July 3, 2012 | Climate Change, Sustainability + Energy

“Pain at the pump” is a common expression in the US news media. Filling up your vehicle is a chore and watching the meter rise is a helpless feeling. When I started working at NRG Systems, gasoline was under $1 a gallon. Those days aren’t coming back.

Now imagine if instead of filling up the 15-gallon tank of your car, you were filling up a much larger tank -- one that millions of people draw from every day. This is what utilities around the world do on a regular basis. Electric grids are powered by heavy oil or diesel in a surprising number of places worldwide: from Hawaii and islands in the South Pacific and the Caribbean, to Central Asia, to remote villages in the Arctic region. Much of Russia lacks a central grid and relies on independent grids powered by diesel. If you live on an island without a grid connection to the mainland, there is a good chance your utility uses petroleum for power generation.

Sub-Saharan Africa receives a share of its electric power generation from petroleum sources. Compounding the difficulty of rising fuel prices are weak grid infrastructure, complicated delivery logistics, unreliability, regular blackouts, and high levels of unmet demand for power. In this region, simply providing any electric power can deliver the basics in terms of education, health and sanitation for lighting, cooking,  and refrigeration.

Fortunately Sub-Saharan Africa has widely distributed renewable energy resources, especially wind and solar. At today’s level of power needs and with fuel prices testing new highs, wind energy is more than just a pricing hedge. Wind is the lower cost power source.