Monthly Archives: March 2014

Ex govt adviser: “global market shock” from “oil crash” could hit in 2015

In a new book, former oil geologist and government adviser on renewable energy, Dr. Jeremy Leggett, identifies five “global systemic risks directly connected to energy” which, he says, together “threaten capital markets and hence the global economy” in a way that could trigger a global crash sometime between 2015 and 2020.

According to Leggett, a wide range of experts and insiders “from diverse sectors spanning academia, industry, the military and the oil industry itself, including until recently the International Energy Agency or, at least, key individuals or factions therein” are expecting an oil crunch “within a few years,” most likely “within a window from 2015 to 2020.”

Interconnected risks

Despite its serious tone, The Energy of Nations: Risk Blindness and the Road to Renaissance, published by the reputable academic publisher Routledge, makes a compelling and ultimately hopeful case for the prospects of transitioning to a clean energy system in tandem with a new form of sustainable prosperity.

The five risks he highlights cut across oil depletion, carbon emissions, carbon assets, shale gas, and the financial sector:

“A market shock involving any one these would be capable of triggering a tsunami of economic and social problems, and, of course, there is no law of economics that says only one can hit at one time.”

At the heart of these risks, Leggett argues, is our dependence on increasingly expensive fossil fuel resources. His wide-ranging analysis pinpoints the possibility of a global oil supply crunch as early as 2015. “Growing numbers of people in and around the oil industry”, he says, privately consider such a forecast to be plausible. “If we are correct, and nothing is done to soften the landing, the twenty-first century is almost certainly heading for an early depression.”

Leggett also highlights the risk of parallel developments in the financial sector:

Growing numbers of financial experts are warning that failure to rein in the financial sector in the aftermath of the financial crash of 2008 makes a second crash almost inevitable.”

A frequent Guardian contributor, Leggett has had a varied career spanning multiple disciplines. A geologist and former oil industry consultant for over a decade whose research on shale was funded by BP and Shell, he joined Greenpeace International in 1989 over concerns about climate change. As the organisation's science director he edited a landmark climate change report published by Oxford University Press.

Industry's bad bet

Leggett points to an expanding body of evidence that what he calls “the incumbency” – “most of the oil and gas industries, their financiers, and their supporters and defenders in public service” – have deliberately exaggerated the quantity of fossil fuel reserves, and the industry's capacity to exploit them. He points to a leaked email from Shell's head of exploration to the CEO, Phil Watts, dated November 2003:

“I am becoming sick and tired of lying about the extent of our reserves issues and the downward revisions that need to be done because of far too aggressive/ optimistic bookings.”

Leggett reports that after admitting that Shell's reserves had been overstated by 20%, Watts still had to “revise them down a further three times.” The company is still reeling from the apparent failure of investments in the US shale gas boom. Last October the Financial Times reported that despite having invested “at least $24bn in so-called unconventional oil and gas in North America”, so far the bet “has yet to pay off.” With its upstream business struggling “to turn a profit”, Shell announced a “strategic review of its US shale portfolio after taking a $2.1bn impairment.” Shell's outgoing CEO Peter Voser admitted that the US shale bet was a big regret: “Unconventionals did not exactly play out as planned.”

Leggett thus remains highly sceptical that shale oil and gas will change the game. Despite “soaring drilling rates,” US tight oil production has lifted “only around a million barrels a day.” As global oil consumption is at around 90 milion barrels a day, with conventional crude depleting “by over four million barrels a day of capacity each year” according to International Energy Agency (IEA) data, tight oil additions “can hardly be material in the global picture.” He reaches a similar verdict for shale gas, which he notes “contributes well under 1% of US transport fuel.”

Even as Prime Minister David Cameron has just reiterated the government's commitment to prioritise shale, Leggett says:

“Shale-gas drilling has dropped off a cliff since 2009. It is only a matter of time now before US shale-gas production falls. This is not material to the timing of a global oil crisis.”

In an interview, he goes further, questioning the very existence of a real North American 'boom': “How it can be that there is a prolonged and sustainable shale boom when so much investment is being written off in America – $32 billion at the last count?”

It is a question that our government, says Leggett, is ignoring.

