Village-scale clean energy microgrids have the potential to power rural development by bringing electricity to over 1.2 billion people who currently lack access. Past efforts to electrify rural communities have been plagued by energy theft, unaffordable connection costs, intermittent supply, and poor maintenance.
The Rural Electric Power Project (REPP) seeks to address these problems by incorporating new technology as well as more sustainable financing and distribution mechanisms – including pay-as-you-go power systems – to better serve the rural poor.
Demonstrating the DIL Approach
In addition to the technological innovations that are driving the project, the REPP is utilizing novel data collection and analysis tools from development economics. These data will inform the redesign and refinement of the technology and rigorously measure impacts in the field. Researchers from the Technology and Infrastructure for Emerging Regions (TIER) group, the Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA), and the Energy Institute at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business are working with local government and industry partners to generate real-time user data (using “smart” meters) and collect comprehensive household survey data before and after microgrid deployment. This interdisciplinary approach will allow the REPP to track household demand for power while documenting the impacts of rural electrification on a range of relevant social and economic outcomes.
In Kenya, REPP is partnering with the Rural Electrification Authority (REA) to distribute national grid connection subsidies of varying amounts to randomly selected unconnected households in rural parts of Western Kenya; the results will be used to measure the demand for and impacts of rural electrification. The team has also began developing and piloting an endline survey instrument that will target 4,000 households in 2016.
In India, REPP is partnering with Gram Power (GP), a Berkeley-based smart meter and solar microgrid provider, to study whether energy-efficient appliances and real-time energy use data (supplied by GP’s smart meters) foster improvements in household-level consumption efficiency. The team is working with a set of households that are newly connected to solar microgrids and other households that were already connected to the centralized grid. The research team is also working closely with Gram Power to create a dashboard in order to monitor the incoming meter data from ~350 households connected to GP’s microgrids in Rajasthan. They have used this data to conduct preliminary theft and reliability analysis. The project team is also in the process of putting together a report on the financial and operational viability of microgrids.
Additionally, in India, Gram Power was also successful in securing permissions from a private utility in Bihar & Muzaffarpur, ESSEL, to install smart meters in ~5000 households connected to the grid. The research team will therefore be partnering with both Gram Power and ESSEL by surveying a subset of these grid connected households to better understand the impact of adopting smart meters, both on the demand and supply side as well as the drivers and patterns of (i) non-technical losses (ii) consumption demand, (iii) reliability.
- Professor Eric Brewer, Computer Science
- Professor Edward Miguel, Economics
- Professor Catherine Wolfram, Business and Economics
- Professor Seth Sanders, Electrical Engineering
Related Press and Publications
- Electrification Causes Economic Growth, Right? Maybe Not (IEEE Spectrum, June 2016)
- Random Access (ASME Demand, Spring 2016)
- Despite $7 billion to ‘Power Africa,’ why the continent is still in the dark (Reuters, July 2015)
- “Barriers to Electrification for Under Grid Households in Rural Kenya,” by Kenneth Lee, Eric Brewer, Carson Christiano, Francis Meyo, Edward Miguel, Matthew Podolsky, Javier Rosa, Catherine Wolfram, National Bureau of Economic Research, July 2014.