Transition Policies for the Development of the Distributed Energy Model

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* Article: Transforming the energy matrix: Transition Policies for the Development of the Distributed Energy Model. by George Dafermos, Panos Kotsampopoulos, et al.

URL = http://peerproduction.net/issues/issue-7-policies-for-the-commons/peer-reviewed-papers/transforming-the-energy-matrix/

Part of a special issue of the Journal of Peer Production, on the Policies for the Commons


Abstract

"This policy paper examines the application of the principles of a social knowledge economy to the energy sector. The Introduction explains the importance of the energy sector, the general principles underlying this policy document and the concept of the knowledge economy, underlining the distinction between capitalist knowledge economies and social knowledge economies.

The next section, Critique of capitalist models, looks at how the energy system has developed under two centuries of capitalist domination and argues that neoliberal policies have created unregulated energy markets and a process of global privatisation, which has weakened social control over key sectors of production and the reproduction of modern societies in both the Global North and South.

In the follow-up section, Alternative models: Distributed energy, we explore the distributed energy model as a viable alternative to centralised models based on private property and briefly describe its main features: (a) the use of renewable energy sources, (b) the empowerment of consumers through the democratisation of the means of energy production and distribution, and (c) communal management of the relevant infrastructure. To illustrate the model, we look at four case studies, which suggest that energy production could be more effectively organised as a Commons, rather than as a commodity. This, we conclude, should be the fundamental principle underlying all public policy proposals aimed at the transformation of the energy sector.

In the next section, General principles for policy making, we sum up the conclusions drawn from the case studies in the form of general policy principles and enabling conditions for the development of a post-fossil fuel society that respects the Rights of Nature.

In the Ecuadorian policy setting, we provide an overview of the energy sector in Ecuador and discuss the policy framework that pertains to national energy policy. Lastly, in the Ecuadorian policy recommendations, we put forward a series of policy recommendations for enabling the transition of already-existing policies into the paradigm of distributed energy and a set of pilot project proposals that are designed to operationalise these policy recommendations and provide a testing ground for their effectiveness." (http://peerproduction.net/issues/issue-7-policies-for-the-commons/peer-reviewed-papers/transforming-the-energy-matrix/)


Discussion

General Principles for Policy Making for Distributed Energy

The democratisation of the means of energy production

"As we saw in the case of the implementation of the microgrid in Kythnos (case study 1) and that of small-scale hydropower infrastructures in Nepal (case study 2), the most readily visible effect of the adoption of distributed structures of energy generation is that it transforms consumers into producers and their homes into productive units. Distributed models, such as those based on microgrids, imply the democratisation of the means of production through the use of shared and collectively-owned systems of production, as the underlying technological infrastructure for the generation of energy is not centralised in large power plants, but is installed in the very homes of end users. Energy consumers are thus being made responsible for the daily operation and management of this infrastructure. This investment of users with the means of production is the single most important condition for the emergence of the model of commons-based, peer production in the field of energy.


The importance of investment in energy literacy

The transition to distributed energy models entails significant switching costs, as individual users (households) and communities are required to invest in familiarising themselves with new technologies, which they have to learn how to operate. Without the development and diffusion of such an “energy literacy” across end users, attempts to set up distributed energy projects are bound to fail. Evidently, the design and implementation of such projects should be accompanied by training courses aimed at investing end users with the skills required to operate the relevant (so-called “smart”) technologies that are to be installed in their homes and communities. That is why the implementation of the microgrid on the island of Kythnos included a training course designed to familiarise the residents of that community with the devices that were being installed in their homes, thus ensuring they can operate the infrastructure themselves (case study 1). For the same reason, the Renewable Energy for Rural Livelihood programme has provided training to more than 34,000 people in Nepal (case study 2) and construction seminars for small wind turbines (based on the Hugh Piggot design) are organised by groups all over the world for do-it-yourself enthusiasts (case study 3). In this respect, such training courses are vehicles for the transfer of knowledge to local communities that will enable them to become energy-autonomous.


