The goal of this periodic blog (EfD) is to promote information exchange on access to quality energy services in developing countries including renewable, modern, biomass and household energy.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Small Photovoltaic Lighting Systems: Niche or Not

The small technologies such as solar lanterns and small lights have always been a challenge to promote under development programs.
Solar Lantern in India
The wind up radio, which is now in the mainstream market for developed countries, was originally introduced as a possibility to improve communication in developing countries. Except for emergency situations such as Haiti, it is not a staple product for international donor programs because such products are now readily available in the marketplace, sold through large chains, retail stores and shops at retail prices.

The question is will small photovoltaic lighting systems have a similar fate? In part to answer this question there is a recent report that has been published by GTZ with the long title, What difference can a PicoPV system make? Early findings on small Photovoltaic systems - an emerging low cost energy technology for developing countries.  Here is the link. That must be a literal German translation of the title, but my preference given the content of the report would be something like The Role of Micro-Photovoltaic Lighting Systems in Developing Countries. But admittedly that is more boring.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Rural Energy Subsidies: “It's Déjà Vu All Over Again”

I have noticed that there has been quite a bit of material circulating recently on energy access and subsidies.  The World Bank has prepared
Cooking with Ecofogon Stove, Nicaragua
Photo: PROLEÑA/Nicaragua
a background paper that will be published soon, and it is quite good. However, in reading this paper and other related material, I almost felt I had read it before—a kind of déjà vu.  So in this period when everybody is asking "Where is my bailout?" it seems a good time to review the justifications and implementation challenges for energy subsidies.

Jonathan Halpern and I had written both a paper and a short note on this subject about 10 years ago at a time when there were strong anti-subsidy sentiments in many development agencies. This blog contains a summary of that paper on energy subsidies published in 2000. So go to the original paper and read it, or read on. Or read on and then go to the paper! This work hopefully has withstood the test of time, but you can be the judge.

Why should we examine the role of energy subsidies for access to energy?  The answer seems obvious.  Energy policies that have the purpose of alleviating poverty must in some way bring down the costs of safe, clean, reliable energy services to make them more affordable. Low-income households often lack access to or cannot afford the initial costs of “modern” energy services. A good subsidy scheme is one that enhances access for the poor while sustaining incentives for efficient delivery of energy services without significant distortions in energy markets. But that is not all: the subsidy scheme must also be within the financial and human resource constraints of the government. This is quite a balancing act.


Much more below the break....

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Solving Rural Electrification Problems: New Wine in Old Bottles?

Strong institutions, favorable financing, clear service territories, encouraging productive uses, reducing drudgery for women, and local involvement.  Do these all sound like familiar prescriptions for successful rural electrification?

Rural Electrification Administration Advertisement
Source: NRECA
In fact they encompass some of the eight steps to successful rural electrification highlighted in a previous blog. Recently I was doing a bit of research on the United States Rural Electrification Administration (REA) and I came across some interesting quotes that illustrate many of these points—some from the 1930s no less.

Before plunging into the quotes, some salient facts for those that do not live in the US—or for those living in urban areas in the US! The United States beginning in the 1930s began implementing a new rural electrification program as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal that was based on a newly created government agency called the Rural Electrification Administration. This government agency was created not to carry out rural electrification projects, but to support their implementation through electricity distribution companies called rural electric cooperatives. These cooperatives were and still are private, independent electric utilities anchored firmly in the communities that they serve. Today there are more than 900 electric cooperatives in the United States providing reliable electricity service to 42 million Americans while maintaining a unique consumer-focused approach to business. For more facts see US Utility Fact Sheet published by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

With this background, it is now time for the quotes which have been paraphrased to provide a better context for understanding them.  

See much more below the break....

Friday, May 7, 2010

Promoting Solar Home Systems and Improved Biomass Stoves: A Comparison

Solar PV Adoption by Herders, Qinghai, China
Photo by China REDP Team
Over the past 15 years strategies for solar home system promotion have moved from a niche activity to the mainstream. Recently I have been thinking that there are quite a few similarities in the obstacles that were faced by solar homes system in the early years and those confronting the new improved biomass stoves today. I thought it might be a good time to explore what we have learned over the years, and what lessons might be relevant for scaling up the adoption of improved biomass stoves.

Both solar home systems and improved stoves are used primarily for household energy services such as cooking and lighting. They both provide significant improvements compared to the kerosene lamp or an open fire. Both devices also involve fairly large initial costs that are barely affordable to the majority of populations in developing countries, but the cost to operate them is fairly low. Solar home systems cost on the order of US $200-$300 and the new generation of improved stoves range from US $10 to $70 or more. As the old joke goes “Solar (read that renewable) energy is free, but it ain’t cheap.”
 
Today solar home systems are considered fairly mainstream and adoption levels though still somewhat limited are rising quickly in many countries. With the exception for the older large programs such as china, progress is being made by improved biomass stove programs, but they also have quite a long way to go to be accepted on a large scale in more countries.

Much more below the break....