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Sustainability and development impacts of off-grid electrification in developing countries: An assessment of South Africa's rural electrification program
Mälardalen University, School of Business, Society and Engineering, Future Energy Center. (Future Energy Center)ORCID iD: 0000-0003-3449-2253
2016 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)Alternative title
Hållbarhet och utvecklingseffekter av off-grid elektrifiering i utvecklingsländer : En bedömning av Sydafrikas elektrifiering av landsbygden programmet (Swedish)
Abstract [en]

Previous studies have shown that provision of sustainable electricity supply to rural households is essential to bring development to off-grid populations. For this reason, most developing countries put large efforts into rural electrification programs to stimulate development and reduce poverty. However, to be sustainable these programs need to recover costs, which poses a challenge to remote low income populations.  This often forces governments and other institutions involved in rural electrification to subsidize the electricity production. It also affects the choice of technology and places a barrier on the level of energy provided in line with the ability to pay for services. As a result of this, most programs have failed to achieve the desired objectives, as the technologies used often do not support income generating activities that could increase the payment capabilities of the beneficiaries and contribute to development.

This thesis is focused on the rural electrification program of South Africa, the country in sub-Saharan Africa that has the highest access to electricity. It investigates the success elements that influence the sustainability of rural electrification programs and their contributions to socio-economic development. This was achieved by evaluating the South African program that provides solar home systems to off-grid communities, and a hybrid solar-wind mini-grid project in South Africa. The study also draw lessons from other rural electrification programs in neighbouring countries, i.e. an evaluation of a hybrid solar-diesel mini-grid system in Namibia, and a review of two systems, a hybrid solar-biomass mini-grid project in Botswana and a hydro mini-grid program in Lesotho. The study revealed that hydro based hybrid mini-grid systems provide the most cost effective way of bringing energy services to rural settlements. Regardless of technology, successful programs depend on adequate support from the government, implementation of a progressive tariff system that allows the high consuming high income earners and businesses, to cross subsidize the low consuming , low income users. It shows that it is more likely for rural electrification programs to survive if the design considers the existing businesses, population growth and the corresponding load increase. The thesis further shows that provision of sufficient energy to induce income generating activities is essential to decrease the need for subsidies and to ensure the sustainability of programs. In addition, availability of spare parts and a capable management team is essential for the successful operations and maintenance of these systems.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Västerås: Mälardalen University , 2016. , 65 p.
Series
Mälardalen University Press Dissertations, ISSN 1651-4238 ; 198
Keyword [en]
Off-grid electrification, sustainability, solar home system, hybrid mini-grid, renewable energy, technical challenges
National Category
Electrical Engineering, Electronic Engineering, Information Engineering
Research subject
Energy- and Environmental Engineering
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:mdh:diva-30762ISBN: 978-91-7485-252-3 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:mdh-30762DiVA: diva2:895476
Public defence
2016-03-04, Gamma, Mälardalens högskola, Västerås, 09:15 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2016-01-19 Created: 2016-01-19 Last updated: 2016-02-01Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. The energy loss in guiding against equipment theft in Thlatlaganya Village, South Africa.
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The energy loss in guiding against equipment theft in Thlatlaganya Village, South Africa.
2013 (English)Conference paper, (Refereed)
National Category
Engineering and Technology
Research subject
Energy- and Environmental Engineering
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:mdh:diva-27518 (URN)
Conference
International Conference on Applied Energy (ICAE) 2013, Pretoria South Africa.
Available from: 2015-02-12 Created: 2015-02-12 Last updated: 2016-02-25Bibliographically approved
2. Illuminated but not electrified: An assessment of the impact of Solar Home System on rural households in South Africa
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Illuminated but not electrified: An assessment of the impact of Solar Home System on rural households in South Africa
2015 (English)In: Applied Energy, ISSN 0306-2619, E-ISSN 1872-9118, Vol. 155, 354-364 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The introduction of the off-grid electrification program in South Africa using the Solar Home System (SHS) was a central component of the government policy aimed at bringing development to un-electrified households. An assessment of the performance of SHS in many countries provided little evidence to support the development impact of the system. The general perception is that the SHS program is wasting government funds and has no hope of achieving the set objectives. Previous scientific reports have concluded that SHS is the most viable technology for bringing about socio-economic development to rural households. Most of these conclusions have been based on one sided arguments and largely on anecdotal evidence. This study provides a pluralistic view of the subject from the perspective of the energy service companies (ESCOs) and the households using the equipment. The development impact of SHS is subjected to scientific analysis by investigating the economic and social dimensions of the program. Additionally, the sustainability of the South African SHS program is assessed by investigating the challenges facing the ESCOs and the households. The study reveals that illumination provided by SHS electricity has profound impact on the livelihoods of rural households. Due to the limited capacity of SHS for productive and thermal use, there are limited direct economic benefits to the households. The associated economic impact is peripheral to the secondary usage of SHS electricity. SHS has improved the productivity of small scale business owners who utilize the light from SHS to do business at night. Irregularities in payment of subsidy funds and energy bills, high operation cost, non-optimal use of SHS, grid encroachment, and lack of customer satisfaction contribute to make the business unsustainable for the ESCOs.