Community-driven development and the importance of user participation

Distributed energy models evolved out of the demand to respond to the needs of communities and individual households, located often in remote regions, which were either inadequately supported and provided for by the pre-existing centralised infrastructure or not at all. That was the case with the small community on the island of Kythnos in Greece, which had no electricity prior to the installation of the microgrid (case study 1), as well as with rural communities in Nepal that have turned to the development of micro-hydro plants (case study 2). The development of such distributed energy infrastructures has been largely “bottom-up”, initiated and carried out by small local communities, which have taken it upon themselves to bootstrap an infrastructure that better suits their needs. Most importantly, the participation of the community and its members is dictated by the fact that distributed energy models and technologies are best adopted when they are not imposed top-down, but shared from user to user. As it is the users themselves who will be responsible for operating and managing these technologies on a daily basis, it is essential that they be involved in the process of design and implementation of distributed energy projects. For the same reason, it is critical to ensure the participation of end users and local communities in the policy-making process, transforming it into a “mode of social learning, rather than an exercise of political authority” (Pretty et al., 2002: 252). Such participation not only lends legitimacy to transition programmes, as they have been co-designed and implemented with end users and their communities, but also empowers them, helping ensure that policies are truly responsive to their needs.


The significance of open source, appropriate technology

As we have seen, distributed energy projects are characterised by their extensive use of open source technologies, such as open source wind turbines and pico-hydroelectric plants. That is so for manifold reasons. First of all, open source technologies—by virtue of the fact that their design information is freely available (under free/open licenses)—allow the broader community to participate in their design and development process, thereby resulting in rapid improvements in performance and reductions in production costs (Benkler, 2006; also, see the article by Dafermos in this issue). In this way, the free sharing of the Hugh Piggot design for wind turbines (case study 3) and of Harvey’s design manual for micro-hydro installations (case study 2) has triggered a process of distributed, but collaborative, development by a loosely-coupled community of autonomous groups spanning the globe. As a result, the cost of small-scale, locally-manufactured, open source hydropower technologies is now about one third of the equivalent proprietary products (Practical Action, 2014) and the same goes for locally-manufactured small wind turbines. Yet, the significance of open source technologies is not confined to the realisation of cost reductions and performance improvements, which are made possible through their distributed development by a loosely coupled community of researchers, practitioners and hobbyists spread the world over. Equally important, open source technologies are designed with the principle of environmental sustainability in mind and in such a way as to be easily repairable and modifiable by end users. In that regard, they are paradigmatic of what is called sustainable design and appropriate technology (Pearce, 2012), as they do not pollute the environment or deplete natural resources and are designed to last, rather than being thrown away and replaced by newer technologies." (http://peerproduction.net/issues/issue-7-policies-for-the-commons/peer-reviewed-papers/transforming-the-energy-matrix/)

Excerpts

Energy as a Strategic Sector of the Economy and Blood Flow of the Production System:

The energy sector is a strategic sector in all economies: It forms the “blood flow” of the production system and is a key factor for the satisfaction of human needs. A sustainable approach to the energy sector should pursue energy sovereignty and the participation of all stakeholders of the surrounding ecosystem. Energy must be understood as a common good and be approached in a way that addresses multiple dimensions (temporal, geographic, etc.), while prioritising local benefits.

The current global energy sector is facing serious physical and environmental limitations, of which two undeniable examples are the depletion of fossil fuel resources and the threat of climate change. The energy sector requires a transition to a sustainable paradigm, a process in which universal access to appropriate sources of energy for all people should be the priority. Proposing alternatives that harmonise energy needs with ecological sustainability requires a re-consideration of the concept of “development” and a search for new evolutionary paradigms for society. Moreover, it is clear that a sustainable energy paradigm must rely on renewable resources to ensure their renew-ability. In this sense, Latin America faces a difficult challenge: Almost half of its energy supply depends on oil, and this is expected to increase. It must be emphasised that the scarcity and cost of this source of energy will increase, and even if it proves possible to access it, the environmental effects will be detrimental. The fantasy of a “flat earth economy” without entropy or biophysical limits brings society inevitably to a dead-end. To develop the good life, we must be able to examine what alternative perspectives exist for a socio-ecological transition (Guayanlema et al., 2014).

