Maps World's Best Solar and Wind Power Sites
April 19, 2005 - Thousands of megawatts of new renewable
energy potential in Africa, Asia, South, and Central
America have been discovered by a pioneering project
to map the solar and wind resource of 13 developing
The multi-million dollar project, called the Solar
and Wind Energy Resource Assessment (SWERA), is
proving that the potential for deploying solar panels
and wind turbines in these countries is far greater
than previously supposed.
First results from the project have been released
this week in Washington D.C. at an international meeting
of scientists and policy-makers organized by the United
Nations Environment Program (UNEP), which is coordinating
SWERA on behalf of more than 25 institutions around
"In developing countries all over the world we have
removed some of the uncertainty about the size and
intensity of the solar and wind resource," said Klaus
Toepfer, UNEP's executive director. "These countries
need greatly expanded energy services to help in the
fight against poverty and to power sustainable development.
SWERA offers them the technical and policy assistance
to capture the potential that renewable energy can
offer," he said.
Since its beginning in 2001 and with substantial support
from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the $9.3
million SWERA project has been developing a range
of new information tools to stimulate renewable energy
development, including detailed maps of wind and solar
"As energy planners seek cleaner energy solutions
using renewable energy technologies, the availability
of reliable, accurate and accessible solar and wind
energy information is critical and can significantly
accelerate the deployment of these technologies,"
He cited the case of California, where the availability
of good wind data greatly accelerated the development
of wind farms and a global wind industry. Likewise,
he said, SWERA's aim is to support informed decision-making,
develop energy policy based on science and technology,
and increase investor confidence in renewable energy
The SWERA team has assessed wind and solar energy
resources using a range of data from satellites and
ground-based instruments -- often with surprising
results. In Nicaragua, for example, SWERA assessments
of wind resources demonstrated a much greater potential
than the 200 megawatts (MW) estimated in the 1980s.
The results prompted the Nicaraguan National Assembly
to pass the Decree on Promotion of Wind Energy of
Nicaragua 2004 that gives wind generated electricity
"first dispatch," meaning it has the first priority
over other options when fed into electricity grids.
The U.S. Trade and Development Agency and the Inter-American
Development Bank have subsequently launched wind energy
feasibility studies in Nicaragua, and wind investment
projects are now advancing with 40 MW planned in two
projects and two more exploration licenses granted.
SWERA information is also providing solar resource
information for a range of cooperative efforts in
Nicaragua between groups such as the World Bank and
GEF for projects focused on rural electrification.
Six thousand (6000) solar PV systems, for example,
are being installed in World Bank and Inter-American
Development Bank rural electrification programs.
In Guatemala, wind estimates before SWERA were mostly
unknown, but is now estimated at 7000 megawatts, based
on SWERA products. The Guatemala Ministry of Energy
has established, with support from SWERA, the Center
for Renewable Energy and Investment within the Ministry
to carry out validation studies and identify sites
for wind energy development.
In Sri Lanka, the SWERA assessment found a land wind
power potential of about 26,000 MW representing more
than ten times the country's installed electrical
While an initial assessment in Ghana reveals more
than 2,000 MW of wind energy potential, mainly along
the border with Togo. In Africa, this is quite a significant
amount, as by some UNEP estimates, the continent needs
just 40,000 MW of electricity to power its industrialization.
SWERA's data collection and analysis network of international
and national agencies is also creating a global archive
of solar and wind energy resources and maps that is
available on CD-ROM or through the Web
site. Another important SWERA tool, the Geospatial
Toolkit, allows wind and solar maps to be combined
with electrical distribution grids and other information
to provide high quality information that supports
energy planning and policy development, while lowering
the risk for renewable energy project developers and
reducing project lead times.
Speaking from Washington D.C., Tom Hamlin, SWERA project
manager, said the project is now under evaluation
and will be seeking support to service requests from
renewable energy development programs in other developing
"SWERA has clearly demonstrated that the modest of
amounts needed to support renewable energy assessments
can significantly change the way countries pursue
their energy goals," he said.
The countries where SWERA has carried out surveys
to date are: Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Cuba, El Salvador,
Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, Kenya, Nepal,
Nicaragua, and Sri Lanka.
According to Toepfer, SWERA is a good example of international
cooperation that can produce a range of positive environmental
and social outcomes. "In the case of renewable energy,"
he concluded. "Knowledge is literally power."