By Simon Rolland, Secretary-General of the Alliance for Rural Electrification
The 1st International Off-Grid Renewable Energy Conference and Exhibition (IOREC) was held in Ghana and established the first major conference and trade fair focused exclusively on the off-grid renewable energy sector in developing countries. From the 31st October to the 2nd November, over 300 participants shared one objective: push for an accelerated development of a sustainable and commercially-viable off-grid energy market in the regions that need it most.
Jointly organised by the Alliance for Rural Electrification (ARE), the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the ECOWAS Regional Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ECREEE), it was an official contribution to the UN Sustainable Energy for All Initiative.
Policy and regulation
During the opening ceremony, Frank Wouters, Deputy Director-General of IRENA, and Ernesto Macias, President of ARE, reiterated how constant innovation in the field, rapid growth of the market and economies of scale have led to a drop in the prices of the systems’ components. Renewable energies have become commercially more viable than fuel powered systems and nowhere has this had a bigger impact than in remote areas of developing countries.
Dipal Chandra Barua, Co-founder of Grameen Bank, highlighted how the transitioning from a fossil fuel-based economy to a greener energy sector via off-grid systems will not only contribute to poverty alleviation and reduce environmental degradation, but will also ensure the creation of green jobs in remote areas.
Other speakers also stressed how the establishment of policies focused on off-grid renewables will be key to create sustainable markets, as will be the setting of concrete and reachable sustainable electricity-access targets, and the creation of institutions and bodies dedicated to the sector.
Philip Mann, of the Africa-EU Renewable Energy Cooperation Programme, pointed out another essential step: power sector reforms. These reforms are increasingly focussing on re-regulation rather than on the classical de-regulation, since there is the need for a legal framework. Alassane Agalassou, Director of Rural Electrification at AMADER Mali, also spoke about developing reflective tariffs, smart subsidies and incentives to consolidate the off-grid renewable energy market. It is also important that donors and the banking sector jointly develop long-term low interest loans.
The role of innovation and reliability
During the Conference’s 2nd day, speakers agreed on the necessity to develop feasibility studies that assess the potential of several energy sources to continue the growing trend towards hybridisation of the generation and storage systems, and ensure a reliable capacity with 100% renewable energy-powered systems.
As stated by Brisa Ortiz of Fraunhofer ISE and Michael Wollny of SMA, to ensure economies of scale the systems are also increasingly moving towards full automation and the serialisation of its production. Benoît Connes of Phaesun also emphasised the need for all systems to include a monitoring system to ensure components longevity and their adaptation to the demand, essential in often isolated areas.
For the first time in the sector’s history, off-grid renewables had an international event exclusively dedicated to its development and challenges when applied in developing countries. IOREC was a unique initiative that brought together the main actors in the off-grid movement and increased collaboration among them.
Most participants already arrived in Accra believing that including off-grid renewables to the mix of energy-solutions is the only way to universal access to electricity. However, they left with something more: useful contacts, best practices, and the belief that these technologies are on the verge of having a serious impact in the world.