The markets for rural energy access and internet connectivity are ripe for disruption – and increasingly, we’re seeing benefit from combining the offerings.
 
Traditionally, power and broadband industries have been dominated by large incumbent operators, often involving a state-owned enterprise. Today, new business models are emerging, breaking market barriers to jointly provide energy access and broadband connectivity to consumers.
 
As highlighted in the World Development Report 2016, access to internet has the potential to boost growth, expand economic opportunities, and improve service delivery. The digital economy is growing at 10% a year—significantly faster than the global economy as a whole. Growth in the digital economy is even higher in developing markets: 15 to 25% per year (Boston Consulting Group).
 
To make sure everyone benefits, coverage needs to be extended to the roughly four billion people that still lack access to the internet. In a testing phase, Facebook has experimented with flying drones and Google has released balloons to provide internet to remote populations.
 
But as cool as they might sound, these innovations do nothing for the one billion people who still live off the grid… and don’t have access to the electricity you need to use the internet in the first place! The findings of the Internet Inclusion Summit panel which the World Bank joined recently put this nicely: “without electricity, internet is only a black hole”.
 
That’s why efforts to expand electricity and broadband access should go hand in hand: close coordination between the energy and ICT sectors is probably one of the most efficient and sensible ways of making sure rural populations in low-income countries can reap the benefits of digital development. This thinking is also reflected in a new generation of disruptive telecom infrastructure projects.

The challenge? People who lack both electricity and internet are often overlooked by traditional operators because they are typically considered either too remote or too poor. Several smaller players are now stepping in to serve these neglected segments of the market and challenge the way internet and electricity are delivered.
 
The classification of these firms is often complex. Some see themselves as electricity service providers or innovative telecom companies, while others are best described as durable goods retailers or financial service firms. As diverse as they may be, these companies share a common inclination to do business differently and leverage technological innovation.
 
In rural Africa, some of these innovative service providers are working to increase wireless networks by combining solar panels with cell towers to provide internet connectivity. In the same vein, a Kenyan startup has developed shock-resistant WiFi access points that can be powered with small solar systems. Using a different model, a company in Sub-Saharan Africa plans to offer a new type of satellite-based wifi, a change in technology that reduces the electricity requirement. For remote communities, bundling a public wifi access point with a solar and battery mini-grid is another affordable option.
 
In addition to offering electricity in a new way, Distributed Energy Service Companies (DESCOs) have started bundling pay-as-you-go solar electricity and mobile or wifi services. For example, Fenix International and Lumos, have partnered with MTN, Africa’s largest mobile telecommunications company, to integrate mobile money systems and financial platforms that allow customers to rent-to-own solar home systems and pay for electricity through a mobile phone. With Lumos selling their systems at MTN kiosks as MTN services, the two industries combine customer experiences and after sales services. In the same spirit, some solar companies are starting to offer low-cost smart phones as part of their offering.
 
Beyond the obvious benefits, there are also many challenges when considering synergies between connectivity and power infrastructure.
 
One of them is competing policy objectives. In Niger, for instance, energy availability in rural areas is often lower than mobile connectivity, therefore energy and broadband providers may want to prioritize different areas when looking to expand their services. The Mobile for Utilities team at GSMA are playing an important role here, disseminating good practices, policy advice, and market analytics. A recent publication from USAID also offered valuable insights on how to remove market barriers for disruptive start-ups.
 
Better harmonization between internet providers and power companies will go a long way in addressing the rising demand for high-speed internet and reliable electricity. With support from the Digital Development Partnership, our team is working with ICT and energy experts across the World Bank Group to support these disruptive business models, including those that bundle energy and internet access.

The Digital Development Partnership (DDP) is a platform for digital innovation and development financing and brings public and private sector partners together to catalyze support to developing countries in the implementation of digital development strategies and plans.

Also available in: French

Energy storage is a crucial tool for enabling the effective integration of renewable energy and unlocking the benefits of the local generation of clean resilient energy supply. Photo credits: IFC


For over a hundred years, electrical grids have been built with the assumption that electricity has to be generated, transmitted, distributed, and used in real time because energy storage was not economically feasible.
This is now beginning to change.

