Renewable energy potential unveiled

Posted: 14 April 2005

Thousands of megawatt of new renewable energy potential in Africa, Asia, South and Central America have been discovered by a pioneering project to map the solar and wind resource of 13 developing countries.

The multi-million dollar project, called the Solar and Wind Energy Resource Assessment (SWERA), is proving that the potential for deploying solar panels and wind turbines in these countries is far greater than previously supposed.

First results from the project were released today in Washington D.C. at an international meeting of scientists and policy-makers organised by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), which is co-ordinating the research.

"In developing countries all over the world we have removed some of the uncertainty about the size and intensity of the solar and wind resource," said Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's Executive Director. "These countries need greatly expanded energy services to help in the fight against poverty and to power sustainable development. SWERA offers them the technical and policy assistance to capture the potential that renewable energy can offer."

Detailed maps

Since its beginning in 2001 and with substantial support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the US$9.3 million SWERA project has been developing ways to stimulate renewable energy development, including the production of detailed maps of wind and solar resources.

"As energy planners seek cleaner energy solutions using renewable energy technologies, the availability of reliable, accurate, and accessiblesolar and wind energy information is critical and can significantly accelerate the deployment of these technologies," says Toepfer.

He cited the case of California, where the availability of good wind data greatly accelerated the development of wind farms and a global windm industry. Likewise, he says, SWERA's aim is to support informed decision-making, develop energy policy, and increase investor confidence in renewable energy projects.

Nicaragua potential

The SWERA team has assessed wind and solar energy resources using a range of data from satellites and ground-based instruments - often withsurprising results. In Nicaragua, for example, SWERA assessments of wind resources demonstrated a much greater potential than the 200 megawatts (MW estimated in the 1980s.

The results prompted the Nicaraguan National Assembly to pass the Decree on Promotion of Wind Energy of Nicaragua 2004 that gives windgenerated electricity top priority over other options when fed into electricity grids. The US Trade and Development Agency and Inter-American Development Bank have subsequently launched wind energy feasibility studies in Nicaragua, and wind investment projects are now advancing with 40 MW planned and two more exploration licenses granted.

SWERA information is also providing solar resource information for a range of co-operative efforts in Nicaragua between groups such as theWorld Bank and GEF for projects focused on rural electrification. Six thousand (6000) solar PV systems, for example, are being installed in theWorld Bank and Inter-American Development Bank rural electrification programmes.

In Guatemala, wind estimates before SWERA were mostly unknown, but are now estimated at 7000 megawatts. The Ministry of Energy is now trying toidentify sites for wind energy development.

In Sri Lanka, the SWERA assessment found a land wind power potential of about 26,000 MW representing more than ten times the country'sinstalled electrical capacity.

Global archive

An initial assessment in Ghana, reveals more than 2,000 MW of wind energy potential, mainly along the border with Togo. In Africa, this is quite significant, as by some estimates, the continent needs just 40,000 MW of electricity to power its industrialisation.

SWERA is also creating a global archive of solar and wind energy resources and maps, and a Geospatial Toolkit, that allows wind and solar maps to be combined with electrical distribution grids to provide high quality information for energy planning and policy making.

Tom Hamlin, SWERA Project Manager, said the project will be seeking support to service requests from renewable energy development programmes in other developing countries.