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Off Grid Energy Independence
Posted on June 15, 2018 by  & 

Off grid increasing

New data from IRENA shows that about 115 million people worldwide currently rely on the basic energy services provided by solar lights, while another 25 million obtain a higher level of renewable energy services through solar home systems or connection to a solar mini-grid. In addition to solar power, over 6 million people are currently connected to hydropower mini-grids, while another 300,000 people use biogas power. For more information see the IDTechEx report on off grid zero-emission electricity.
The supply of electricity from mini-grids and small solar devices, such as solar home systems and solar lights is growing especially fast. This part of the energy sector, including power generation from these sources, is often missing from official energy statistics. But evidence of their growing importance can be seen in solar panel import statistics and development project databases.
During 2017, IRENA collected detailed data about off-grid power developments to determine current estimates of off-grid capacity. Data sources included biannual market surveys from the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association, the OECD-DAC development project database, national and regional power plant databases, off-grid data gathered via IRENA questionnaires, and information obtained from organisations such as REN21 and the Alliance for Rural Electrification.
Worldwide, the number of off-grid renewable energy users is growing
Sample data collected from these sources included information about 180,000 off-grid solar power plants and 650 records of annual sales of solar devices around the world. Together, these accounted for almost half of the off-grid solar photovoltaic capacity currently estimated by IRENA, based on import statistics. In addition, the exercise also obtained information about 40,000 off-grid hydropower plants and 100 off-grid biogas power plants, as well as records of the construction of almost 42 million biogas digesters reaching as far back as the 1980s.
The data was processed to account for such factors as the durability of solar systems and the different end-uses of power plants. An important part of this was to convert reported connection or use statistics into a standard measure of the number of people served by each type of plant. This was done to avoid overestimation - when, for example, a report says that a village has been electrified, but only some residents are actually connected to the power supply.
Almost all of the growth in the use of off-grid power has occurred in the last five years — largely driven by the increased availability and affordability of small solar devices, such as solar lights and lighting kits. These devices only provide lighting and low-power charging (e.g. for mobile phones) and do not provide a comprehensive range of energy services. However, only about 10% of the population served in Africa obtains the higher level of services associated with solar home systems and mini-grids, whereas in Asia the share is more.
Technology and innovation can play a significant role in Asia and the Pacific's push towards a low-carbon energy future, with the potential to provide countries in the region with universal access to cleaner and more affordable energy sources, according to participants of an international forum held at Asian Development Bank (ADB) headquarters.
Co-hosted by ADB, the United States Agency for International Development, the Korea Energy Agency, and the ADB Institute, the Asia Clean Energy Forum (ACEF) 2018 is being held from 4-8 June under the theme "Harnessing Innovation to Power the Future." It brings together over 1,000 participants from more than 50 countries, including entrepreneurs, policymakers, financial institutions, NGOs, and academia. ACEF began in 2006 as an annual event to provide a platform for collaboration in promoting clean energy in Asia and the Pacific.
Some of the topics being discussed during the week-long event include future energy innovations such as energy in buildings, renewable energy in urban settings, decentralized power grids, health and environmental benefits of energy efficiency, clean cooking, new business models, and digital transformation and innovations.
Among the notable speakers are International Energy Agency Chief Economist Mr. Laszlo Varro, Co-founder of the Grameen Bank and Founder and Chairman of the Bright Green Energy Foundation Mr. Dipal Chandra Barua, and Founder and Director of Costa Rica Limpia Ms. Monica Araya.
"New technologies such as smart grids, large-scale battery energy storage, renewable energy-based microgrids with storage, waste-to-energy, carbon capture and storage, and artificial intelligence have huge potentials to accelerate the clean energy transformation," said ADB President Mr. Takehiko Nakao. "But technology by itself is not enough. Projects with advanced technologies must be accompanied by viable business models, stable regulation, and smart policies to deploy the technologies."
Despite Asia and the Pacific's rapid growth over the past few decades, there remain large development challenges. In the energy sector, 440 million people still lack access to electricity in developing Asia. Securing energy access for these people, most of whom live in remote rural areas and islands, will depend on innovative technologies.
