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Developing Nations Eye Renewable Energy

Developing countries are ramping up renewables after Copenhagen. About 151 developing countries took part in the Climate Change conference in Copenhagen in December 2009. Of those, 25 submitted Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) in February, many of which call for new renewable energy policies, laws and projects.

NAMAs are a new concept of national voluntary greenhouse gas emission reduction measures reported directly to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. They are expected to be the main vehicle for mitigation actions taken by developing countries.  Few developing countries have adopted the public policies needed for the widespread development of renewable energy technologies and markets, with the exception of Brazil, which built the world’s leading biofuels industry, and China and India, which have built hydro, wind, biogas and solar power plants and manufacturing facilities.

Renewable Action Plans

Africa is organizing for renewable energy project development.  In late 2009, representatives from various African nations established the African Renewable Energy Alliance with help from the World Future Council to speed up the electrification of African countries and fight climate change.  Among its members are the Union of African Utilities, which represents 54 private and public electricity producers and distributors in 43 countries as well as industry members and policy-makers.  The Alliance founding declaration states, “Now is the time to set the course towards a massive uptake of renewable energy for all people in urban and rural Africa.”

Ethiopia’s NAMA plan includes wind, geothermal, and biomass projects.  Ethiopia’s wind power projects include the more than 760 MW of planned wind power capacity from seven different projects to be completed by 2013.  In addition, the country plans to develop more than 450 MW of geothermal capacity by 2018. The country also plans to produce 63.36 million liters of ethanol from 2010 to 2015 and 621.6 million liters of biodiesel between 2010 and 2015. 

Other African nation’s that released NAMAs include Ghana, which is increasing electricity generation from renewable energy sources to 10–20 percent by 2020.  Ghana is upgrading its electricity distribution system to make way for renewable projects. Morocco is developing five solar energy sites that total 2,000 MW to come online between 2015 and 2020.  Morocco’s NAMA calls for the installation of 440,000 square meters of rooftop solar water heater collectors by 2012 and 1.7 million square meters by 2020. Morocco’s NAMA also specified an Energipro Programme that is developing a 1000 MW wind park by 2012 with plans to increase the park to 5000 MW by 2030. 

Sierra Leone created an Integrated Natural Resources and Environmental Management Program that includes expanding clean energy projects, especially solar, micro-hydro and biomass. It plans to produce biofuels from corn, rice husks and sugarcane. 

In Latin America, Mexico committed to a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, provided it gets adequate financial support from richer nations. Mexico plans to install 7,000 MW of renewable energy capacity to generate an estimated 16,000 gigawatt hours (GWh) per year (in addition to the El Cajon and La Parota hydroelectric plants).  It also plans to introduce biofuels and biodiesel as a fuel source.

Brazil is increasing the use of biofuels as well and plans to reduce 48 to 60 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) by 2020.  It will also use renewable electricity to reduce emissions from electricity by 26 to 33 million tons of CO2 in 2020.  Costa Rica stated it needs financing before it can submit specific commitments to any plan.

In Asia, Indonesia has committed to a 26% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. Its NAMA calls for the development of alternative and renewable energy sources, but it won’t release more specific plans until it gets a financing commitment from developed nations or the international investment community. 

In the Middle East, Jordan passed a new Renewable Energy Law in January 2010.  The new law allows private companies with renewable energy projects to bypass the competitive government bidding process and negotiate directly with the Energy Ministry. The new law will require project developers to clearly state fixed electricity tariffs in their proposals before being approved. The law aims to help the government reach the goals of the National Energy Strategy, which calls for 7 percent of the country’s energy mix to come from renewable energy sources by 2015, and 10 percent by 2020. 

The Renewable Energy law also requires the country’s National Electric Power Company to purchase all electricity produced by renewable energy power plants and to cover the cost of grid connection.  Further, it allows the owners of solar and wind power systems to sell electricity back to their electricity provider through net metering.

Jordan also established a Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Fund to support energy-saving and renewable energy initiatives. Private sector companies or investors within or outside the country can apply for the fund, which will be financed by the state budget and international donor agencies. The fund has already received financing from the French Development Agency, the World Bank and the Global Environment Fund.  Other international aid agencies such as the German Development Bank and the Japan International Cooperation Agency have expressed interest in providing assistance as well.

Several developing countries in Eastern Europe released NAMAs that include renewable energy, including Armenia, which created Renewable Energy Armenia  a web portal designed to encourage the development and financing of renewable energy in the country. The portal includes solar and wind energy potential charts.

Georgia is developing a low-carbon growth plan and low carbon strategy through the use of renewable energy investments from what it calls the global investment community. 

Macedonia (formerly Yugoslavia) is investigating the use of solar and wind energy, but its NAMA plan limits these projects to specific locations.  Their plan states wind projects are only favorable in the mountains near Povardarie and between the towns of Kocani and Stip.  Solar thermal systems for water heating are more cost effective than PV for home and business owners.

Geothermal energy in Macedonia is mostly used in locations near Kocani and Strumka. However, the report claims that since the thermal parameters of the water are low, geothermal power is limited to use in spas and heating buildings, not for producing electricity.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development launched a Renewable Development Initiative to advance the development and financing of renewable energy projects in 29 countries in Central and Eastern Europe.

Sustainable Development

NAMAs in the Copenhagen Agreement allow developing nations to use their land and resources for renewable energy projects. In previous agreements, land and resource use was restricted under REDD, which limited national plans to prevention of deforestation.

Renewable energy can alleviate poverty in developing nations by providing the energy needed for creating businesses and employment.  It can be used for cooking, space heating and lighting. It can power schools and reduce the time that children spend out of school collecting fuel from traditional sources. It can eliminate health problems caused by pollution from burning traditional fuels indoors. It can improve health by providing energy to refrigerate medicine, sterilize medical equipment and to supply fresh water and sewage services needed to reduce infectious disease.

However, some international organization such as the African Biodiversity Network caution that development of renewable energy projects in poorer countries cannot carry unacceptable costs in social and environmental impacts. These organizations want governments of developing nations and project developers to consider the impact of projects on farmers, forests, indigenous peoples and food security.  Many of these groups are not opposed to renewable energy development as long as it doesn’t promote massive land grabs and deforestation. They also want governments to ensure that financing of these projects includes proper education and training for the people living in developing countries to ensure long-term economic stability.

Lauren Poole is a journalist and science writer based in Colorado. She worked for 11 years at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, where she wrote extensively about solar and wind energy technologies and policy issues.

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