Nevertheless, the report makes a strong case for PicoPV and has quite a bit of useful information on various photovoltaic systems in developing countries. For instance, did you know that:
- Solar home system costs for a 50 Wp (peak watt power) system range from US$ 500 in Uganda to an incredible US$ 1200 in Zambia. Are they made of gold in Zambia?
- The average lighting costs per month for 5 countries in Africa is US $7.8 for kerosene; $1.74 for candles, and $1.84 for flashlights according to a market study from Lighting Africa;
- Subsidy levels of grid electricity can be as high as US $2000 for the cost of extension especially for programs that are in their late stages reaching out to remote areas.
|Field Survey Solar Lighting Systems, Bolivia: Photo GTZ|
The report has some drawbacks as well. The examples for alternatives to the pico-photovoltaic systems seem to be from countries with high costs or high taxes and burdened by restrictive import policies. For instance, the cost of solar homes systems in Bangladesh where some parts are manufactured locally and import polices are fairly neutral are about to US $300 for a 50 Wp system. Also most rural household surveys indicated more modest expenses of about US$ 1-2 per month for admittedly poor lighting services from kerosene or candles but these costs may have risen recently due to the rising cost of petroleum products. The costs per customer for most rural electrification programs are far closer to US$ 500 to $1000 per household. Also, I would have liked to see some more examples of actual lighting systems and their costs, but descriptions are available on the Lighting Africa website. Nevertheless the new small lighting systems with their lower upfront costs might be quite attractive to low income households.
In conclusion, my view is that this is a nice early report that clearly makes the point that small lighting systems that address consumer needs should be considered as part of the menu of products that can improve rural energy services in developing countries. The reasoning is sound and the claims of impacts and costs seem to be accurate, although costs of competitive technologies seem high due to selection of country examples. Finally, there is a wealth of information in the report on a wide variety of related topics. It seems this is the first volley of anticipated future reports on this topic.
There is some thinking today these types of smaller systems should be considered as “pre-electrification,” meaning that eventually everyone will have grid electricity in the future. In fact, I eagerly look forward to the day that everyone has electricity from whatever source that is convenient and financially sustainable. So I guess I just will have to live to around 2050.
More seriously, there are pros and cons on both sides because we know that international agencies and governments are very poor at picking winners. The question is whether these new products need a push to get them off and running for people in areas that will quite honestly not have grid electricity for many years to come. Or should the development of these systems be left up to the market?
So what do you think? Do these systems need support or subsidies? Should international donors support such projects? Table the poll or give your opinions below?