A Plan to Solve Energy Poverty Good News for Solar Energy

Americans are increasingly aware of the potential of renewable energy to both reduce the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels — both foreign and domestic sources — and decrease emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases and other pollutants. As a result, renewable energy technologies, particularly, solar and wind power, are the fastest growing sources of electricity in the US.  

Individual homeowners and small business owners looking to invest in these new sources of energy often face bureaucratic red tape, however, when trying to install their own small-scale, renewable energy systems because they need to connect to large, centralized power plants.  Staying connected to the power grid is important because it means you’ll still receive power from the utility company when you need it, and in some states you may even be able to sell your excess power back to the power company.  This interface is about getting utility companies to make the changes necessary to distribute various forms of alternative energy.

The greatest barriers to distributed renewable energy systems in the US are not the technical obstacles related to this interface, but financial, political, and social hurdles. In an article published April 7, 2017  in Greentech Media, author Chris Warren maintains  that distributed renewable energy can deliver energy access to the billion-plus people around the world who lack it a lot faster than many people realize — and far quicker than the traditional approach of extending centralized electricity grids.  He cites key messages from a new report, “Decentralized Renewables: From Promise to Progress”, recently released by Power for All, an advocacy group whose mission is to achieve universal and cost-effective sustainable energy access within 10 years.

Power for All’s goal is even more ambitious than that of the United Nations, which wants to achieve universal energy access by 2030.  The U.N.’s goal will be impossible if policymakers stick to the old playbook, say the report authors.  Over 1.2 billion people worldwide live in energy poverty, yet many governments are missing key opportunities to use targets and policies to catalyze rural electrification and rapidly increase access to decentralized renewable energy solutions.

“The grid had 100 years to get it right. It had its day,” said Kristina Skierka, Power for All’s campaign director and a co-author of the report. Rather than rely on a single, overburdened government agency and utility to extend the electricity grid to rural areas, Skierka said that distributed renewable energy catalyzes the interests of many different renewable energy companies and consumers.

Capturing the promise of distributed renewables will require important policy changes.  “We need policy to catch up with the technology,” said Skierka. The report, which was written with policymakers as the target audience, outlines five key policies that should be pursued to dramatically accelerate growth of distributed renewables. They are:

  • A reduction of the import duties and tariffs that are often levied on renewable energy products
  • Expansion of local finance through loans, grants and microfinance
  • The establishment of either energy access targets or national electrification commitments
  • The inclusion of distributed renewables into rural electrification plans and programs
  • The adoption of quality standards for products and services, and technical regulation of mini-grid operators using established licensing procedures

Such policy changes can only benefit the expansion of solar energy installations around the world.  Greentech Media maintains that “the concentration of global solar demand is more pronounced than at any time in the industry’s last seven years, such that the top four markets (China, the United States, India and Japan) are expected to account for 73 percent of total installations in 2017. Driven in large part by a new wave of installations in China, India’s market doubling in size, and falling power purchase agreements (PPA) prices, global solar PV installations will grow more than 9 percent in 2017, reaching 85 gigawatts.
Solar energy is on the move.  It’s time for policy makers and utility companies to catch up.