Why off-grid photovoltaics (PV)systems?
How has the solar PV technology advanced?
With the decreasing cost of photovoltaics (PV), going solar is becoming more cost effective and adoption rates continue to increase for both on-grid and off-grid applications. The solar PV technology continues to advance to provide power solutions for both businesses and individuals. From a very massive utility scale power plant providing over 2GW (2000 MW) of generating capacity to a 4 or 5-watt panel for charging your cellphone or mp3 player, it is proof that solar PV technology has advanced and has very many applications. Research and development (R&D) efforts for photovoltaics continue with the aim of determining the right combination of materials to enhance or increase solar panel efficiency to generate more electricity per unit area of the solar panel.
When it comes to off-grid solar, more solar applications are developed with the aim of powering rural areas. Rural electrification especially in developing countries has been made more cost effective since grid extension is still very expensive in the rural areas. Scattered households and lack of a critical mass of households to make grid extension more cost effective is one of the major reasons why the private sector does not find incentive in developing many rural grid electrification projects without subsidies from the government. Many rural electrification projects using grid extension has remained a project for governments and non-governmental organizations. However, because of the reducing solar panel cost, the private sector is increasingly getting involved in many rural electrification projects that use innovative business models such as pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) and other off-grid solar projects to provide electricity to rural communities in developing countries.
Solar PV and rural electrification
With the right mix of technologies, off-grid solar PV systems can help to overcome the barrier to rural electrification without grid-extension. This can also take the form of off-grid solar PV combined with other sources of energy including, but not limited to wind power, bio energy, geothermal and small-hydro resources. However, apart from solar energy, many of these other forms of renewable energy resources are site specific and would work well where such resources are available and from a sustainable source.
Off-grid solar has numerous applications and solar is in abundance in most rural areas where it is needed because of its wider applications. A lot of food is grown in rural areas and off-grid solar would play a vital role in providing water from the wells through solar water pumping irrigation as well as other productive uses, especially in agriculture. Also, since many people have cellphones today, charging cellphones using solar power would be ideal, especially in areas not connected to the grid. Off-grid solar also means portable solar solutions providing emergency power or standby power where there are many power outages. Some of these portable solar solutions include solar generators, solar battery chargers and other portable solar gadgets. Solar lighting options for homes or street lighting are also applicable in rural areas.
Of all the above off-grid solar applications, solar water pumping for irrigation would provide many sustainability benefits in both short-term and long-term, creating jobs in the agricultural sector, especially in dry areas that can be transformed for growing food crops. On the hand, off-grid solar would also provide a huge sustainability impact for homes through improving livelihoods with solar electrification.
Off-grid solar water pumping for irrigation:
For dry off-grid areas, solar photovoltaics can provide water for irrigation using solar water pumps and is more cost effective compared to diesel powered water pumps considering the long-term costs. The life-cycle cost of a solar water pump used for irrigation will be lower because once the solar water pump has been bought, there will be no lifetime fuel costs associated with solar water pump.
However, a diesel-powered solar water pump will continue to rely on diesel over its lifespan. The solar water pump to be used will depend on many factors including the size of the farm, power rating (voltage rating), flow rates and so on. There are two major types of solar water pumps: surface and submersible solar water pumps. Learn more about solar water pumps in this article.
Off-grid solar for rural electrification:
Rural electrification comes in many ways including, but not limited to grid extension, micro grids powered with renewable energy or powered with fossil fuels. Powering rural areas using solar is increasingly being applied in many developing countries because of the reducing cost of solar panels. As such, solar PV is used as a clean technology to mitigate climate change with the right combination of technologies and with the right financial instruments.
Looking into the future, the centralized grid power system in rural areas will not be common as many investments will be used to develop decentralized power systems because of economics and the need to mitigate climate change using decentralized renewable energy systems. Also, solar packaged systems as well as innovative business models such as pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) models will continue to penetrate in rural areas of developing countries helping to provide affordable power to rural communities while mitigating climate change.
Renewable energy micro-grids such as off-grid solar PV systems with battery storage will overcome the high costs of grid extension. Standalone off-grid solar systems will be more ideal for rural electrification in areas where grid extension is expensive, and households not concentrated in one area, but scattered over a large area where grid extension could be expensive. Learn more about solar packaged solutions and rural electrification.