Odyssey Procure Blog: Off-grid solar solutions: how it has transformed remote communities

Off-grid solar solutions: how it has transformed remote communities

Dictionary definitions from Oxford languages:

not using or depending on public utilities, especially the supply of electricity.
"off-grid housing"

Off-grid solar solutions are changing the game for the most remote parts by increasing the much-needed, reliable electricity support necessary for local development and hence improving the daily lives of people. The technologies take different shapes but are all designed for the specific energy needs of off-grid communities. Let's look at the types of off-grid solar solutions, their impact, and some real-life success stories.

Here are the existing types of off-grid solar solutions: 

  1. Solar Home Systems (SHS): SHS are standalone systems designed for individual households. They typically include solar panels, a battery for energy storage, a charge controller, and an inverter. SHS can power basic household needs such as lighting, charging mobile phones, and running small appliances. The average price range for Solar Home Systems (SHS) varies significantly depending on the capacity of the system and the region where it is installed. 

  1. Solar micro-grids: These are small-scale electricity networks powered by solar panels, serving multiple homes or buildings. They often include energy storage systems to ensure a continuous power supply. Micro-grids can power entire communities, including homes, schools, and healthcare centers. Their capacity can vary from a few kW to several hundred kW, depending on the community size.
  2. Solar-powered water pumps: Used for irrigation and drinking water supply in remote areas, these pumps are cost-effective and sustainable alternatives to diesel-powered pumps. Depending on the pump's capacity and the depth of the water source, costs can range from $1,500 to $20,000.

Is there a real impact on remote communities?

Yes! Thanks to an improved access to electricity.

Off-grid solar solutions provide reliable electricity where extending the national grid is impractical. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 43% of the rural population has electricity access. Off-grid solar can bridge this gap, powering millions.

It can also provide support for local businesses: Reliable electricity boosts local businesses by powering appliances, machines and lights. This increases productivity and income. For instance, solar-powered mills and water pumps raise agricultural yields by up to 30%.

More than anything else, it gives an enhanced quality of life to thousands of people: Access to electricity improves education because of the possibility of studying in the evening or through the use of educational technology. Services for health do better with reliable power for refrigerating drugs and other medical equipment. In addition, solar lighting increases security and decreases the dependence on dangerous kerosene lamps.

Here are some case studies to help you picture:

Kenya: The M-KOPA Solar company has connected over 600,000 homes with affordable SHS. Households pay an initial deposit of $30, followed by daily payments of $0.45 over a year. This initiative has saved families an average of $750 over four years, the typical lifespan of a system.

Bangladesh: The IDCOL program in Bangladesh has installed over 4 million SHS, benefiting about 20 million people. The program has created over 114,000 jobs and significantly reduced kerosene use, saving approximately $174 million annually in kerosene costs.

India: In the Sundarbans region, solar microgrids have been deployed to power 15 villages, impacting over 5,000 households. This project has led to a 100% increase in business activities and a 30% increase in students' study time.

Off-grid solar solutions are not about electricity alone: they empower communities, foster local development, and transform lives. Indeed, such business models and technologies are a sustainable access to energy that significantly brings about social and economic values in most parts.

But despite it being environmentally friendly and decentralised as a source of energy, it actually has quite a number of challenges, which in many cases makes the application and effectiveness of off-grid solutions difficult.

  1. High initial costs: The investment upfront for off-grid solar systems is big. The cost involves the solar panels themselves and batteries to store the electricity, inverters, and charge controllers plus the service fees for installation. For instance, the basic cost of an off-grid solar system installation, which ranges from a minimum of $1,000 to perhaps $5,000 for small-scale residential use on one end, to upward of $50,000 for larger, more comprehensive system capacities capable of powering an entire household, is just way beyond what the majority of people in developing countries can afford.

  2. Technical expertise and maintenance: Off-grid solar systems require a minimum level of technical knowledge in order to have them properly designed, installed, and maintained according to given conditions and energy needs. In such remote or rural areas, it could lead to poorly installed systems or failure to service systems, respectively, with the detriment of the lifetime and efficiency of the systems.

  3. Battery storage limitations: Energy storage is the most significant part of the off-grid solar systems, as it allows the solar power to be used even when the sun is not shining. However, batteries are limited in three areas, which are capacity, lifespan, and efficiency. Lead-acid batteries are a very common choice because they are inexpensive compared to other types, but they have a lifetime of 3-5 years and can only store energy for a few days. Lifespan increases with an upgrade to Lithium-ion, at a lifetime of 5-15 years and storing more energy, but that also increases the cost.

  4. Weather dependency: The efficiency of off-grid solar systems is heavily dependent on weather conditions. Since solar panels need sunlight to generate electricity, they are less efficient on rainy or cloudy days, or even in areas with less solar radiance. This power is thus very unreliable at times in places where there is less light for most of the year.

  5. Limited energy production: The amount of energy an off-grid solar system can produce is limited by the size and number of solar panels and the capacity of the battery storage. This limitation can restrict the use of high-consumption appliances and necessitates careful energy management by the users. For instance, the average solar panel efficiency ranges from 15% to 20%, meaning that a significant portion of the sunlight's energy is not converted into usable electricity.

  6. Regulatory and policy barriers: In some geographies, the lack of conducive policies and regulations regarding off-grid solar solutions is a challenge. This involves the absence of subsidies or financial incentive, difficult regulatory framework, which makes the installation process hard, and even the fact that off-grid solutions are not considered a viable alternative to grid extension.

  7. Access to financing: In general, developing and deploying off-grid solar solutions in remote rural areas is an expensive business. Access to financing remains a major challenge, especially in developing countries. The major barriers to accessing funding for off-grid projects are high interest rates, the perceived high risk of investment in off-grid projects, and the absence of collateral in rural populations.

While off-grid solar solutions truly promise a pathway toward sustainable, independent access to energy, especially in remote areas, these challenges require governments, private sector players, and international organisations to take active efforts. Innovative financing models, technical training programs, policy reformation, and technological advancement will help unlock the full potential of off-grid solar.

What does Odyssey do in this realm? 

At Odyssey Energy Solutions, we work from end to end to overcome these challenges by providing implementation support for off-grid solar projects at every step. We realise that finance is a bottleneck for solar companies, so we have teamed up with some of the biggest financiers in the world to run the large-scale electrification initiatives.

Additionally, we offer tailored working capital credit options to support equipment procurement for off-grid solar projects. Our goal is to make sure nothing stands in the way of getting solar projects off the ground.To complement our credit offerings, we have a team of solar supply chain experts who can help solar companies design systems and procure for them.

With dozens of OEMs in our network, we offer competitive prices and supply chain support at every step, from time of ordering through customs clearance to delivery to site.To support solar companies and financiers operate and maintain systems, we offer a remote monitoring and control system hardware and software package, giving unprecedented insight into every detail of what is happening on-the-ground with solar assets. 

Ultimately we are here to remove barriers for the solar industry, because nothing should stand in the way of energy delivery, especially in the areas that need it the most. A lot of people take the access to energy for granted, but there is a real need worldwide for power and it's our responsibility to provide it in the most sustainable way. 

More information: 
SHS by Science Direct
OProcure equipment available
Odyssey Energy Solutions 

Back to all resources