Editor’s Note: This is the third of three articles we will be publishing on solar home storage systems. The articles will explore the challenges and opportunities that they present in different parts of the world. The first article can be found here and the second article can be found here.
Supply and demand issues for energy and power aren’t just themes prevalent in countries across Europe, North America, and Oceania. In Africa, Latin America, and Asia, recent research shows that the demand for electricity far outstrips supply. However, the expansion of an electric grid to accommodate for this demand, especially in rural areas, would take decades. Therefore, the supply of ‘off-grid’ electricity in rural areas is necessary, with off-grid electrification taking place in two main forms: mini grids and off-grid SHSS1.
An off-grid SHSS works in a very similar way to an on-grid SHSS, as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Diagram of an off-grid SHSS system
The key difference between on-grid and off-grid SHSS is the lack of connection to an electricity grid in the latter. As such, the power generated by the solar array will be stored in a battery, to then be converted by an inverter when needed. In rural areas where illumination and cell phone charging are the basic needs, sometimes and inverter is not required as these appliances function with direct current. Inverters are used for appliances, such as lamps, TVs or fans. These systems vary in quality, capacity and price.
Africa and Asia
In developing Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, the adoption of SHSS is accelerating, and continued growth is forecast for the next four years, as shown in Figure 2. The use of SHSS is also set to grow significantly in ASEAN countries such as Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Figure 2: Anticipated growth of off-grid SHSS in developing Asia and sub-Saharan Africa
One factor driving the supply of SHSS in Africa and Asia is market expansion. In India, the number of enterprises offering SHSS as their main product has grown from 10 to 40 in the last 10 years. A recent Bloomberg New Energy Finance report predicts that by 2028, SHSS will provide on-demand power cheaper than old coal plants across Asia. Firms are seeking to tap into that value.
Organisations offer flexible credit options to customers to help increase access: users can pay as little as 15% up front for their systems. These options are commonly paid through the use of popular mobile payment systems such as MPESA. It allows SHSS customers to scale-up their SHSS capacity in line with demand, by paying for extra capacity on their mobile phones.
The number of donor programs has also increased. For example, there are 3 million off-grid SHSS users in Bangladesh as a result of the World Bank’s Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Development II (RERED II) Program. The RERED II was set up with support from the Bangladeshi government and is a public-private partnership that now installs over 70,000 solar home systems every month. This makes it the fastest-growing solar home system programme worldwide.
However, there are risks associated with donor programs and private company involvement. In Bangladesh, evidence shows that battery replacement costs represent a significant financial burden to SHSS users, as does the required technical assistance or aftercare. Moreover, donors who import systems are in competition with local vendors. Conflict may arise if users are not satisfied, which leads to systems neglect. A risk in bigger projects with funding from multilateral development entities or the private sector is a lack of community involvement; evidence shows that users of SHSS systems commonly express dissatisfaction in projects where community involvement is limited.
In Latin American countries, off-grid SHSS take-up has recently increased. Specifically, SHSS adoption has increased in Chile, Honduras, Peru, Brazil, and most recently Argentina, where the RenovAr program has awarded 2,400 megawatts of storage projects. Despite this, many rural households in Latin America spend a large percentage of their income on inefficient ‘dirty’ energy solutions, such as kerosene lamps, wood, and candles. These forms of energy are a hazard to human health and the environment. This is particularly true in Nicaragua, where in 2016 an estimated 43.4% of the rural population had no access to electricity. A recent report on energy storage in Latin America suggests the prevalence of off-grid SHSS in the energy mix will increase as the costs of batteries decrease. The extent of the growth of SHSS will also depend on the development of regulatory regimes that facilitate SHSS, as well as the growth of organisations in the market.
Kingo are a private enterprise based in Guatemala, who plan to supply SHSS to 500 million rural users. Kingo reports to be installing off-grid SHSS at a rate of 7000 home systems per month. Economies of scale allow them to offer inclusive payment models, as they install SHSS for users free of charge. Customers then pay for their systems to be activated, with each user paying a monthly subscription to Kingo for a contracted period of time. Funding models such as these can also serve as guarantees for quality of components and installations; users will often stop making payments if the system does not perform to their satisfaction.
On the ground experiences of off-grid SHSS in Latin America highlight important considerations to maximise the success of other projects. Firstly, off-grid SHSS are reported to have better success rates when they are in close proximity to each other. Moreover, they rely upon the available supply of hardware and the human capacity to manage it. Governments have an active role to play in enabling market conditions and implementing supportive regulation, such as a set of minimum quality standards and codes to uphold the quality of off-grid SHSS systems.
A lack of regulation increases the risk of SHSS suppliers producing systems that use cheap components and fail regularly. Not only can this result in systems neglect, but poor quality vendors may artificially depress SHSS prices. To avoid this, some SHSS projects ensure vendors, both companies and installers, are fully certified before they can bid on tender, such as Nicaragua’s Programa de Electrificación Rural en Zonas Aisladas (PERZA), a World Bank funded rural electrification program.
It is important to avoid inconsistency between users’ expectations and donor’s objectives. For example, many organisations who donate SHSS do so with a distinct lack of knowledge of local context and low community involvement, which users report being dissatisfied with.
Lastly, SHSS can exacerbate inequality within rural communities, as SHSS users tend to be more affluent members of rural societies. Some owners buy them as a symbol of wealth. Therefore, organisations should be wary of creating an impact inverse to their intentions by further marginalising members of a rural community.
1 This article series explores both on-grid and off-grid Solar Home Storage Systems (SHSS). This article’s definition of off-grid SHSS is the equivalent of the term Solar Home Systems (abbreviated as SHS), often used in existing literature to describe standalone solar PV systems in rural settings.
Image courtesy of Flickr. Originally published by S&S on October 25, 2018.