Crunch time

In his book, Leggett cites a letter he had obtained in 2004 written by the First Secretary for Energy and Environment in the British embassy in Washington, referring to a presentation on oil supply by the leading oil and gas consulting firm, PFC Energy (now owned by IHS, the US government contractor which also owns Cambridge Energy Research Associates). According to Leggett, the diplomat's letter to his colleagues in London reads as follows:

“The presentation drew some gasps from the assembled energy cognoscenti. They predict a peaking of global supply in the face of high demand by as early as 2015. This will lead to a more regionalised oil market, a key role for West African producers, and continued high and volatile prices.” More

 

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ESMAP Launches Online Renewable Energy Project Resource Center


ESMAP13 March 2014: In partnership with Energypedia, the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP) of the World Bank has developed the online 'Renewable Energy Project Resource Center' to provide documents that seek to facilitate the speeding-up and scaling-up of renewables projects in developing countries.


The Center aims to help project developers and governments increase their knowledge and reduce transaction costs by, for example, providing samples of key documents required to successfully run projects, but which are rarely made publicly available by those generating them.


The sample documents include: Terms of Reference (ToRs); procurement documents; surveys and questionnaires; economic and financial analyses; and case studies. These are tagged with the specific energy technologies they are designed for, the connection type, language and country. Partnering with Energypedia, an open, wiki-based platform, allows users to easily find the documents and add their own examples to the database. [ESMAP Press Release] [Renewable Energy Project Resource Center]


More: http://sids-l.iisd.org/news/esmap-launches-online-renewable-energy-project-resource-center/


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Solar Powered Reverse Osmosis in the Caribbean

Special Programme for Adaptation to Climate Change (SPACC) Implementation of Adaptation Measures in Coastal Zones

TECHNICAL NOTE 5C/SPACC-12-05-01 (15 May, 2012)

Implementation of adaptation measures to address the absence of fresh water and coastal vulnerabilities in Bequia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines

The Special Program for Adaptation to Climate Change (SPACC) pilot project “Implementation of adaptation measures to address the absence of fresh water and coastal vulnerabilities in Bequia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines”, was implemented in Bequia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines by the World Bank, acting as the implementing agency for the Global Environment Fund (GEF), and the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC), acting as the executing agency.

Background Bequia is the largest of the Grenadines islands, approximately 7 square miles in size, with a population of 4,874 (1991 census). Due to its size and geology, the island has no surface water and no known underground source. Approximately 30% of the island is covered with scrub vegetation of no market significance. The livelihood of the people of Bequia is tied to the surrounding coastal sea. Most natives are fisher folks or sailors. Given the absence of surface water and the calciferous nature of the soil, fresh water resource is a major issue for Bequia. Bequia’s need for water Bequia’s very limited water resources are being threatened by climate change. For people living in Bequia it is clear that dry spells are becoming unusually long, or that the pattern of the rainy season has changed. Water availability to key critical ecosystems is at greater risk as the limited water available is tapped or harvested by households due to the rain water supply systems that no longer meet their water needs. At present, there is no water distribution system in the island of Bequia. Each household has traditionally solved its water supply needs by building individual rain collection systems. It is indicated that up to 30% of the construction cost of a house in Bequia is allocated to the rain harvesting system.

The community and climate change

Of particular concern is the Paget Farms community (Figure 1) where the least wealthy population of the island lives. The entire community relies exclusively on rain water harvesting as the source of potable domestic water. In fact, many of the households in the Paget Farms community, the population targeted by this pilot, are equipped with underground storage that fill during the rainy season. The others utilize one or more glass reinforced plastic tanks that do not always satisfy their needs throughout the season and water supplies have sometimes had to be supplemented by purchase of water transported by barge from Kingstown. Current trends in precipitation confirm what Global Circulation Models predict: there are longer periods of drought, followed by shorter, more intense precipitation events. Moreover, sea level rise is threatening coastal aquifers through saline intrusion. Both factors are already threatening water supply stability for already stressed populations, which in turn Figure 1 : Paget Farm community in Bequia, with Fisheries Complex in the foreground leads to over-exploitation of aquifers and natural resources, endangering the fragile ecosystems and associated biodiversity.

