IEEE Power & Energy Magazine - July/August 2014 - 73

the environmental effects of off-grid systems can be roughly
classified as being global or local. the focus hereafter is on
local effects as these are more relevant to the practitioner,
but the topic of electrification and global Co2 emissions
deserves at least a brief discussion. the electricity demand
at the lowest rungs of the energy ladder is modest, often less
than a few hundred kWh/year per household. the global
effect of upgrading the energy-impoverished (approximately
20% of the world) to this standard would add less than 1% to
current cumulative worldwide Co2 emissions, even account-
ing for increased fossil fuel-powered generation. therefore,
incipient electrification of the energy-impoverished carries

little weight in the context of the internationally agreed-
on objective of reducing Co2 emissions. of course, as the
energy ladder is climbed, the global effects of electrification
increase concomitantly.
the local environmental effects of electrification consider
the indoor home environment and external impacts. the pro-
vision of electricity services to people in rural and remote
areas can displace dry cell batteries, dangerous kerosene (par-
affin) lamps, candles, and other devices such as automotive
batteries. this results in improvements in indoor air quality
and reductions in spillage of effluents and waste from batter-
ies in the physical and biological environment. indoor air pol-
lution caused by particulates emitted by inefficient cooking
facilities, kerosene lamps, and candles causes some 1.5 mil-
lion premature deaths each year due to respiratory diseases.
in principle, electricity could also replace the wood fuel used
for cooking and heating, but experience shows that electricity
is largely not used for cooking in rural areas, often for cultural
reasons. nevertheless, the collection and use of wood as fuel
for cooking by the local population is generally not the cause
of local deforestation. the large-scale production of charcoal
often has a larger impact on the local environment.
it is important to evaluate the environmental impact of
the whole chain of processes involved in producing, storing,
distributing, and using electricity. for example, a number of
battery types are available, such as lead-acid, nickel-metal
hydride, and lithium-ion, but their overall environmental
effects differ substantially and also depend on any additional
losses incurred due to turnaround efficiency and battery
mass, as well as the way the batteries are used. many prob-
lems associated with the transport, charging, and recycling
of batteries, including leakage and the use of unsuitable flu-
ids, have already been reported.
there are also indirect environmental consequences of
electricity access. electric water pumps at times are used
for mining groundwater. their overuse can lower the local

figure 3. Products such as this "CIEMANS" PV charge
controller can create brand identity confusion (photo
courtesy of Peter Dauenhauer).

figure 4. Mobile phone recharging provides an income
stream-usually US$0.25 to US$0.50 per recharge-that
can help make off-grid systems economically sustainable
(photo courtesy of Peter Dauenhauer).

counterparts, but they require routine maintenance and
care. Developing countries are also awash with low-quality
knockoffs that have uncertain and inconsistent quality and
specifications (see figure 3). Whichever approach to com-
ponent selection is ultimately taken, the designer should be
keenly aware of the consequences.
broad actions are needed to improve the technical sus-
tainability of off-grid systems at large. first, engineers-
locally and abroad-can be better educated on how to
design for sustainability in developing community appli-
cations. few universities offer courses or programs in this
area, yet there is an opportunity to tap the interest and
enthusiasm of today's more socially conscious and glob-
ally aware generation of students. Second, development and
broader acceptance of standards for rural off-grid systems,
including standardized connectors for lightbulbs, PV panels,
and portable battery kits can make for easier system design
and component sourcing. organizations such as lighting
africa are already making progress on this front. third, the
development and adoption of a sustainable energy reference
architecture, which provides a template for off-grid systems,
could be a catalyst for their rapid proliferation.

Environmental Sustainability

july/august 2014

ieee power & energy magazine

73



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of IEEE Power & Energy Magazine - July/August 2014

IEEE Power & Energy Magazine - July/August 2014 - Cover1
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IEEE Power & Energy Magazine - July/August 2014 - Cover3
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