Sustainability of rural energy access in developing countries

University dissertation from Stockholm : KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Abstract: The importance of access to modern energy has been well understood by governments and donor agencies in many developing countries, and significant effort has been made in recent years to address energy access challenges. However, despite these efforts, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has predicted that the energy access problem will remain unresolved by 2030. Therefore, adequate and appropriate action is needed to resolve this problem more quickly. This dissertation analyses policies and their impacts and will help researchers and policy makers in developing countries to (i) understand the impact of policies in the formation of a renewable energy (RE) market, (ii) consider the determinants of technological choices when promoting access to energy services and, (iii) better appreciate the sustainability performance of rural energy. For the purpose of analysis, several country cases from Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa region were carried out as these are the two main regions where the energy access problem are most acute.To understand the impact of policies in the formation of RE based rural electrification market, a case study was conducted in Nepal. The study has shown that rural electrification has been expanding as a consequence of market-oriented policies. When it comes to selection of electrification path-ways, different technological alternatives are analysed in Afghanistan and Nepal, taking levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) as the means to select cost effective options. The analysis has presented best-fit conditions for these various technological pathways in the two countries and verified whether they are following the appropriate and cost effective course in their efforts to expand rural electrification. For understanding the determinants of cooking fuel choices and to analyse policy implications in the transition of large populations from traditional to modern fuels, fuel choices are modelled in the case of China. Choices are modelled (using MESSAGE–ACCESS mod-el) with standard economic variables such as income, technology costs and fuel prices, along with some unique variable such as inconvenience costs. Future access scenarios are designed considering different policy options to accelerate the transition.Sustainability is one of the key concerns in terms of energy access. This dissertation introduces methods for evaluating (i) the sustainability performance of energy technologies and (ii) the status and progress of developing countries in providing sustainable energy access. Different sets of sustainability indicators are considered for the rural energy sector and aggregated to form a single composite index. The energy technology sustainability index (ETSI) is used for assessing the performance of different energy technological systems in the case of India. The analysis reveals that mature technologies such as biomass gasifiers, biogas and micro hydro have relatively better sustainability performance among the options considered, while solar and wind, though showing fairly good improvement in sustainability performance, still have difficulties competing with more mature and conventional technologies without policy support. The Energy Sustainability Index (ESI) has been applied to China, India, South Africa, Sri-Lanka, Bangladesh and Ghana between 1990 and 2010 to evaluate the status and progress made by these countries in rural energy sustainability. The analysis suggests that South Africa’s rural energy sustainability index is highest followed by China, Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh and Ghana respectively. The rural energy sustainability has improved relatively over time in all countries except Ghana.The dissertation shows that policies are helping the rapid expansion of the RE market though with uneven penetration in rural Nepal. Access to credit and cumbersome subsidy delivery mechanism are perceived as the major factors affecting the expansion of rural electrification, requiring innovation. The electrification pathways taken by Nepal seem functional and moving in the right direction but some flaws in the delivery mechanisms require attention. Meanwhile in Afghanistan, pathways are not well defined and the country lacks a clear-cut national policy framework for the expansion of rural electrification. The analysis on fuel transition shows that even a fast developing country such as China will continue to have serious problems guaranteeing the access to solid fuels for cooking for one third of its rural population by 2030. The problem could be more severe in poorer nations. There-fore, further policy intervention addressing the high implicit discount rate of the poorer section of the population, reducing the upfront cost of more efficient technology (stoves) or the costs of cleaner fuels with subsidies must be considered to promote energy transition.Overall, this dissertation has analysed key issues in the global discussion about sustainable energy access. The methods for sustainability assessment suggested have been specially designed for rural settings in developing countries and are instrumental to assess the performance of rural energy technologies and track the progress of sustainable energy access efforts among rural households.