The project: building a carbon neutral reverse osmosis desalination plant

The pilot project in Bequia was aimed at exploring an integrated, sustainable solution to face these challenges: the combination of a renewable, carbon-free energy generation source (photovoltaic system), with a reverse osmosis desalination plant whose input is inexhaustible sea water. The low-maintenance renewable energy source offsets the high energy demand of the plant by providing all the energy required plus some excess energy for the island, with the additional revenue generated covering operation and maintenance costs. This combination has been proven to be both technically and economically viable, and showcases a robust, sustainable approach to the issue, with a very strong replication potential elsewhere in the Caribbean, where similar zones are suffering similar stress. Download PDF

As the report above states that 'Current trends in precipitation confirm what Global Circulation Models predict: there are longer periods of drought, followed by shorter, more intense precipitation events. Moreover, sea level rise is threatening coastal aquifers through saline intrusion.', all Small Island Developing States (SIDS) should be implementing Plan B. A Plan B is necessary from the perspective of energy security. Should the geo-political situation in the Persian Gulf deteriorate the price of petroleum (oil) could rise dramatically making water unaffordable to residents of islands wholly dependant on fossil fuel produced electricity for their water production. The Cayman Islands has no Plan B. The response from the Water Authority, when questioned what their options were if the was a spike in the cost of diesel stated that they would have to raise their cost to the consumer. Editor

 

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Building the Electricity System of the Future: Thinking Disruption, Doing Solutions

The speed of disruptive innovation in the electricity sector has been outpacing regulatory and utility business model reform, which is why they now sometimes feel in conflict.

That disruptive innovation is only accelerating. RMI’s recent report,The Economics of Grid Defection: When and where distributed solar generation plus storage competes with traditional utility service, sets a timeline for utilities, regulators, and others to get ahead of the curve and shift from reactive to proactive approaches. Becoming proactive and deliberate about the electricity system's transformation, and doing so ahead of any fundamental shifts in customer economics, would enable us to optimize the grid and make distributed technologies the integral and valuable piece we believe they can and should be.

When RMI issued The Economics of Grid Defection three weeks ago, our intent was to stretch the conversation among electricity system stakeholders by looking out far enough in the future to discern a point where the rules of the system change in a fundamental way. We used the best available facts to explore when and where fully off-grid solar-plus-battery systems could become cheaper than grid-purchased electricity in the U.S., thus challenging the way the current electricity system operates. Those systems, in fact, don’t even need to go fully off grid. The much less extreme but perhaps far more likely scenario would be grid-connected systems, which could be just as or even more challenging for electricity system operation and utility business models.

The takeaway is this: even under the fully off-grid scenarios we modeled, we have about 10 years—give or take a few—to really solve our electricity business model issues here in the continental U.S. before they begin compounding dramatically. The analysis also suggests we should carefully read the “postcards from the future” being sent from Hawaii today, and take much more interest in how that situation plays out as a harbinger of things to come.

As an institute with a mission to think ahead in the interest of society, consider this a public service message that these issues will crescendo to a point of consequence requiring dramatic and widespread changes well within current planning horizons. For those who are serious about finding solutions, this is also a call to action and a commitment to partnership.

At RMI, much as we pioneered the concepts of the “negawatt,” the “deep retrofit,” and the “hypercar,” we have also defined what it means to be a “think-and-do tank.” It is not enough to do smart analysis. The solutions we champion must be practically tested, broken, fixed, refined, iterated, and ultimately adopted at scale for us to feel satisfied with our work. Partnering with leading companies and institutions is how we prove an alternative path is possible to a world that is clean, prosperous, and secure.

The highly distributed electricity system of the future

The Transform scenario of our Reinventing Fire analysis, the most preferable outcome of the electricity futures we have examined, described a future for the U.S. electricity system in which 80 percent of electricity is supplied from renewable sources by 2050, with about half of that renewable supply coming from distributed resources. Given the current grid is only a few percent distributed and less than 13 percent renewable (counting a generous allotment of hydropower), we have quite a ways to go.

Achieving that end state requires many changes. Some of those changes already have momentum and likely won’t require intervention, but others will need a kick start or some other form of “strategic acupuncture” encouragement. At RMI, we would certainly prefer that a transition of this scale be orderly and proactive, because having disruption rock the boat of the current system unprepared would undoubtedly leave some combination of shareholders, ratepayers, and taxpayers smarting.

