Analysis: Vestas helps energy-poor areas with refurbished turbines

WORLDWIDE: In a move aimed at bringing power to energy-poor areas, Vestas is to establish hybrid wind and diesel power plants in developing countries after forming a joint venture with Abu Dhabi renewable energy company Masdar.

The turbines will be paired with diesel generators
The turbines will be paired with diesel generators

Under the 'Wind for Prosperity' venture, the companies will work together to source out-of-use Vestas turbines. Vestas will refurbish them at its factories while Masdar will install and run them.

In order to provide steady energy generation, Vestas said that "advanced diesel generators" will be installed alongside the refurbished turbines. It said these are "well suited to operate on mini-grids in remote locations with limited infrastructure".

The V27-225kW and V47-660kW turbines will be sourced from decommissioned or repowered wind farms and refurbished with the aim of running for another ten years. Each site will feature one or two of the turbines, which will be replaced as the power needs of the community increase.

"Wind for Prosperity uses Vestas' unique weather data processing capabilities to identify energy-poor but wind-rich areas where Vestas' wind hybrid solutions can power social and economic growth." said Vestas senior vice president Morten Albaek.

However, Matt Lucky, sustainable energy lead researcher at environmental research organisation Worldwatch Institute, while positive about the project, warned that there are some draw backs: "I would say the greatest short fall of this project is its reliance on diesel fuel.

"Diesel can be incredibly expensive and polluting for small communities, so while this project is good in the sense that it introduces wind, it does not completely eliminate the need for diesel. However, it is difficult to find better solutions."

While Albaek was unable to specify what the returns from the project are expected to be, he was keen to point out that the venture is not a charity. "This will be profitable in itself," he insisted. "It's not going to generate tens of millions of euros, but it certainly won't be loss making."

Lucky is a little more wary: "At the end of the day, projects like these will need to be profitable if they are to be rolled out at even greater scale.

"It will be interesting to see if that is possible. The important thing to focus on is tariff collection. For communities that have never had electricity services, how will they value electricity and how effective will operators be at collecting the tariffs?" he added.

Wind for Prosperity has a target of installing the hybrid power systems in 100 communities, with the intention of reaching at least one million people in the next three years.

But it is unclear whether this target can be hit. Lucky said: "Some of these communities may be very remote and lack the necessary roads and infrastructure to get the equipment there. There may also not be local engineers that are currently trained or qualified to operate and maintain the wind and diesel plants."

The first six projects, for which sites have been selected, are being planned in coordination with the Kenyan energy ministry and the Kenya Power and Light Company, and are expected to go online in the second half of 2014. Local utility companies will be responsible for creating and managing the mini grids.

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