The United Nations Foundation today released a groundbreaking new study evaluating the contribution of micro-grids to electrification in developing countries. Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory of the University of California, Berkeley, together with the UN Foundation’s Energy Access Practitioner Network, collaborated on “Micro-grids for Rural Electrification: A critical review of best practices based on seven case studies.” The research was led by Professor Daniel M. Kammen of UC Berkeley and his graduate students Pablo Carvallo, Ranjit Deshmukh, and Deepa Shinde Lounsbury, together with Professor Jay Apt of CMU and his doctoral student Daniel Schnitzer.
The study examined a range of micro-grid applications in rural communities, based on extensive field visits to micro-grid developer sites and offices in India, Malaysian Borneo, and Haiti. These formed the basis for a range of case studies where the challenges and successes of each developer were assessed. The roles of subsidies, tariff design, maintenance, and other factors that constitute micro-grid operations were examined in the context of existing best practices and re-examined in light of the findings of the seven case studies.
The report examines the factors driving the sustainability of micro-grid operations, and frames a set of generally applicable practical findings, presented as “virtuous” cycles of reinforcing technologies and management practices, contrasted with “vicious" cycles that lead to systems falling out of good repair and use. Distinctions are made between the different metrics used by developers for what they consider to be a “sustainable” micro-grid.
Richenda Van Leeuwen, Executive Director for Energy Access at the United Nations Foundation, said the study "makes an important contribution to developing best practices across the micro-grids sector, as we look to identify the full role micro-grids can play in addressing energy access issues globally in light of the Sustainable Energy for All goal of reaching universal energy access by 2030." To read the entire report, click here.
The Executive Summary of the report begins, "Microgrids distributed systems of local energy generation, transmission, and use are today technologically and operationally ready to provide communities with electricity services, particularly in rural and peri-urban areas of less developed countries. Over 1.2 billion people do not have access to electricity, which includes over 550 million people in Africa and 300 million people in India alone (International Energy Agency, 2012). In many of these places, the traditional approach to serve these communities is to extend the central grid.
"This approach is technically and financially inefficient due to a combination of capital scarcity, insufficient energy service, reduced grid reliability, extended building times and construction challenges to connect remote areas. Adequately financed and operated microgrids based on renewable and appropriate resources can overcome many of the challenges faced by traditional lighting or electrification strategies. This report is intended for microgrid practitioners, or those interested in better understanding real-world challenges and solutions regarding microgrid deployment and maintenance."