Around 100 experts from 25 countries discussed opportunities and challenges of solar energy use in emerging markets

On 6 and 7 November, experts for development cooperation and solar specialists from all around the world met in Frankfurt, Germany, for the Solar Energy Technology in Development Cooperation conference. The two-day event by experienced German conference organiser OTTI was held for the very first time and brought together about 100 participants from 25 different countries, who discussed the opportunities and the challenges of solar energy use in southern countries. The conference was a showcase for real-life examples and lessons learned from several implementation projects with different solar technologies, such as small off-grid photovoltaic solutions, solar drying systems, hot water preparation units and water treatment projects.

“We had an interesting mix of participants and excellent networking opportunities,” says Joscha Rosenbusch, member of the scientific committee and International Development Consultant at the BSW Solar. “Especially encouraging was the high number of specialists from Africa, one of the key future markets for solar technology.” The DeveloPPP.de Program of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), and the Austrian Development Agency (ADA) supported the conference as sponsors and by paying travel and participation costs for several of the international speakers.

In her opening speech, Dr. Tania Vorwerk, Deputy Director General of BMZ, stressed the importance of solar technology in developing cooperation. To her, it is key to achieve the goals of the global Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) Initiative in the fields of universal energy access, improved energy efficiency, and increased use of renewable energies.

An example of a promising case study on the successful implementation of solar thermal technology in southern Africa was the solar water heating plan for Namibia. The capacity of solar water heating increased almost tenfold between 2005 and 2008. “The more than 100,000 electric geysers in households are responsible for the peak in Namibia’s electricity demand,” explained Helvi Ileka, researcher from the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Institute of the Polytechnic of Namibia. As a result, utility NamPower plans to replace 20,000 geysers with solar water heaters as a demand-side measure. 

One key topic of the discussions was financing: Many renewable energy projects in emerging markets are too small for professional investors, but too capital-intensive for development cooperation, several speakers concluded. Another barrier to achieving a short solar payback period are subsidised electricity or fossil fuel prices. But in countries with non-subsidised diesel prices, solar electricity has already beaten electricity produced from diesel, as a case study on the Haitian market showed. There, a 83 kWp PV system on the roof of a children’s hospital has been operating as part of a diesel-generator grid since June 2013, and the 30 % solar share in electricity production has saved the hospital USD 40,000 over the first year. The project’s initiator, Willi Ernst, Head of the German Biohaus-Stiftung, said that solar electricity in regions with low import taxes and loan costs could already be offered at half the price of diesel-produced electricity.

“Together with stakeholders in development countries, we have to create financing instruments and training lessons to overcome the existing shortage of qualified professionals,” Werner Weiss, chairman of the conference and Managing Director of Austrian company AEE Intec, names one of the discussions’ key outcomes. 

The positive response from national and international participants shows the high interest in solar energy use in development cooperation, a topic which previously received little attention during solar energy conferences. The OTTI conference Solar Energy Technology in Development Cooperation will take place in 2016 again.