The generation, access and dissemination of information that is disaggregated, geo-referenced and open about territorial energy systems should underpin a new paradigm of energy planning and protocols. These protocols should consider the needs, capacities, renewable resources and methods of resource conservation, as well as the use of appropriate and appropriable types of open technologies.

Crucially, the transition to a sustainable energy matrix requires the development of institutions and technological capacities to effectively manage the flow of energy that is reproduced naturally through the biosphere (CEDA, 2012). The priority is the creation of spaces and mechanisms that facilitate the partnership of the state and civil society with regard to training, research, innovation and the production and management of energy. To this end, a regulatory agenda must be agreed upon to facilitate the reciprocal transformation of energy and productive structures and the democratisation of energy service provision.

An essential factor for the success of this transition is the recognition of the fact that the sustainability of this structure is not only determined by the energy supply, but also by its demand. The strategy must combine the promotion of efficient energy savings based on changing consumer habits, of new ways of exchanging goods and services, of territorial re-arrangement, etc. It is essential, therefore, to pay attention to the education and energy literacy of all people so as to ensure their active participation in the process." (http://peerproduction.net/issues/issue-7-policies-for-the-commons/peer-reviewed-papers/transforming-the-energy-matrix/)

An Introduction to Distributed Energy

"Although different definitions of distributed energy generation exist (Gómez, 2008), the general concept of distributed energy emphasises small-scale generation, consumer accessibility and end-user participation. This is by no means a new concept. Since the 1970s, due to the oil crisis and the realisation of the gravity of the effects of environmental degradation, the concept of distributed energy has been receiving increasingly more attention.

Furthermore, technological innovations, increased transportation and distribution costs, the changing economic climate, climate change concerns, and, in some contexts, the emergence of regulatory standards, have reinforced interest in distributed energy infrastructures. Nowadays, the importance of distributed energy systems is indisputable, going well beyond the provision of energy to remote communities.[6] In essence, the paradigm shift in the energy system implies a change in our way of thinking and acting, thereby enabling our communities to propose, design, implement and operate their own infrastructures in a manner that is adapted to the particular character of their environment.

The generation of distributed energy puts special emphasis on demand management and its constant interaction with renewable supply (Kempener et al., 2013). This demand management requires an understanding of the relevant territorial and spatial factors and an identification of who will consume the energy and how it will be consumed in different areas of the territory, as well as of the interplay between different types of energy consumption and production (Ariza-Montobbio et al., 2014). In short, distributed energy promotes a closer connection between energy generation and consumption (Alanne and Saari, 2006). Consequently, this implies a territorial approach to energy, based on the use of geo-referenced information about available renewable resources and consumer dynamics. This new paradigm of planning and organisation of energy information suggests to think about energy efficiency not only from a technological point of view, but also from a socio-structural point of view. Changes in the geographical distribution of homes and workplaces, as well as in cultural practices and in the use of time associated with energy consumption can enable significant reductions in the consumption of energy. An example of this consists of the “collectivisation/socialisation of consumption” achieved through the collective use of household appliances, industrial processes, public transport and so on.

The social effect of distributed energy depends on, among other factors, the scale of production technologies. At the municipal and city level, changing the energy model to a cooperative energy system could result in the development of projects of up to 100kW of electricity generation (based on solar photovoltaic, grid-connected, low-voltage electricity). At the neighborhood level, solar roofs on houses connected to the local power grid can generate 10kW. In the case of rural areas, autonomous power systems with capacities up to 15kW can be installed in the grid, based on solar photovoltaic, small wind or small hydro power. Micro-hydro technology, in particular, is one of the most economical, clean and safe choices for rural electrification if the appropriate technologies are chosen and proper planning of its implementation, operation and maintenance is carried out. There are many successful micro-hydro projects in developing countries, which indicate the adaptability of micro-hydro technology to local conditions, its sustainability, and its contribution to local community development.

