Mini-grids have Potential to Meet Energy Needs of 50% of World’s Rural Population


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Progress on extending the electricity grid in many countries has remained slow because of high costs of grid-extension and limited utility/state budgets for electrification. Mini-grids provide an affordable and cost-effective option to expand crucial electricity services.

EUEI PDF, REN21 and ARE have teamed up to develop a publication to help policy makers navigate the mini-grid policy design process. The publication specifically focuses on Africa.

Putting in place the right policy for mini-grid deployment requires considerable effort but can yield significant improvements in electricity access rates as examples from Kenya, Senegal and Tanzania illustrate.

Mini-grid Policy Toolkit: Policy and Business Frameworks for Successful Minigrid Roll-outs documents, step-by-step, the basics of rural electrification through the use of mini-grids. The toolkit provides information on mini-grid operator models; the economics of mini-grids; necessary policy and regulations needed for successful implementation.

Mini-grids can be powered with renewable energy sources, diesel or a hybrid of both. “Mini-grid based electrification powered with renewables will accelerate considerably needed energy access,” says Christine Lins, Executive Secretary of REN21. “The use of renewable energy sources such as the sun, wind, water or biomass provides the added advantage of avoiding fuel security issues associated with price fluctuations and uncertainty over fuel supply.”

You can download the toolkit here.

Renewables and Gender Equity: Where to begin?

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I recently attended an interesting workshop on renewable energy and gender.  This was not a workshop to celebrate women, nor an opportunity to pull out the lobbying placards for women’s rights. Rather it was a measured and serious look at how supporting gender equality in the energy decision making process could benefit climate change activities.  Specifically, the workshop looked at how we (women and men) could use our collective knowledge on development, energy and gender to drive low emissions development planning.

The entry point for discussion was the renewable energy sector. What became clear over the three days’ discussion was that while we “know” that men and women often use energy services differently—and frequently make different types of decisions—there is scarce quantitative data to support these statements.  While numbers by themselves do not tell the whole story, they do support observed trends.  Numbers help track evolution and provide decision makers with the “proof” that a particular policy or measure has worked (or not). But the 10,000 Euro question is “how”?  Is it sufficient to simply add a gender component to any data collection process, e.g. how many men, how women benefited/participated?  How do we track how gender may/can increase the uptake of renewables and its long-term contribution to low emission, clean development?

I don’t have the answers but it would seem to me that we should not get caught up in debating what the best questions to ask are. If we are serious about tracking how gender contributes to low emission and clean development then would it not be better to start the data collection process, however flawed, modifying and improving it as we learn?  This circular data collection process is what underpins REN21’s work.  The evolution of its Global Status Report from an initial 30 pages to its current length of 200+ pages attests to the success of an iterative process.

To quote John Maynard Keynes—a 19th century British economist—“it is better to be approximately right, than precisely wrong.” He has my vote.

Was the Brazilian World Cup a green event?

Last Sunday was a great moment for the German football nation. They walked out of the Marcanã Stadium as the new Champion of the world. And I might be biased as I am German, but this was an impressive sporting moment.

And yet, one question remains to be answered; an event like this – that is able to excite, astonish and amaze billions of people all over the globe – is how sustainable and green? It was announced to be the greenest FIFA world cup ever.

The World Cup in Germany 2006 was already setting some examples how to be carbon neutral: tickets for matches could be used for public transportation; some stadiums had solar power, rainwater collection cisterns and free bicycle parking. During the 2008 Beijing Olympics environmental technologies were advanced and national environment reforms sped up. And the 2012 London Olympics were generally praised for strengthening sustainability benchmarks with strategies that could be used as an example for future mega-events like the World Cup.

Some main facts:

– FIFA announced its strategy for Brazil at RIO+20 including LEED green buildings certification for stadiums, Brazil-based carbon offsets, recycling and water conservation measures.

– FIFA celebrated solar panels, water conversation and waste reduction features in São Paulo and at Rio’s Maracanã.

– Yingli Solar was the first solar sponsor of the World Cup and it is also the largest solar company of the world. It already started their sponsorship during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Some things they haven’t achieved:

– The deadline for completing the first line of a monorail between São Paulo suburbs and the airport, to convey visitors smoothly while reducing pollution and traffic congestion, was pushed back due to construction delays. Further lines are still being planned, but there is no further information given when this will happen.

– The stadium in Manaus features the latest energy-efficient heating and cooling systems. Plans for powering the stadium through solar energy were abandon completely.

Comparing this to of what happened 2010 in South Africa shows that back then a total of 2,753,250 tonnes of CO2 equivalent were emitted. And looking at the table below from Ernst & Young’s comprehensive analysis one thing becomes clear: almost 70% of the 2010 World Cup emissions were from international transportation.

