How to Choose the Right Renewable in Developing Countries

The Renewables in the Developing World Track of Renewable Energy World Conference & Expo North America kicked off Tuesday afternoon with an informative session on The Right Renewable Resource for the Right Location.

Four speakers from around the world showcased energy solutions in emerging markets, using applications of hydropower, biomass and solar energy. They covered several countries, including Liberia, Malaysia and Uganda.

Two of the four presentations covered the potential for developing hydropower, in particular “small” and “mini” hydroelectric facilities.

In Malaysia, for example, there is generally good access to electricity across the country, but there is a desire to increase overall generation from renewables, said Samizee Abdullah, a senior lecturer/researcher with the Sustainable Energy Analysis Laboratory at the University Kuala Lumpur Malaysia France Institute. So the focus of his presentation was on small hydropower, defined in Malaysia as run-of-river facilities with a capacity of 30 MW or less. In fact, nearly all of the country’s estimated 500 MW of untapped small hydro development potential is being considered for development by 2020, and there is a feed-in tariff structure in place to hopefully help bring this lofty plan to reality.

Uganda also is looking to its hydropower resource, but the situation there is very different from that in Malaysia. With only 8 percent of people in rural areas having access to electricity, there is a significant need. According to Ralph Nyakabwa-Atwoki, technical director with Sustenersol Uganda Limited, the majority of installed electricity capacity in the country comes from hydropower, but to meet the great demand, significant further investment is needed in the country’s vast mini hydro (defined as 10 MW to 20 MW) resource.

Timothy Baye, with both the University of Wisconsin-Extension and ReCon Associates, talked about development of biomass energy projects in emerging markets. His presentation focused on how the fundamentals of a project determine its success, particularly fuel supply, market issues, the conversion platform, the development team and the risk/return scenario. Risks of biomass project development include technology, supply, environmental, organizational, financial and funding issues.

And Robyn McGuckin discussed off-grid rural electrification in Liberia by way of case studies of three projects, including biomass and solar. Her discussion focused on the title of the session, The Right Renewable Resource for the Right Location. She presented the audience with detailed information on three off-grid rural renewable energy projects that had been or were being developed in Liberia — three biomass-based and one solar — and then engaged them in a discussion as to which, or all, of these projects was the right choice for that particular situation.

The audience’s takeaway from the session was that, to increase access to electricity from renewable generation in the developing world, it is vitally important to both choose the right resource for that particular situation and to have the interest and level of investment necessary to bring it to fruit.

Lead image: Businesswoman. Credit: Shutterstock.

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