Press releases

Tuesday 18 Dec 2001

International Effort to Pin Point Some of the World's Best Solar

Nairobi/Paris, 18 December 2001 - A pioneering project to map the solar and wind resource of 13 developing countries is launched today by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Experts are convinced that the project, called the Solar and Wind Energy Survey Assessment (SWERA), will prove that the potential for deploying solar panels and wind turbines in these countries is far greater than is currently supposed

Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP, said: "While the costs of renewable energies like solar and wind have been tumbling in recent years, obstacles remain to their widespread deployment particularly in developing countries. One of these is the uncertainty about the size and intensity of the solar and wind resource. The SWERA project aims to bridge this knowledge gap so potential investors can know, with a great deal of accuracy, the locations where they can secure a good and reasonable return".

"If we can accelerate the deployment of renewable energy we can not only bring down the costs, but also help in the fight against global warming and poverty. These technologies produce none of the gases, such as carbon dioxide, linked with climate change during their operating lives. In many developing countries the scarcity of energy is driving more and more people into poverty. A lack of energy also has severe environmental consequences. Those without access to electricity are forced to fell trees for firewood and cooking fuel, accelerating impacts such as soil erosion and the loss of the world's wildlife, "he added.

News of the project comes in the run up to UNEP's Global Ministerial Environment Forum, taking place in Cartagena, Columbia, in mid-February 2002, where delivering cleaner energy to developing countries is expected to be high on agenda of the world's environment ministers.

It also comes in the wake of a G8 Renewable Energy Task Force report published in August. The report estimated that it might be possible to deliver renewable energy to over a billion people by 2010 if financial and other obstacles are overcome.

Meanwhile developed countries, as a result of climate change talks in Bonn and Marrakech, are expected to be searching for sites in poorer countries where wind and solar power can be deployed. Various funds and mechanisms have been agreed which will allow industrialized nations to offset their greenhouse gases emissions at home through green and clean energy schemes in the developing world.

The importance of accurate information on renewable energies is highlighted by a study of the varying returns from a solar installation. Renewable energies like solar are highly dependent on the local climatic conditions.

Tom Hamlin, Climate Change Task Manager in the UNEP/Global Environment Facility's Coordination unit based in Nairobi, Kenya, said: " The investment of a solar thermal power plant of 200 MegaWatts (MW) electric capacity is approximately $400 million. For such a power plant, an error of 10 per cent in the solar resource would amount to a difference of $150 million in revenues over the life of the project which is a heavy burden for its economic performance".

"Meanwhile the efficiency of steam turbines operated with concentrated solar thermal energy is strongly affected by fluctuating solar energy input. Such dynamic effects, which may easily reduce performance by 10 per cent to 20 per cent, can only be specified if the solar radiation intensity is known on an hour by hour basis. Those insecurities have presented a considerable obstacle to the wide spread use of solar thermal power technology up to now. SWERA will, we believe, considerably reduce those uncertainties," he added.

The project, the findings of which will be linked with a Geographical Information System (GIS) so that prospective developers can pin-point precise and promising locations on-line, has secured $9.3 million for its initial, three year, pilot phase of which nearly $7 million is from the GEF.

The countries where the surveys are to be carried out are Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Cuba, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, Kenya, Nepal, Nicaragua and Sri Lanka.

The belief that SWERA, which is an international collaboration between UNEP and agencies including the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Grid/Sioux Falls, GTZ, the State University of New York, the Danish National Laboratory, the Tata Energy Research Institute and the space agencies of Germany and Brazil, will discover that the wind and solar resource of these countries is far bigger than is currently supposed comes from previous work in countries like the Philippines.

Here a recent survey and completed national atlas of the wind resource has found that the potential for commercially viable wind generation is tens of thousands of MW, not just a few MW as was previously supposed.

A pre-feasibility study for a 40 MW wind farm, the first important one in the country, was carried out by the Philippine National Oil Corporation within six months of the completion of the atlas.

Prior to the survey, the official projection for wind power in the Philippines in the coming decade was around 100MW. The finding from the survey could lead to 480MW in place by 2008, roughly half a billion dollars of investment, and as much as 2,000MW by 2015.

For more information please contact: Tore J Brevik, UNEP Director/Spokesman, Division of Communications and Public Information, on Tel: 254 623292, e-mail: tore.brevik@unep.org, Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, on Tel: 254 2 623084, Mobile: 254 (0) 733 632755, e-mail: nick.nuttall@unep.org or Tom Hamlin, Climate Change Task Manager, UNEP/GEF Coordination, on Tel: 254 2 624146, Fax: 254 2 623696, e-mail: tom.hamlin@unep.org or Mark Radka, Division of Technology, Industry and Economics on Tel: 331 4437 1427, e:mail: mark.radka@unep.fr

UNEP News Release 01/125

Tuesday 18 Dec 2001
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