Wind for Prosperity – bringing clean power to remote and rural locations
One fifth of the world population has no access to electricity. How can wind power change that?
Around 1.3 billion people have no access to electricity today. Think about it: 1.3 billion people represents one fifth of the world population. These are mostly poor and rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, and lack of access to such a key form of energy doesn’t allow them to escape poverty.
In wealthy countries we take electricity, water and heat for granted. It’s our (often constitutional) right to have access to those services. Yet many around the world cannot even dream of a switch that turns on the lights or a faucet that allows clean water to flow. How could we do a better job of providing these services to the poor? Can renewable energy help solve one of the world’s biggest problems?
Power generation has traditionally been deployed in a way that not always suited the needs of the poor. Think of large, centralized coal- or gas-fired power plants: they are by nature large in scale and require long and expensive transmission lines to bring power closer to the load centers (typically large cities and industrial consumers such as mines or factories). Too often, rural communities got used to those transmission lines becoming part of the landscape; but they could only watch them transport power without distributing any of it at their locations. Not an ideal solution.
This started to change only recently. Falling costs of renewable energy and several initiatives to bring electricity to the poor are bound to make a difference. Access to electricity does not only provide convenience. It also allows children to study at night, families to be healthier by keeping food safe in a fridge or to cook in kerosene-free stoves, and town councils to install pumps that give them access to clean water.
Yes, wind can
The Vestas-led Wind for Prosperity initiative is a great example of how to provide clean, affordable and sustainable energy to the poor. Rural communities are often surrounded by excellent wind resources. By installing wind turbines in these areas, the initiative allows for the displacement of expensive and polluting fuel (typically diesel). This improves the living conditions for the residents.
The integration of both wind and diesel-based generation creates a so-called microgrid that needs to be properly managed. One of the key aspects to keep in mind is that the integration of renewable, intermittent power with an existing set of diesel generators is complex in nature and requires extensive experience in design, engineering and project execution. ABB just announced that it will collaborate with the initiative by providing microgrid technology and system integration solutions.
Wind is not the only renewable energy source helping many escape poverty. Solar is enjoying great success too, not only in direct electricity generation, but also helping farmers with irrigation.
With electricity comes not only industrialization and wealth. As we in the rich world know, access to safe, reliable and affordable electricity brings along education, health and, in general, prospects for a better future. Whatever renewable energy source we use, it’s time to decouple economic growth from environmental pollution.