Renewable Energy Emerging Markets Conference
From The San Francisco Chronicle
The renewable power boom sweeping much of the world has barely touched Africa, South America and the Caribbean.
Windmills are sprouting across the American plains, while solar panels spread over rooftops in China. But they”re rare in places like Mozambique and Guatemala, which haven”t had the money to afford them or the infrastructure to support them.
A new, annual conference that began Tuesday in San Francisco plans to change that.
The Renewable Energy in Emerging Markets conference brought together representatives of 35 countries to explore delivering solar, wind, hydropower and alternative fuels to their people. The delegates met with American government officials and discussed ways to finance renewable power projects during the global recession.
On Monday, before the conference started, they toured a Solano County wind farm, an Oakland biodiesel refinery and a San Anselmo school powered by the sun, meeting local green tech entrepreneurs in the process.
“We”re bringing California technology to the emerging markets,” said organizer Richard Soyombo, a native of Nigeria who heads the Bay Area Center for International Trade Development. His organization, based at San Bruno”s Skyline College, helps local firms do business abroad.
“It”s a trade mission,” he said. “Instead of going there, we”re bringing other countries here.”
Some of the conference delegates came from developed countries that have dabbled in renewable power and want to attract more investment. Others represent countries where many rural villages still don”t have electricity.
Jaime Himede, vice minister for Mozambique”s ministry of energy, said his country”s electrical grid only reaches 14 percent of the population. He sees renewable energy as a way to bring power to the countryside without having to extend the grid to every single village. The process has already begun.
“It”s mainly social projects – we install solar in communities that are not seen to connect to the national grid in the near future,” Himede said, speaking through a translator.
The conference also made clear why renewable power hasn”t exploded in many countries: It”s still too costly, even though prices are falling.
“Solar and wind are expensive,” said Federico Franco Cordon, Guatemala”s vice minister for energy and mines. “We can get hydroelectric energy. We have a lot of rivers. But the others, solar and wind, we can develop if the price comes down a bit.”
In addition, many countries in Africa, South America and the Caribbean don”t have policies in place to encourage renewable power or haven”t implemented the policies they”ve approved. Their workers may lack the training needed to build and maintain wind and solar farms.
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