According to the Guardian total emissions “is roughly equivalent to 6,000 space shuttle fights, three quiet years for Mount Etna, or 20 cheeseburgers for every man, woman and child in the UK.”


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There are no accurate numbers available for the current Cup, but despite their Sustainability Strategy, Brazil witnessed increased GHG emissions, environmental degradation, habitat loss and water pollution as major impacts of the World Cup to one of the richest biodiversity globally. And everyone remembers the pictures of demonstrations against the Cup beforehand.

However! For whatever reason, the least important part of our modern society is in fact able to attract the biggest attention. People listen to the sport industry, their events and their marketing like to hardly anything else. Sport can influence the public opinion and even governments (see Brazilian Budweiser Bill). So it is important that such events proclaim their thirst to become greener and sustainable – even if it is a long way to take.

Although there is no direct correlation, at the same time when the World Cup was occupying the stage of attention all over the world, the biggest rooftop solar farm in Latin America was unveiled in Brazil. Yes, they have nothing in common other than the sustainable movement and clean energy is taking over.

Ideal, a solar-certification company, commented on this milestone that their “idea is to show the potential and the technical and economic viability of solar energy in urban areas throughout Latin America, and the design of the model … will convince government and investors in this technology”.

More information:

Sustainable Brazil – Ernst & Young

Tofu and Tempe – loved all around the wold, but how are they produced?

Tofu is a popular ingredient of people’s diet all over the world. But have you ever wondered how their energy production footprint is in – let’s say – Indonesia? Well, there is potential for change.

Energy is so manifold linked to different areas of our daily lives like food, health, or water and far more that we often fail to realise the impact. So if you are interested in energy efficiency, improving health and livelihoods, and environmental protection, it’s time to talk about tofu and tempe production.

But what exactly is tempe as opposed to well-known tofu? It is a firm soy-based product similar to tofu and the most consumed protein source in Indonesia. It contains antioxidants, and has numerous health benefits, including reducing cholesterol and preventing hypertension. Tempe in Indonesia is a €700 million per year industry, yet the majority of producers are micro, small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs), most of which still operate under sub-standard, unhygienic conditions and use mainly firewood as fuel.

So much for “what is tempe”, but how are both products produced? REEEP has been supporting in the past year Mercy Corps Indonesia efforts to improve the industry and introduce clean production methods. With 210 producers have switched since the beginning of the project, the project has achieved more in its short timespan than originally anticipated.

Mercy Corps recently released a video demonstrating the success, the focus of which is a modern, sustainable pilot factory in southern Jakarta which serves as an example for the great opportunity for improving the environment and livelihoods throughout the sector in Indonesia.

Here is a quick overview of the video:

Boiling drums used in traditional production breed bacteria and are prone to rust which can contaminate the soybeans. Liquid waste is disposed of carelessly and wood fuel burning is inefficient and endangers the health of workers, filling the production area with smoke and ash. In addition, the traditional tempe industry in Indonesia produces approximately 29 million tonnes of carbon each year

Since 2012 Mercy Corps has facilitated the shift to a modernized tempe industry, with key transitions from wood fuel to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), and from oil drums to stainless steel barrels. The pilot tempe factory featured in the video boasts a productivity level equivalent to twenty-two traditional enterprises. Production wastes have been consciously managed, even converting liquid wastes into biogas which can be reused in the production process, reducing the use of LPG by 35%. Overall production is more hygienic and follows strict quality measures, ultimately producing a better product.

Furthermore, the transition to modernized equipment has proven to be cost effective. Despite the initial investment, stainless steel barrels need only be replaced every 10 years, while oil drums require replacement every 4-6 months, ultimately incurring a higher cost. Likewise, switching to LPG is not only more cost effective than fuel wood, but more efficient in worker’s time finding the wood and downtime due to associated health consequences.

So it is clear: investment in the modernization of the tempe industry in Indonesia has economic, health, and environmental benefits while producing a better consumer product. Producers from all over the world have visited the Mercy Corps pilot factory to learn from their example, which has great potential for scaling up and accessing new markets such as restaurants and hotels.

Enjoy the video!

Concentrated Solar Power as an Alternative to Natural Gas

It seems that our energy landscape has been changing drastically since the US found new natural gas reserves on their ground. Since then the pros and cons of fracking have kept the world in suspense and we witnessed a shift in international political relations between the big gas providers and consumers. Renewable energies seem to have been pushed back to the second row.

Gas coming out from water-taps, contaminated ground water and other terrifying stories seem to come in hand in hand with the problems of fracking. And yet countries like the US stick to it and fracking seems to have a promising career even in Europe. But is this really the only alternative if we want to continue the path of a climate neutral and sustainable green economy? I hope not. At least for Europe and South Africa is hope for alternatives.

So the latest findings published in the Nature Climate Change journal come about the right time and the answer they provide is: Concentrated Solar Power (CSP).  Or if we want to be a little more modest: one of the answers, in some of the regions.

