Feature

Renewable energy in the developing world: case studies


Elizabeth Block

Accolades like the Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy raise the profile of community energy schemes in the developing world. We look at a few of those that impressed the judges this year.

Renewable energy was well in contention at the annual Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy, held at the Royal Geographic Society in the UK earlier this year.

While this awards scheme, set up in 2001, is much smaller in the pot of gold category than the Zayed Prize, which is worth US$1.5 million, Ashden recognises smaller, off-grid international efforts in sustainability - broadly defined.

Internationally, the Ashden Awards specifically set out to reward anti-poverty efforts, with renewable energy an important area of focus. Given an estimated 1.4 billion people around the world without access to electricity, the emphasis is on off-grid solutions to generate electricity and efforts to save fuel.

Ashden Awards founder and director Sarah Butler-Sloss said: “Our dream is a world where access to clean, affordable electricity and fuel can be enjoyed by the poor, transforming living standards, reducing CO2 emissions and easing the pressure on our dwindling forests.”

This year's international Gold Award winner was Toyola Energy Ltd from Ghana, established in 2006. Toyola makes a “Coalpot” stove that is said to cut charcoal use by one third – and to encourage local employment.

Ashden winners benefit from good follow-up. For example 2008 international winner Svati Bhogle of TIDE, India, was on hand to explain how her company, which works across southern India to help small industries, has fared since the award:

“Winning the award sparked a media frenzy back in India and interest in our work has grown fast,” she said. “Ashden put us in touch with partners who sent a consultant to help us launch a social enterprise called Sustaintech. We were introduced to carbon and investment finance partners.”

Sustaintech has now become a portfolio company of NewVentures India, and Bhogle has attended the Clinton Global Initiative. She took part in Ashden's new Ashden India Collective in July 2010 and has also attracted US$260,000 from a group of UK-based investors.

Looking forward to next year's award, which will include new sponsorship from Eurostar for sustainable transport, Butler-Sloss concluded: “We must act faster and more strategically to encourage the growth of local clean energy both in the UK and in developing countries. I want sustainable energy to be so ordinary that people like me don't need to make a fuss about it anymore.”

Case studies - energy schemes in the rural developing world

Abellon CleanEnergy, India

Pollution is rampant in Gujarat, one of India's most industrialised states. Factories rely mainly on lignite as fuel and the state's agricultural base suffers from high salinity and erratic rainfall. Farmers traditionally burn their crop waste to clear the land, thus further polluting the air.

Abellon, based in Ahmedabad, India, with offices in the U.S., Italy and Ghana, got its start in 2008 when the founders saw the opportunity to tackle both of these problems by replacing the coal and lignite used in factories with a fuel made from the farmers' crop waste.

Abellon now pays 8,500 local farmers a small income for crop residues such as cotton stalks and cumin stems. Along with sawdust from nearby saw-mills, these residues are made into pellets and sold to local industries.

This year the two pellet plants currently in operation produced 65,000 tonnes of pellets, mostly for large industrial customers. The company, which reported US$3.2 million in income in 2010 aims to open two additional pellet plants in Gujarat and to treble sales in India over the next five years.

It also plans to expand into international markets. In addition to its biomass work, Abellon is working in solar energy, setting up pilot solar power projects combining multiple solar technologies.

Husk Power Systems, India

Bihar is one of India's most poorly served states in terms of electricity, and even grid-connected homes and companies have an unreliable supply. Husk Power was established in 2008 to connect remote villages to a clean, reliable electricity supply based on rice husks as the feedstock.

As of March 2011, Husk Power, founded in 2008, was operating 65 plants to gasify rice husks – a plentiful local resource – and other biomass waste to supply electricity to around 180,000 people.

Each plant contains a rice husk gasifier, a series of filters to clean the gas, a gas engine, a 35 KW generator and a 240 V AC electricity distribution system to connect customers within a two kilometer range. New plants are opened when 400 or more households commit to paying a monthly fee. The fees start at US$2.20 per month for a basic connection.

Husk's “value proposition” is to keep the plant design simple to encourage local employment. Locals with high school education are trained in management, operation and maintenance.

Three of the company's founders come from Bihar and the fourth from the U.S.

Based in New York, Husk is growing rapidly and aims to have more than 2,000 plants in operation by the end of 2014. Ten are under construction and carbon finance is being sought.

ToughStuff International

The founders of ToughStuff realised that even a one-watt solar PV module could provide sufficient electricity for off grid basic services such as light, mobile phones and radio. In a country like Kenya, the cities are lively and bright but in rural areas nearly everyone depends on kerosene lamps and candles for light. These are costly, polluting and a fire hazard. While millions of rural Africans use mobile phones, most have to walk miles to get them charged at a phone shop.

ToughStuff's core product is a durable, flexible 1 Wp PV module which generates electricity from sunlight. It can be fixed on a roof or moved around. It retails for US$9 in Kenya. Other solar powered products include a US$8 LED lamp, mobile phone connectors and a radio connector.

As of February 2011, 140,000 PV modules had been sold with an estimated 740,000 people enjoying the advantages.

ToughStuff distributes its products through conventional retailers such as supermarkets and mobile phone shops, in cities and rural areas. And its Business in a Box partnership with NGOs such as Christian Aid and microfinance groups helps enable rural entrepreneurs in more remote areas to sell products, charge phones or rent lamps.

ToughStuff's core product is a durable, flexible 1 Wp PV module which generates electricity from sunlight. It can be fixed on a roof or moved around. It retails for US$9 in Kenya. Other solar powered products include a US$8 LED lamp, mobile phone connectors and a radio connector.

As of February 2011, 140,000 PV modules had been sold with an estimated 740,000 people enjoying the advantages

ToughStuff distributes its products through conventional retailers such as supermarkets and mobile phone shops, in cities and rural areas. And its Business in a Box partnership with NGOs such as Christian Aid and microfinance groups helps enable rural entrepreneurs in more remote areas to sell products, charge phones or rent lamps.

ToughStuff also supplies products to relief agencies for use in disaster in countries like Haiti and Pakistan.

The company, which is headquartered in Mauritius, has offices in London, Nairobi and Madagascar and will be opening soon in Johannesburg. It aims to bring its products to 33 million low income people within four years.

 

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Bioenergy  •  Energy efficiency  •  Energy infrastructure  •  Green building  •  Photovoltaics (PV)  •  Policy, investment and markets  •  Solar electricity  •  Solar heating and cooling

 

Comments

Anumakonda said

12 December 2011
Good account of Renewable Energy Projects in Developing countries.

Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India
E-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.com

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