Solar Nano-Grids: An appropriate solution for meeting community energy needs?

Lead Research Organisation: Loughborough University
Department Name: Geography

Abstract

The increasing success of Solar home systems over recent years (in terms of the number of installations) is undoubted. There is now a relatively wide literature documenting the successes and limitations of different business models in facilitating the growth of the sector, as well as a growing literature documenting the immediate impacts of access to electricity via SHS upon issues as diverse as health, education, security, access to information/communications and income. What is clear, however, is that, whilst a household undoubtedly gains developmental benefits from purchasing or hiring an SHS (removing the air pollution caused by kerosene lamps, providing light for children or other members of the household to study, enhanced security, access to information etc.), the degree to which this addresses the poverty of the members of the household and, for example, their ability to generate income is far less clear. In fact, the evidence tends to suggest that it does not and in some cases actually imposes additional financial burdens. In addition, the economic advantages of SHS over other means of accessing lighting and electricity for running small appliances especially for low-scale users is not yet proven and the costs of SHS still put it beyond the pockets of many of the poorest.

Within this context, the research team behind this proposal has developed the concept of Solar Nano-grids as one potential way of addressing some of the limitations of SHS. The nano-grid concept is based on the idea of the SHS, where the basic electricity needs of the households are met, but at the same time it proposes the incoorporation of some small scale agricultural or industrial applications (like irrigation). This takes advantage of the fact that houses are frequently clustered together in rural areas in groups of 15-20 houses within a diameter of less than 150m. In the proposed nano-grid system, a basic, say 1.5 to 3kWp, PV system is installed in a small cluster of households within a short radius of each other (ideally 60-70m) and power is distributed to the households from this system.

This whole project has been designed as an expressly inter-disciplinary project bringing together social scientists and engineers to work together across all work packages in the project. The basic rationale for the methodology is to begin with a thorough review of current knowledge in this field relating to (i) existing experiences with community-based energy systems of the kind of magnitude envisioned in this project and (ii) the technical and socio-economic literature dealing with small-scale grid-connected solar projects and their outcomes. This will then be followed by detailed work in the two county contexts (the project will be developed in Kenya and Bangladesh, two countries with particularly well developed SHS markets) exploring experiences amongst communities with different levels of experience with SHS programmes, with very different economic or environmental characteristics etc. This will lead to confirmation of the four specific communities where nano-grid projects will be installed. This will be followed by extensive consultation within the chosen communities, the design of the system and agreement over the business model to be employed and the eventual installation and operation of the nano-grids themselves and a two year process of observation and evaluation.

Planned Impact

Fundamentally, this project is designed to enhance the impacts of the deployment of small-scale solar energy technologies amongst poor rural communities across the developing world through the novel idea of solar nano-grids. In particular it is targeted at enhancing the ability of small-scale solar technologies to provide real economic opportunities for communities to engage in income-generating activities as well as enjoying the social, healht and lifestyle improvements that solar home systems offer. Whilst the project will have a direct impact on the iives of community members within the four communities where the nano-grids are installed, we also aim, through our impact strategy, to have a wider impact upon the range of bodies working in the renewable energy sector within both country contexts and beyond.

We will provide the wider academic community and International Policy-Makers with new empirical insight into the energy use patterns of poor communities in different parts of the developing world and new understandings of the wider community impacts of the evolution of solar home systems and the potential of solar nano-grids to provide wider social and economic benefits.

We will provide policy-Makers and Other Stakeholders in Bangladesh and Kenya with new understanding of patterns of energy use on a daily and seasonal basis and new evidence on the wider community impacts of the diffusion of solar home systems within each country, as well country-specific evaluation of the potential of Solar Nano-Grids to provide wider benefits to the wider rural community than via existing Solar Home System provision. We will also provide illustration of the importance of detailed and careful community consultation to the successful outcome of community-based energy projects.

The results will also key into on-going work by the Department for International Development (DFID) on the applicability and potential of green mini-grids. The findings from this project will be able to help inform some investment decisions, helping to enhance the value for money of UK government international assistance in this area.
 
