How emerging economies are pioneering the clean energy future
From massive solar power projects in India to a wind farm in Ethiopia, the clean energy revolution has gone global.
Thu, Feb 06, 2014 at 10:22 AM
Photo: CCTV Africa
There was a time when Germany was the only nation we talked about when it came to renewable energy. Not so, anymore. Countries from England to the U.S. have made their own big leaps on renewables, and China added more solar capacity last year than any country ever has before — but even these big players are seeing other, sometimes unexpected, nations rise up on their heels in the race to a low carbon future.
Below are some stories that prove that the emerging clean energy economy is now a truly global phenomenon.
India signs MOU on 4000MW ultra-mega solar power project
When we first started seeing headlines for large-scale solar power plants, we were talking in the region of 5MW, 32MW, and more recently up to 400MW. A recent announcement from the Indian government dwarfs even the most ambitious of these projects, as India sets out to build a 4000MW "ultra mega solar power project" in Rajasthan. Understandably, a project of this scale is going to take some time to construct - 6 or 7 years to be precise. But it is a sure sign that solar is scaling up to become a significant player in the global energy markets.
Pakistan's parliament turns to solar
Just over the border in Pakistan, a smaller - but hugely symbolic - project has been announced. In an effort to reduce vulnerability to powercuts, The Guardian reports that the Pakistan parliament is installing a 1.8MW solar power plant with the help of financial funding from China. Sadly, the move does not seem to herald a broader push for solar power just yet - at least if The Guardian reporting is anything to go by - but there can be few better places to demonstrate solar viability than in the heart of a nation's capital. Clean Technica reports that plans are also underway for a 500MW solar power plant in the Punjab province of Pakistan.
Ethiopia bets on renewable energy future
Despite lingering memories of famine and war in the 20th Century, Ethiopia has seen a dramatic turnaround. In 2012 it had the world's 12th fastest growing economy, and unlike some emerging economies - Ethiopia has bet heavily on renewables and green growth as the trends of the future. (Ethiopia is especially vulnerable to climate change, so this is far from simple altruism at work.) As The Guardian reports, an early sign of this commitment was the opening of Africa's biggest wind farm outside of Adis Ababa, but critics have also warned against an over reliance on centralized mega-projects over decentralized energy, especially in a nation where the vast majority of the population still lack access to reliable electricity.
Kenya to get 50 percent of its electricity from solar
One of solar power's immediate appeals to decision makers is how quick it can be deployed. While building capital-intensive fossil fuel infrastructure can take years, even decades, solar power generation can be deployed in a much shorter timeframe. That appears to be the plan in Kenya, where lawmakers recently announced an ambitious public private partnership that could see the country getting 50% of its electricity from solar power thanks to the construction of nine massive solar power plants. If the original announcement is correct, all projects should be completed by 2016.
Island nations' get serious about renewables
If you live at or below sea level, global climate change and rising sea levels are far more than a contentious topic for Sunday talk shows. That's probably why the tiny island nation of Tokelau became the first nation to run on 100 percent renewable electricity. Tuvalu is pursuing similarly ambitious goals, although in this case the target date is 2020. Sure, these nations are sun drenched, and largely reliant on expensive, imported fossil fuels - so switching to solar makes a lot more economic sense. But as solar is becomes increasingly competitive with coal and gas, even before we factor in the externalized costs of the incumbents, we should take heart and inspiration from the example of these nations. Bold, ambitious goals for a truly clean energy future are not only possible, but they are necessary.
Decentralized power takes off everywhere
Finally, lest we get too hung up on flagship projects and big announcements - which lawmakers everywhere tend to love - let's not forget that households across the world are discovering that solar and energy efficiency just make a whole lot more sense than pouring money down the drain. From solar becoming cheaper than kerosene for poor rural communities to the trendy success of the Nest thermostat in the US, people everywhere are rethinking their relationship to energy.
And that can only be a good thing.