Growing off-grid renewable energy powering farms and factories in developing countries

Energize Weekly, July 18, 2018

Off-grid technologies bring electricity to farm fields and remote villages in developing countries around the world, reaching more than 133 million people, according to an assessment by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

An estimated 100 million are using solar lights, and at least nine million are connected to a mini-gird, the report said. Asia and Africa account for three-quarters of the growth.

“A large part of the growth in off-grid renewables has occurred over the last five years, driven by the rapidly decreasing costs of solar lighting solutions and by the establishment of local supply chains making these solutions accessible,” the IRENA report said.

Also easing adoption have been innovative models of financial support, such as pay as you go and microfinancing. As a result, off-grid energy capacity has grown to 6.5 gigawatts (GW) in 2017 from less than 2 GW in 2008.

While solar lighting has reached the greatest portion of the population served by off-grid technology, it only accounts for 4 percent of total installed capacity. The vast majority of off-grid capacity, 83 percent, is for industrial, commercial and public uses.

Asia has been the major area for the installation of off-grid renewables, with total capacity tripling between 2008 and 2017 to nearly 4.3 GW in 2017.

This growth has been largely a result of the increased use of industrial bioenergy. Still, solar capacity has increased to 20 percent of capacity in 2017 from 11 percent in 2008.

The population served by hydropower-based mini-grids has more than doubled since 2007, reaching 6.4 million in 2016, due mainly to growth in Asia.

Nepal, which has a history of harnessing hydropower for agriculture and electricity, for example, had 50 megawatts (MW) of installed micro-hydro in 2017, a 35 percent increase in eight years.

Africa has had some of the most rapid growth in the past five years as the population served by off-grid renewable energy grew to 53 million from 2 million. Solar lights accounted for most of the people served, but 10 percent of the population have higher level electricity services from off-grid solar.

The cumulative off-grid renewable energy capacity increased from 231 MW in 2008 to nearly 1.2 GW in 2017.

In Kenya, an estimated 2,000 solar borehole pumps and 1,000 solar surface pumps were installed with some banks, microfinance institutions and equipment suppliers offering credit lines for solar-powered irrigation systems.

Similarly, in India, the number of solar pumps for irrigation and drinking water has risen fifteen-fold since 2014 to 177,000, spurred by a government policy push that includes subsidies and loans.

The bulk of the remaining of renewable energy installations came in South America, where they are being used to address the continent’s high electricity-access rates, which make it difficult to link remote villages to the grid.

South American off-grid capacity rose to 456 MW in 2017 from 256 MW in 2008. Accessible hydropower has aided in the development of off-grid energy infrastructure, the report said. The deployment of solar has grown six-fold since 2012 to reach 88.5 MW in 2017.

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