Publication - Lasting Impact: Sustainable Off-Grid Solar Delivery Models to Power Health and Education

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Lasting Impact: Sustainable Off-Grid Solar Delivery Models to Power Health and Education
United Nations Foundation, Sustainable Energy for All, UK aid & CATALYST

Published in
April 2019
Access to reliable, affordable, and modern electricity services is critical to achieving the universally adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Energy access is particularly essential in driving progress across SDG 3, Good Health and Well-Being, and SDG 4, Quality Education, both of which are social services that depend on access to electricity in schools and health facilities. Electricity access enhances access to quality essential health care services while making health systems more resilient. In the education sphere, access to electricity enables lighting and extended studying hours; facilitation of information, communication and technology (ICT); enhanced staff retention and teacher training; among other benefits.

Despite the importance of energy access, however, power is unavailable or unreliable in the majority of schools and health facilities across Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. A recent survey 1 of 78 countries found that only 41% of low- and middle-income country health care facilities have reliable electricity. Education facilities experience even lower access rates: According to UNESCO estimates in 2017, only 35.1% of sub-Saharan African primary schools and 50.7% of those in Southern Asia had access to electricity.

Many of these unelectrified public institutions are located in remote areas and characterized by poor surrounding infrastructure and low energy demand, making them unattractive to traditional energy service providers. Thus, off-grid solar photovoltaic (PV) power systems present a key opportunity to provide clean, reliable, and cost-effective electricity to schools and health facilities that would otherwise not have access to reliable electricity. The dramatic cost reductions and technological improvement of solar technology in the past decade has made solar an economically and technically viable solution that can be deployed in a fraction of the time it would take the centralized grid to arrive.

Nonetheless, ensuring that these off-grid solutions can provide access to electricity on a long-term, sustainable basis does not come without its challenges. Despite the growing number of standalone solar systems being installed in health and education facilities in low- and middle-income countries, many of these systems prematurely fail or underperform, leading to the perception that renewable technologies are too new and unreliable to continuously serve the needs of communities. According to the Photovoltaics for Community Service Facilities study conducted by the World Bank (2010), many PV systems become inoperative after 3–5 years if proper maintenance and repair services are not provided.

This report uses case studies to shed light on what kind of off-grid solar delivery models contribute to—and, likewise, hinder—sustainability. The purpose of the report is to help decisionmakers in the public and private sector design sound off-grid electrification projects for rural schools and health centers by helping them evaluate the most effective and appropriate delivery model for their specific country context.