Keyword
Energy burden, Off-grid electrification, Socio-economic development, Solar Home System, Sustainability, User education, Customer satisfaction, Economics, Electric utilities, Solar buildings, Sustainable development, Economic and social effects
National Category
Energy Engineering
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:mdh:diva-28639 (URN)10.1016/j.apenergy.2015.05.120 (DOI)000360950900030 ()2-s2.0-84935019287 (Scopus ID)
Available from: 2015-07-23 Created: 2015-07-23 Last updated: 2016-01-19Bibliographically approved
3. The burden of shading and location on the sustainability of South African solar home system program
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The burden of shading and location on the sustainability of South African solar home system program
2015 (English)In: Energy Procedia, ISSN 1876-6102, E-ISSN 1876-6102, Vol. 75, 308-313 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Most contributions on the issues of sustainability of rural electrification projects have focused on the technology and business models used to drive the projects. The issues of user education and environmental impact on the technology have received little attention, despite the fact that these challenges affect lives of projects after commissioning. The usage pattern of solar home systems (SHS) by most users that placed their solar panels close to obstructing objects, results in shading of the panels, and geographic location of households in the concession areas of the South African SHS program affects the performances of the system. The non-optimal use of SHS is mainly due to lack of user education. Therefore this paper reports on the impact of geographic location and shading of panels on the economics and technical performance of SHS. The study was done by investigating the performance of 75 WP solar panels operated at two sites in South Africa (Upington in Northern Cape Province and Thlatlaganya in Limpopo Province), the performance of an optimized shaded SHS and a non-shaded one was also investigated. The results show that both geographic location and shading compromise the performance of the systems, the energy output of a solar panel located at Upington is increased by 19% and the state of charge of the battery (SOC) increased by 6%, compared to the panel situated at Thlatlaganya village. Also the life span of the battery is increased by about one year. The SOC of the partially shaded SHS is reduced by 22% and loss of power to the load increased by 20%. The geographical location of the SHS concession areas in South Africa and lack of adherence to the manufacturer's installation specification affects the economics of SHS and the energy output vis-a-vis the sustainability of the program due to reduction in life cycle of the batteries. 

