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Renewable Energy Development Project in China Wins Prestigious Ashden Award for Sustainable Energy

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Project Summary and Film

Case Study (202kb pdf)

International Ashden Award Winners


August 1, 2008 - In the remote, rural provinces of northwest China, among the poorest in the country, evening activities are performed by the light of candles and kerosene lamps.  Because most do not have access to grid electricity, fuels such as wood and oil are used to power villages, homes and  schools.

Why Renewable?
In the last decade, solar energy has been introduced as an alternative to fuel-based energy, and as an opportunity to develop a network of renewable energy users and providers. It further serves to support conservation and sustainability.  It is expected that the provision of off-grid solar energy will support the sustained access to resources and encourage growth in rural areas.

Nomad's Home Powered by Solar Energy

Inside of a nomad's tent lit by a solar home system(photo courtesy of the Ashden Awards)

Considering the need for reliable energy supplies in remote China, and the country’s own growing need for renewable energy resources, as evidenced by the estimated 15% deficit in energy  generating capacity, the China Renewable Energy Development Project (REDP) was established in 2001 by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the World Bank, and the Global Environment Facility (GEF).  This Project, which closed in June 2008, had the goal of promoting the installation of photovoltaic (PV) solar-home-systems (SHS) in remote off-grid homes.  The result of this program was the commercial distribution of stand-alone, portable energy generation units that utilize PV cells to provide electrical power. The typical SHS can power two lights, while a larger system may power radio cassettes, TVs, and charge mobile phones.

In addition to installing SHS in off-grid homes, the REDP had the following objectives:
1) Improve the quality of PV module production and other system components in China;
2) Disseminate information about PV operation and maintenance; and
3) Facilitate cooperation between the PV sector in China and the rest of the world.

Benefits of the REDP
The REDP has helped those in remote areas who need it most. For users, the main benefit of the REDP program is brighter, cleaner lighting for study, work and recreation.  Use of radio-cassettes, television, and mobile telephones provided contact with the outside world, and a form of entertainment for those located in remote areas. Better communication systems were also seen as valuable for maintaining contact and accessing help in emergencies. 

The PV systems introduced to these communities have benefitted both the individual and the village through providing electricity to public facilities such as schools, health centers, and Buddhist temples. With the increased capacity, villagers can continue to function in the night time hours in their communities as well as in their homes.

REDP Figures


402,000 solar-home-systems were installed through the REDP-subsidized program between 2003 and 2008, with a total capacity of 11.1 MWp


Each SHS benefits an estimated four people per household, or a total of 1.61 million people for the program as a whole


The average sale price was Yuan 1,221 (US$178), similar to the price of a yak.

Success of the REDP
The success of the REDP was driven by development of the market for PV systems, which had the effect of improving quality while reducing costs.  This was achieved through competition between distributors, regulation of system quality, and provision of distributor subsidies.  The resulting high quality and high value systems are expected to continue their operations over the long term, sustaining the industry with the help of China's trade associations. Now that the reliability and value of PV systems are widely known, companies can sustain sales even without subsidies. Further, it is envisioned that as systems become cheaper and technology matures, there will be additional opportunities for expanding the use of SHS throughout China.

The REDP is Recognized
In recognition of the many benefits and people positively affected by this program, the REDP received the Ashden Award for Sustainable Energy this year. This competition, which examines sustainable energy projects from around the world, seeks work that “makes a genuine difference to local peoples’ lives, both socially and economically.”  This prestigious award commemorates the successful distribution of quality PV module components throughout nine remote provinces in northwestern China, including the sale of over 402,000 SHS since 2001 which improve quality of life through better light, communications and entertainment. The impacts of this project mirror the goals of the Ashden Awards themselves – improving communities while improving the world.

“Providing market-driven incentives was a key factor which enabled the program to work effectively,” REDP Case Study.

The REDP model of using a market-driven approach to reduce costs, and improve system quality has greatly expanded the market for solar-home-systems while also supporting the growth for this industry, building a network of wholesale suppliers and retailers. This model for providing market-driven incentives is now being followed by World Bank projects in other developing countries.  It is expected that the successful outcomes of the REDP will continue to encourage renewable energy development, support rural electrification programs, and sustain the provision of energy resources for residents of remote, off-grid communities for years to come.

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