Long seen as a technology only applicable in the developed world, last year was the first that investment in renewable energy resources was higher in developing countries. Leading the move were the highly populous countries of China and India, together with the eco-tourism hub of Costa Rica, indicating a shift that could have positive ramifications for both local residents and the rest of the world. In recent years, a positive trend has shown that the use of alternative energy in developing countries is growing.
Alternative Energy in Developing Countries
As the developing world invests in solar, wind and geothermal energy resources, their dependence on oil and natural gas will be reduced, and with it the expense of fossil fuel energy systems and grid electricity. When employed in isolated rural areas, renewable energy sources can replace diesel generators and the use of costly kerosene lamps, together with traditional biomass energy sources such as wood which may be limited. While some renewable forms of energy can be labor-intensive, many developing countries have the man power necessary, as well as communities who would be buoyed by the employment opportunities of a decentralized power system.
As each of these five countries illustrates, the push to invest in renewable energy resources comes in very different forms and the solutions vary widely across the world.
Costa Rica – On Track for 100% Renewables
With 99% of its power already coming from renewable resources, Costa Rica is on track to become the first developing country to use 100% renewable electricity. Significant hydro, wind and geothermal resources have enabled this, coupled with a resolute plan from the government to create more renewable power plants and retire the oil-powered Moin plant in 2017. Costa Rica’s citizens have largely embraced the shift to using solar panels, wind turbines and bio-energy, with its fossil-free power system expected to be in place before 2025.
China – Leading Investor in Clean Energy
Currently the world’s largest producer and user of renewable energy technology, China has asserted its commitment to reduce its reliance on coal, with consumption already starting to decline. By 2030 the Chinese government has created a target of 20% of its total energy consumption will be from non-fossil fuels, with wind and solar the main sources. While this may not seem like much compared to Costa Rica, when you consider the country’s reliance on coal over the past decade, it’s a positive step in the right direction from one of the world’s most populous countries.
In 2014 alone, China invested around $90 billion in clean energy, with solar parks built in Qinghai and wind farms in Inner Mongolia, together with research into smart grid technologies that will help create a new model for energy consumption and supply around the world.
India – Shift to Solar Due to Increasing Power Demands
India’s shift towards renewable energy has come largely from a demand for power that can’t be met with the current infrastructure and a reliance on fossil fuels. The government has promised that all households will have a reliable and constant source of power by 2019 (including the 20% of the population who currently don’t have access to electricity), as well as a significant expansion in manufacturing capabilities in India.
Solar is the big player here, with the government announcing a target of 175GW of renewable energy by 2022, 100GW of which would come from solar. Not only would this create a significant number of jobs in the country, but allow citizens a greater control over their power supply, particularly in the country’s remote rural regions.
Kenya – African Leader in Geothermal Power
In Africa it is Kenya leading the way in renewable energy, as the first country on the continent to use geothermal power and currently having the largest installed capacity at 200MW. It also leads the world in the number of solar power systems installed per capital, with more than 20,000 small solar panels sold in the country annually. Many citizens are opting to invest in these panels which can be used to charge car batteries and later run lamps and televisions, rather than forking out the high costs to connect to the national electricity grid.
Afghanistan – Renewable Energy in Local Hands During Political Instability
The current political situation in Afghanistan, lacking good central governance, makes it the perfect candidate for implementing renewable energy power sources controlled and managed by the local people. The German development agency GiZ has harnessed the country’s high levels of sunshine for solar power across Afghanistan’s northern provinces. While at the same time, water is being diverted into small-scale hydro plants to drive turbines which create electricity for villages.
Currently the country’s energy needs are quite modest (with little large-scale industry) and subject to ongoing political turbulence, making renewables the most obvious solution for people to be in control of their own resources.
Wind power also has great potential in the upland areas of Afghanistan, but the costs of transportation, installation and maintenance require higher initial costs than other renewable energy resources. Its feasibility in the long term will depend largely on the price of the fossil fuel it is replacing and finding investors to make it happen.
Other Benefits of Alternative Energy in the Developing Countries
Current renewable energy projects in the developing world have shown that its implementation can help in alleviating poverty, providing the energy resources needed for people to cook, learn and conduct business. Light allows children to study in the evenings and gives entrepreneurs the means to do day-to-day activities that are necessary to run a small business in remote areas.
If rural communities have access to renewable energy for their cooking and heating, it reduces the time children spend collecting fuel, which can be translated into more time in the classroom. It also reduces the carbon monoxide exposure of cooking with wood and dung on traditional stoves in small huts, which the WHO indicates can result in acute respiratory illnesses.
Renewable energy may enable vital medicines and vaccines to be refrigerated in rural areas and medical equipment sterilized, while the power needed to create fresh drinking water can be harnessed by villagers themselves.
Implementing renewable energy resources in the developing world requires a comprehensive analysis of the right resource for the location’s climatic conditions, location and political situation. It also requires a certain level of initial investment in resource infrastructure to ensure that the project succeeds and can be managed in the long term, whether that be from government or private companies. In some cases, it also necessitates a re-education of the public as to the long-term benefits for them, their country and the world of investing in renewable energy resources, with greater control put in their hands through decentralized power systems.