A research group from IIASA (International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis) “Mitigation of Air pollution and Greenhouse Gases Programme” had a closer look at the benefits and potentials of CSP as a large-scale energy production system in four regions of the world: the USA, the Mediterranean basin, Kalahari Desert in South Africa and India.

But what exactly is concentrated solar power? As opposed to solar PV panel where solar energy is directly converted into electricity, concentrated solar power plants first concentrate solar energy to heat up a liquid that drives turbines for electricity production. It does not have to be used immediately as it implies that the collected energy can be stored as heat and turned into electricity at any given time. To secure access to electricity reliably the network of concentrated solar power plants has to be coordinated and set-up efficiently to avoid disruptions by bad weather.

It is remarkable that such CSP plants could produce in the Mediterranean region 70%-80% of the electricity demand to the same price as gas-driven power plants. It is more or last the same share and security of supply as current nuclear power plants. The same is true for CSP in the Northern African context such as the Kalahari Desert in South Africa. India and the US remain more problematic, but given the vast area and the rapid development of technologies, this might change in the near future.

Whichever way you look at it, one things becomes clear:

“Solar energy systems can satisfy much more of our hunger for electricity, at not much more cost than what we currently have.”

Read more:




Supporting Rwandan Entrepreneurs to Capitalise on the Untapped Potential in the Picu Hydro Energy Sector

GVEP has carried out a week of specialised training sessions on business and project management for 20 entrepreneurs interested in exploiting and developing the Pico Hydro sector across Rwanda.

The training sessions held in Muhanga-Southern Province were successive to those previously carried out last year and focused on equipping participants with finance and business skills as well as activities such as costing and pricing, accurate record keeping, marketing and business management skills. Presentations were given by GVEP Technology Mentors and open discussions on specific topics were encouraged to ensure that all participants were involved and could raise any questions or issues. There was a presentation given by Mr Ajith Kumara, a highly experienced Pico Hyrdo consultant from Sri-Lanka, where this energy source has proved to be very successful.

Rwanda has considerable potential to expand and develop its Pico Hydro sector by creating a number of Pico-Hydro sites across the country. Pico hydro plants tap into the hydro energy generated by flowing water, converting this energy into electrical energy through a small turbine and providing the energy needs for a small village (generally up to 50kW) A study conducted by ESWA (Energy, Water and Sanitation Authority) identified 168 sites for this type of development, and believes that there are many more possible sites but have not yet been identified.

‘The potential sites would serve the energy needs of small industries, hospitals, and households in rural areas of the country by serving as an alternative energy source and cutting out the need to rely on petrol lamps and generators, which are both expensive and detrimental to health’ Explained Victor Hakuzwumuremyi, GVEP Technology Mentor.

Of the 20 participants who attended the training, 9 have already been involved in constructing Pico Hydro plants with some success, and are supplying around 200 households across the country. Mr. Emmanuel Uwamahoro, owner E.T.FO Ltd , is in the process of developing his business plan with the GVEP business mentors. Having previously worked as a construction technician working on constructing schools and bridges, he has decided to shift his efforts to the Pico Hydro sector and contacted GVEP for assistance. He proposes to provide energy to 135 households, a commercial centre, a school and a health centre with his intended Pico Hydro development.

Some of the participants requested further training on turbine design and the manufacturing process. After these entrepreneurs have registered their companies, moving forward, the next step for most is to head to the field to further develop their plans and work on implementation.

The training sessions and activities were jointly organized by GVEP and GIZ and form a part of the Capital Access for Renewable Energy Enterprises (CARE2 ) funded by the Swedish government, designed to help energy businesses secure access to capital and grow.

Google Science Fair spotlights renewable energy innovations from young scientists

You may remember hearing about Ann Makosinski from Victoria, Canada who won the 15-16 Age Category prize in the Google Science Fair in 2013. She developed a flashlight powered solely from the heat of the human hand, eliminating the need for batteries. Her design features the use of Pelletier tiles which produce energy when heated on one side and cooled on the other, which gives the flashlight a hollow design to allow for a cooling air current under the surface of the device. Makosinski’s innovative invention provides a potential solution for providing affordable renewable lighting in the developing world, especially in emergency situations.

This year, the first round of finalists won’t be announced until June 26th, but 15 year old applicant Angelo Casimiro from the Philippines is already making a buzz, especially in the renewable energy scene. He invented a pair of shoes that produce enough energy just from walking to charge small battery-operated devices such as a smartphone. With the use of mobile phones expanding rapidly throughout developing countries including areas with poor energy access, a potential market may exist among some of the world’s poorest citizens. Providing these electricity-generating shoes at an affordable price, however, may be Casimiro’s next big challenge.

With such bright minds leading the next generation, it certainly gives hope for the future!

Find out more about the Google Science Fair here.