Mapping Reveals Earth's Best Sites for Wind, Solar Power

WASHINGTON, DC, April 14, 2005 (ENS) – "In the case of renewable energy, knowledge is literally power," United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said today, unveiling the first results of a pioneering project to map the solar and wind resources in 13 developing countries.

Knowing precisely where these resources are can unlock the modest amounts of capital needed to install solar or wind power facilities, increasing the energy capacity of underpowered areas without the harmful environmental effects associated with fossil fuels.


Wind and solar power can mean the difference between poverty and sustainable development. (Photo courtesy NREL)
Thousands of megawatts of new renewable energy potential in Africa, Asia, South and Central America have been discovered through the multi-million dollar project, called the Solar and Wind Energy Resource Assessment (SWERA).

First results from the project were released today at an international meeting of scientists and policymakers organized by UNEP, which is coordinating the renewable resource assessment on behalf of more than 25 institutions.

"In developing countries all over the world we have removed some of the uncertainty about the size and intensity of the solar and wind resource," said Toepfer. "These countries need greatly expanded energy services to help in the fight against poverty and to power sustainable development. SWERA offers them the technical and policy assistance to capture the potential that renewable energy can offer," he said.

In Washington, SWERA Project Manager Tom Hamlin said the project is now under evaluation and will be seeking support to service requests from renewable energy programs in other developing countries.

"SWERA has clearly demonstrated that the modest of amounts needed to support renewable energy assessments can significantly change the way countries pursue their energy goals," he said.

Established in 2001 with substantial support from the Global Environment Facility, SWERA teams have been developing new information tools to stimulate renewable energy development, including detailed maps of wind and solar resources, using data from satellites and ground-based instruments.

In Nicaragua, SWERA assessments of wind resources demonstrated a much greater potential than the 200 megawatts (MW) estimated in the 1980s.

The results prompted the Nicaraguan National Assembly to pass the Decree on Promotion of Wind Energy of Nicaragua 2004 that gives wind generated electricity "first dispatch," meaning it has the first priority over other options when fed into electricity grids.


Nicaragua has both wind and solar potential. (Photo courtesy Morgan's EcoLodge)
The US Trade and Development Agency and the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) have since aunched wind energy feasibility studies in Nicaragua, and wind investment projects are now advancing with 40 MW planned in two projects and two more exploration licenses granted.

SWERA information is also providing solar resource information for cooperative efforts in Nicaragua between groups such as the World Bank and GEF for projects focused on rural electrification, and 6,000 solar PV systems are being installed in World Bank and IADB rural electrification programs.

In Guatemala, wind estimates were mostly unknown, but wind resources are now estimated at 7,000 megawatts, based on SWERA products. The Guatemala Ministry of Energy has established the Centre for Renewable Energy and Investment to carry out validation studies and identify sites for wind energy development.

In Sri Lanka, the SWERA assessment found a land wind power potential of about 26,000 MW representing, more than 10 times the country’s installed electrical capacity.

An initial assessment in Ghana reveals more than 2,000 MW of wind energy potential, mainly along the border with Togo. In Africa, this goes a long way towards the estimated 40,000 MW of electricity needed to power the continent's industrialization.

SWERA’s data collection and analysis network of international and national agencies is creating a global archive of solar and wind energy resources and maps that is available on CD-ROM or through the website:

Another important SWERA tool, the Geospatial Toolkit, allows wind and solar maps to be combined with electrical distribution grids and other information to provide high quality information that supports energy planning and policy development. This tool helps lower the risk for renewable energy project developers and helps reduce project lead times.

The countries where SWERA has carried out surveys to date are: Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Cuba, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, Kenya, Nepal, Nicaragua and Sri Lanka.

SWERA is a good example of international cooperation that can produce positive environmental and social outcomes, Toepfer said. "As energy planners seek cleaner energy solutions using renewable energy technologies, the availability of reliable, accurate and accessible solar and wind energy information is critical and can significantly accelerate the deployment of these technologies."

SWERA is online at:

SWERA Partner Institutions include: