IEEE Power & Energy Magazine - July/August 2014 - 75

The prospects for economic sustainability
can be greatly improved if a market survey is conducted
prior to the installation of equipment.
Despite reliable market data and the subsequent expec-
tation of a steady income stream, economic sustainability
can be threatened for a variety of reasons, even some that
are external to the project. the mikolongo primary school
in malawi had a PV system installed in 2009. in 2012, the
main grid was extended to less than 1 km away. the school's
mobile phone-charging business, which had previously gen-
erated roughly 12,000 mWK (uS$75) per month, could
not compete with the businesses that popped up using less-
expensive main grid power.
economic sustainability can differ greatly from project to
project. in the best of circumstances, rural off-grid projects
walk a narrow line to cover operating and asset replacement
costs with a modest income source. threats to system finances
due to, for example, top-line income reductions (extension of
the main-grid connection nearby) or bottom-line expense
increases (higher system failure than forecast or nonsystem
expenses) can nudge the whole project toward unsustain-
ability. further complications include the changing external
macroeconomic and supply chain issues that many developing
countries face. the target customers for off-grid systems may
be more vulnerable to these conditions than other people.

there are, of course, many other stakeholders that may
need to be engaged depending on the project type, includ-
ing community members, religious organizations, compet-
ing businesses, and local government. unfortunately, the
linkages between the stakeholders and the project are not
always transparent.
Development projects should strive for community buy-
in. that is, the community should both desire the project
and act as a partner in the decision-making and resource
allocation process. this partnering is crucial because
issues of fairness and equity can be subtle but are impor-
tant to take into account. Very rarely does a project provide
electricity to all people in a community. instead, a divide
is placed between the "haves" and the "have-nots," and
the potential for jealousy and criminal hostility directed
toward the project can increase. in one case, a community
charging station (CCS) was a target of arson in a dispute

Social Sustainability
although access to electricity correlates well with various
indices of human development, it is also disruptive to the
sociocultural norm, with consequences that are difficult
to anticipate and appreciate fully. it is easy for unfore-
seen changes in sociocultural dynamics to tilt a project
into unsustainability. Prospects for sustainability can be
improved, however, if at the inception of a project the key
stakeholders are identified and consulted and community
buy-in is obtained.
an important stakeholder is often the local village chief
or council, even if the system will be owned and operated
by an independent organization or someone else in the com-
munity. a reason for this is that the incumbent local social
hierarchy can be threatened. the supplier of electrical ser-
vices has an asymmetric relationship with its customers and
a great amount of control. the individual or organization in
charge of the off-grid system, which may previously have
had little authority in the community, may now find itself
with considerable leverage and sway in local affairs. at
the same time, the chief or council members may view all
activities in their area as being under their purview and may
feel that only with their approval should a project proceed.
july/august 2014

figure 5. Thorough bookkeeping promotes economic
sustainability (photo courtesy of Peter Dauenhauer).
ieee power & energy magazine

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