As we look at the future electricity system—the one we need to be building today—we see five critical differences from the present system. Redesigning our regulatory and market models should reflect these emergent needs.

  • The future electricity system will be highly transactive. Increasingly, the grid will become a market for making many-to-many connections between suppliers and consumers, with those roles being redefined on a daily basis as self-balancing systems decide whether to take from or supply to the grid at any given time.
  • Correspondingly, asset and service value will be differentiated by location and timing of availability, and perhaps even by carbon intensity or other socially demanded attributes. In a system that requires instantaneous load matching at the distribution level, and where virtual and real storage are distributed throughout the system, resource coordination will require transparent markets (with increasing automation) that provide the ability to balance autonomously using value signals. A system historically governed by averages will instead migrate to specific, dynamically varying values.
  • Innovative energy solutions will proliferate. As a consequence of market forces already unlocked, we are assured to see a regular stream of distributed resource innovations that better meet customer needs at costs comparable to existing utility retail prices. These could be market-based aggregation plays (e.g., demand response) or personal technologies (e.g., a home “power plant” such as solar plus storage or a gas microturbine).
  • A consequence of these first three points is that the rules governing the network must be adaptive to constantly shifting asset configurations, operations, and other factors. For example, charging EVs may make more sense at night or during the day, depending on the penetration of renewables relative to base needs. There will be lots of inflection points on how and when to encourage the development of different types of assets to reach efficient and stable outcomes.
  • Finally, the customer will be increasingly empowered. The services of the grid must de-commoditize to deliver against exact customer needs for reliability, “green-ness,” and other attributes. Failure to do so will result in customers finding higher-value alternatives.

This future still prominently features a robust wires network; defection from the grid would be suboptimal for a number of reasons. We would assert that everyone is better off if we create a future network that is easier to opt in to, rather than opt out of via the risk of defection.

Moreover, distributed resources—the same ones that could but needn’t threaten defection—have the potential to become a primary tool in the planning and management of grid-based distribution systems. Already, we are working with utilities and regulators in several parts of the country in exploring new ways to incentivize electricity distribution companies to take full advantage of distributed resources to reduce distribution system costs, increase resilience, and meet specialized customer needs. Good regulation will reveal value and facilitate transactions that tap that value, thereby increasing the benefit of distributed resources for all.

Forging solutions: our work on the emerging system

Our programs at RMI are designed to honor and accelerate progress toward an electricity system that harnesses these distributed investments. Hence, we have parallel and interactive efforts to accelerate the progress of economic, distributed, and low-carbon disruptive technologies (because we believe they have an important and positive role to play in the electricity system of the future), even as we work with utilities, regulators, and other key stakeholders to migrate to new business models that deploy and integrate these resources in ways that maximize the benefits to society as a whole. We think these dual efforts place “creative tension” in the system from which progress manifests.

Our work on disruptive technologies is focused on driving down the economic costs of deploying these systems by stimulating direct cost reductions, improving risk management and access to capital, and building new business models that are either behind the meter or aggregations across meters. To do this, we work specifically to help drive down solar “balance of system costs” through understanding cost reduction opportunities and then working to implement them, through identifying pathways to more market capital and then working with consortia like truSolar and Solar Access to Public Capital to unlock, and through working on issues like microgrids or researching the prospects for alternative asset models with a wide range of partners.

These insights into disruptive models directly inform our dialogue with utilities, regulators, technology providers, and other stakeholders around ways to migrate existing business models. Our most ambitious effort at transformation is the Electricity Innovation Lab (e-Lab), a multi-year, multi-stakeholder initiative focused on rapid prototyping and fast feedback on solutions for the future energy system. This network has issued seminal thought pieces on future business models, surveys of the costs and benefits of solar, and worked directly with stakeholders like the City of Fort Collins and the U.S. Navy to develop perspectives on pieces of future solutions for all. Beyond that, we work directly with utilities such as PG&E and states like Minnesota on one-off engagements to test different ideas together in a way that provides important experience for the “think-and-do” cycle that epitomizes our approach.