This is good news, not only because of the over 1 billion people worldwide who continue to live without access to electricity, but also because of the enormous contribution energy storage can make to greater supply and use of clean energy.
 
As clean energy generation becomes more mainstream around the world, its variability and supply fluctuation begin to impact the electricity systems for which energy storage is a key factor. Storage can help even out spikes and dips in solar and wind resource availability and enable energy distribution to be shifted from the time of generation to the time of peak demand. There is no well-defined threshold level of renewable energy supply needed to ensure non-stop supply but in most cases, grid systems operators begin to invest in storage when 10 percent of their overall supply comes through renewable sources of wind and solar.
 
Over more than a decade, energy storage system vendors and battery manufacturers have been perfecting large-scale battery technology by extending its life cycle, toughening it to harsh environments, evolving management systems and, most importantly, continually driving down the cost. The industry has now reached a pivotal moment, with large storage systems becoming more competitive with other grid assets from a business perspective. The technology has been proven in the markets of North America and Europe, with several vendors offering competing technologies and solutions. What’s more, the capacity for installation and operation already exists. Back-of-the-envelope calculations show more and more cases of clean energy becoming viable in an ever-increasing number of markets. We can see that stationary storage has clearly begun its evolution from a niche solution to a mainstream grid asset. Nonetheless, as with solar, there is a time lag between achieving viability and mainstreaming storage with commercial partners.

According to a recent study commissioned by IFC, the World Bank’s ESMAP and the US Department of Energy, , up from today’s capacity of 5 GW, resulting in about 80 gigawatts of new storage capacity. This will open up new markets and offer tremendous opportunities.
 
, leading to economies of scale. It has been tracking the storage market over several years and continues to support energy storage deployment in emerging markets.

To date, we have engaged by means of early-stage venture capital investments, helping to prepare the market for mainstream investments. Some of our noteworthy investments included Microvast, a China-based manufacturer of especially fast-charging lithium-ion batteries; Fluidic Energy, a manufacturer of zinc-air batteries used to power telecom towers; and AST, from India, which deploys photovoltaic (PV) solar plus batteries to power telecom towers.
 
While we have observed a remarkable transformation of the market in the last couple of years, with energy storage growing to become part of the mainstream power sector in emerging markets, challenges remain for taking this to scale. Financing appears to be the most pressing of these challenges. Although energy storage costs are expected to continue decreasing in the years to come, their current levels remain relatively high, enough to restrict access to affordable financing across emerging markets. Innovative investment mechanisms, in coordination with improved industry standards and stronger government support, will be needed to unlock the transformative potential of energy storage.

. Supporting energy storage technology is a strategic focus as a means of extending the reach and uses of renewable energy beyond intermittent power. Energy storage will be a key third component in IFC’s clean energy asset mix, in addition to generation and efficiency. The World Bank Group’s Scaling Solar program, which has made it easier and faster to procure solar PV in emerging markets, may be extended to energy storage once costs fall further. Storage technology is well-suited for a similar standardized procurement approach.
 
Our commitment to stepping up as an advisor, investor, and partner in this important sector has never been stronger.

Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy

August 9, 2017

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Home » Solar Power Does What? 4 Unusual Uses of Photovoltaic Technology

It’s becoming more common to find solar panels on rooftops, but that’s just one of thousands of places where they are generating power. As costs drop and energy production rises, we expect to see many more places where solar technologies are put to work—providing unleashed, inexpensive electricity.

Here are four unusual places where solar technologies are being used today:

Windows that incorporate photovoltaic cells are being developed by SunShot awardee Next Energy Technologies to increase the energy efficiency of commercial buildings. 

Paul Wellman/Next Energy Technologies

Solar Windows

New solar electric window technologies allow visible light to shine through glass panels while simultaneously collecting the invisible rays contained in sunlight and transforming them into electricity. These applications are still exploratory, but one company is working with SunShot to make the technology practical across large sheets of glass, so the windows of commercial buildings can serve dual purposes.

This ARCO Solar Sunroof was marketed to vehicle manufacturers and aftermarket suppliers in the 1980s as a way to optimize air conditioner capacity. 