Moreover, non-electrical renewable resources, such as low-temperature solar heat, can be used to meet thermal requirements, such as boiling water for sanitation. In rural areas, one can use biogas produced from the anaerobic digestion of livestock and waste. This can also be used for cooking food. The use of these technologies favours the development of groups of producers and consumers known as “prosumers”. When citizens, families and communities use renewable technologies to produce some of the energy that they consume, they become aware of the environmental, economic and social effects of the energy system: The system of energy production no longer remains a black box. In this sense, energy consumers/producers can be made aware of the real costs of energy and thus reduce their consumption through the adoption of cost-saving and efficiency measures. Additionally, the participation of energy users in its production improves the energy planning process, making it responsive to the needs of the users, especially at the community and municipal level. This bottom-up, participatory process leads to a democratisation of energy planning that can satisfy the social, economic and cultural needs of communities without destroying the environment." (http://peerproduction.net/issues/issue-7-policies-for-the-commons/peer-reviewed-papers/transforming-the-energy-matrix/)

On Microgrids

"A typical example of distributed energy infrastructures is that of microgrids (also known as minigrids), which have been the most rapidly evolving field of the global energy system in recent years.[7] Combining renewable energy production and ICT with a new policy framework for the energy market, microgrids provide scientific, technical, political, organisational and social tools for a fundamental transformation of the energy system on the local and global level alike. Future microgrids could exist as energy-balanced cells within existing power distribution grids or as stand-alone power networks within small communities (given that new control capabilities allow distribution networks to operate isolated from the central grid in case of faults or other external disturbances, thus contributing to improved quality of supply).

Microgrids make use of increasingly available microgenerators, such as micro-turbines, fuel cells and photovoltaic (PV) arrays, wind turbines and small hydro gensets, along with storage devices, such as flywheels, energy capacitors and batteries and controllable (flexible) loads (e.g., electric vehicles) at the distribution level. Improvements in ICT and end-user technology for power management, load management, remote operation and metering systems, data analysis and billing algorithms have contributed to the increasing deployment of modern microgrids.

The “Microgrids for Rural Electrification” report (Schnitzer et al., 2014) published in February 2014 describes the potential of microgrids in rural and peri-urban areas in developing countries: “Over 1.2 billion people do not have access to electricity, which includes over 550 million people in Africa and 300 million people in India alone … In many of these places, the traditional approach to serve these communities is to extend the central grid. This approach is technically and financially inefficient due to a combination of capital scarcity, insufficient energy service, reduced grid reliability, extended building times and construction challenges to connect remote areas. Adequately financed and operated microgrids based on renewable and appropriate resources can overcome many of the challenges faced by traditional lighting or electrification strategies.” (http://peerproduction.net/issues/issue-7-policies-for-the-commons/peer-reviewed-papers/transforming-the-energy-matrix/)

Case Studies

Case study 1: The Kythnos Island Community Microgrid Project

"Kythnos is a small island in the Aegean sea in Greece. As is typical of islands in general, Kythnos is cut off from the national grid on mainland Greece. It has its own island grid, but this does not, however, have the capacity to electrify all settlements on the island. Thus, in the framework of two European Commission projects (PV-MODE, JOR3-CT98-0244 and MORE, JOR3CT98-0215), a microgrid was installed in 2001, which has since provided electricity for 12 houses in a small valley that is about 4km from the closest medium voltage line (Hatziargyriou et al., 2007: 80-82; Tselepis, 2010). The system, which was designed and implemented by the Athens-based Centre for Renewable Energy Sources and Saving (CRES),[9] Kassel University and SMA, comprises 10kW of photovoltaic generators, a battery bank and a diesel genset. These are coordinated by intelligent load controllers, which were designed and installed by the National Technical University of Athens. The same team of engineers from the National Technical University of Athens provided the members of that community with training on how to operate the technological infrastructure. Being one of the very first pilot installations in Europe, the project has been frequently cited as an example of a cost-effective and environmentally sustainable way of providing a small community with electricity through a model of energy generation at the site of demand using renewable sources.

