Small and medium wind turbines (SMWTs) often offer the most environmentally friendly and cost-competitive technology for rural electrification in developing countries. Yet, they are even more often left out of the energy-solutions options by decision-makers and project developers.
Here are some facts about SMWTs – its promising market that cannot be ignored:
- The global market for SMWT is forecasted to double between 2010 and 2015 especially in developing and emerging markets, reaching USD 634 millions.
- These technologies already have a track record of success in rural electrification projects. For instance, in China, SMWT started to be implemented in 1980, and by 2010 there were 400.000 systems reported.
- The price of small wind lies between USD 0.15–0.35 per kWh over the lifetime of the system, making it, under favourable conditions, cheaper than small PV, small hydro and other renewable and non-renewable solutions, such as diesel or kerosene.
- Furthermore, small wind can be easily integrated in hybrid systems with solar energy or diesel. Such hybrid systems offer a more sustainable, higher quality and lower costs solution than diesel-only systems.
So why aren't these technologies more widely used, especially in developing countries where cost is such a big issue? Despite the lack of market information on SMWT in these areas, there is the general agreement that they are only a small percentage of the off-grid market.
With this question in mind, at the beginning of 2012 the Alliance for Rural Electrification asked its wind members to identify the barriers they have faced while doing business in developing countries. The main conclusions were:
- SMWTs remain relatively unknown to decision-makers in developing countries. Through regulation, governments are directly responsible for the growth of the market and the performance and safety of the systems, but they are not fully aware of the potential of wind (as demonstrated by the very limited number of countries with a well established policy and regulatory framework covering SMWTs). The knowledge and the level of experience with small wind remains rare amongst practitioners from the public and the private sector.
- The production of SMWTs is highly concentrated in developed countries. More than a third of companies manufacturing wind turbines are located in the US and UK.
- Determining a proper setting and location for the wind systems is essential to maximise the energy production, so an exhaustive on-site wind resource assessment is key during the project's formulation. Unfortunately, collecting this data is often too expensive and the study's duration is just too long for developing countries to invest, especially in such small-scale projects.
- There is a widespread lack of quality standards and certifications for both the technologies and the installation process, which would guarantee the reliability and safety of the systems and avoid the production of low quality products that damage the image of the technology.
In order to tackle these barriers, the Alliance launched a year-long Small Wind Campaign in June 2012. One of the common elements in the barriers identified was the lack of information/awareness on the part of energy decision-makers.
Without proper knowledge and with such a small amount of small wind systems installed in developing countries, it is very difficult for those responsible to create a suitable legal framework for fostering SMWT. Therefore, the first step of the Campaign was to pass on reliable, transparent, relevant and tailored information about SMWTs.
The approached favoured mainly small groups and personal meetings, and the content focused on real-life projects with challenges that the audience could relate to and apply in their own communities. The pillar of the Small Wind Campaign is the position paper The potential of small and medium wind energy in developing countries (available for free download at ruralelec.org), which does not just describe the technology, but also includes recommendations and policy tools.
The challenge of the initiative was to create opportunities for contact in a market that remains extremely fragmented sector. Six months into the project, activities included online webinar sessions, a side event during the 1st International Off-Grid Renewable Energy Conference and Exhibition (IOREC) celebrated in Ghana, a Business Delegation to Ivory Cost and several virtual and physical workshops throughout the developing world.
The initial contact has been made, and the basics about SMWTs delivered to an estimated 100 stakeholders from developing countries. For the Alliance and its members it was an opportunity to assess first-hand the real situation of SMWT in these largely unknown markets.
Although the ultimate objective of the Campaign was the creation of partnerships and business opportunities, from very early on in was clear that a step back needed to be taken in order to fill basic gaps in information. Aspects such as how to evaluate if the technology in suitable for a specific area, how to maintain it in the long-term, how to choose the most suitable product and, most important of all, how to make realistic expectations became the core of the presentations during the beginning of the Campaign. In the remaining next six months the Alliance will build on this first stage to include other essential elements to its campaign.
A long way to go
The good news is that decision-makers in developing countries have shown interest and curiosity about renewable energies in general and wind in particular. Renewables seem to tick all the boxes of their particular energy needs: the decreasing renewables costs and the rising price of fossil fuels, the increasing electricity needs in off-grid areas and even the increasing international financing for renewable energies, environment and climate change as well as energy access.
With the Alliance's Small Wind Campaign the foot is on the door – so how to move forward and what challenge to approach next?
Balthasar Klimbie, Director of Dutch Small Wind and one of the participating members says: “In my opinion, this first step was quite good for raising awareness. Next we should try to work on training and capacity building. Only through passing on knowledge to the local communities can we ensure the sustainability of the systems. We need to make sure that decision-makers know how to deal with this issue. There is a long way to go”.
Taking into consideration the conclusions and information needs detected during the first part of the Campaign, new efforts will also address the financial side of projects. For some of the next online and in-person meetings, the Alliance will partner with international organisations such as the Asian Development Bank. A virtual Business Delegation covering Asia and the Pacific, and several Webinars are already in the works.
And, since the energy storage sector is facing similar barriers in developing markets, the Alliance is already planning the launch of the Battery Campaign in June 2013, in order to ease the path of a technology that ensures the provision of reliable electricity service.
During its first six months, the Small Wind Campaign has walked a few steps towards reaching its very ambitious goal, and although its impact may seem a drop of water in the ocean (especially compared to the 1.3bn people without electricity today), if the enthusiasm and belief of the people involved shows anything, it is that we are on the right track.
To find out more about Small Wind Campaign, please contact the Alliance for Rural Electrification firstname.lastname@example.org +32 2 400 10 51.
About: Marcus Wiemann is Secretary General of the Alliance for Rural Electrification.