We at RMI are committed to expanding and accelerating the capacity to transform the electricity industry to one epitomized by innovation and customer service above all else, in a way that meets environmental, social, and economic demands. Toward this end, we are convening 13 cross-disciplinary teams from across the country in two weeks for our first-ever e-Lab Accelerator, designed specifically to workshop some of the toughest issues facing the industry in the transition to the next electricity system. This is just one of the broader set of commitments that we have made to not just thinking about solutions, but putting them immediately to the test. Therein lies the key to our change model: think and do. Then repeat. More

 

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World Energy Outlook hides the real potential of renewables

The IEA’s annual World Energy Outlook (WEO) is seen as the most authoritative set of energy scenarios in the world. Yet when we test the forecasts for the growth of renewable energies in the WEO’s main scenario against reality, we find that the WEO consistently comes out too low. Each year from 2006 on the WEO has had to increase its forecast for wind and solar power. Yet each year the WEO predicts the growth of renewables to level off by 2020, for no clear reason. This sends a wrong message to policy makers about the real potential of renewable energy. It is time for the IEA to acknowledge that its assumptions need correcting.

Every year in November, the International Energy Agency publishes its annual World Energy Outlook (WEO). It intends to show the possible directions for our global energy system, with the goal of guiding policy makers in designing their policies and measures. The World Energy Outlook is the most authoritative scenario exercise in the world, and is seen as such by policy and decision makers. It’s not a prediction of the future, but a sketch of possible pathways. The fact that the WEO appears every year makes it possible to assess how well it forecasts the development of renewables in the various scenarios. Looking back is not a favourite activity of scenario builders – they prefer to look forward. But it is instructive if you want to evaluate how well the scenarios hold up against reality. As it happens, the IEA has a sub-programme for Renewable Energy Technology Deployment, IEA-RETD, supported by eight IEA country members, which carried out a limited assessment of the WEO-2013 and earlier editions. The results are very interesting. First the good news. In general, the scenarios are of high quality. That is to say, they generally pass the recommendations made in the IEA-RETD’s scenario guidelines (called “RE-Assume”), which were published last summer and which show policy makers how they should understand energy scenarios and transpose their conclusions into policies. The WEO does well by most criteria, e.g. on transparency. This implies that policy makers should take to heart the WEO’s main conclusion regarding climate change policies: We need to take action that goes much beyond current policies to get anywhere near a safe pathway with respect to energy security and climate change. But the next question for policy makers is: What actions should that be? Here the bad news emerges. The WEO does provide clues about how renewable energy could contribute to the reduction of CO2 emissions, but these clues are absent in the WEO’s main scenario (the “New Policies” scenario). The assumptions about renewable energies used in this scenario and the modelling are based on misconceptions.

Mis-interpreting actual developments

We constructed some graphs showing the cumulative installed capacity of both solar and wind power forecast by the WEO from 2006 to 2013. As shown in the graphs below, every year the WEO adjusted its assumptions upwards. In each year from 2006, the reference scenario in the WEO shows higher cumulative capacity than the year before.

What is more, in all the WEOs the growth is expected to slow down from about the year 2020, but for no obvious reason. Our findings confirm what Terje Osmundsen recently wrote in Energy Post about how solar power is portrayed in the WEO. In wind energy the WEO’s adjustments are quite large as well. Hence, it’s not a wild guess that — unless something fundamentally changes — the 2014 WEO reference scenario will again show an upward adjustment of the growth in renewables towards 2035.

The alternative

WEO’s New Policies Scenario describes the mainstream developments in global energy. These developments put us on a track for a disastrous global warming of more than 3.5°C, according to the WEO. The globally agreed (but not yet operational) target is an upper limit of 2°C. Hence, the IEA also publishes an ‘alternative’ scenario, which shows what actions should be taken to stay within the 2°C limit. This so-called 450 scenario, named after the upper limit of the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere (450 ppm) that still provides a reasonable chance of staying under a 2°C average temperature increase, is regarded as possible but not very likely to happen. According to our retrospective, especially from 2010 onwards, the alternative, 450 scenarios have been much more representative than the reference scenarios when it comes to the actual development of wind energy (and to a lesser extent, of solar power). As can be seen in the graphs below, the projected growth lines quite accurately follow the actual developments. More

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Solar Report Stunner: Unsubsidized ‘Grid Parity Has Been Reached In India’, Italy–With More Countries Coming in 2014

Deutsche Bank just released new analyses concluding that global solar market will become sustainable on its own terms by the end of 2014, no longer needing subsidies to continue performing

The German-based bank said that rooftop solar is looking especially robust, and sees strong demand in solar markets in India, China, Britain, Germany, India, and the United States. As a result, Deutsche Bank actually increased its forecast for solar demand in 2013 to 30 gigawatts — a 20 percent increase over 2012.