In more technical detail, the roll-out of the project was premised on the installation of a 1-phase microgrid composed of overhead power lines and a communication cable running in parallel. The grid and safety specifications for the house connections respect the technical solutions of the Public Power Corporation, which is the local electricity utility. The reason for such a decision was taken on the grounds that in the future the microgrid might be connected to the island grid. The power in each user’s house is limited by a 6 Amp fuse. The settlement is situated about 4km away from the closest pole of the medium voltage line of the island. A system house of 20m2 was built in the middle of the settlement in order to house the battery inverters, battery banks, diesel genset and its tank, computer equipment for monitoring and communication hardware.

The grid electrifying the users is powered by 3 Sunny-island battery inverters connected in parallel to form one strong single-phase grid in a master-slave configuration, allowing the use of more than one battery inverter only when more power is demanded by the consumers. Each battery inverter has a maximum power output of 3.6kW. The battery inverters in the Kythnos system have the capability to operate in both isochronous or droop mode. The operation in frequency droop mode gives the possibility to pass information to switching load controllers in case the battery state of charge is low, as well as to limit the power output of the PV inverters when the battery bank is full. The users’ system is composed of 10kWp of photovoltaics divided in smaller sub-systems, a battery bank of nominal capacity of 53kWh and a diesel genset with a nominal output of 5kVA. A second system with about 2kWp, mounted on the roof of the system house, is connected to a Sunny-island inverter and a 32kWh battery bank. This second system provides the power for the monitoring and communication needs of the components. The PV modules are integrated as canopies into some of the houses.

To recap, the case of the implementation of the microgrid on the island of Kyhtnos illustrates a model of distributed energy that has enabled a small, isolated community to become energy-autonomous in an ecologically and economically sustainable fashion." (http://peerproduction.net/issues/issue-7-policies-for-the-commons/peer-reviewed-papers/transforming-the-energy-matrix/)

Case study 2: Distributed Energy Infrastructures in Nepal Based on Small-Scale Hydropower Technologies

"Small-scale hydropower, or micro-hydro, is one of the most cost-effective energy technologies for rural electrification. It makes use of a local energy resource, which can be usefully harnessed for rural energy demands from small rivers, where there is a gradient of a few meters and the flow rate is more than a few litres per second. It is a clean option based on locally available resources and can be reliable and affordable when appropriate technologies and approaches are used for its implementation, operation and management. It can be economically and socially viable, using local materials and capabilities for installation. It can generate energy 24 hours a day continuously at its full capacity (if needed), the marginal costs are negligible and it can promote job creation and the productive use of energy for income generation and for the social development of communities. There are a large number of successful small hydro projects in various developing countries, which show their adaptability to the local conditions, their sustainability and their positive contribution to local development.

Micro-hydro plants (from 5kW to 100kW) basically divert flowing river water, with no significant dams, and use the forces of gravity and falling water to spin turbines that generate power before churning the water back into the river downstream. In these “run of the river” systems, water is channeled off through small canals and stored briefly in a settling tank to separate sediment, then dropped through a steep pipeline that delivers it into a turbine. According to the experience of Practical Action (2014) (an NGO inspired by E. F. Schumacher’s [1973] Small is Beautiful), small hydropower technology is one of the small-scale renewable energy technologies that is most adaptable to local conditions, with great potential for sustainability. Introduced properly and within an appropriate policy framework, it can promote local technology and skills. Small-scale hydro energy schemes can be entirely operated and managed by the community itself, reducing costs and making an efficient use of human and natural resources.

Although consultants and companies that specialise in the implementation of energy projects claim that the development of distributed energy infrastructures entails a relatively high investment cost, Practical Action (2014) reports that projects based on the use of locally available resources and on the adoption of appropriate technologies and approaches, are characterised by a much lower cost. From implementation in Peru, Sri Lanka, Nepal and several other countries, Practical Action has found that the cost for small hydropower systems ranges from US$ 1,500 to US$ 3,000 per Unit kW installed, which roughly means an investment cost of US$ 500 to US$ 1000 per connection. Technology research has reduced the cost of small hydro, and the free sharing of technology and know-how (encapsulated, for example, in the design manual for micro-hydro [Harvey, 1993]) has created the capacity to manufacture locally much of the equipment. Alternative materials have been developed and skills transferred to local consultants to design and implement hydro systems. Local technicians (at the community level) can operate and maintain these systems, and appropriate management and administrative models have been developed to suit local needs. As a result, there are now several countries with the capacity to manufacture and install equipment at very competitive costs. For the smaller hydropower schemes, major cost reductions have been achieved through the use of alternative materials and components, local capacity and skills: At present it is possible to find locally manufactured equipment for micro hydropower at one half, or even one third, of the cost of its imported equivalent. For pico-hydro (below 5kW), it is possible to find components that cost one third to one fifth of the equivalent imported parts (e.g., synchronous generators, hydraulic governors and others) (Practical Action, 2014).

