One of the most underreported stories in the U.S. energy industry today is Connecticut’s ambitious electricity pilot project—one that could have a widespread ripple effect across the country. On July 24, state government officials announced plans for nine microgrid projects as part of a Microgrid Pilot Program aimed at ensuring electricity grid resilience and reliability during severe weather events.

“Microgrids” are essentially small-scale electricity generation and distribution systems that integrate various distributed energy resources and can be managed locally and, if necessary, independently from the main grid. Diesel-powered microgrids are common in the rural areas of many developing countries such as Haiti, Indonesia, and the Philippines, and some military bases, telecommunications bases, and Internet server farms have done the same, in order to ensure a steady flow of power even if a natural disaster or terrorist attack should take down the main grid.

A local microgrid in Sendai, Japan. Source: NTT Facilities, Tokyo.

More recently, and in response to security concerns and prolonged power outages, the concept of creating a microgrid within an existing electricity grid has gained traction. The goal is to increase the security of local power supplies in the face of natural disasters and cyber threats, while at the same time creating a robust market for solar energy and other small-scale generators. Several microgrids are already complete or under development in the United States. Among the first adopters are educational institutions like the University of California-San Diego, New York University, Utica College, and Cornell University. The U.S. Department of Defense is also blazing trails, having installed microgrid infrastructure at multiple army bases already. Now, Connecticut is the first state to develop an explicit policy on microgrids.

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The public transportation system in Medellín, Colombia, has proven to be one of the most successful transit systems in the world. It not only reduces the city’s energy consumption and carbon footprint, making the city more environmentally sustainable, but also drives positive social and economic change for Medellín as a whole.

Medellín metro system. (Source: http://www.colombia.travel/en/international-tourist/multimedia/photo-gallery/medellin)

Medellín received the 2012 Sustainable Transport Award from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. ITDP is a global consortium of organizations that works with cities worldwide, mainly in developing countries, to provide solutions for their public transportation systems, tackling carbon emissions, poverty, and social inequality. The previous award winners are Guangzhou, China, in 2011 and Ahmedabad, India, in 2010.

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Climate Change, emissions reductions, natural gas, Public transportation, sustainable development

In 2010, for the first time ever, countries that did not industrialize first have invested more money in renewable energy than those countries that were first to industrialize, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Yet within many middle-to-low income countries, large portions of the population continue to have limited or no access to electricity and other energy services. In some parts of sub-Saharan Africa, such as Uganda and Malawi, as much as 90 percent of the population is without electricity. And while there is no single standard for how energy development should take place, addressing the needs of populations with minimal or no access to energy and related services is a critical part of sustainable development. Fortunately, many regions and communities are implementing decentralized and distributed approaches to renewable energy in sustainable ways, including through locally self-determined initiatives and by engaging in international collaboration.

Wind power can be tied to large centralized grid systems or to municipal micro-grids (Source: Reuters)

 

Decentralized renewable energy

Still today, the bulk of energy financing goes to centralized, grid-connected power plants. In 2010, for example, an estimated $40–45 billion was invested in large-scale hydropower, compared to only $2 billion for small hydropower projects. One reason for this disproportionate focus is that international efforts and funds typically emphasize policy change at the national level and through capital-intensive, industrial markets. But while implementing change at these levels is important and necessary, it is not the only way.

Indeed, numerous studies and examples indicate that policies oriented solely toward centralized production and distribution of electricity are inadequate to meet the needs of marginalized people and communities. In contrast, renewable energy technologies provide the opportunity for a development path that is more culturally self-determined, giving individuals and communities control over their own energy sources. Distributed renewable energy technologies constitute an important, community-driven alternative to centralized projects that are often driven by national politics and that can be largely removed from community interests.

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Central America, distributed generation, finance, renew, renewable energy finance, rural electrification, solar power, wind power

At the opening ceremony of the 5th World Future Energy Summit, held in Abu Dhabi on January 16, 2012, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao assured the world that China will stick to a green and sustainable development path. As the highest-ranking Chinese official ever to present at the summit, Wen’s speech delivered a clear message to the world about what China plans to do to secure its future development.

Premier Wen Jiabao gives his speech in Abu Dhabi.

But sustainable actions already being pursued in China provide an even more convincing picture than the premier’s words. In its 12th Five-Year Plan—an overarching guidance framework used in Chinese policymaking—China includes a fairly comprehensive collection of sustainable development goals, among them energy intensity and carbon-emission intensity targets. Because the Five-Year Plan lays out only very general goals and measures, it is up to individual ministries or the State Council, China’s cabinet to sketch out and pursue implementation.

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12th Five-Year Plan, carbon intensity, carbon market, China, clean industry, emerging strategic sectors, emission trading, energy conservation, energy intensity, NDRC, renewable energy, sectoral structure, sustainable development, sustainable transition

Minister Chen speaks with Alexander Ochs, Haibing Ma, and Chris Flavin (from left to right).

