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Riding the data revolution wave toward sustainable energy for all

Yann Tanvez's picture
Today, more than 1 billion people still live without access to energy, despite the multiplication of efforts from public, private and non-governmental actors. At the same time, global efforts abound to keep global warming under 2 degree Celsius, in accordance with the historic Paris Climate Agreement.

The explicit need of the hour is a significant increase of annual investments in energy access, renewables and energy efficiency – in the hundreds of billions of dollars’ range. So what role does open data play in such a scenario, you may wonder. 

Need solar resource data or maps? We've got an app for that

Oliver Knight's picture


Last month the World Bank launched a new Global Solar Atlas: a free, online tool that lets you zoom into areas anywhere in the world in great detail (1km resolution), and with downloadable poster maps for all developing countries. This new interactive tool is welcome news for anyone – policymaker or commercial developer – who has ever looked for solar maps or resource data from the cluttered and sometimes confusing array of public resources available
 
For this new atlas to have a greater impact, the following needs to happen.   
 
First, we need to cut down on the duplication and often wasted resources associated with national mapping projects. For example, before the Global Solar Atlas was launched, it cost $100,000-150,000 to commission a solar resource map for an average-sized country, and the work took around six months to complete. But with the Atlas,  we have completed this task for  all developing countries at a fraction of the cost, allowing funding to be channeled into higher value activities such as geospatial planning to identify renewable energy zones, or ground-based measurement campaigns to help further improve the solar resource models on which the results are based. This new tool could be an invaluable asset for governments, development agencies, and foundations so that they no longer commission country-based mapping efforts that are, in many cases, costly and may end up duplicating what the Atlas offers already.
 
Second, we need to continuously improve the data behind the Atlas, and other commercially available solar resource models, by investing in ground-based solar radiation measurement stations, with the first two years of data compiled and available in the public domain. But this is easier said than done. There are major gaps in the current measurement data network, especially in developing countries, and this adds to the uncertainty of the solar data provided. In turn, that increases developer risk and ultimately costs. Unfortunately, it is very easy to commission a poor quality measurement campaign, or to leave out key bits of data that are needed for eventual analysis. So adopting a universal set of standards is vital.
 
Third, public research institutes that have previously carried out solar resource assessments need to take a hard look at what value they add in this area. Over the last five years a number of commercial providers of solar resource data have emerged that maintain standing solar resource models, and work continuously to improve and update their solar data. This is an excellent example of public incubation and research being translated into successful start-ups, and should be celebrated. But the originators now need to move on to new frontiers of research to avoid crowding out commercial providers, and to help generate the next generation of methodologies and tools.

The story behind RISE numbers

Yao Zhao's picture

You’d think the most important thing about putting together a global scorecard is, well, the scores of course.

My experience working on RISE – Regulatory Indicators for Sustainable Energy – taught me that it takes a lot more than just data to deliver a one-of-a-kind report.

But hang on. What’s RISE, you ask? RISE is a groundbreaking tool that helps assess government support for sustainable energy investments, which are critical to achieve sustainable energy goals by 2030.

Nothing to this scale has been done before. RISE covers 111 countries, which account for over 90 percent of global population and energy consumption.

My very first time getting familiar with this data was when I worked on the pilot version of RISE . We had decided the best way to get people to understand this endeavor was to get them to play a “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” style game, but with energy access, renewable energy and energy efficiency data. What an eye opener. At that time, I thought the breadth of the pilot project -- 28 indicators, 85 sub-indicators and a 17-country coverage – was impressive.

Sun goes beyond turning on light bulbs in Tanzania

Sunita Dubey's picture
Elisha Thomas Laizer owns a small stationery store that provides photocopying and printing services in Kitumbeine, a Maasai village 150 km (93http://www.esmap.org mi) from the Tanzanian city of Arusha.

Kitumbeine is also 40 km (25 mi) from the nearest electricity grid.

But that hasn’t stopped Elisha. That’s because his store is actually inside a 16 KW mini grid container, under the shade of 60 solar panels. While such easy access to solar power has helped his business tremendously, it has also gifted him with a chance to learn to operate and maintain these mini grids. Consequently, he now acts as a liaison between his community and the solar company that helps set up these grids in remote Tanzanian villages that are starved for electricity.

Elisha’s story is a great example of how the sun paves the way for way more than just turning on a light bulb.

Gandhigiri can make solar work for India

Amit Jain's picture

In many ways, Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi was an early environmentalist. He believed in a self-sustaining life, walked everywhere, and even spun his own cotton yarn. If he were alive, he would been a huge supporter of India’s efforts to use its abundant sunshine to generate clean, sustainable energy.
  
Today, India’s climate change mitigation strategy bears the unmistakable stamp of the father of the nation. It has a goal of achieving a five-fold jump in renewable energy to 175 GW by 2022, the bulk of which - 100 GW - is expected to come from solar and 40% of that from rooftop solar alone.

Not surprisingly, this target was subject to much skepticism initially. Forget the quantum leap to 175 GW in seven years. At the time of the announcement, India was far from meeting its original target of 20 GW, because even just a few years ago, commercial banks considered solar a risky and ‘non-bankable’ technology.

