NEW YORK - Developing countries could install hundreds of thousands of megawatts of renewable energy capacity and help relieve poverty and volatile oil bills in those nations, UN officials said on Thursday.
The Solar and Wind Energy Resource Assessment (SWERA), a group of 25 global institutions organized by the UN's Environment program, found renewable wind and solar power potential in 13 developing nations in Africa, Asia, and South and Central America.
Industrialized nations such as Germany and Japan are currently the leading developers of solar and wind power.
But the potential wind and solar power in developing nations is much bigger than the roughly 50,000 MW of total installed power from those sources in the entire world, according to SWERA. The installed total is about enough to power 50 million average American homes on windy days.
China alone has the potential for more than 100,000 MWs of renewable power, while Brazil also has large amounts, according to the SWERA study. Small countries also have surprising potential.
Sri Lanka has a wind power potential of 26,000 MW, which is 10 times the country's installed electricity capacity. And windy Lake Nicaragua gives that tiny Central American country 20,000 MWs of potential renewable power, said Tom Hamlin, SWERA's project manager.
The benefits for each country differ. "If you look at China and Brazil they're going to be manufacturing the (renewable) plants and there are big economic benefits in that," said Hamlin. "And there are broad economic benefits for the smaller countries," he said. "Instead of always importing petroleum they would have domestic resources so they would save on the costs and risks of having petroleum prices fluctuate wildly."
Participating organizations in SWERA include the US Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Ministry of Energy in Nicaragua and Ethiopian Rural Energy Development Center.
Each of the developing nations will take SWERA's data and report back how much of the potential space could actually be turned into usable area for renewable energy. The individual reports, which are due by the end of the year, are likely show slightly less renewable power potential, said Hamlin.