“China is dedicated to low-carbon and sustainable growth,” said Chen Dawei, head of the visiting Chinese delegation to the Worldwatch Institute. “[The] Institute’s experience and current works on promoting green development are really impressive and I hope collaborative projects can be developed through this meeting,” said Mr. Chen. Back in China, Mr. Chen is the Vice-Minister of the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MOHURD). He is leading the Low-Carbon Economy and Sustainable Urban delegation, which consists of more than 25 high level officials from Chinese central, provincial, and municipal governments.

The visit was organized by the Global Educational Institute at Georgetown University. During the meeting, Christopher Flavin, Worldwatch’s president emeritus, delivered the opening remarks and briefly introduced to the Chinese delegation the institute’s history, program layout, and major works. Alexander Ochs, the Director of the Climate and Energy Program, detailed our work in the Caribbean region by highlighting the unique characteristics of our Low-Carbon Energy Roadmap approach. I then provided an overview of our previous and ongoing China-related research works. In addition, I used this opportunity to introduce various ideas of our future China work, including a sketch of our plan to work with different levels of Chinese government.

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China, Chinese delegation, effectiveness, efficiency, green development, green economy, green transition, Low-Carbon Energy Roadmap, MOHURD, renewable energy, sustainable development

Last month, Farooq Abdullah, India’s Union Minister for New and Renewable Energy, announced that the planned Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) would be “totally green”. The corridor is aimed at strengthening the region’s infrastructure to attract foreign and real estate investment and jump-start local commerce. Minister Abdullah’s commitment to making the project environmentally sustainable is a positive sign for India’s development path given the potential boom in industry, commercial activity, and power production if the corridor is successful.

source: MNRE

Wind turbines in Gujarat

The DMIC is a US$90 billion infrastructure project funded by the governments of India and Japan to connect the political and financial capitals of India through freight rail, roads, and new power facilities. Plans to implement the massive DMIC project have been underway since a 2006 Memorandum of Understanding between India and Japan, but progress to date has been slow. Recent large infrastructure projects have a mixed record in the country, with bureaucratic roadblocks, multiple permitting requirements, and in some cases corruption and bribery, sometimes blocking plans.

Many of the barriers to general infrastructure development are the same barriers that stand in the way of renewable energy projects, despite a strong demonstrated political will to promote investment in renewables. Just this October, reports emerged that one of India’s largest solar power projects, the 125 megawatt (MW) Shivajinagar Sakri solar plant being implemented by the Maharashtra State Power Generation Company, has been blocked by the Forest Department of Maharashtra, which has laid claim to 180 of the total 350 hectares set aside for the project. This major administrative hurdle demonstrates the lack of coordination between agencies responsible for approving renewable energy projects, especially at this late stage of project development when major certifications and loans for the project have already been granted.

The future of renewable energy in India, including its role in the DMIC, will depend largely on the ability of the country’s policy and regulatory infrastructure to streamline administrative procedures and create a welcoming environment for new investments. India’s federal government and several state governments have established a multitude of laws and regulations to promote renewable energy, including feed-in tariffs (FiTs), renewable purchase obligations (RPOs), generation-based incentives, capital subsidies, accelerated depreciation, and tax incentives. Renewable energy capacity in India has grown rapidly in recent years, due in part to these measures. India ranks fifth in the world in installed wind capacity, with around 15 GW of wind capacity in August 2011. Installed solar capacity is growing rapidly and is expected to reach 200 MW by the beginning of 2012, with an ambitious national target of 20 GW of solar capacity by 2022.

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energy infrastructure, feed-in tariff, finance, India, renewable energy finance, renewable energy investment, renewable energy policy

by Qiong Xie

China’s offshore wind industry is gaining momentum and entering the large-scale development phase. China’s National Energy Bureau plans to boost the country’s offshore wind capacity to 5 gigawatts (GW) by 2015. And by 2020, according to the Chinese government’s Renewable Energy Plan of the 12th Five-Year Plan, China endeavors to further increase its offshore wind power capacity to 30 GW. Given the fact that China had only installed 142.5 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind turbines as of June 2011, reaching 5 GW in five years requires a big jump both for policymakers and companies.  Meeting these ambitious targets will require a vigorous renewable energy action plan and substantial financial investments. Offshore wind turbine technologies at various depths

There are several reasons why China has turned its attention to offshore wind power. According to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2011, China overtook the US in 2010 to become the world’s top energy consumer with a 20.3 percent share of global energy consumption. China also surpassed the U.S. as the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter in 2006. In order to secure a sustainable energy supply, China is pursuing renewable energy and energy efficiency. Currently, coal generation accounts for 80 percent of China’s electricity production, much of which comes from old and inefficient plants that contribute to severe air pollution and other health and environment impacts. China has recognized the economic and environmental need to adopt renewable energy such as offshore-wind to generate electricity. At the end of 2008, clean energy including hydro, wind, solar, biomass, biogas, geothermal and ethanol contributed 9 percent of China’s total primary energy use. In 2009, total installed wind power capacity in China reached 26 GW.

