Magazine article Chicago Policy Review (Online)

Electricity in Transition: Renewables in Developing Countries

Magazine article Chicago Policy Review (Online)

Electricity in Transition: Renewables in Developing Countries

Article excerpt

The energy sector is undergoing a major transformation, becoming more decentralized and more interactive than ever before. Growing numbers of independent renewable generators are changing consumer behavior and posing challenges for current utilities.

Renewable energy micro-grids-localized, discrete renewable energy power generation systems, independent from traditional grids-have been widely praised for offering more choices to consumers from a variety of electricity sources other than conventional government or corporation-backed electricity supplies. Additionally, renewable micro-grids have the potential to transform the electric system and improve access to modern energy in developing countries, which is an important step in addressing issues of inequality. However, volatile prices of fossil fuels, as well as technical obstacles regarding intermittency and storage, raise questions about whether renewable energy is a reliable source of power. In developing countries, where relatively weaker infrastructure poses greater challenges, these doubts prove to be particularly strong.

A recent study published by the World Resources Institute and Prayas Energy Group examines current features and obstacles of electricity grids in four developing countries: Brazil, China, India, and Kyrgyzstan. Across these countries, the evolution of renewable energy and the development outlook for electrical systems vary, but several trends including rapidly increasing capacity and investment in renewable energy, rising numbers of potential consumers, and an improved structure that is transitioning towards a more liberal market are consistent throughout.

Overall, modern electrical grids need a more comprehensive and compatible system to accommodate both conventional electricity generated from fossil fuels as well as electricity generated from independent renewable sources. Jairaj et al. suggest that decision makers in developing countries should construct a modern electrical grid system that allows them to reap the economic, environmental, and social benefits such infrastructure provides.

The authors identify three key areas that need to be addressed for a smooth transition to modern electrical grids: technology and infrastructure, institutions, and pricing and equity.

First, energy generators do not produce electricity around the clock. …

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