Sustainable Solar Powered Electricity Models and Funding for Rural Communities

by Sylvester Mbam

Among the basic needs of man, affordable and reliable energy is a top priority. Thus, the United Nations (UN) has capped energy as one of the stress areas towards achieving Sustainable Development. This is because we need to effectively harness energy to provide access to cost-effective, contemporary, and reliable power that ensures development. (United Nations, Assembly, 2015)

The International Energy Agency (IEA) iterates on 250 Kilowatt-hours (kWh) as the lowest benchmark for household energy consumption in rural areas, and 500 kWh in urban areas (International Energy Agency (IEA), 2015). Based on this, a vast population of up to 1.2 billion people mostly residing in rural communities has no access to affordable and reliable electricity. And the available option is the diesel-powered generator, which is both environmentally and economically harsh.

Therefore, an alternative source of power in rural areas becomes the use of solar or photovoltaic modules, biogas plants or biodigesters, water mills, windmills, solar water heater, etc. These options are cost-effective, environmentally friendly, and thus renewable. Among these options, the photovoltaic systems have been mostly utilized, and in various ways. They serve as household lightning/solar home systems, operating the local businesses and hospitals, etc.

Achieving sustainable electrification in rural areas requires no perfect model. It all depends on fundamental factors ranging from the targets community needs, available funding, and government policies and incentives, etc. Below are the most applicable models for sustaining a reliable energy supply in rural communities.

Government-funding

Communities not connected to the national electricity grid can be captured under the government budget to help provide solar-powered/standalone systems. The government can supply dense and remote-populations within unpopular communities with a grid extension. In this case, the cost of powering the community rises with the population in the area. National Rural Electrification Authority is in charge of executing such projects. This model meets the energy needs of the households. It also targets the power demands of some basic amenities in the community. Thus, the government can finance it at any level.

Community-funding

Remote areas without access to the national grids and government funding can negotiate their energy supply through a co-operation. This means that they acquire a standalone solar power or mini-grids financed by the community’s co-operate or individual initiatives. In this model, the target is meeting the basic electricity needs of households.

Private funds

Various individual developers can negotiate the energy demands for rural communities. Unlike government-funded projects, which receive more capital and thus offer a reasonable charge to users, this model is quite limited with funds. However, the private solar scheme can help supplement the efforts of the government in meeting the energy needs of these remote areas.

The economic viability of private energy projects is still an undervalued issue, especially in rural areas. This is because it takes a longer period to make profits. The key players in this model range from the non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to angel investors/capitalists, etc. Recently, grid developers across Africa came together to form the Africa Mini-Grid Developers Association (AMDA).

The body works with governments, investors, and donors to execute a friendly environment for mini-grids or self-sustaining projects in Africa. This body aggregates the basic data for mini-grids comprising of the amounts of funds for the projects, and their viability, coupled with their sponsors. Thus, governments need to utilize energy alternatives such as solar systems to solve and implement energy projects.

Combined/hybrid approach

In a quest to fund solar projects in remote communities, stakeholders can initiate a combined synergy. This model requires a counterpart funding. Key players or investors and community stakeholders negotiate the energy needs of their community. The energy sources in the community can involve an extension of the national grids, standalone solar stations, and small-grids.

People in hinterlands usually make use of these standalone solar projects. There, meeting basic energy needs is a big challenge, the mini-grids are decentralized and non-dependent power networks. They work separately from the national power network.

Conclusion

Apart from iterating the need for renewable energy, which is most suitable for a sustainable environment, we must adopt approaches that can last. Hence, the need to examine available models and opt for the most appropriate, considering the communities involved. Also, we must seek funding types that will suitable cover expenses. That is what will power rural communities.

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