Energy problems for Rural Institutions

Rural hospitals and schools in Africa, Latin America and many parts of Asia consume large quantities of biomass, and to a lesser extent, coal and oil for cooking and heating. In most instances, cooking, water heating and space heating is carried out over inefficient open fires, using poor biomass management techniques (e.g., wet, green wood, uncut wood, etc.). In almost all instances, this biomass is purchased, and often represents a major source of cost for the institution. This cost is either borne by the state (if state-run), the church or NGO, or by communities (e.g., boarding schools, community hospitals and clinics).

Additionally, all rural hospitals, and most schools, require electricity for lighting (night lighting for reading, operating theatres, vaccine refrigeration, etc.). A large portion of these institutions are not grid-connected (over 80% are not in rural Uganda, fewer than 50% are in Kenya and Zimbabwe, and less than 40% are in South Africa). Therefore, they are forced to rely on diesel generators, which are expensive, difficult to maintain and operate.

In many cases, rural institutions have photovoltaic systems for lighting and vaccine refrigeration that are either not working, or are working far below capacity. WHO has recently published figures that show that over 40% of all solar refrigerators installed in Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia are either not operating at all or are not operating to WHO standards. In many cases, pv systems have been installed by donors without training local technicians. Therefore, local or on-site skills to operate and maintain electricity generating equipment are often lacking.

Both poor efficiencies of biomass use for cooking and heating, and poor, inefficient and expensive provision of electricity cause the institutions to incur higher costs, lead to localised environmental problems, and end up costing parents, patients, communities and sponsors considerable sums of money. Developing in-country ESCO capabilities to address these issues would result in commercially-viable solutions that will save these institutions money, while at the same time providing new business opportunities for local entrepreneurs. The potential to improve efficiencies and to switch energy sources is great. Simple better management (no cost, low cost) can lead to dramatic reductions in biomass use. Installing proven, available stoves in institutions can lead to payback periods of less than two years. Switching to well-designed, well-maintained PV systems can reduce operating costs for hospitals and schools dramatically, relative to generating sets, and can provide paybacks in less than 3 years.

The savings from these activities should provide the means to finance the ESCO services and supplies.