In the majority of the poorer countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, less than 25 percent of rural households have access to electricity, and only 5 percent of the rural population is connected to the electric power grid. Agriculture in these regions is therefore energy-limited. It is critical that cost-effective, clean, renewable energy sources replace the fuels that are currently used. Moreover, the climates in parts of the two regions make them good locations for certain types of renewable energy systems, such as solar power and microbe-based oil production.
Energy production technologies are listed as Tier II because, although they show great promise, additional research and development is needed to determine which approaches will be most feasible and effective in the two regions.
Tier II Technologies
Solar energy technologies
Solar energy technologies are advancing rapidly, are potentially scalable and inexpensive to operate, and would provide a source of off-the-grid energy for rural communities in the two regions. A wide variety of new semi-conductor materials are being explored that will reduce the cost and boost the efficiency of solar panels. In addition, these two regions are potentially ideal locations for novel solar thermal devices that use mirrors and lenses to concentrate heat from sunlight and convert it into mechanical and electrical energy.
Energy storage technology
The need to store energy produced by solar and other off-the-grid technologies presents a challenge. Batteries are made of toxic metals and chemicals and eventually lose their ability to be recharged. An alternative emerging method for energy storage is the supercapacitor, which operates through static energy, rather than chemical energy—making its ability to be recharged virtually limitless. Supercapacitors are expected to replace batteries in the future and could be used to store energy as well as to power rechargeable, small-scale mechanical devices used for agricultural production and processing.
Photosynthetic microbe-based biofuels
The warm and sunny regions of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia may be well suited to grow photosynthetic microbes, such as algae and cyanobacteria, that produce much larger quantities of biodiesel than palm oil, Jatropha (a leading biofuel crop native to central America), or soybean. These microbes also have simple input requirements and can grow in saline waters that are not suitable for agriculture or drinking.