Solar Power in Developing Countries: Key Facts

A Closer Look at the Current and Future Situation Regarding Solar Power in Developing Countries

By Robert Cathcart

Solar power is rapidly emerging as a promising source of clean energy in developing countries, where the need for electricity is high, and traditional energy sources may be limited, expensive or unreliable.

With 775 million people around the world lacking access to electricity, solar power offers an opportunity to bridge the energy gap and provide sustainable and reliable electricity to communities.

Recent advances in technology have led to a significant decrease in the cost of solar power – from more efficient PV panels to cost-effective battery storage. This is making it more accessible and affordable than ever before. Many governments, organizations, and private sector players are now actively investing in solar energy infrastructure.

In this article, we will explore how solar power is being utilized in developing countries. We also explore the impact it is having on the lives of people, the economy, and the environment.

Is solar helping in developing countries?

Access and reliability of power supply is a major issue in many developing countries. This is often referred to as ‘energy poverty’ and is considered a core blocker in improving the quality of life in these areas.

Many remote areas of developing countries are ‘off-grid’ and do not have access to a traditional power supply such as those generated via fossil fuels. Even those that are connected to the grid often have to deal with poor reliability due to maintenance issues and rising costs.

Renewable forms of energy such as solar power offer those in developing countries a cheap and reliable source of power. This can help the power industry and improve the overall quality of life. The widespread use of solar in developing countries can also protect the environment by replacing harmful fossil-fuel energy production methods.

Are international aid agencies installing solar?

Yes. International aid agencies are aware of the issues of power connectivity and reliability in developing countries. They have also identified solar power as a good option for overcoming these challenges.

In fact, several aid agencies, including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Bank, and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), have implemented solar energy projects in developing countries.

More recently, The African Development Bank Board approved a US$49.92 million fund to build a 30 MW Solar Photovoltaic Plant in Dekemhare. The goal of this project is to increase the capacity to supply clean and affordable electricity to the local area.

Who is leading the developing world in solar and what is it used for?

Several developing countries are leading the way when it comes to the adoption of solar power.

India has ambitious plans for renewable energy within the country. They aim to increase renewable capacity in the country to 500 GW by 2030, which will see them meeting half of their energy requirements from renewable sources. Solar is already playing a large part in this and is currently the biggest renewable energy source in the country with 48.55 GW of capacity.

Bangladesh is also a leader in the adoption of solar. However, this is primarily due to individual efforts to ensure energy reliability. The country is predicted to have some 6 million solar home systems installed.

Even though grid connectivity has improved in Bangladesh, the cost and reliability of energy still see a large percentage of homes relying on solar power.

Agriculture and solar in developing countries.

Agriculture is one area in developing countries that continues to benefit from solar power generation. This is primarily in three key areas including irrigation, cold storage and processing.

Solar-powered irrigation is especially beneficial in areas of water scarcity. Electrical systems driven by solar can help ensure maximum efficiency in water distribution, helping drastically increase yields where food supplies are at their lowest.

Solar is also helping to extend food life in developing countries by powering cold storage. This is especially beneficial in hot countries where food waste due to short shelf lives is at its highest. Similarly, solar-powered food processors such as dryers, collectors and concentrators are helping to increase agricultural efficiency and improve food supply.

Aeriel View of Solar Power in Developing Countries

Industry and solar in developing countries.

The potential for solar power to drive forward industry in developing countries is practically infinite. This is especially true in countries with high levels of solar radiation exposure.

For example, solar power opens up industrial possibilities in areas which are not connected to the grid. This can drive money into rural communities across the globe. Equally, solar power can be used to power the industry in grid-connected areas to supplement supply in more cost-effective and reliable ways.

Industries that require large volumes of hot water such as food processing and textile can benefit from high-efficiency water-heating solar panels.

Manufacturers of solar in developing countries.

It isn’t just the energy that is produced by solar panels that can be beneficial to developing countries. The design and manufacture of solar panel installations can also bring a revenue stream into these regions across the world.

There are already several large scales businesses in developing countries such as Tata Power Solar in India and M-KOPA Solar in Kenya that bring money into these areas and provide much-needed jobs.

Mining for materials in developing countries: Economic benefits vs environmental and social downsides

Although solar power brings many benefits to developing countries, the industry balances the good with the bad.

Many of the materials used for solar plant creation are mined in these countries. This creates local economies and generates jobs. However, working conditions can be poor and mining processes can be highly harmful to the environment.

For solar to become a sustainable industry in these countries better practices must be established, both in terms of working environments and in mitigating the negative impacts on the environment.

Solar Power in Developing Countries: Summary

It is clear that solar panels are and will continue to play a major role in developing countries. The benefits of solar panel use in these areas are huge, helping provide much-needed power in remote areas and bridging the gap in areas which suffer from poor power grid reliability.

About the Author

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Robert Cathcart is Yorkshire based renewable energy researcher, copywriter and blogger. With over 20 years experience in copywriting he has turned his attention to ecological issues and the green revolution. Specialising in Solar Power, Robert aims to inform, educate and inspire. He has also written for pv-magazine.