In the Developing World, Solar Is Cheaper than Fossil Fuels  

Posted by Big Gav in

Technology Review has an article about the developing world leap-frogging straight to solar power in the absence of reliable grids - In the Developing World, Solar Is Cheaper than Fossil Fuels.

The falling cost of LED lighting, batteries, and solar panels, together with innovative business plans, are allowing millions of households in Africa and elsewhere to switch from crude kerosene lamps to cleaner and safer electric lighting. For many, this offers a means to charge their mobile phones, which are becoming ubiquitous in Africa, instead of having to rent a charger.

Technology advances are opening up a huge new market for solar power: the approximately 1.3 billion people around the world who don't have access to grid electricity. Even though they are typically very poor, these people have to pay far more for lighting than people in rich countries because they use inefficient kerosene lamps. While in most parts of the world solar power typically costs far more than electricity from conventional power plants—especially when including battery costs—for some people, solar power makes economic sense because it costs half as much as lighting with kerosene.

Hundreds of companies are swooping in to grab a piece of this market.

"This sector has exploded," says Richenda Van Leeuwen, senior director for the Energy and Climate team at the United Nations Foundation. "There's been a sea change in the last five years."

The sudden interest is fueled by the advent of relatively low-cost LEDs, she says. Not long ago, powering lightbulbs required a solar panel that could generate 20 to 30 watts, since only incandescent lightbulbs were affordable. LEDs are far more efficient. Now people can have bright lighting using a panel that only generates a couple of watts of power, Van Leeuwen says.

But such technological improvements aren't quite enough to open up the market. High-quality LED systems, with a pair of lamps and enough battery storage for several hours of lighting, cost less than $50. The systems can pay for themselves in less than two years, but the upfront cost is still too steep for many people.


Solar is great especially for developing countries since they don't need massive infrastructure improvements. You can be an independent village secluded from the majority of the population, and still have electricity thanks to solar cells. That's not possible with fossil fuels. The wonderful thing is that since renewables are getting more and more traction, you see more companies getting into it, which eventually becomes an advantage to the consumer since the price goes down. I hope the positive trend with renewables continues.

Juan Miguel Ruiz

Bob Wallace   says 11:21 AM

Create a cheap and long lasting storage system and solar will take off at breakneck speeds in the developing world,

Just imagine an affordable ultracapacitor which would have hundreds of thousands of duty cycles. Perhaps it might take someone ten years to pay it off with kerosene savings, but after that it could be used for generation.

This might be a place for very deep pocket people/organizations to make a significant difference. Create the market to build up production volume and bring down costs,

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