The experience of Practical Action also shows that small hydro can create exceptionally low energy unit (kWh) costs compared to other options. With the appropriate technologies, implementation and management, the cost of a kWh for micro-hydro can be as low as about one half of the cost of locally-made wind energy systems and about one tenth of the unit energy cost of home solar systems (for decentralised rural application) and, finally, about one half to one fourth of the unit cost of energy produced with diesel sets.

Specifically in Nepal where about 63% of the households do not have access to electricity (World Bank, 2010), since the industry’s birth in the 1960s some 2,200 micro-hydro plants have been put into place, totaling around 20MW, which now provide electricity for some 200,000 households (Handwerk, 2012). Around 65 private companies provide services related to the implementation of micro-hydropower projects under the aegis of the umbrella organisation, Nepal Micro Hydropower Development Association.

The 323 operational RERL (Renewable Energy for Rural Livelihood programme) facilities alone now create more than 600 full-time jobs and about 2,600 people have been technically trained on how to operate a facility. But micro-hydro’s impact on employment goes further and includes specialised training to help spread electric access benefits across the community. Under the programme more than 34,000 people, including 15,000 women, have been trained in larger efforts to develop capacity on renewable energy, manage local micro-hydro units and cooperatives, and initiate other environmentally-related activities (Handwerk, 2012). Similar efforts have been performed in Sri Lanka, Peru, Ecuador and other countries (Practical Action, no date).

In Ecuador, a project by ESMAP (World Bank, 2005) has undertaken the groundwork to establish the roadmap for pico-hydro development by initiating a market assessment for pico-hydro in the Andean region, by developing the technical capacity to install and maintain pico-hydro systems at demonstration sites, and by helping a small group of businesses see the commercial opportunities arising from the sale of pico-hydro systems in the country." (http://peerproduction.net/issues/issue-7-policies-for-the-commons/peer-reviewed-papers/transforming-the-energy-matrix/)

Case-study 3: The Hugh Piggott Small Wind Turbine

"The Hugh Piggott (HP) small wind turbine (Piggott, 2008) (see Figure 4 below) has been used as the “reference design” of the open-source small wind turbine developed by the rural electrification research group of the NTUA, since the majority of existing locally-manufactured small wind turbines have been based on this design. To date, three small wind turbines have been manufactured in practical student workshops, two for battery charging and two for grid connection, with rotor diametres of 1.8m, 2.4m and 4.3m. The practical workshops are organised in the context of undergraduate dissertation projects and are open to all students of the NTUA. During these workshops, the small wind turbines are constructed from scratch by the participating students, a process that provides practical evidence of the ability of unqualified constructors to locally manufacture this small wind turbine technology. The educational aspect of these workshops is of significant value and provides a chance to experiment with a variety of learning processes.

The design manuals of Hugh Piggott have been a reference guide for locally manufactured small wind turbines worldwide and have proven to be valuable tools in spreading this knowledge, as they have been translated into more than ten languages. It has been estimated that more than 1,000 locally-manufactured small wind turbines are based on the Hugh Piggott design, many of which are in operation around the world. As rural electrification has been an obvious application of this technology, many NGOs and groups have used these design manuals to manufacture small wind turbines in developing countries,[10] while construction seminars for DIY (do-it-yourself) enthusiasts are organised by several groups around the world.[11] Since 2012, the Wind Empowerment association has tried to network most of the organisations involved with locally-manufactured small wind turbines around the world, with the aim of building the financial and human resources required for the activities of these organisations, and performing joint technical research while sharing technical information.