ARCO Solar

Solar-Powered Car Surfaces

While there are solar-powered charging stations for electric vehicles in numerous U.S. cities, solar technology is making its way directly into the body of some cars. The 2010 Toyota Prius featured a solar panel on its roof, but the generated electricity only helped to power the car’s climate control system. An updated version of the same car, now being manufactured in Japan, connects the solar panel directly to the car’s battery, increasing the efficiency and reliability of the electrical system. This is a far leap from the first semi-transparent solar sunroof technology developed in the 1980s that augmented the car’s ventilation.

Solar vaccine refrigeration has come a long way—much more efficient configurations are available that are easier to transport and also make ice. 

NESTE Advanced Power Systems

Vaccine Refrigerators

In developing countries, 24-hour electricity isn’t guaranteed, and in many cases, there is no electrical grid. In places with a grid, the infrastructure is often so poor that chronic power outages occur daily. Private companies have been manufacturing solar-powered vaccine refrigerators so healthcare workers in remote areas can administer critical medication to those who need it. This technology solution has been saving lives for more than four decades.

Sunlight can make streetlights function in the evening, and in some cities, internet-linked cameras and sensors already allow them to do even more. 

Robert Ashworth

Smart Solar Cities

Solar-powered streetlights are currently used all across urban areas. The sun charges a battery during the day so streetlights, now primarily utilizing light-emitting diodes (LEDs), can shine at night. Some cities, like San Diego, California, are using streetlights to optimize infrastructure. The Smart City San Diego Initiative is incorporating smart sensors into streetlights that have the ability to direct drivers to open parking spaces and help first responders during emergencies. Combining internet-linked sensors with solar powered streetlights saves both time and money.

Learn more about the SunShot Initiative’s photovoltaic research and development.

Photo of Charlie Gay, Solar Energy Technologies Office Director
Charlie Gay

Dr. Charlie Gay is the Solar Energy Technologies Office Director for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

What’s the difference between the installed capacity and electricity generation of energy sources?

It’s a good question and one that’s commonly misunderstood.

In the energy world, these two terms are often used to describe the growth of energy resources in the United States.

Take wind or solar, for example.

According to the EIA, around 1% of U.S. electricity generation came from solar energy in 2016.

NREL

There might be an article about wind making up 8% of all energy generation capacity. Or, that solar will make up 1% of electricity generation in a specific year.

So what’s the difference? Let’s break it down for you.

What is Capacity?

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) refers to capacity as the maximum output of electricity that a generator can produce under ideal conditions. Capacity levels are normally determined as a result of performance tests and allow utilities to project the maximum electricity load that a generator can support. Capacity is generally measured in megawatts or kilowatts.

Let’s look at an example.

According to EIA, wind turbines accounted for 8% of U.S. installed electricity generation “capacity,” as of December 2016. This means under ideal conditions, utilities would be able to supply 8% of the country’s electricity needs with wind power, but this won’t necessarily be the actual amount of electricity produced.

According to EIA, wind turbines accounted for 8% of U.S. installed electricity generation capacity as of December 2016.

NREL

What is Generation?

Electricity generation, on the other hand, refers to the amount of electricity that IS produced over a specific period of time. This is usually measured in kilowatt-hours, megawatt-hours, or terawatt-hours (1 terawatt equals 1 million megawatts). To understand the unit of megawatt-hours (MWh), consider a wind turbine with a capacity of 1.5 megawatts that is running at its maximum capacity for 2 hours. In this scenario, at the end of the second hour, the turbine would have generated 3 megawatt-hours of energy (i.e. 1.5 megawatts X 2 hours).

If the wind was not blowing strongly enough for the turbine to operate at its maximum capacity, and the same turbine was only producing 1 megawatt of power for 2 hours, the total energy generation would be 2 megawatt-hours (i.e. 1 megawatt X 2 hours). This simple thought exercise demonstrates how calculations of generation take into account the fact that not all generation sources are operating at their maximum capacity at all times, such as when the sun isn't shining or when the wind isn't blowing.

Where Can I Learn More?

The EIA has a roster of Frequently Asked Questions on electricity usage and every other energy topic under the sun.

Learn more about recent advancements in wind energy and solar energy.

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