Approximately 19% of the world’s population – an estimated 1.3 billion people – have no access to electricity. The majority of these people live in rural areas in low income countries and conventional electricity solutions are not always feasible for reaching them. So, how best to determine which solutions are feasible in diverse global settings?
research: Research and design of a feasibility framework to assess potential locations for the development of microgrids to provide rural areas with electricity.
Final grade: 6.5
What began as a summer internship for Yke Wynia evolved into a thesis project on the feasibility of microgrids for rural electrification. Her research aim was to contribute to the electrification of unserved areas of today's world. It is essential, in her view, that unserved people attain access to reliable and sustainable electricity services. Access to such services will not only increase access to affordable clean energy in an effort to tackle climate change processes but also assist in reducing global social and economic disparities.
Working with Arup's Energy, Cities and Climate Change Consulting team, the focus on small electricity grids with no connection to the main (often urban) electricity grid was a straight forward choice. Known as off-grid microgrid solutions, these decentralised systems can integrate renewable energy from solar, wind and thermal sources. The project team planned to build a 'rural electrification tool', however theory-based criteria were required to support decisions about where and how to build microgrid electrification systems.
Wynia set out to identify assessment criteria for the feasibility of suitable microgrid locations. She combined the results of her analysis of 202 recent academic papers on rural electrification with an earlier meta-analysis of 232 studies. The resulting 157 criteria were clustered into six categories including financial, environmental, institutional, technical, etc. A panel of 20 domain experts were then surveyed on which criteria they considered to have the greatest effect on microgrid feasibility.
"The survey results were surprisingly contradictory to the findings from the two desk studies of 434 academic papers," said Wynia. Despite at least half of the scientific writing on rural electrification addressing the technical challenges, the experts considered financial factors as the decisive criteria in selecting the right location for microgrid development. Technical, institutional and environmental criteria absolutely featured as key but always under the overarching issue of financial feasibility.
The theory-based framework Wynia created has a practical application for public and private parties seeking to identify promising microgrid locations in which to invest.
The challenge of reaching 1.3 billion unserved people by 2030 remains and Wynia is committed to a career in the field of decentralised energy generation based on the use of renewables to reach unserved people. She is keen to be part of the global transition underway in which economies and industries are shifting from reliance on fossil fuels to renewables. "SEPAM (Systems Engineering, Policy Analysis and Management), with its focus on understanding complex technical and social systems has prepared me for this transition," said Wynia.