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Renewable cheapest for electrifying Third World

Local grids powered by renewable energy -- and especially wind power -- are the fastest and cheapest way to get electricity to millions of people in the Third World without power, says a new report. Indeed, decentralised renewable village systems can cost just one-tenth as much as traditional large scale power plants that require transmission systems, says "Electricity on Demand: Reaching 2 Billion Cheaply with Renewable Electricity." The report is by Winrock International, a non-profit group in Washington DC. "Its a largely misunderstood area," says John Kadyszewski, author and leader of Winrock's international renewables team. The idea that conventional power is cheaper -- albeit dirty -- is misplaced. "That analysis only holds when you have a grid in place. Most people only look at the wind experience in California and the expensive SO4 contacts," he says. Decentralised small scale power, which does not need costly transmission lines, can be brought to people for pennies a day. Winrock, which has initiated electrification programs in nine developing countries, estimates that basic electricity could be brought to the 2 billion people living without electricity -- one-third of the world's population for just $100 billion, or as little as $50 per person in initial investment. That investment can then be recouped since even a small amount of electricity is a potent force for development. Shops can stay open longer and entrepreneurs can use modern equipment. In Indonesia, where Winrock has been involved in wind projects for almost four years, onion farmers can increase their income four-fold in part because they cut the time it takes to water their crop by nine-tenths. "People want the power," he says. "They're willing to pay for it. If were going to bring them into the global economy then they have to have power."

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