70 kW for electricity generation for the community, and 30 kW for 10 solar-powered water-pumping systems of three horsepower each.

    – Cost of the micro-grid: € 367,800 / $497,700 US

    – Installation time: 3 months

    – 280 solar panels, 224 batteries, 15 inverters; 10 x 3-horsepower water pumps


    “A ComRes poll suggests people are more likely to back climate action if they are better informed about the clean technologies that can deliver decarbonisation”

    • ppp251 Says:

      What kind of batteries are they using?

      • redskylite Says:

        “The micro-grid runs on solar-powered photovoltaic panel system
        installed on the roof-top of government buildings, private buildings
        and residences. There is a battery bank with smart inverter in each
        Each cluster is divided into 20 kW, has total 70 kW
        capacity for the lighting and 30 kW for
        minor irrigation purposes. Irrigation is
        through installation of 10 solar pumps with
        a capacity of 3 horsepower each.”

        Click to access media%20manual_low%20res.pdf

  5. redskylite Says:

    Not a developing nation, but the use of storage batteries is beginning to catch on across the ditch in Australia, where a recent decision by Ergon Energy was to install the first of twenty 100kWh battery storage installations on the fringe of its sprawling Queensland network (with talk of going off-grid).

    My son’s University tutor has spent 5 years completely off the grid (here in cloudy New Zealand) powered by solar and batteries. (Although admittedly he cheated a bit with cooking by using LNG or some such).

  6. redskylite Says:

    And here is something solar powered that will be of use to millions of refugees and displaced peoples in places like Syria. Maybe it may even be of use to developed countries in future, when sea level rise kicks in.

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