Just before the holidays, my colleague David Wheeler sent me a copy of a new publication from the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP) of the World Bank. Titled "Technical and Economic Assessment of Off-grid, Mini-grid and Grid Electrification Technologies," it does not exactly jump off the shelf. But for anyone who works in the area of renewable energy, this publication is a "must read" -- with particularly important implications for those of us who are also interested in poverty reduction in Africa. The good news in the report is that for much of Africa, where millions of people have yet to be connected to a power grid, renewable energy may be the cheapest option.
The publication carefully and rigorously costs out various power generation technologies across a size range of 50 watts to 500 mega watts, including renewable energy technologies (photovoltaic, wind, geothermal, hydro, biomass-electric, biogas-electric), conventional generation technologies, and emerging technologies. The costing exercise is carried out for three periods -- 2005, 2010 and 2015 -- incorporating uncertainty and sensitivity analysis around key assumptions.
The report has several important conclusions including the following:
- Renewable energy is more economical than conventional energy for off-grid generation of less than 5 kW -- exactly the sort of power currently needed by almost half of the 500 million people who do not have access to modern energy.
- Renewable energy is potentially the cheapest source of power for mini-grid generation.
- Conventional power generation still holds the advantage for large-scale needs.
For countries that are deciding which types of renewable energy to invest in, this report is a great resource with clear suggestions based on rigorous analytical work. For Sub-Saharan Africa in particular, it has clear implications for which types of technologies are the most cost-efficient at the village, township, and city levels.