Decentralised electric power delivery model for rural electrification in Pakistan

How does one go about providing electricity to 55 million Pakistanis who live “off-grid”? Conventional electrification strategies through large dams and thermal generation sites have a huge and often prohibitive upfront costs of setup and distribution. Recent innovations in photovoltaic technology, coupled with the steady decline in prices of solar panels have made solar solutions popular. Standalone solutions such as the CM Ujala scheme and low voltage micro-grids (e.g. Mera Goa Power in India), present a clean and low emission solutions for providing high quality light to those who live off-grid. However, such solutions offer basic services (typically light and a mobile charging point) and lack the scalability to allow for the provision larger communal loads, such as electricity for local schools, basic health units, or water pumps.

The current project seeks to design and cost a scalable microgrid system that through scale economies allows for the provision of communal loads, in addition to the provision of basic electrification to individual households. Furthermore, by estimating the demand for such services, the project proposes to study the feasibility of such a system, in comparison with existing technologies.

In line with this rationale, we will work on (a) eliciting the demand for such a service, and study changes in consumer willingness to pay based on their experience with the technology and (b) analyse the potential effects of basic electrification to these off-grid communities. Electrification would lower fuel costs and relax the day-light constraint on productive hours. Second, data on both the supply and demand side will allow us to guide policy on the most efficient route for rural electrification. We also aim to engage relevant government agencies and provide them with material to support the attempts to change laws with regards to generation and sale of electricity by and to private parties. This can help create a micro-energy economy with a viable, scalable and profitable microgrid model providing opportunities for entrepreneurs to enter the market and also provide new sources of employment.

The current project will serve as the foundation for a full scale study, where demand side parameters will be estimated through a randomized control trial. The current IGC funded project will:

  • Design and cost a decentralized high voltage DC microgrid, which can provide for a communal load of up to 500VA, in addition to providing basic electrification to households in a rural settlement.
  • Conduct a survey in a village cluster containing both off-grid and Semi-Electrified Rural (SER) settlements, in order to provide an estimate of the demand for such services.

Results from the village level survey will also feed into the second phase of the study, as the baseline for piloting the randomized control trial. In addition to direct policy impact, the hardware system design will provide the basis for new knowledge in applied sciences. In the field of economics, the project is a first step in pursuit of a full RCT that will be identifying factors that affect willingness to pay. This work will lead to a low-cost decentralized power delivery through solar energy without significant overheads from Government agencies.