Description We are still currently in a relatively early stage in terms of assessing the performance and impacts of the nano-grids and the potential for further development both in the Kenyan and Bangladesh contexts and beyond. The first year of the project revolved around the completion of background literature reviews, stakeholder mapping, developing the criteria for selecting the four locations where the nano-grids were to be developed and carrying out in-depth community consultations within those communities. During the second year we focused extensively on the technical design of the two nano-grid systems, carrying out extensive consultations with the four communities, complex discussion between the project partners over business models, governance structures and forms of community consultation and developing plans for expansion of the project beyond its USES funding period (particularly within the Kenyan context). During the third year of the project the nano-grid systems were finally installed in all four communities over the first half of the year and have been running ever since.
In Bangladesh there have been some complications, for example, in the relationship between the system installers, operators and the two communities but these are gradually being ironed out and there have also been some security concerns. We are working closely with our partners in fine-tuning the dynamics between the various stakeholders involved and ensuring that the voices of the community themselves are given the weight needed to take forward the project successfully.
In Kenya, the situation has also been complex but final outcomes are proving extremely positive. Installation was delayed due to a variety of factors (such as issues regarding land titles). Installation itself went well but revealed some technical issues in relation to system design. The major problem arose, however, in July when it became apparent that the wider group which our in-country partner was part of had got into serious difficulties and ended up going into financial liquidation. Since then LU has kept the project moving forward in both communities and succesfully contracted a new in-country partner with whom we have taken forward the project to a successful conclusion. Interestingly, one of the outcomes of this process, is that it has allowed the two village energy communities to take a much more directive role in the evolution of the project than would have been the case if things had continued as intended with our original project partners. Our new partners SCODE have been very succesful at managing the relationships with both communities and a number of exciting new initiatives (related to egg incubation, financial services and clean cooking via electricity and LPG) have driven significant economic benefits over the last year.
Exploitation Route Our findings will directly inform the strategies of our in-country partners as they develop their ideas for the sustained operation of the nano-grids beyond the end of the funding period and we are already actively exploring the development of plans for the development of the concept in other communities in the two country contexts and beyond.
Sectors Energy,Government, Democracy and Justice

URL http://songproject.co.uk/
 
Description The approach developed by the SONG team has been used to develop four contrasting approaches to nano-grid design in each of the communities. Detailed consultations have been held with each of the communities and the systems have now been installed in all four communities. The project has advanced most strongly in Kenya where we have succesfully bid for further resources and have been developing a range of business activities within the two communities (including egg incubation). We are exploring the potential for further installations within both country contexts and beyond (for example Strathclyde university are working with partners in Malawi in the potential utilization of the approach there). We are also developing a commerical vehicle with colleagues in the UK and Kenya for the accelerated roll-out of the concept.
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Energy
Impact Types Societal,Economic

 
Description EPSRC Institutional Sponsorship Solar Nano-Grids Enhancement
Amount £19,500 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2016 
End 03/2017
 
Description EPSRC/Loughborough Studentship
Amount £80,000 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2015 
End 09/2018
 
Description INTASAVE Research Partnership 
Organisation INTASAVE
Country China 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Joint management of Bid-Writer to develop future research initiatives connected to both the READ and SONG projects
Collaborator Contribution INTASAVE and Loughborough are currently cooperating on the SONG (Solar Nano-Grids) project. This partnership does not refer to that role which is already covered via the partnership that is an integral part of that project. This partnership reflects a commitment made by INTASAVE to fund a bid-writing position to work collaboratively on grant proposals to take forward further research initiatives related to both the READ and SONG projects. We have already advertised the position twice but are yet to fill the vacancy.
Impact The funding of the post has been confirmed by INTASAVE and the post has been advertised.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Nottingham Leverhulme Collaboration 
Organisation University of Nottingham
Department Faculty of Social Sciences
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have integrated Dr. Mohr fully into the SONG research team.
Collaborator Contribution Dr Alison Mohr has connected her Leverhulme project to the SONG project and has been working with us since early 2014. She has made an invaluable contribution to the development and operationalisation of the community consultation approach adopted by the project.
Impact Joint publishing is already underway. A bid for further funding for this collaboration has been made to the Midlands Energy Consortium The collaboration has greatly enhanced the quality of the community consultation approach adopted by the SONG project
Start Year 2014
 
Description Oxford Collaboration 
Organisation University of Oxford
Department Energy and Power Group
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have integrated our colleagues from Oxford fully into the project team
Collaborator Contribution INTASAVE financed a PhD at the University of Oxford to work directly on the devleopment of the technical design of the nano-grid systems in the Kenyan context. Both the PhD student and her supervisor and been fully integrated into the SONG research team and have made an absolutely invaluable contribution to the project's development.
Impact Joint publishing is already underway.
Start Year 2014
 
Description SCODE New Business Venture 
Organisation Sustainable Community Development Services
Country Kenya 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution This is our new partner for the nano-grids in Kenya
Collaborator Contribution We are currently developing a nerw buisiness venture with them
Impact under development
Start Year 2017
 
Description 2016 AAG presentation: "Bringing economic developmentn and light to those not on the bottom rung of the ladder.' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was a presentation organised during an LCEDN session at the Association of American Geographers Annual Conference in San Francisco, March 2016.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description 4th LCEDN Conference Durham 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We held a special USES section at the 4th LCEDN conference held in Durham during March 2015 during which we presented updates on both the READ and SONG projects as well as encouraging discussion across the project teams as well. There were a wide range of participants drawn from an array of academic disciplines as well as representatives from DFID, international partners and the Private sector.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://lcedn.com/community/conference-series/community-conference-series-lcedn-4th-conference/
 
Description Asiatic Society Presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Prof Rezwan Khan made the presentation 'Solar Energy: Bangladesh Perspective' at the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh in Dhaka, May 16th.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description ETRI Presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Alison Mohr presented the paper 'Social dimensions of solar technologies - global lessons in the UK' at the Energy Technologies Research Institute solar energy workshop, University of Nottingham, 18th February.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Engineering4Change Blog Post 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Blog post putting across the conceptual basis to much of the project's thinking on scale and energy transitions
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.engineeringforchange.org/low-carbon-transitions-and-the-tyranny-of-scale/
 
