Renewable energy projects in rural China: a systemic capacity development approach

by Long Seng To

Institution: University of New South Wales
Department: Photovoltaics & Renewable Energy Engineering
Year: 2015
Keywords: Capacity building; Renewable energy; China
Record ID: 1038514
Full text PDF: http://handle.unsw.edu.au/1959.4/54326


Renewable energy can provide sustainable energy services in rural areas. However, ensuring the continued functioning of the technology in remote locations has been a major challenge. The aim of this study is to identify strategies that have been most successful in enabling access to sustainable energy services in rural areas of developing countries. This thesis draws on literature from the fields of capacity development, technology studies, and renewable energy project implementation. The strategies were identified by comparing existing frameworks with empirical data from three case studies of renewable energy projects in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, China. Data for the case studies were collected via literature search, project document collection, site visits and interviews with a wide variety of stakeholders. The key findings of this thesis are that expanding energy access in developing countries will require significant capacity development efforts. Delivering energy services using decentralised renewable energy systems require the involvement of a diverse range of actors, including governments, program planners, equipment manufacturers, system designers, service networks and end-users. The most suitable delivery mechanism for sustainable energy services will vary from one location to another because of differences in the actors involved, their existing capacity and the history of their interaction. Assessing and building upon existing capacity is essential for delivering energy services in rural areas effectively. A major contribution of this thesis is the development of the “renewable energy capacity pyramid”, an analytical framework that explains how rural electrification projects can enhance local capacity in a systemic way. The framework includes tools; skills and knowledge; organisational structures; sectoral networks; and the institutional environment. This study found that the provision of sustainable energy services in rural areas of developing countries is most successful when each project contributes to the evolution of these interrelated elements over a long timeframe. The capacity pyramid can be used to guide the design and assessment of renewable energy rural electrification projects within China and in other developing countries. The framework also contributes to a deeper understanding of capacity development in other sectors, especially where infrastructure is central to the challenge of service provision.