The expansion of rural electrification initiatives around the globe will play a crucial role in accelerating the provision of electricity to rural communities and businesses, and will help to connect the 900 million people worldwide that currently do not have access. Over the past 5-10 years, many of these communities have undergone transformations to increase the percentage of power supplied by solar, wind and batteries. In May 2021, Working Group C6.38 – “Rural Electrification”, published TB 835. Led by Kurt Dedekind (South Africa) and Secretary Jacqui Mills (Australia), this brochure provides a useful framework and relevant examples for consideration. Other Australian members are Shervin Fani, Glen Summers and Sam Steinberg.
Two challenges need to be addressed for rural electrification to scale up and to realise its potential in the emerging areas described above.
Firstly, rural customers often have limited economic resources and limited power demand. Developers are thus looking at innovative approaches to decrease the average cost of the power supply service and thus increasing the return on their investment.
Secondly, there is a dire lack of policy and regulation in many countries to support the rural electrification campaigns. Almost all rural electrification programs are dependent on public funding, with relatively little appetite from private financing. Fortunately, a number of countries are now compiling clear frameworks for rural electrification, which include collaborative public-private partnerships. Invariably the governments of these countries have also set themselves ambitious targets to expand energy access dramatically and in line with the United Nations program. It is noted that these programs include a combination of grid-tied and off-grid solutions, which invariably are linked to readily available resources in the country such as solar, wind or hydro capacity.
The technical brochure provides a guide to decision makers, stakeholders, government agencies, financiers and others to make informed decisions regarding the best technology application for the area to be electrified. It provides some technology building blocks, together with a peek into the market and regulatory framework, which should assist with the most cost-effective decision-making process for all affected parties. It also provides an overview of some applications around the globe, where the appropriate adoption of technology options has enabled rural electrification. It is not, however, an exhaustive overview of all options that may be available around the globe presently.
This technical brochure should be read with other material that has been developed in the CIGRE Study Committee C6 domain. The published brochures on "Microgrids" (TB 635), "Battery Energy Storage Systems" (TB 721) and "Hybrid Solutions for Off-grid Power Supply" (TB 826), will all be relevant to, and complement the work inherent in the brochure. It is also expected to provide significant input into the Africa Working Group, which is jointly constituted between CIGRE and the World Bank.
Australia has many rural communities, notably in the Northern Territory and Western Australia, electrified by predominantly diesel fuelled mini-grids. However, the majority of stand-alone opportunities identified so far are via the avoidance of long and expensive rural line rebuilds. While a number of examples of both grid-tied and off-grid electrification projects are provided within the brochure, it is probably the off-grid solutions that are of the most interest in Australia. One particular example in Western Australia relates to how stand-alone (predominantly renewable) modular power systems are proposed instead of replacing end of life assets at the edges of the interconnected rural network. Trials at a number of locations are underway and results are very promising. These results indicate improved reliability, reduced fire risk, more than 90% of power generated from solar, reduced risk of asset stranding due to the solutions greater mobility and greater customer satisfaction. Further details of significant work in this area are available on the web sites of both Western Power and Horizon Power.