Description Green Technology and Society Seminar 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Prof Rezwan Khan made the presentation 'Solar Energy in Bangladesh' drawing on SONG experiences at the 7th international Seminar on Green Technology and Society at Dhaka University, January 2016.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description January 2015 Bangladesh Community Consultations 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A two day consultation visit was made to each of the communities selected for development of the nano-grid projects. A wide-ranging questionnaire survey was carried out, together with three focus groups in each community, as well as interviews and discussions with key stakeholders.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description July 2015 Kenyan Community Consultations 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A public meeting was held in each community where the project was introduced to each community and feedback elicited. A meeting was held with key stakeholders with a view to establishing a Village Energy Committee within each community. In each case the following day formal expressions of interest in participating in the household element of the project were recorded and formal meetings held with the VEC over next steps.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Keynote ICDRET Dhaka Jan 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The PI of the READ project was the keynote speaker at the 4th International Conference on Developments in Renewable Energy Technologies where he focused on a series of lessons drawn from the READ work, relating also to the experiences of SONG in Kenya and Bangladesh. The visit coincided with SONG project meetings and an opportunity to discuss potential future collaborations taking forward both projects. The presentation also involved introduction of and discussion of the projects funded under the USES programme and the activities of the USES Network
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.icdret.uiu.ac.bd/index.php/user/programSchedule
 
Description Midlands Energy Consortium December 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Our new PhD student working on taking forward READ and SONG-related research made a presentation entitled 'Decentralised energy and political decentralization in Kenya' developing ideas for the next steps of his research at the annual MEC student conference.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Moher ISTC Conference August 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Alison Mohr presented the paper 'Transitioning to Sustainable Energy for All' drawing upon the SONG experience at the International Sustainability Transitions Conference, SPRU, University of Sussex, August 2015.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Mohr USES 2014 Presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact One of the project team presented the paper "Making a Difference: The Co-Production of Knowledge and Mutual Learning through the USES Network," drawing on experiences of the SONG project at the first annual USES workshop held in July 2014.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://lcedn.com/uses/2014/09/10/alison-mohrs-presentation-at-the-july-2014-uses-network-annual-work...
 
Description November 2014 Kenyan Community Consultations 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A two day consultation visit was made to each of the communities selected for development of the nano-grid projects. A wide-ranging questionnaire survey was carried out, together with three focus groups in each community, as well as interviews and discussions with key stakeholders.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description November 2015 Bangladesh Community Consultations 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A public meeting was held in each community where the project was introduced to each community and feedback elicited. A meeting was held with key stakeholders with a view to establishing a Village Energy Committee within each community. In each case the following day formal expressions of interest in participating in the household element of the project were recorded and formal meetings held with the VEC over next steps.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Palermo November 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact One of the project team presented the paper 'Low-loss, high compression of energy profiles' drawing on the SONG work at International Conference for Renewable Energy Research and Applications at the University of Palermo, November 2015.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description RGS 2015 SONG Paper 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Three of the project team presented the paper 'Appropriate delivery for who? The community solar imaginary' in a session on delivery models at the Royal Geographical Society annual conference at the University of Exeter, September 2015.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://lcedn.com/blog/what-are-appropriate-delivery-models-for-sustainable-energy-access-in-the-deve...
 
Description RGS 2016 Presentation: Reshaping Energy Governance 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact This was a presentation pulling together insights from READ and SONG in collaboration with an Indian colleague.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Radio Interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Three of us were interviewed on national radio in Bangladesh in early January during which we promoted both the SONG project and the broader activities of the USES research programme and the USES network.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description SE4All Newsletter piece 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A description of the nano-grids approach was published in the main SE4All newsletter
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://energyaccess.org/news/recent-news/mini-grids-around-the-world/#instasave
 
Description SONG Consultation Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact This was a consultation workshop with a number of especially invited Kenyan sector experts where we presented the nano-grids concept anf invited discussion and engagement over how best to take forward the approach within the Kenyan context. It was accompanied by a stakeholder mapping exercise and participatory impact planning activities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description SONG Update at 4th LCEDN Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Jon Cloke provided an update on the development of the SONG project during a session on the USES projects incorporated into the 4th LCEDN Conference held at Durham UNiversity in March 2015
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://lcedn.com/community/conference-series/community-conference-series-lcedn-4th-conference/
 
Description Smart Villages Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Two of the project team made a presentation on the SONG Research methodology at a Smart Villages workshop in Cambridge.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Sustainable Transitions Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Three of the project team presented the paper, 'The Energy Cultures Framework as a Tool for designing sustainable energy services in the Global South' at the International Sustainable Transitions Conference, University of Sussex, August 2015.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description USES Annual Workshop December 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Three day annual workshop involving presentations, capacity building activities, visits to SONG community projects, partnering prizes etc.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.lcedn.com