One of the main advantages of open source hardware designs, and of the “open design” philosophy in general, is the adaptability of the design. Open-source small wind turbine technology can be adapted to better suit different environments, such as coastal areas with high corrosion.

Another aspect of the adaptability of open hardware designs is the ability to use parts of the design in other open-source technologies and applications. This is the case of the open-source pico-hydro turbine developed in NTUA, which is a hybrid design between the locally-manufactured axial flux permanent magnet generator (Piggott, 2008) and the locally-manufactured small hydro casing and turgo runner designs of Joseph Hartvigsen. The specific design is a grid connected 350W hydroelectric which has been driven with a pump in the labs of NTUA (see Figure 5) with satisfactory results, while a battery charging prototype of the same design has been in operation for one year in a rural site in Greece." (http://peerproduction.net/issues/issue-7-policies-for-the-commons/peer-reviewed-papers/transforming-the-energy-matrix/)

Case study 4: Biodigesters in Latin America and the Caribbean

"Biodigesters are natural systems that take advantage of organic waste from agricultural activities, mainly animal manure, to produce biogas (fuel) and organic fertiliser through the process of anaerobic digestion. Biogas can be used as fuel for cooking, heating or lighting. In large installations, biogas can be used to power a motor for electricity generation. The fertiliser was initially considered an insignificant byproduct, but is currently considered to be as important as the biogas, as it provides communities with a fertiliser that strongly improves crop yield. Low-cost biodigesters (such as the low-cost polyethylene tube type shown in Figure 6) are considered to be an appropriate technology due to their low (initial) cost of investment, simple operation, basic maintenance requirements and accessibility to both small and large producers.

Low-cost digesters have been implemented in developing countries since the 1980s. They were first designed by Pound in Taiwan in 1981. Based on that design, the flexible tubular continuous flow digester, initially designed in 1987 by Preston in Ethiopia, Botero in Colombia () and Bui Xuan An in Vietnam (1994), adapted the digesters for tropical climates. In 2003, Martí-Herrero Botero’s design adapted the digester to cold climates in the highlands of Bolivia, adding a greenhouse (Figure 7) with adobe walls with high thermal inertia and insulation from the ground using local materials. This technology is accessible in countries such as Colombia, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Costa Rica, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Chile and Mexico.

Similar projects have been implemented in Asia; the SNV Netherlands Development Organisation has driven major national programmes in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Nepal, Vietnam, Indonesia and other countries. China and India have their own national programmes, while in Africa, the SNV Netherlands Development Organisation and the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) are promoting programmes of a similar scope (focusing mainly on Tanzania, Kenya and Rwanda). In the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, where no national programmes exist yet, many organisations and individuals have set up projects in Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Cuba, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. In Bolivia, in particular, the EnDev-Bolivia project for “Access to Energy” run by the GIZ is currently the largest project in Latin America on biodigesters. Aside from raising public awareness around the benefits of biogesters, the project, which has installed more than 400 of them in recent years, is running the Centro de Investigación en Biodigestores Biogas y Biól (CIB3) research centre and is offering training courses on designing digesters and social project management.

Of those projects, perhaps the most interesting is the Network of Biodigesters in Latin America and the Caribbean (REDBioLAC), as it brings together various institutions involved in the research, development, dissemination and implementation of low-cost biodigesters in nine Latin American countries. Its members include manufacturers of biodigesters, NGOs, research centres and universities with the objective of sharing information and experiences, identifying technical, environmental, social and economic barriers, suggesting ways to spread the biodigester technology in different countries, systematising research and dissemination among partners and encouraging actions that influence policies related to biodigesters.

Through the above case studies we have come to identify a set of enabling conditions from which we can draw several general principles for the development of policy recommendations aimed at strengthening the development of a post-fossil fuel society that respects the Rights of Nature." (http://peerproduction.net/issues/issue-7-policies-for-the-commons/peer-reviewed-papers/transforming-the-energy-matrix/)

More Information

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