(By Juan Cole)
A significant part of the population of Africa and Asia at present has no access to electricity, and in some countries those deprived amount to as much as 80 percent of the population. That is true in Ethiopia, for instance.
Demand for electricity will therefore grow enormously in Africa and Asia over the next 50 years. Some countries aware of the dangers of climate disruption and mindful of the costs in money, health and climate of fossil fuels, are determined to add the new electricity generation capacity via renewables like Wind, solar and geothermal.
Ethiopia is one of those virtuous countries with regard to carbon emissions. They are building a dam over the Nile for hydroelectric power, which they expect to be substantial. In addition, they have big wind, solar and geothermal plans. They have a 140 megawatt windfarm nearing completion, for instance.
Even a country like Kenya, which seems to be backsliding on its renewable energy plans, expects to get 60% of its new electricity in the coming decades from geothermal (26%), wind, hydro and nuclear. As critics note, the government entirely slights solar energy, which is ideal for Kenya given its climate. But since the country is privatizing and decentralizing its electricity generation, it seems likely that families and entrepreneurs will put in a lot of solar (this is happening in India, so will likely also happen in Kenya).
India plans to add 20 gigawatts of solar energy by 2020 and is among the countries with the best solar potential. Some 4 gigawatts of that will come from just one solar installation, in Rajasthan, which will be the largest in the world.
In just 6 months during 2013, Japan put in 4 gigawatts of new solar energy generation, about a fourth of that residential solar panels and the other 3 gigs utility-scale. Japan has a feed-in tariff, which rewards owners of new solar. It also has an energy crisis caused by the closure of the Fukushima nuclear facility and other reactors (though some of those may be reopened by the conservative government of PM Shinzo Abe). Ironically, the prefecture of Fukushima has pledged to generate 100% of its electricity from green sources, and has revved up a 2 megawatt offshore wind farm.
Taiwan is moving to get 4 gigs of energy from wind over the next 15 years and wants its energy mix to be about a fourth from renewables by 2030. Taiwan is deeply dependent on imported fossil fuels for energy, with about a third of electricity generation coming from nuclear. It seems highly likely that the government is underestimating how quickly it can economically replace fossil fuels with wind, solar and geothermal (Idaho has an agreement to help it with the latter).
Countries with few fossil fuels of their own (all of the countries above fall in that category except with regard to coal) are especially likely to move to renewables over the next 10 to 15 years, as wind and solar reach grid parity. Solar PV panels have fallen in price dramatically just in the past 18 months, and further price reductions and increases in inefficiency are likely over the next 5 years. That is one reason projections like Taiwan’s of how much of the energy mix will be renewables in 2030 are likely underestimates. Increasingly, it will be crazy to build a new coal plant when you could put in solar or wind or geothermal instead.