Here’s Renew Economy with a summary of Deutsche Banks’s logic:

The key for Deutsche is the emergence of unsubsidised markets in many key countries. It points, for instance, to India, where despite delays in the national solar program, huge demand for state based schemes has produced very competitive tenders, in the [12 cents per kilowatt hour] range. Given the country’s high solar radiation profile and high electricity prices paid by industrial customers, it says several conglomerates are considering large scale implementation of solar for self consumption.

“Grid parity has been reached in India even despite the high cost of capital of around 10-12 percent,” Deutsche Bank notes, and also despite a slight rise in module prices of [3 to 5 cents per kilowatt] in recent months (good for manufacturers).

Italy is another country that appears to be at grid parity, where several developers are under advanced discussions to develop unsubsidized projects in Southern Italy. Deutsche Bank says that for small commercial enterprises that can achieve 50 percent or more self consumption, solar is competitive with grid electricity in most parts of Italy, and commercial businesses in Germany that have the load profile to achieve up to 90 percent self consumption are also finding solar as an attractive source of power generation.

Deutsche bank says demand expected in subsidised markets such as Japan and the UK, including Northern Ireland, is expected to be strong, the US is likely to introduce favourable legislation, including giving solar installations the same status as real estate investment trusts, strong pipelines in Africa and the Middle east, and unexpectedly strong demand in countries such as Mexico and Caribbean nations means that its forecasts for the year are likely to rise.

As Renew Economy also points out, this is the third report in the past month anticipating a bright future for the global solar market: UBS released a report that concluded an “unsubsidized solar revolution” was in the works, “Thanks to significant cost reductions and rising retail tariffs, households and commercial users are set to install solar systems to reduce electricity bills – without any subsidies.” And Macquarie Group argued that costs for rooftop solar in Germany have fallen so far that even with subsidy cuts “solar installations could continue at a torrid pace.”

Here in America, solar power installations boomed over the course of 2011 and 2012, even as the price of solar power systems continued to plunge. To a large extent, the American solar boom has been driven by third party leasing agreements — which are heavily involved in rooftop installation.

Meanwhile, on the international scene, the cost of manufacturing solar panels in China is expected to drop to an all-new low of 42 cents per watt in 2015, and power generated from solar is predicted to undercut that produced by both coal and most forms of natural gas within a decade. More

 

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Seychelles Grid Connected Rooftop Photovoltaic Systems

The Seychelles, like many Small Island Developing States (SIDS) is almost 100% reliant on imported oil for energy needs, which is a significant economic and budgetary cost, and is the single largest contributor of greenhouse gases in the country (based on emissions during the shipping process and in the burning of fuel to produce electricity).

Given that Seychelles is a tropical country receiving large amounts of sunshine, with an average 6.9 hours of sunshine per day, there is great potential to replace at least some of the current oil-generated (and polluting) electricity with solar energy systems. One opportunity with high economic, financial and environmental viability is the implementation of rooftop grid-connected PV systems. Current barriers to a more widespread utilization of PV systems in the Seychelles include market barriers, institutional and regulartory barriers, and technical barriers.

The objective of the project is to increase the use of PV systems as a sustainable means of generating electricity, thereby significantly reducing reliance on fossil fuel, through pilot projects for rooftop PV systems on all of the main and selected smaller islands, of the Seychelles. The identified barriers to the deployment, diffusion and transfer of solar PV systems will be addressed through the following project components: a) establishing a strategic policy and legal framework, b) strengthening technology support and delivery systems, and c) creating pilot PV projects.

More: FTP PDF document

Access the Project Documents through the Global Environment Facility Site

 

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