Distributed Renewable Power Generation for Remote Locations in Developing Countries: A Cross-Disciplinary Planning Perspective

By Daniel Akinyele, Joseph Petinrin, and Lanre Olatomiwa

Part of the UN’s sustainable development plans is to ensure that, by the year 2030, all communities around the world have access to modern energy services. However, in order to realize this goal, a multi-dimensional and practical framework is required that will address the social, technical, economic, environmental and policy concerns. Distributed renewable energy systems have been identified as a viable option for increasing the world’s electricity access rate. Therefore, this article presents the Social, Technical, Economic, Environmental and Policy (STEEP) model as a means for planning and analysing distributed energy technologies. Such a model provides a comprehensive perspective for better understanding of localised power generation for developing countries.

All countries consider the provision of electricity supply to their citizens a leading point on the economic and development agenda. Despite this, about 1.2 billion people lack access to electricity, that is, 17% of the world population according to World Energy Outlook 2015. This includes about 620 million in Africa, 160 million people in South East Asia and over 400 million in India with consumption per capital less than what is required to keep a 50-watt light bulb glowing continuously (2012 data from the International Energy Agency).

Rural dwellers in remote locations face a major challenge in efforts to meet their social obligations and progress, due to lack of access to the national grid. Many communities in developing countries depend on biomass (fire wood), expensive types of fuel, and other types of low quality and potentially health-threatening sources of energy to meet their basic energy needs, i.e., lighting and cooking. Such energy resources are polluting and not efficient. In addition, several rural communities are electrified through distributed diesel power, which also contributes to an increased emission of greenhouse gases. To rectify the aforementioned negative concerns, renewable energy technologies have been considered as a viable alternative option for increasing the access to energy in remote communities around the world.

Opportunities abound for the use of renewable energy resources where electricity, thermal or mechanical energy is required. This is one of the reasons why renewable energy technologies continue to attract the interest of governments, policy/decision-makers, energy planners and researchers, electricity operators, independent producers, and other concerned stakeholders within the developing countries. These stakeholders are concerned with the prevalent issue of energy shortage and the increased use of fossil fuel-based generators.

In light of this, renewable energies serve as an eco-friendly alternative energy option for meeting the energy demand of the intended communities or specified users. In view of certain characteristics of the energy sector in developing countries and the qualities of the renewable energy resources, in comparison to non- renewable energy resources and conventional energy, greater prospects for renewable energy technologies integration also exist in the remote sector of the economy.

Furthermore, the accelerated increase in fuel prices has further justified the increased awareness, adoption, economic attractiveness and expected widespread application of renewable energy technologies.

One of United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (UN- SDGs) is to ensure the provision of modern energy services to all communities in the world by 2030. However, certain planning dimensions are necessary to realise such an optimistic goal, which are beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries. This is because distributed renewable electricity systems are different from distributed power generation systems based on conventional energy resources, e.g. diesel, petrol, with which most isolated communities are familiar.

Therefore, the process of planning and developing the renewable power system for remote communities in the developing countries requires practical ways of thinking. This is necessary to achieve a long-term viability of the proposed localised energy system for the intended community.

One basic approach for designing and planning distributed renewable energy systems is the user-centered design strategy. Such a strategy carefully considers the users’ perception, load demand requirements and the local conditions as the beginning of the planning process and a crucial design task for achieving practical distributed renewable electricity solutions.

One of the main reasons why several distributed renewable energy systems have failed in developing countries is that the design process has not adequately considered the energy users’ requirements. The user-centered strategy will help to address this problem, by taken into account the intended users’ perspective.

Therefore, it is important to have accurate information about the proposed energy users. A field-based technique is an effective means of obtaining the necessary information about the users. Such a technique primarily includes the on-site surveys, interviews, observation and/or a contextual inquiry. This way, the energy designer or solutions provider will have the opportunity to interact with the concerned people.

Apart from understanding the users’ perception, basic energy demand and local situations, it is also necessary to identify the available renewable energy resources on-site and, hence, the type of energy solutions to be proposed. In this scope, designing suitable distributed renewable energy systems for the users is made possible. This process employs the users’ social characteristics for developing the technical analysis, and it is referred to as the socio-technical planning perspective.

In energy system design and planning, the techno-economic perspective is a widely accepted framework for assessing the feasibility of the proposed energy system. However, the requirements for achieving sustainable energy solutions transcend the techno-economic dimension. Integrating the social aspect to this perspective, the framework then becomes the socio-techno-economic dimension.

The socio-economic and the environmental dimensions are important components for realising sustainable development. Therefore, the addition of the environmental aspect to the framework makes it a socio-techno-economic-environmental dimension. While considering the techno-economic feasibility of the proposed energy system, it is also important to ascertain the social characteristics and the life cycle environmental impact of the solutions.

These planning perspectives cut across the distributed renewable power development life cycle - the pre-design, detailed engineering design, implementation and post-implementation. It is also necessary to state that an effective policy initiative is necessary to achieve successful renewable power generation systems for developing countries.

Therefore, a STEEP framework provides a comprehensive analysis model for planning and managing localised renewable energy systems. It considers the Social (S), Technical (T), Economic (E), Environmental (E) and Policy (P) perspectives. Such detailed design framework can aid the understanding and planning of distributed local renewable power systems for isolated communities in the world.

For a downloadable copy of the May 2017 eNewsletterwhich includes this article, please visit the IEEE Smart Grid Resource Center



d akinyele2

Daniel Akinyele is a lecturer at the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, Elizade University in Nigeria. He holds a national diploma (distinction) and a bachelor's (first class) in electrical and electronic engineering from the Osun State Polytechnic and the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, respectively. He also holds a master's (distinction) in renewable energy systems technology and a Ph.D. in renewable energy from Loughborough University, United Kingdom and the Victoria University of Wellington (VUW), New Zealand, respectively. He was a senior engineer at the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI), Abuja, Nigeria. Subsequently, he joined the Department of Electrical and Information Engineering in Covenant University, Nigeria as an assistant lecturer. He is registered with the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN).


j petinrin

Joseph Petinrin, IEEE Member,is a principal lecturer at Federal Polytechnic, Ede, Osun State, Nigeria. Engr. Dr. Petinrin is a registered engineer with the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN), and a member of the Nigeria Society of Engineers (NSE). He received his M.Eng. degree in electrical engineering from the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Ondo State, Nigeria in 2007. He received his Ph.D. degree in electrical engineering from the Center of Electrical Energy Systems, Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM), Johor Bahru, Malaysia in 2015. His research interests include distributed generation, renewable energy integration, smart grids and voltage control of distribution systems.


l olatomiwa

Lanre J. Olatomiwa, IEEE member, has experience spanning over 10 years in academia and has authored/co-authored over 30 refereed journal/conference papers in reputable journals and conferences. His research interests include; hybrid renewable energy systems, energy management, rural healthcare power development and optimization techniques for RE integration. He received a Ph.D from the University of Malaya, Malaysia in renewable energy specialization, a bachelor’s degree in engineering, and master’s degree in electrical/electronics engineering both from the Federal University of Technology, in Minna, Nigeria with First Class honors and distinction, respectively. He is registered with the Council for The Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) and is a corporate member of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (MNSE).

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