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Accessible energy for rural communities without electricity

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Rural electrification projet of ISOFOTON in Morocco

By José Jaime de Domingo, Director, International Cooperation, ISOFOTON

ISOFOTON contributed to the elaboration of the Renewables Global Status Report 2013, recently published by REN 21

I recently had the opportunity to participate in the Renewables Global Status Report (the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century), bringing to the table my experience and Isofoton’s background in rural electrification for more than 30 years in 60 countries around the world.

I do think that rural electrification has significantly changed in the last years: Rural use of renewable electricity has increased with greater affordability, improved knowledge about local renewable resources, and more sophisticated technology applications. Improved technology is reducing prices of renewable energy through rural electrification so that electricity is increasingly affordable.

Moreover, the development of mini grids is also generating an understandable interest because they not only ensure the supply of electricity but mean that the systems and jobs generated are increasingly self-sustainable.

According to the report, renewable energy is key to achieving progress in bringing electricity to rural communities that do not have access to the electricity grid, enabling them to improve their living conditions and expectations. Therefore, multilateral and international institutions such as the World Bank and the European Commission have helped instil and promote the idea of renewable sources of energy as an indispensable means for rural development.

The idea has entered the political agenda in countries such as Brazil, China, India, South Africa, Peru, etc., where governments have begun ambitious plans to implement these rural electrification systems through renewable energy.

In addition, the last two decades have seen increasing private sector involvement in deployment of renewable in remote and rural areas, spurred by new business models and increasing recognition that low-income customers can offer fast-growing markets.

Rural electrification as a catalyst of progress

Extreme poverty is concentrated mainly in the rural world of the least developed countries.

The greatest problem faced in the rural world is isolation. The lack of connectivity of infrastructures and the absence of services increases the perception of isolation and political and administrative distancing from centres of power; in other words, it leads to the feeling of “not belonging” to the society that aims to include them.

Exit from poverty is conditioned on the level of access to opportunities, education, health, justice, infrastructures, energy, etc., under the umbrella of good governance. Access to these rights stimulates entrepreneurship and generates income.

There is a universal consensus that access to energy is essential for human development, the eradication of poverty, and the achievement of the Millennium Goals.

Today one cannot imagine a decent life without the use of modern forms of energy. Electricity is a key element for welfare and the development of peoples, as it means that they can work efficiently, compete under equal conditions in the market and access information via the Internet.

The use of sources of renewable energy by systems isolated from the main grid, whether through individual systems or mini grids, provides operative and real solutions for supplying electricity to isolated rural areas. The choice of most appropriate technology is closely linked to specific local conditions, but there are grounds for considering that photovoltaic energy provides the best performance, both because the solar resource exists across the whole planet, and because of the technological progress that has been made, which allows electrical energy to be supplied at competitive prices.


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Auditing suppliers: PV European firms foster their quality through their providers

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ISOFOTON new polycrystalline module

Photovoltaic industry is increasingly raising its quality standards and demanding a higher product`s quality level. In order to improve quality processes and products, leading European manufacturers have started auditing their suppliers during the last years. In order to produce a top of the end quality module, they want to control the quality of raw materials used by their suppliers, and the manufacturing process and product design.

To audit their suppliers, European manufacturers check the module encapsulant, backsheet, cells, junction box and connectors, among others. These indicators will confirm the module`s performance, efficiency or degradation level.

A partnership to reach excellence

Auditing is a key tool in addition to international quality certifications and manufacturer/supplier agreements to ensure minimum product quality standards. It is a step further to ensure, “first-hand”, the quality of raw materials used in the manufacturing process and the methodology and controls within it. Through this process, all criteria involved in manufacturing process can be verified and controlled.

Moreover, the auditing process creates a “true” partnership between the European manufacturing firm and its supplier: all players in the value chain work together to develop the best-in-class product to the final client. Both manufacturer and supplier assess de process and can raise product and process suggestions and improvements in both directions. They share their expertise and work together on a more reliable and efficient final product.

This win-win relationship also contributes to the improvement of the client needs understanding: through this auditing process, the manufacturer assesses if it’s appropriate to develop a new product to satisfy new needs.

In Europe, German firms, followed closely by Spanish, are the leading companies to implement auditing process with their suppliers, mainly because of their industrial tradition and expertise on PV industry. For instance, ISOFOTON develops regular audit to its suppliers, an activity that the company launched more than 3 years ago.


