Developing Country Renewables

Matthew Thornton
December 14, 2016

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2016


Fig. 1: An example of solar energy use in Senegal. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Currently, about 3 billion people globally rely on solid fuels for cooking, the entirety of which resides in developing nations. The emissions released not only contribute to global warming, but they also cause severe physical aliment on the individuals engaging in these energy practices. [1] Annually, almost two million people die from pneumonia, chronic lung disease, and lung cancer worldwide, all of which are associated with exposure to indoor air pollution stemming from the use of biomass and coal to cook. [1] In the past, there have been many crippling barriers that have made it exceedingly difficult for poor, developing nations to stray away from the use of biomass as energy and shift to using renewable sources of energy, that are more sustainable and less harmful to the environment. Though about 15 years ago most renewable energy sources were not cost competitive with these traditional energy practices, this is not the case today. [1] For that reason, we have begun to see substantial investment into sustainable energy practices by many developing nations. Overall, the energy outlook for these nations has markedly improved.

Key Statistics

Challenges in Poor Countries

Developing nations face many policy, regulatory and technical hurdles to successfully adopt renewable energy technologies. Furthermore, there is a lack of awareness, information and political vision or will, largely because these governments do not place the adequate energy and effort in the commitment to shifting from fossil fuels to renewables. [3] Often times, governments will allocate a majority of their budget to maintain and operate the existing power infrastructure and will allocate trivial amounts to fund long-term investments focused on more sustainable energy practices. [3] More specifically, there lacks trained installers and service craftsmen, along with national standards and test facilities needed to install renewable energy infrastructure. Finally, and of equal importance, the initial cost of financing has proven to be a substantial hurdle. [3] Investors are less willing to throw money towards the development of renewable energy as a result of the perceived investor risk that stems from political, regulatory and market stability uncertainties. [3] It is essential these problems are addressed.


Fortunately, renewable energy sources have become substantially more cost competitive over the course of the last 10 years. [4] For example, the use of solar power costs half as much as lighting with kerosene. Many developing nations have seen growth of solar PV systems as an alternative to traditional methods that may be more expensive. [4] Fig. 1 shows a specific example of solar cell deployment in Dakar. With the further improvement of technology, the costs of renewable energy will continue to be pushed down. For this reason, it is crucial developed nations continue to strive to advance the technology further. [4] Another crucial aspect to continue the increase of renewable energy use in developing nations is a focus on the institutions that govern these countries. [4] It is essential that developed nations step in and encourage the adoption of public policies that are needed for the widespread development of renewable energy technologies. [4] This will help these nations to install the necessary infrastructure needed to utilize renewable energy. Finally, it is essential these developed nations also help through establishing transparent, consistent long-term renewable energy targets and regulatory framework. [4]


There is good reason to feel positive about what lies ahead for energy generation in developing countries. This past year marked the first time ever that investment in renewable energy was actually higher in the world's poorest, developing countries. As mentioned above, renewable energy has become a more cost effective method to obtain energy, which will help lower the carbon footprint of these developing nations while it will also help limit the number of indoor air pollution associated deaths. We have seen more wealthy developing nations such as China take a lead in employing renewables in an effort to reduce their carbon footprint. Looking forward, it will be essential that this shift from traditional energy practices occur in poor developing countries, to ensure planet Earth's temperature increases substantially less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

© Matt Thornton. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] D. Holm and D. Arch, "Renewable Energy Future for the Developing World," International Solar Energy Society, 2005.

[2] "BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2015," British Petroleum, June 2015.

[3] G. Legros et al., "The Energy Access Situation in Developing Countries," World Health Organization, November 2009.

[4] P. S. Nivola and M. Suzuki, "Addressing Key Issues In Technology Innovation And Transfer Of Clean Energy Technologies: A Focus On Enhancing The Enabling Environment In The Developing Countries," Environ. Econ. Pol. Stud. 16, 157 (2014).