A critical review of literature on the nexus between central grid and off-grid solutions for expanding access to electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia

Bhattacharyya S C, Palit Debajit
Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews Volume 141,(2021), 110792

This paper critically examines the literature on the grid-offgrid debate and discusses the role of and the relationship between different electricity access options through a synthesis and critical reflection. This paper finds that models using greater resolution and capturing low voltage distribution infrastructure appear to recommend decentralised electricity solutions, whereas central grid extension emerges as the preferred outcome of more aggregated analysis, concentrated population clusters and for higher demand scenarios. However, model results are seriously influenced by assumptions, data limitations, technology choice options, and model flexibility. Exclusion of cost of generation for grid systems, lack of village level information, inherent bias towards scale and type of technology, and absence of social equity considerations in the analysis remain major weaknesses of the existing models.

Universal electrification requires a strong leadership and an enabling environment. An appropriate organizational set-up, a robust regulatory framework with reporting and evaluation oversight and a more inclusive approach to promote alternative options are vital ingredients. Power sector decarbonization pathways may affect electrification choices but our understanding is limited or lacking. Further work is required to develop a programmatic approach to delivery and more affordable and fairer outcome for all.

Energy access
Electricity access
Rural electrification
Electricity regulations