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China, Green Technology, offshore wind, renewable energy R&D

The Dominican Republic ismaking strides in promoting renewable energy as a way to reduce its heavy dependence on imported fossil fuels. As part of our work collaborating with government and private stakeholders to develop low-carbon energy roadmaps for the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean countries, the Worldwatch Institute is conducting socioeconomic impact assessments for planned and potential renewable energy projects, focusing on solar and wind for the current stage of the analysis. The Dominican Republic has several solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind power projects lined up, and the renewable resource potential to significantly expand on these investments. Examining the job creation potential of these renewable energy projects is an important first step toward understanding the full scope of benefits that renewable energy can provide, especially with high levels of unemployment in the Dominican Republic – 14.2 percent in 2010.

Source: osha.gov

A worker installs solar PV rooftop panels.

Despite a rapidly growing economy (7.8 percent GDP growth in 2010), about half of the Dominican population lives below the poverty line. One reason that economic growth has failed to translate fully into widespread socioeconomic benefits is the Dominican Republic’s dependence on fossil fuel imports. The Dominican economy is highly susceptible to oil price shocks, with oil imports accounting for 5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2010, down from 9 percent during the global price spike in 2008. Domestic renewable generation can reduce economic vulnerability due to reliance on fossil fuel imports, but can it create enough jobs to tackle the country’s unemployment and improve the standard of living?

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Caribbean renewable energy, Dominican Republic, green jobs, Low-Carbon Energy Roadmap, solar PV, wind power
Source: Xinhua

Water hyacinths block transport vessel passage in the Pearl River.

Last month, the section of Pearl River running through the city of Guangzhou in China was rapidly invaded by an explosion of water hyacinths. After two days of intense skimming (455 tons of water hyacinths removed on the 17th and 495 tons on the 18th), the river was still not fully cleared. Last month’s rainfall washed the plants downriver causing them to accumulate in the slow-flowing estuary, a common occurrence in flood season. From April to June of this year, water hyacinths accounted for 80 percent of the 15,000 tons of floating rubbish collected by Guangzhou city.

Introduced to China in the 1960s, the water hyacinth is now widely distributed in nineteen provinces across the country.  Warming temperatures due to climate change have created favorable growing conditions for water hyacinths across most of China – plant mass can double in two weeks in water temperatures between 27 and 35 degrees Celsius. Floods of water hyacinths occur regularly in many important bodies of water, including Dianchi Lake and Yangtze River.

As an invasive species that multiplies rapidly, heavy infestations of water hyacinths have to be quickly removed from impacted water systems to prevent economic and environmental damage. While water hyacinths do remove nutrient pollutants (N, P, K, Mg, Cu, Zn, and Mn) from waters, outbreaks cover water surfaces and consume most of the dissolved oxygen leaving little for fish and other aquatic species, which die off as a result. Unless removed, water hyacinths release nutrient pollutants back into the water when they die. Massive outbreaks cause further economic harm by blocking water transportation.

Despite these serious drawbacks, water hyacinth invasions can be harnessed for environmental benefit and renewable energy production. Water hyacinths have high cellulose content, making them a potential renewable energy source. Currently however, technical and cost barriers have forestalled widespread development of this energy option.

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agriculture, biofuels, biogas, biomass, China, water

On July 25th, 2011, The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) committed $35 million to help reconstruct Haiti’s electricity sector. The grant is the first of three policy-based operations the IDB expects to conduct over the next three years to help Haiti build a reliable and sustainable electricity grid.

The objectives of the grant are to develop and implement a new legal and regulatory framework to foster Haitian-based institutional capacity to govern and oversee the power sector while supporting the use of clean energy. Specifically, plans include supporting the creation of an Energy Direction as an autonomous entity in charge of planning, regulation and supervision of the energy sector. Importantly, this is the first step towards the creation of a Ministry of Energy, which Haiti does not yet have. The plans further call for expanding electricity access to rural areas and developing an institutional and regulatory strategy for urban biomass and Liquefied Petroleum Natural Gas. Finally, the grant aims to convert the national utility Electricité d’Haïti (EDH) into a financially and operationally viable company through short term targets of creating operational and financial indicators for EDH in an effort to reduce operational costs. The long term objective is to open up participation to the private sector by working with Haiti’s already established Commission for the Modernization of Public Enterprises.

Haiti has nine isolated small electricity grids throughout the country as opposed to one national transmission grid. A recently-approved grant by the Inter-American Development Bank aims to help Haiti increase the efficiency and reliability of their electricity sector.

 

EDH was created in 1971 and has a national monopoly on electricity generation, transmission, distribution and commercialization. It was formed to control the newly built Péligre hydroelectric plant. Since then, efforts have been made to privatize the company in part due to a Structural Adjustment Program led by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in 1995; however, these efforts have since stalled. Today, combined technical and commercial electricity losses are above 50 percent. The Government of Haiti transfers 12 percent of the national budget annually, or over $100 million, to keep the company afloat.

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developing countries, development, energy efficiency, Haiti, low-carbon, renewable energy