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Research needs for meeting the challenge of decentralized energy supply in developing countries

Schäfer, Martina, Kebir, Noara, Neumann, Kirsten
Energy for sustainable development 2011 v.15 no.3 pp. 324-329
developing countries, electricity, energy, funding, governance, people, poverty, rural areas
Scenarios imply that there will still be a considerable percentage of people (16%) without reliable access to electricity, especially in developing and emerging countries, in the year 2030, if ongoing efforts are not intensified. International governance and funding institutions like UNDP and the World Bank consider access to electricity as being fundamental for economic development and poverty reduction. Since the extension of centralized grids is often expensive, different forms of decentralized electricity supply options have gained importance for rural areas and informal settlements during the last 3decades. Until now, there has been a lack of systematic evaluation of experience with decentralized electricity systems in different cultural and geographic contexts and the transfer of this experience. One reason for this deficiency is that the ‘research community’ for this field is not very clearly defined regarding disciplines and institutions and that there are few institutionalized occasions and forums which enable discussion and systematization of existing knowledge. This article gives a rough overview of the challenges linked to developing and implementing systems of decentralized energy supply under difficult context conditions and the research needs resulting from these challenges. Central means towards success in this domain include embedding the introduction of technical systems in a range of services (e.g. capacity building, maintenance, repair and disposal services, financing schemes), integrating users' needs in their development and implementation, enhancing productive use of electricity by linking energy supply to regional development programs. To be able to deal with the outlined questions, the perspective of decentralized energy supply as socio-technical systems can be helpful. Research desiring to adequately meet the challenges needs to integrate knowledge and perspectives from different disciplines as well as expertise from practitioners in the field in a reflective manner.