A field trial of off-grid SHS interconnection in Rwanda's Northern Province

Soltowski, Bartosz and Stewart, Fraser and Strachan, Scott and Campos-Gaona, David and Anaya-Lara, Olimpo and Galloway, Stuart (2022) A field trial of off-grid SHS interconnection in Rwanda's Northern Province. Energy for Sustainable Development, 66. pp. 69-78. ISSN 0973-0826 (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.esd.2021.11.004)

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Solar Home Systems (SHSs) have become a popular means of electrification for millions of people living in rural regions of developing countries with no access to the national grid. As the electrical demand grows, however, there are economic and technical challenges that exist in scaling-up SHSs. At present, up to 70% of the energy generated by SHSs is surplus and effectively goes to waste, due to high solar resource peaks aligning with low demand periods and restricted storage capacity. Interconnecting existing SHSs to form ‘DC village’ microgrids, comprised of distributed photovoltaic generation and battery storage, enables communities to unlock this surplus energy for more productive uses. This may be to service small businesses with higher energy demand than can be provided by a typical SHS (e.g. to shops or barbers), or to allow domestic consumers to connect higher powered appliances. Meanwhile, people without their own SHS can also connect to the system introducing basic lighting and phone charging for lower capital costs than those with SHSs. This paper presents the results of a field trial conducted in Murambi Village, in the Northern Province of Rwanda, which involved the interconnection of seven households with their own SHS and one with no previous access to electricity. An innovative smart controller developed by the authors to facilitate SHS interconnection was deployed across this village. Using a mix of survey and focus group methods, the paper examines how people experienced the interconnected SHS system; the opportunities and benefits (social, economic) this presented; how the system enabled the use of new (higher power) appliances and new practices by trialing a novel shared refrigeration unit; and the potential of SHS interconnection in the broader context of the 'bottom-up electrification' paradigm.


Soltowski, Bartosz, Stewart, Fraser ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6779-0380, Strachan, Scott ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2690-496X, Campos-Gaona, David ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0347-6288, Anaya-Lara, Olimpo ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5250-5877 and Galloway, Stuart ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1978-993X;