A paper from the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University lays the blame on the pervasive focus on traditional approaches to rural electrification that prioritise grid extension. Grid extensions connect a home to a local utility grid.
But extending the grid lines in the Pacific region whose populations are spread across tens of thousands of islands may not be suitable and cost effective, the paper says.
“Both utility agencies and the private sector need incentives to extend electricity grids and to set up off-grid systems in rural areas. To provide those incentives, government subsidisation of upfront costs is necessary instead of merely subsidising operation and maintenance costs,” says Matthew Dornan, the primary author of the report.
Dornan says off-grid electrification projects, which involve mainly renewable energy, may be more sustainable in the long term. However, it requires significant upfront costs that are often impossible for local households or government to shoulder, he says.
“In terms of off-grid technologies, the key is simplicity,” explains Dornan. “Technologies should only be installed where they can be supported by institutional arrangements, be that a utility agency or a community technician.”
Renewables may play a stronger role in low-density, off-grid networks, but only with large-scale support, experts say.
According to Linus Mofor, a spokesperson for the International Renewable Energy Agency, “institutional strengthening, increased collaboration among islands and enhanced coordination of development partners, donors, regional institutions and national authorities and institutions are essential for efficient use of resources for renewables deployment in the region.”
Though his paper focused on SIDS, Dornan believes that his findings can help governments and development institutions alike in tackling the challenges of energy poverty.
“Sub-Saharan African and Pacific island countries can learn from one another given the capacity constraints that governments in both regions share,” he notes.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South-East Asia & Pacific desk.