National Category
Energy Engineering
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:mdh:diva-29320 (URN)10.1016/j.egypro.2015.07.360 (DOI)000361030000048 ()2-s2.0-84947062290 (Scopus ID)
Conference
7th International Conference on Applied Energy (ICAE), MAR 28-31, 2015, Abu Dhabi, U ARAB EMIRATES
Available from: 2015-10-15 Created: 2015-10-15 Last updated: 2016-02-25Bibliographically approved
4. Electricity for development:: Mini-grid solution for rural electrificationin South Africa
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Electricity for development:: Mini-grid solution for rural electrificationin South Africa
Show others...
2016 (English)In: Energy Conversion and Management, ISSN 0196-8904, E-ISSN 1879-2227, no 110, 268-277 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The objective of most rural electrification programs in the developing world is to bring about socioeconomicdevelopment to households. Governments have put in place a number of measures to achievethis goal. Previous studies on rural electrification programs in developing countries show that solar homesystems and mini-grid systems are the dominant technologies. Assessments of a pilot hybrid mini-gridproject at Lucingweni village have concluded that mini-grid projects are not feasible due to high electricityproduction costs. As a result efforts toward rural electrification have been focused on the solar homesystem. Nevertheless, previous studies of the South African solar home system program have shown thatthe development objectives of the program are yet to be met more than a decade after commissioning.Therefore, this study investigates the viability of a hybrid mini-grid as a solution for rural developmentin South Africa. Investigations were based on Lucingweni and Thlatlaganya, two rural Villages where themini-grid and solar home system have been introduced. The mini-grid systems were designed taking intoconsideration available natural resources and existing load profiles. The results show that a village of 300households needs about 2.4 kW h/household/day of electricity to initiate and sustain income generatingactivities and that the solar home system is not capable of supporting this level of demand. We also showthat in locations with hydro resources, a hybrid mini-grid system has the most potential for meeting theenergy needs of the households in a cost effective manner. The assessment shows that with adequateplanning and optimization of available resources, the cost of electricity production can be reduced.

National Category
Civil Engineering
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:mdh:diva-30678 (URN)10.1016/j.enconman.2015.12.015 (DOI)000369191400026 ()2-s2.0-84952359482 (Scopus ID)
Available from: 2016-01-05 Created: 2016-01-05 Last updated: 2016-03-17Bibliographically approved
5. An assessment of unforeseen losses resulting from inappropriate use of solar home systems in South Africa
Open this publication in new window or tab >>An assessment of unforeseen losses resulting from inappropriate use of solar home systems in South Africa
2014 (English)In: Applied Energy, ISSN 0306-2619, E-ISSN 1872-9118, Vol. 136, 336-346 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

One of the challenges to the sustainability of the Solar Home System (SHS) electrification program in South Africa is equipment theft. In response to this, communities susceptible to solar panel theft resort to mounting their panels flat on the ground so they can be looked after during the day and taken indoors at night for safe keeping. Other households use their security lights to illuminate their environment and provide security for pole and roof mounted solar panels at night. These actions have consequential effects on the performance of the SHS. Several studies have detected resentment from households regarding the low power quality from these systems. Most scientific contributions on the issue of low power from SHS have focused on the challenges based on the technical designs of the systems. The power losses due to the usage pattern of the system has not received much attention. This study therefore reports on the technical losses as a result of the deviation from the designed and installed specification of the system by the users in order to protect their systems. It also investigates the linkage between the technical and economic losses which affects the sustainability of SHS program. A case study was performed in Thlatlaganya village within Limpopo province in South Africa. Technical analysis using PVSYST solar software revealed that the energy output and performance of the battery is compromised as a result of these practices. Economic analysis indicates that the battery life and the economics of owning and operating SHS are affected negatively. The study recommends solutions to mitigate these losses, and proposes a cost effective way of optimizing the operation of SHS using a Bench-Rack system for mounting solar panels.

