What works best for Energy Access Projects in Asia?
By Radheeka Jirasinha
When designing or implementing a
renewable energy access project, there are several pertinent new questions that
need to be asked and should keep being asked. The most important of which is
why are you doing it?
"You can do energy
access and development as you know for reasons of finance, for reasons of
capturing economic value, for reasons of empowerment, for reasons of gender
equality, for reasons of the environment, but you can also do it for another reason
– and I'm reminded of Albert Einstein's quote, that not until we create a basic
standard of living for all people can we ever call ourselves civilised. So you
can also do energy access as a way of humanising society and embarking on a way
toward a more equitable and just world for all of us”, Professor Benjamin
What Works Best?
that persists in everyday tasks and for the life of a researcher, consumes his
or her world.
In one of the latest instalments
of its “Change Lecture series”, IFAD invited Benjamin Sovacool, Professor of
Energy Policy at the University of Sussex, to come to IFAD and give a talk. Sovacool
and his team conducted a five-year research study which compared energy access
projects across Asia. Keeping in mind that "there is no one size fits
all solution or one energy access solution", the team sought to understand
the structure of renewable energy access interventions, and the benefits and
challenges faced in order to address the questions of what works best, what
lessons can be applied across geographical regions and what lessons have been
ignored or forgotten.
The focus on small-scale
renewable energy projects is due to a better Levelized Cost Of Energy (LCOE)
compared to existing technologies (such as kerosene, the grid etc.), as well as
the multitude of climate mitigation and adaptation benefits, and socio-economic
development benefits. Utilising energy sources like wind, biomass, solar,
biogas and micro-hydro systems will avoid carbon dioxide emissions, reduce
deforestation, and create jobs and improve human wellbeing.
Deciding which renewable energy
access projects to concentrate on and study in depth proved a colossal task, as
an initial desk review brought up 1,156 cases. An extensive eight phase
selection process enabled the researchers to narrow down the focus to 10 case
studies of renewable energy initiatives in Asia. The 10 case studies were made
up of 6 clear cut successful stories and 4 clear failures.
"In all of the failures, planners made the mistake of presuming
they knew what technology people wanted and having extremely limited criteria”,
said Sovacool. “In Papua New Guinea, you could only buy one type of solar home
system, and they [the community] didn’t want it".
The findings demonstrated that understanding
different socio-cultural and political contexts is key to implementing a
renewable energy project as the "specificity of the solution goes right
down to the community". Policy mechanisms and business models are just
as important as the technical specificities of renewable energy services. Understanding
the different contexts and deciding on which renewable energy sources, carriers
and services to use, creates a matrix
of intricate complexity.
However, the team found that
best practices or design principles do exist in renewable energy access
projects. The team identified the common barriers across technical, economic
and financial, political and institutional, and social and cultural areas. They
found that all countries face at least
4 barriers, whilst some countries face as many as 14 barriers. The
team was able to come up with 12 principles that will lead to a successfully
designed renewable energy access project, programme, intervention or policy.
These include: i) focus on net
beneficial energy access; ii) select appropriate technology and scale; iii)
prioritise community commitment; iv) conduct awareness raising; v) provide
after sales service; vi) emphasize income generation; vii) encourage
institutional diversity; viii) focus on affordability; ix) build capacity; x)
be flexible; xi) Always evaluate and monitor and; xii) find or build stakeholder
The team concluded that combining the three main findings of their study: i) technology is complex and context specific, ii) business models matter, and iii) best practices exist, creates a new way of dong energy access programs.