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Isofoton contribution to Latin America Bloomberg Paper

DSC07171-2By Ángel Luis Serrano, President of Isofotón, and speaker at the Bloomberg Conference in Brazil

The renewable energy industry is currently dealing with major changes, including the emergence of Latin America as a key market. To respond to this, Bloomberg New Energy Finance created a new forum based in this region that gathered leading representatives from the public and private sector in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As a result, the White Paper “Wind&Solar. Latin America: the new frontier for competitive and plentiful renewable energy” was published in June 2013.

Ángel Luis Serrano, President of ISOFOTON, actively contributed to this paper, after leading the discussion at the forum solar panel as a speaker together with Tim Rebhor, Vice President of the North American First Solar. Among the paper conclusions:

LATAM: A great market for PV to explode

Solar industry is booming in emerging markets, which are experiencing strong economic growth and therefore expanding their energy needs. However, obstacles still remain, according to the Bloomberg White Paper.

First of all, Brazil still applies high import tariffs. These tariffs could serve as a driving force to promote local/international partnerships with manufacturing firms being run by international companies with R&D capacity and proved PV expertise. This would create win-win synergies between international firms, which would bring solar technology to Latina America, and local businesses, which would promote local/regional economic development.

From the investor`s side, the financing model of national development banks has to be reviewed in order to attract international investors and minimize political risks. As an example, multilateral development banks and private banks have already financed merchant solar projects in Mexico and Chile. According to the white paper conclusions, refinancing via stock markets is an efficient solution to be considered if it is related to a performing asset with a track record.

By markets, the document states the great potential of Mexico, Chile, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic. All have high electricity prices meaning little or no government support is necessary. In Mexico, particularly within the industrial sector, there is a need to reduce electricity costs. The situation in Chile is similar, but competition there among project developers is intense.

Diversity and dialogue: a step forward from subsidy- dependant policies

The solar industry has to find new solutions to overcome the great impact of the global financial turmoil, which has affected government subsidy policies. These new solutions have to improve efficiency and cost reduction through innovation, and a new business model that creates synergies with parts of the value chain that were previously untouched or under- exploited.

As well, considering general perception from the audience that attended the Bloomberg Forum in Rio, PV industry must continue its path of expansion, going beyond frontiers and policy constrains. This implies to look for international agreements.

There has to be taken into account that the way we use energy has essentially changed to a new decentralized energy model. In this sense, new solutions such as energy storage, smart grids, or energy efficient programs will be key to impulse renewables – particulary PV industry – in emerging markets.

Given this, the future of renewable energies will be built through financial soundness, diversity, international scope of work and consensus amongst both policy-makers and companies, beyond any frontiers.


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Las energías renovables como solución

Por Ángel Luis Serrano, Presidente de ISOFOTÓN

La experiencMUNICH 2012 © Daniel Roeseleria me ha llevado a pensar que, cuando una información interesa y beneficia a alguien, a fuerza de repetirse y por muy inexacta que sea, se convierte en una verdad universal.

He llegado al convencimiento, que el tan nombrado “Déficit de Tarifa” ya es algo que nadie entiende y para el que no se han planteado soluciones efectivas.

El Ministerio de Industria, en su intento por reducir el Déficit, aprueba decretos cortoplacistas poniendo parches y no identifica que el problema es de largo plazo para el que hace falta un Plan Energético de mayor calado.

El sector eléctrico se encarga de demonizar y culpabilizar a las renovables por su alto coste y olvida que los 40.000.-MW instalados desde 2007, la mayoría de ellos corresponde a decisiones de inversión en ciclos combinados que el sector eléctrico tomó libremente y que hoy la mayoría están parados con cargo al Déficit, mientras que las inversiones en renovables fueron planificadas por el Gobierno de turno.

En el Ministerio, alguien ha contado que las energías renovables son el problema cuando son la solución y por ello falla en el diagnóstico.

Medidas como, incentivar el uso de placas solares fotovoltaicas en tejados de los hogares harían bajar el recibo de la luz de los ciudadanos con este tipo de instalaciones, como lo están haciendo países como en Alemania, Francia, Italia, Japón, Reino Unido, USA o Brasil. El autoconsumo ahorra dinero en la generación, transporte y comercialización y además crea una reducción inmediata sobre el recibo de la luz del consumidor.