To showcase creative solutions to these challenges and promote the next generation of clean energy entrepreneurs, ADB launched in 2017 the New Energy Leaders Program. During the opening plenary of ACEF 2018, seven New Energy Leaders received awards for 2018 for their work in businesses ranging from off-grid power solutions to large-scale wind and solar, energy efficiency, and digital customer solutions using big data and analytics.
Support for clean energy forms a cornerstone of ADB's efforts to combat climate change. Clean energy offers a win-win solution of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions while meeting developing Asia's need for new and expanded energy sources. In 2017, ADB invested over $2 billion in climate mitigation finance in energy. Together with contributions from other sectors, ADB is on track toward doubling annual climate finance to $6 billion by 2020, out of which $4 billion will be for mitigation.
In Sri Lanka, ADB is providing $200 million for a 100-megawatt wind power generation project, which is helping to diversify the country's power generation through clean, renewable energy sources. In the Philippines, ADB provided technical assistance and grant funds for a solar-diesel mini-grid to provide 24-hour access to electricity on Cobrador Island. In the People's Republic of China, ADB provided $250 million in loans to a joint venture of Chinese and Icelandic companies to expand district heating services based on geothermal technology.
Offshore wind energy stands on the cusp of rapid and widespread growth. Breakthroughs in fixed bottom and floating foundations, and the development of giant turbines able to power thousands of homes, are creating new deployment opportunities and driving cost reductions across the industry. The UK, Denmark and Germany were pioneers in the sector and now are established leaders, and China has recently emerged as a key player having installed 1.1GW of capacity last year. However the offshore wind industry must be encouraged to globalise in order to achieve the 500 gigawatts (GW) of installed capacity outlined under IRENA's 2050 transformation roadmap, up from the 19 GW of installed capacity today.
The development and adoption of international standards that govern the entire technology life cycle can provide such encouragement, according to the findings of a new report launched by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Nurturing Offshore Wind Markets: Good practices for International Standardisation provides a detailed analysis of standardisation frameworks developed by front runner countries and identifies areas where more work is needed. Countries with plans to deploy offshore technology can find guidance on best practices in setting technical standards and certification schemes.
"As costs fall and technology improves, countries beyond the existing European market will pursue their offshore wind potential in support of strategic energy policy priorities," said Dolf Gielen, Director of IRENA's Innovation and Technology Centre. "Now is the time for the development of a harmonised and documented global standardisation framework that enables these countries to access the cost-effective potential of offshore wind."
The numerous benefits associated with international standards include increased consumer and investor confidence, improved safety, greater reliability and reduced transaction costs for offshore technology, creating a pathway to accelerated growth. In what remains a nascent industry, harmonising technical requirements and certifications systems across markets will facilitate trade and accelerate the sector's maturation process.
"The establishment of such international standards brings the work of a number of experienced offshore leaders together, merging their efforts to forge an instrument for cost reduction and investment stimulation," said Francisco Boshell, Analyst at IRENA and one of the authors of the report. "Ultimately, we want countries to have a blueprint, drawing on the experience from leading actors, to explore their full offshore potential."
While offshore wind has a bright future, the industry is looking back to learn lessons in safety, reliability and risk mitigation from the more traditional offshore oil and gas industry. But there are specific challenges to address, the report outlines, that have no historical reference such as structure designs for dynamic machines and standards for floating turbines, both of which require new thinking and tailored solutions.
With today's international standards primarily a reflection of European weather and sea conditions, an evolution in standards is necessary to ensure they remain relevant and applicable in the deep water, ice and hurricane conditions likely to be found offshore wind's new regions such as USA, India, China, Japan and Korea.
"Offshore wind has the potential to be inclusive, cost-effective and game-changing," according to Gielen. "The time is now for governments to put in place detailed offshore standardisation and quality control strategies to drive the development of domestic offshore wind energy as its costs continue to fall."
Source: IRENA
Top image: Biswaji Patra
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