Electricity access for everyone, everywhere

Facilitating rural electrification in developing and newly industrialized countries

By Antoinette Price

World energy consumption is expected to grow by 37% by 2040, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA) energy markets forecast, which assumes the continuation of existing policies and measures and their implementation.

Sioma solar microgrid project in Zambia (Photo: Empowered By Light) Sioma solar microgrid project in Zambia (Photo: Empowered By Light)

According to the IEA, 1,2 billion people do not have access to electricity and more than 95% live in sub-Saharan Africa and developing Asia.

Against this backdrop, the Clean Energy Solutions Center, in partnership with the IEC and the United Nations Foundation’s Energy Access Practitioner Network, hosted a webinar, attended by more than 100 people, on the role of International Standards to facilitate rural electrification programmes in developing and newly industrialized countries.

Taking a systems approach

Yasemin Erboy Ruff, representing the United Nations Foundation Energy Access Practitioner Network opened the session and introduced the first speaker – Pierre Sebellin, IEC Systems Technical Officer and Secretary of Systems Evaluation Group (SEG) 6: Non-conventional Distribution Networks/Microgrids.

Sebellin talked about the need for a systems approach to be taken in evaluating the status of standardization in low voltage direct current (LVDC) applications, as well as non-conventional distribution networks such as minigrids/microgrids.

“Recent technology evolution is speeding up the deployment of microgrids and the industry is requesting standardization. Given that this technology is complex, a holistic approach is needed, with systems-level Standards first”, Sebellin said.

SEG 6 is tasked with analysing the status of standardization, identifying where it is needed and evaluating the gaps and stakeholders in order to propose a strategy for the IEC. It addresses all microgrid types, including in large cities for disaster recovery, to prevent blackouts during peak consumption periods and for electricity access in rural areas.

Why LVDC, why now?

Vimal Mahendru, Convenor for SEG 4, the IEC Systems Evaluation Group for LVDC Applications, Distribution and Safety for use in Developed and Developing Economies, and IEC Ambassador, described the benefits of LVDC electricity. “One in five people does not have access to electricity, however, LVDC electricity provides a cleaner, more efficient, reliable power supply, and supports most of the things we use today.”

Everything, from electric vehicles, renewable energy technology, island irrigation systems, kitchen appliances, lighting, transport, smart phones and tablets to systems with data and embedded electronics, such as the IoT, smart homes and smart cities, runs on it.

A report by the World Bank Group entitled Beyond Connections: Energy Access Redefined lays out a way to measure energy access using multi-tiers from tier 1, a home which has four hours of energy access, to tier 5 which has 23. Mahendru said, “More governments are using such models to move populations through these tiers. IEC is thinking of creating a set of Standards from smallest to highest consumption, with several categories in between”.

Lighting the way for off-grid communities

Many off-grid communities in Africa and Asia rely on pico solar products for lighting or charging mobile phones. Running on less than 10 watts, they can combine a rechargeable battery and charge controller with a very small photovoltaic (PV) panel. Pico solar products include: solar lanterns, portable lamps, fans, radios and mobile phone chargers. Without these, the daily tasks of using mobile phones to access different services or doing homework after dark would be impossible.

Standards and testing achieve quality products

According to Lighting Global, the combined annual sales of solar pico products in these regions surpassed USD 44 million in the first half of 2015. Lighting Global is the World Bank Group’s platform which supports sustainable growth of the international off-grid lighting market as a means of increasing energy access to people not connected to grid electricity. 

Dr. Arne Jacobson, who is a member of IEC Technical Committee (TC) 82: Solar photovoltaic energy, Technical Lead at Lighting Global Quality Assurance and Director of the Schatz Energy Research Center at Humboldt State University, noted that not all these products were quality assured. He highlighted the importance of governments adopting International Standards and the need for product testing.

“The Lighting Global Quality Assurance (QA) programme provides an opportunity to reduce the presence of low quality products in these markets, but implementation issues must be addressed to achieve success. The programme uses Technical Specification IEC TS 62257-9-5:2016, which provides information on IEC Standards and test methods”, Jacobson said.

Currently a number of countries have adopted the Lighting Global QA programme, including Kenya, Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Nepal. Recently, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) adopted a QA framework, which references IEC TS 62257-9-5, so that the 15 member countries can now consider how to use it in national regulation.

Paul Johnson, Executive Secretary, African Electrotechnical Standardization Commission (AFSEC) stressed the great need and opportunities for electrical infrastructure development (electricity and electrical appliances) to demand and conform to appropriate Standards.

“Solar-powered LED lamps are a step change in the progress towards “universal access” and the only one that many communities will experience for decades. Ensuring the quality, efficiency, reliability, and long-term effectiveness of such products through appropriate Standards and Conformity Assessment Systems is a major contributor to sustainable access to modern energy, however minimal that access may be”, said Johnson.

Long road to the light at the end of the tunnel

IEC continues its important work with other international organizations towards achieving universal energy access, energy efficiency and renewable energy solutions across all emerging markets. It is involved in a number of partnerships, for example the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All (UN SE4ALL) initiative and IEC International Standards support 12 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2030.

Solar lamps enable children to study after dark Clean solar lamps enable children to study after dark (Photo: Panasonic Corporation)
tablet smartphone Smart phones and tablets run off LVDC (Photo: Android Press)
Sioma solar microgrid project in Zambia (Photo: Empowered By Light) Sioma solar microgrid project in Zambia (Photo: Empowered By Light)