Assessing Feasibility of Fostering Productive Energy Use of Swarm Electrified Microgrids in Rural Communities in Developing Countries
Tutor / director / evaluatorGomis Bellmunt, Oriol
Document typeMaster thesis
Rights accessOpen Access
Access to affordable sustainable energy is critical for socio-economic human development. Energy poverty is most predominant for populations in rural areas of developing countries, typically the global south. Successful sustainable development requires technology and business innovations to reach these populations and empower them to improve their quality of life. Off-grid electrification strategies and productive energy use (PEU) appliances are a means of increasing energy access, fostering income generating activities. PEU appliances typically range from charging mobile phones to running equipment such as grain milling- or rice husking machines requiring several kilo-watts. Solar home systems (SHS) are an affordable off-grid electrification solution that have reached millions in rural areas. However, SHS has limited tier energy access, whereas microgrid solutions are more often effective in higher energy access but considerably more expensive and difficult to properly size for future energy demands. Swarm electrification is an innovation electrification strategy done by Solshare, that interconnects existing SHS in a community and allows the excess energy of the households SHS to be bought and sold through a bi-directional DC/DC smart controller. A swarm electrified microgrid is scalable and utilizes existing infrastructure while increasing the tier of energy access. The first objective of this thesis was to understand if swarm electrification could benefit from all the same opportunities as SHS for PEU and if it could overcome the limitations. The second objective was to create a robust methodology to economically and technically integrate a small- and a medium-sized PEU appliances into a swarm microgrid. The first objective was accomplished by conducting interviews with stakeholders working directly or indirectly with SHS. Depending on the geographical location of stakeholder operations, the specific incoming-generating benefits, (agriculture, services, industry, etc.) varied, but were all dependent on the capacity of the SHS, which was also repeatedly stated as a critical limitation. Challenges facing SHS for PEUs include financing, component quality, and knowledge of how to effectively use the SHS. The second objective utilized field data from a Selco India designed AC microgrid for Bochai Colony to design a theoretical swarm microgrid. Solshare’s swarm simulation program was used to visualize the energy exchange between households in the designed swarm microgrid. The methodology created was applied on the case study of Bochai, firstly resulting in one 750W and one 7.5kW wheat milling machine selected to be analyzed. The PEU appliances were each integrated into the theoretical swarm microgrid and the simulation results were studied. The small-sized appliance was integrated with 334 days of operation and the medium-sized appliance with 44 days. As part of the methodology, the payback period was assessed and both of the PEU appliances had payback periods under 3 years, which is desired for wheat milling machines. Based on the assumptions and data for Bochai Colony, the PEU appliances were economically and technically integrated into the swarm microgrid. In addition to the two main objectives, the capital cost for the AC microgrid versus swarm microgrid as well as affordability for Bochai community was analyzed. Swarm microgrids with new SHS had same cost order of magnitude as the AC microgrid. The cost of microloans for the SHS in the swarm microgrid was more affordable for households, compared to the electricity tariff paid for the AC microgrid, if the household electrical loads consisted of more than 2 LED lights and a mobile phone charger. Therefore, considering the households electrical demand is likely to increase, it would be more beneficial to implement swarm electrification. The PEU appliance simulation results and the high-level economic cost comparison of the swarm microgrid compared to the AC microgrid for Bochai, were shared with Selco India and Solshare. As a result, Selco is considering implementing a wheat milling machine for Bochai community based on the approximate positive results of the payback periods. Furthermore, because of the results highlighting the opportunities of swarm electrification, Solshare and Selco India will look at completing rural electrification projects together in India in the future.