Worldwatch Paper #151: Micropower: The Next Electrical Era
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Author: Seth Dunn
Publication Date: July 2000
Electricity is returning to its origins: generating power on a relatively small scale, close to where it is actually used. Technological, economic, and environmental trends are turning a family of "micropower" devices into increasingly viable choices for meeting electrical needs. Use of these generators can avoid expensive investments in large central power stations and transmission and distribution systems, provide greater reliability, and leave a lighter ecological footprint.
Micropower is emerging in two niches. In industrial nations, where aging grid equipment causes costly flickers and outages, growing dependence on digital, computerized processes is creating demand for highly dependable power. In developing nations, where centralized supply is even more brittle and has yet to reach 1.8 billion people living in power poverty, small-scale electrical services are often already the most economical option.
Despite its benefits, micropower must currently compete in an environment of policies and regulations that favor the central model. Failure to reform these market rules may result in another generation of marginally improved, large-scale technologies. The risk of lock-in to last century's model is especially great in the developing world, where most new electricity demand will occur.
Notwithstanding these obstacles, the potential of micropower has begun to spark innovative financing and institutional reforms among governments, businesses, and nongovernmental organizations. Further changes may transform the way we generate and use electricity in the twenty-first century