In what its authors say is the first systematic study of the benefits of off-grid power systems, researchers have found clear benefits associated with electrification for people in remote areas, but have also raised some concerns.
A study undertaken by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and the World Resources Institute surveyed residential and small business users of on-site power systems including diesel gensets, solar PV systems and microgrids in India and Nepal.
‘These little systems have been proliferating widely across South Asia in the last ten years, sometimes in competition with each other,’ said IIASA researcher Narasimha Rao, lead research designer on the study. ‘We wanted to know what level of service and what benefits are people getting from these systems, and how these compare with larger scale electricity grids.’
According to the findings, solar systems are the most reliable on-site power option and most significantly reduce kerosene use. For other kinds of on-site power systems, service conditions vary widely, resulting in unreliability and limited hours during which power is available.
The study also found wide variations in the cost of on-site power systems, with a flat rate charged for most. According to the study, this means that poorer customers powering only a mobile phone could be paying the same rate as a wealthier household powering several appliances.
In sum, the researchers said off-grid power systems ‘may need regulation and standards of service if they are to stimulate long-term rural development’.