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Social Innovation

Energy in the developing world

History tells us that developed countries have led the world in innovation; from the Industrial Revolution’s roots in Britain to the Information Age rising from Silicon Valley which have life as we know it possible. There’s a lingering misperception that developing countries are followers rather than leaders when it comes to technological development. Until now.

There’s a lingering misperception that developing countries are followers rather than leaders when it comes to technological development. Until now.

According to a survey by Pew Research Centre, as a global population the threat that worries us most is climate change. And this time, it is “developing” countries tackling the challenge head on and paving the way towards a more sustainable future. In just the last five years, clean energy capacity in developing countries has more than doubled. This is only just the beginning; did you know that by 2020 nearly half of the world’s total electricity is expected to be produced in developing countries?

How are they able to do this? In a surprising twist of fate, the fact that developing countries don’t have old and clunky grid systems already in place is working to their advantage. A McKinsey study pointed out that given 70-80% of India is yet to be built, the country has a unique opportunity to pursue its own urban development from scratch. Picture rural communities evolving into modern cities, bringing electricity to homes for the first time.

The connected homes and smart cities that seem like a far off possibility for rich western nations, will likely become a reality for developing nations far sooner. In 2016 an annual study of developing markets’ grids revealed that 50 developing market countries will cumulatively invest $226 billion in smart grids over the next decade. Brazil alone is planning to invest $36 billion in its smart grid and has announced a goal to replace 63 million energy readers with smart readers by 2023.

We now live in an era where technology such as smart grids are so intelligent they can communicate with buildings. Smart grids, which are wholly compatible with renewable energy infrastructure, enable buildings and grids to match supply of energy accurately with demand. This saves huge amounts of energy (and money too!).

In the near-term, technological advances are also offering off-grid solutions. In India, fuel cell company Intelligent Energy is replacing diesel backup generators with highly efficient, low carbon hydrogen fuel cell telecom towers. Fifty five  tons of carbon dioxide emissions were saved in the first three months of a project involving 27,000 telecom towers. For a country that in 2012 suffered the largest blackout in history with a grid crash that affected 670 million people, this technology provides a much-needed solution.

Developing countries are taking advantage of this unprecedented opportunity to leapfrog countries that have been industrialised for far longer and deploy smart technology to distribute their clean energy. In an ironic paradigm shift which is turning the world on its head and shaking up energy markets, developing regions will probably reach their sustainable energy futures before the rest of the world.