España ha sido líder mundial indiscutible en el desarrollo tecnológico de las energías renovables, y sin embargo la política de los diferentes Gobiernos sigue sin saber enfocar y capitalizar este esfuerzo en primas a las renovables, que fomentan el I+D y el empleo de calidad, para generar empleo y dinamizar el sector exportador. El Ministerio debería entender esta realidad en su doble condición de Industria y Energía. Sólo se percibirá un descenso tangible del desempleo si creamos un nuevo modelo económico para nuestro país que lo haga más eficiente. En este sentido, poner a la sociedad en contra de las energías renovables es un error que pagaremos caro.

Un descenso del consumo no incrementa el déficit tarifario

En inicio, pensaba que el Ministerio iba a bajar el coste energético de las industrias y el de los hogares, pero ha calado fuerte la idea de que un descenso del consumo implica un mayor aumento del Déficit. No se tiene en cuenta el hecho de que el consumo baja por las crisis e inclusive por utilizar los nuevos modelos de lavadoras y neveras, que ahorran en consumo. La realidad es que no se puede mantener un parque de generación de más de 100.000Mw cuando sólo se utilizan 50.000.-Mw con tecnologías amortizadas. La realidad es que no hay demanda para tanta oferta, las tecnologías que deben salir son las que ya están amortizadas.

Las medidas que se están llevando a cabo para control del Déficit de tarifa, lo único que consiguen es que todo el mundo este cabreado. Las empresas de renovables retirarán inversiones, los fondos de inversión extranjeros llenarán de demandas los juzgados con el correspondiente coste/imagen de España por las medidas retroactivas, a los ciudadanos no se les baja el recibo de luz, sino que se le aumenta…en fin, todo un disparate. Si alguien piensa que en 2017 la capacidad industrial volverá a funcionar como si no hubiera pasado nada, que no se nos olvide que el “dinero” tiene memoria y la imagen que estamos dando nos pasará factura.

Hasta que el Regulador no entienda que el sistema energético está cambiando, que las energías renovables deben continuar incorporándose al mix energético con un peso cada vez mayor frente a las convencionales, que las empresas eléctricas deben cambiar su modelo de negocio y que el uso de la energía por parte del ciudadano ha cambiado…hasta ese momento El Problema del Déficit seguirá entre nosotros e interesará seguir contando historias, aunque sean inciertas.


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Germany & solar power storage systems: a pioneer proposal to support a self-suply energy model

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Following the latest trends at the recent Intersolar tradeshow held in Munich at the end of June, one has captivated PV industry`s attention: the new German regulation that effectively contributes to support the solar power storage systems.

To confirm this trend, more than 200 exhibitors presented at Intersolar Europe their storage and smart grid solutions, including renowned European global firms. For the first time, energy storage systems had their own dedicated exhibition segment in a global fair, and Intersolar Europe became the largest platform for the combination of photovoltaics and energy storage systems worldwide. Intersolar Europe, attended by around 50,000 visitors from 47 different countries, is the world’s largest exhibition for the solar industry.

Energy storage, together with PV global growth strategies, were the key topics discussed at the conferences that were held at Intersolar to discuss the latest PV industry trends.

But, why did solar power storage systems became the latest trend at Intersolar Europe 2013? Regulation is the answer.

A new law to impulse self supply energy model

Germany approved – on May 2013- a regulation that supports the development of this new system through the German development bank KfW Group, putting aside 25 million€ for its development in 2013. This bank provides a 600€/KW grant for the new PV systems and 660€/KW grant for older systems. To be qualified for those grants, the PV system has to be located in Germany and it has to be used at least for 5 years. No more than 60% of the installed power can be fed to the grid. Batteries include a 5 year warranty.

According to research published by IMS Research, this storage market is projected to be worth $19 billion in 2017, mainly driven by the German subsidy and supported by owners of residential PV systems and operators of small solar PV systems up to 10 kWp – As a whole, photovoltaic storage installations will, on average, experience an annual growth over 100% for the next five years, up to nearly 7 GW and 40GW of battery systems by 2033.

Germany will undoubtedly lead this market, likely to account for nearly 70% of all storage installed in residential photovoltaic systems in 2013, reads the IMS Research report. In order to maximize the financial return of the system, self- consumption on PV residential systems should be promoted.

Definitely, solar power storage is a pioneer alternative to propel the photovoltaic business at short term, but also a measure that encourages energy independence and self- consumption.