Powering Sub-Saharan Africa – A fresh take on an old problem

Masami Kojima's picture
Man looking at electricity meters in Bamako, Mali 
Pic: Aarthi Sivaraman/World Bank

“If there is one thing that could really help my business, it would be reliable power supply,” said David, a small business owner in Lagos, on my recent trip to Nigeria.
“I agree. If only …,” echoed another.

And not without reason.

Africa lags every other region in the world when it comes to electricity access for its people. Only one in three Sub-Saharan Africans has access to electricity. That’s less than half of the rate of access in South Asia, the region with the second-lowest access rate. If we were to measure access to “reliable” electricity, then those numbers would be even more dismal.

Worryingly, the rate of access has been increasing at a mere 5 percentage points every decade, against population growth of 29 percent. If something is not done to dramatically change this trend, Africa will not see universal access to electricity in the 21st century. This is a seriously worrying prospect as the world races toward a 2030 deadline of universal access to electricity.

The target of achieving universal access by 2030 by the U.N.’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative and the billions of dollars committed by the U.S. government’s Power Africa plan underline the urgency of the situation. As a reminder, more than 1 billion people around the world still live without access to electricity and 600 million of those live in Africa.

So, are Africa’s utilities financially equipped to respond to this call?

Energy storage: A critical piece of the power puzzle

Peter Mockel's picture
 Aarthi Sivaraman


Just months after a historic climate conference in Paris, I can’t help but marvel at how far the world has progressed in the uptake of renewable energy. Take solar power, for example. What used to be a prohibitively expensive endeavor just years ago, is now a household-level solution in many countries. Then there are the record-setting solar auctions in countries like Zambia, the United Arab Emirates, India, Mexico, and Peru.

So what’s the next critical piece of the puzzle in our global efforts to provide sustainable energy for all?

In my view – and that of many others – it is to establish a viable, stationary solution to store energy. While stationary energy storage on a large scale has always been around – hydro energy storage, as an example, is efficient and cost effective – it is tied to topography and difficult to add at will. The cost of batteries has also been a big obstacle to widespread deployment and was a primary reason for the electricity grid to be designed as the biggest real-time delivery systems humans have ever made.

Why Zambia’s 6 cents is more significant than Dubai’s 3 cents

Gevorg Sargsyan's picture


Last week Zambia set a new price record for utility-scale solar-generated energy in Africa with the support of the World Bank Group’s (WBG) Scaling Solar initiative. The auction for 100 MW (2x50 MW) resulted in a price as low as 6 cents/kWh.
 
This is good news for the country, which much like the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa faces acute electricity shortages. Nearly 700 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa don’t have access to electricity.
 
Zambia’s solar auction result followed a series of headline-making auctions in India, Mexico, Peru, and Dubai. In Dubai’s case, the price was as low as 3 cents/kWh -- the lowest price ever offered for solar power. Solar auctions are effectively a competitive bidding process to build power plants and supply a specific quantity of electricity at a pre-agreed price over a specified period of time.

On the brink - let's act on climate change now

Sameh Mobarek's picture


Imagine for a moment that the most advanced spaceship visited Earth in full view of the planet’s inhabitants.  From this spaceship, a humanoid life form named Klaatu emerges, followed shortly after by a menacingly large robot.  Klaatu’s message to the people of Earth is revealed in one of the climactic exchanges of this story with the protagonist, Helen Benson, a young female scientist that was at the forefront of her field:

Helen Benson: I need to know what’s happening.
Klaatu: This planet is dying. The human race is killing it.
Helen Benson: So you’ve come here to help us.
Klaatu: No, I didn’t.
Helen Benson: You said you came to save us.
Klaatu: I said I came to save the Earth.
Helen Benson: You came to save the Earth… from us. You came to save the Earth from us.
Klaatu: We can’t risk the survival of this planet for the sake of one species.
Helen Benson: What are you saying?
Klaatu: If the Earth dies, you die. If you die, the Earth survives. There are only a handful of planets in the cosmos that are capable of supporting complex life…
Helen Benson: You can’t do this.
Klaatu: …this one can’t be allowed to perish.
Helen Benson: We can change. We can still turn things around.
Klaatu: We’ve watched, we’ve waited and hoped that you would change.
Helen Benson: Please…
Klaatu: It’s reached the tipping point. We have to act.

Getting current: New tech giving more Africans access to electricity

Charles Feinstein's picture
Control room at a power station in Ghana. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst / World Bank)

Much work remains to be done to ensure reliable electricity access for Africa's citizens. A number of complications are making it difficult to achieve this UN Sustainable Development Goal. Yet access rates are expanding in many nations, and technology and design improvements offer opportunities to make rapid leaps forward. 

Of the 1.1 billion people on Earth without access to electricity, about half live in Africa. And while the World Bank’s Global Tracking Framework shows progress is being made to deliver electricity to those without, most of it is taking place in Asia. In Africa, it’s a different story.

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