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Renewables: Fuel of the Future

By Maggie Yang

· Environment,Energy,Social Entrep

Renewables have long been the talk of the town. But have you ever imagined using renewables to revolutionize the energy supply system for those without access? Here we are going to show you the immense potential for renewable start-ups in local communities. Let’s begin with three successful stories:

Wind Power: Avant Garde Innovation

Avant Garde is an award-winning grass-roots organization in India that aims to provide small and affordable wind turbines. It is about to launch its first product after its pilot program early this year. As one of the Top 20 Cleantech Innovations in India, Avant Garde was hailed as the World's 1st Startup with 100% Renewable Energy Commitment and the 1st Indian Small Wind Energy company in the UN Directory. The product AVATAR™ -1 will significantly change the lives of the poor, by transforming wind power to electricity that can power houses, farms and offices simply for the price of a smartphone.

Solar and Biomass: HUSK Power Systems

Founded in 2008, HUSK Power Systems was set up to provide access to reliable power for rural customers in Bihar, India. It is the first company to extract biomass from rice husks that can provide 6-7 hours of electricity to households and small businesses, while it also utilizes solar power.

Its CEO Manoj Sinha once says, “Placing power in the hands of rural customers helps them realise aspirations and dreams they never thought could happen.” The company has already expanded to light up more rural areas in East Africa. To date, 80 sites in total around the world are using its hybrid system for power generation.

Smart Hydro Power Nigeria

Nigeria in Africa is blessed with abundant river systems while around half of its population is not connected to the national power grid. Smart Hydro Power is a German start-up with a mission to spread hydropower technologies around the world, especially in Africa and Latin America. It has received awards from ESHA Hidroenergia Innovation, Ecosummit, and GreenTec. One of its current projects is the rural electrification of a remote village near the town of Akwanga, Nigeria. They have installed a SMART Monofloat Turbine that is able to generate energy for the whole year for seven households living next to the Mada river.

You may think that the three start-ups are only few outliers and that nobody is able to make a mark with “expensive”, “inaccessible” renewables. But we will prove to you the opposite.

Photo by  Ryan Searle on Unsplash

Global Picture for Renewables

According to the REN21, a renewable energy policy network for the 21st Century, long gone is the myth that renewables are a luxury for the developed world. China, for instance, has been the largest developer of new renewable power and heat in the last eight years. With reduced cost of installed solar panels in the market, more and more remote regions can afford them. According to the Renewables 2017 by the International Energy Agency, global renewables electricity generation is expected to grow by more than one-third to over 8 000 terawatts per hour by 2022.

To understand the broad prospect of applying renewables to developing countries, we have to look at the world’s energy demand. A world energy report shows that nearly all future energy demand growth will come from developing countries, with developing economies accounting for 58% of total energy consumption and developed countries, 42%. However, 634 million Africans do not have access to electricity[1] and 65 billion people in the Southeast Asia[2] are facing the same dilemma. Hence there is and will still be a gap between the demand and supply.

Favourable Policy Environment

Unlike nuclear power, shale gas, or gas hydrates that come in a large amount but usually cannot be accessed by poor communities without installed power grids, renewables are now made available in developing countries with a more favourable national policy environment. Instead of repeating the same mistakes of industrialized countries in the past, emerging economies begin to contemplate on the possibility and profitability of clean energy. For instance, the Philippines is now implementing the National Renewable Energy Program 2010-2030 to increase its renewable energy installed capacity. Indonesia has released its National Energy Policy (Governmental Regulation No.79/2014) to ensure a 31% share of renewables in its energy structure by 2030. Such government initiatives clearly reveal the golden opportunities of probing into renewables for development.

Photo from Solar Philippines Facebook Page

Booming Market for Renewables

Before entering into the market, one might be at first deterred by the presumed prices of technologies. But prices have been falling throughout the years, making it less costly to invest or start an enterprise. Thanks to different projects for technological advancement and the expansion of the market and production, the costs for wind power equipment and solar photovoltaics have dropped substantially compared to 30 years ago. Although the mature hydropower technology which has been developed for hundreds of years may not flip much, biomass is certainly profitable as long as there are supplies of agricultural or forestry wastes. These raw materials are often low-cost and available in farming villages.

In an REN21 report, investments on renewables in such developing countries as China, Brazil and India, increased steadily over the past 10 years and unprecedentedly exceeded the total investment of OECD countries in 2015. The industry gives rise to the stable growth of companies and employment.

What does this mean for Communities?

Renewables are impactful in many ways. In IRENA (the International Renewable Energy Agency)’s analysis, the influences range from economic benefits, social impact, health, to environmental improvement. First and foremost, once popularized with lower costs, renewables can generate economic savings, because families can spend less electricity and fuels. Socially speaking, such energy promotes gender equality for women and children, improves education and skills by prolonging reading hours, and drives the development of the community. In terms of health, the conditions will also be better with more improved health facilities and services as well as safer access to water. Last but not least, renewables have long been considered a solution to environmental problems, since they are clean. Apart from reducing carbon emissions, they also make it unnecessary for families to cut down trees for heating or cooking, thus protecting forests.

To light up people’s lives, you can always commence with a renewables start-up or make a worthwhile investment. Now would be the best time.

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