Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Solar and Wind Energy Potential

Thousands of megawatts 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.

"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," he said.

Since its beginning in 2001 and with substantial support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the US$9.3 million SWERA project (http://swera.unep.net) has been developing a range of new information tools to stimulate renewable energy development, including detailed maps of wind and solar resources.

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

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

The SWERA team has assessed wind and solar energy resources using a range of data from satellites and ground-based instruments -- often with surprising 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 wind generated electricity "first dispatch," meaning it has the first 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 in two projects and two more exploration licenses granted.

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

In Guatemala, wind estimates before SWERA were mostly unknown, but are now estimated at 7000 megawatts, based on SWERA products. The Guatemala Ministry of Energy has established, with support from SWERA, the Centre for Renewable Energy and Investment within the Ministry to carry out validation studies and identify 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's installed electrical capacity.

While 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 a significant amount, as by some estimates, the continent needs just 40,000 MW of electricity to power its industrialization (see UNEP Governing Council, http://www.unep.org/gc/gc23/).

SWERA's data collection and analysis network of international and national agencies is also creating a global archive of solar and wind energy resources and maps that is available on CDROM or through the website. Another important SWERA tool, the Geospatial Toolkit, allows wind and solar maps to be combined with electrical distribution grids and other information to provide high quality information that supports energy planning and policy development, while lowering the risk for renewable energy project developers and reducing project lead times.

Speaking from Washington D.C., Tom Hamlin, SWERA Project Manager, said the project is now under evaluation and will be seeking support to service requests from renewable energy development programs in other developing countries.

"SWERA has clearly demonstrated that the modest of amounts needed to support renewable energy assessments can significantly change the way countries pursue their energy goals," he said.

The countries where SWERA has carried out surveys to date are: Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Cuba, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, Kenya, Nepal, Nicaragua and Sri Lanka.

According to Toepfer, SWERA is a good example of international cooperation that can produce a range of positive environmental and social outcomes. "In the case of renewable energy," he concludes, "knowledge is literally power."

Summary on SWERA

Environmental News Network

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