Renewables and Energy Poverty



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Sunday October 28, 2018 – Renewable and Energy Poverty – I was reading some articles about global warming this week and came across an article about a group called "The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation".  The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation is a Christian based group that appears to be a big supporter of climate change denial.


They are a proponent of Intelligent design and promote the idea that God would not develop a world that was so fragile that humans could impact it in any way.  They don't seem to consider that the carbon we are now digging up and putting back into the atmosphere was buried deep underground where humans should not have been able to get to it.

According to Desmogblog part of their platform states  “We deny that alternative, renewable fuels can, with present or near-term technology, replace fossil and nuclear fuels, either wholly or in significant part, to provide the abundant, affordable energy necessary to sustain prosperous economies or overcome poverty.”  They say that the only way to overcome energy poverty is for developing nations to expand energy availability by burning fossil fuels.


They are not alone in this sentiment, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, speaking at a recent World Bank Meeting in Bali said "African leaders have approached me and said that they need more support to provide baseload power in their countries."  These African leaders are telling him it is wrong for institutions like the World Bank to tell them they cannot use fossil fuels for baseload electricity.  The World Bank will no longer fund energy projects based on coal and will stop funding oil and gas based projects starting in 2019.

Meanwhile some countries are starting to take action to eliminate energy poverty without resorting to fossil fuels. 


On the edge of the Sahara Desert in Morocco the third phase of the world's largest solar power plant is about to go live.  Noor III will add an additional 150MW of capacity to the plant.  When the final phase, phase IV, goes live the plant will produce a total of 580MW at peak.  This is also a thermal solar plant, which uses mirrors to heat up salts and this heat can then turn water into  steam to fire up  a turbine to generate electricity.  The thermal power station has an advantage over solar panels as the heat stored in the salts can continue to create steam long after the sun has set.  The Noor plant is designed to continue producing electricity for up to 7.5 hours after the sun has gone down.


One of the issue with increasing base load is that remote villages are often too far away from the grid so extending the grid to these villages becomes prohibitively expensive.  India claims to have connected all of its villages to the grid but there are still over a million people in India who do not have access to electricity.  About two thirds of these people will eventually be connected to the grid but the other third will be provided electricity through micro-grids.  These micro-grids will provide electricity where it is not currently economical to provide grid connection.


While micro-grids are often based on solar panels many are based on diesel which has the advantage of providing electricity when renewable generation is not available.  However diesel engines also have their problems.


In Mashaba, a small village in southern Zimbabwe, they used to irrigate their fields using diesel pumps.  The villagers often had to travel more than 100 kilometers just to buy diesel fuel to keep the pumps running.  The diesel pumps often broke down, and as everyone who drives an ICE car knows, diesel engines require regular maintenance like oil changes to keep them running.  The diesel pumps were replaced by electric pumps fed by a micro-grid based on a 99KW solar array.  The Micro-grid also provided power for two business centers, a school, and a clinic.  Farm productivity is up, especially during times of drought which are a regular occurrence there,  The villagers also are no longer burdened with the cost of fuel and maintenance for the diesel pumps.


With the cost of solar now falling below the cost of fossil fuels, it seems that we should be helping developing countries to eliminate energy poverty using renewable energy rather than encouraging them to make the same mistakes that we, in the developed world, are now trying to undo.  Solar is not the only option either, there are a lot of additional sources of renewable energy like wind, tide, small hydro, and geothermal energy that may be available in developing nations. 


Grid level energy storage is key to the use of renewable energy so the next big challenge is to find low cost ways to store energy enough to keep the grid running smoothly as energy generation fluctuates.  Such energy storage is going to make energy grids, be they micro grids or national grids, more reliable with less issues like voltage fluctuation.  The US should be a leader in this technology but I fear that the current trend toward favoring fossil fuels will cede leadership to countries like China and India.

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