Keyword
Battery life expectancy, Life cycle cost, Rural electrification sustainability, SHS performance optimization, Solar panel theft, User education, Battery life, Lifecycle costs, Performance optimizations, Rural electrification, Solar panels
National Category
Energy Engineering
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:mdh:diva-26152 (URN)10.1016/j.apenergy.2014.09.044 (DOI)000345725800033 ()2-s2.0-84907680647 (Scopus ID)
Available from: 2014-10-22 Created: 2014-10-22 Last updated: 2016-01-19Bibliographically approved
6. Using Renewable Energy Paradigm as a Tool for Sustainable Village Concept (SVC) in Africa
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Using Renewable Energy Paradigm as a Tool for Sustainable Village Concept (SVC) in Africa
Show others...
2012 (English)Conference paper, (Refereed)
Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Suhzou, China: , 2012
National Category
Energy Engineering
Research subject
Energy- and Environmental Engineering
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:mdh:diva-23038 (URN)
Conference
4th International Conference on Applied Energy 2012, July 5-8, Suzhou, China
Funder
Sida - Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency
Available from: 2013-11-29 Created: 2013-11-29 Last updated: 2016-01-19Bibliographically approved
7. Bridging the electrification gap in the sub-Saharan Africa
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Bridging the electrification gap in the sub-Saharan Africa
2012 (English)In: World Renewable Energy Forum, WREF 2012, 2012, 4426-4433 p.Conference paper, (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Studies have shown that Africa has enough resources to meet the continent's energy need and beyond. Statistics has it that only about 3.5% of world oil produced is consumed in the continent, whilst at the same time the continent contributes about 12.5% of the total world oil production. Africa also has capabilities for hydro, solar, geothennal. and biomass energy etc. Despite all these, Africa is still lying prostrate in meeting the energy need of its bourgeoning population. Many papers in the power literature have proffered solutions using fossil based energy technology as a panacea for meeting the short fall; others used renewable energy based solutions, but there has been a protracted history of failures. The adduced reasons borders on ineffective policies and business models. This paper therefore investigates the various renewable technologies as well as fossil based energy systems with the interest of identifying reasons for their failures in the past. The paper also reports on various policies on renewable energy in Africa that militates against energy sector development. Taking a holistic view of the cotemporary Africa situation in terms of its energy needs, it is the believe of the authors that, to overcome the energy challenges in Africa, an optimal response strategy that combines grid based and decentralized off-grid small scale renewable systems should be adopted. To this extent, our solution will not only augment with the existing solutions in providing the much needed electricity to the rural/peripheral urban dwellers in Africa, but also alleviate the poverty level through creation of jobs.

National Category
Engineering and Technology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:mdh:diva-17642 (URN)9781622760923 (ISBN)
Conference
World Renewable Energy Forum, WREF 2012, Including World Renewable Energy Congress XII and Colorado Renewable Energy Society (CRES) Annual Conference, 13 May 2012 through 17 May 2012, Denver, CO
Available from: 2013-01-14 Created: 2013-01-14 Last updated: 2016-01-19Bibliographically approved
8. Successful technology transfer: What does it take?
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Successful technology transfer: What does it take?
2014 (English)In: Applied Energy, ISSN 0306-2619, Vol. 130, 807813- p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Technology transfer from developed to developing countries is often problematic. Insufficient resources for operation and maintenance after project finalization are common challenges. Findings from assessments of two projects in rural Botswana and Namibia where different renewable energy technologies were introduced to improve access to electricity are presented. In Tsumkwe, a Namibian off-grid settlement with about 4000 inhabitants, a large solar-diesel hybrid system has been constructed. A smaller system using photovoltaic and biogas is piloted in the off-grid settlement Sekhutlane in Botswana. In Sekhutlane beneficiaries' ability to pay for services is addressed by supporting local entrepreneurs to establish electricity-based businesses. Functionality of installations was inspected and semi-structured interviews were held with key stakeholders. In Tsumkwe local service providers were unprepared to take charge of operations and maintenance after completion of the project and users have difficulties paying for the services. Too strong focus on technology and insufficient efforts made to involve local institutions and beneficiaries throughout the project are main causes. The promotion of local entrepreneurship in Sekhutlane has resulted in 17 local businesses being established, likely to strengthen the cash economy and improved ability to pay for services, and thereby contributing financial resources towards operation and maintenance of systems. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd.

Keyword
Off-grid rural electrification, Renewable energy, Stakeholder involvement, Sub-Saharan Africa, Developing countries, Hybrid systems, Renewable energy resources, Rural areas, Operation and maintenance, Operations and maintenance, Renewable energies, Renewable energy technologies, Rural electrification, Semi structured interviews, Technology transfer
National Category
Environmental Engineering
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:mdh:diva-25766 (URN)10.1016/j.apenergy.2014.01.087 (DOI)000340311500082 ()2-s2.0-84904785910 (Scopus ID)
Available from: 2014-08-08 Created: 2014-08-08 Last updated: 2016-05-13Bibliographically approved

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