Remote power systems numbering in the thousands can be found in all corners of the world. For the most part these systems are powered by dumb, dirty diesel generation, hardly a technology of relevance to the smart grid and the fundamental networking advantages of the microgrid platform. Nevertheless, once renewable distributed energy generation is added to the mix, then these remote microgrids begin to look like classic microgrids. In fact, the primary driver for remote microgrids over the next six years will be the integration of solar photovoltaics, a technology that will help reduce diesel fuel consumption. A new report from Pike Research forecasts that the global remote microgrid market will expand from 349 megawatts (MW) of generation capacity in 2011 to over 1.1 gigawatts (GW) by 2017, an amount that equals or perhaps even surpasses all other microgrid segments combined, whether in the planning stages or already deployed.
That growth in capacity will translate into total projected revenue for the remote microgrid sector, under Pike Research’s average forecast scenario, of more than $10.2 billion by 2017. A more conservative base scenario which may hold if the global economy continues to stumble – would still result in a healthy $4.5 billion market in 2017. “The global remote microgrid segment is the most attractive of all microgrid segments from a revenue perspective,” says senior analyst Peter Asmus. “Recent research also reflected in Pike Research’s recently updated Microgrid Deployment Tracker indicates that this sector is far more robust than previously reported, and with solar PV prices continuing to decline, is poised for substantial growth, even without government incentives.”
Developing countries, which comprise approximately 80% of the world’s population but consume only 30% of global commercially traded energy supplies, represent the top prospective market for remote microgrids. As energy consumption rises with increases in population and living standards, awareness is growing about the environmental costs of energy and the need to expand access to energy – especially cleaner electricity – in new ways. Remote microgrids can serve as the anchors of new, appropriate scale infrastructure, helping to accelerate a shift to smarter ways to deliver both electricity and humanitarian services to the poor. Significant financial support for remote microgrids is being provided by the United Nations, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and entities such as the Clinton Climate Initiative and the Bill Gates Foundation.