Xavier Lemaire from the UCL Energy Institute offers his thoughts on the current state of research in the field of the STEPs project.
There have been quite a few pieces of academic research conducted recently on business models for off-grid electrification. Of particular note is a previous DfID-EPSRC funded project entitled “Decentralized off-grid electricity generation in Developing countries: Business Models for off-grid electricity supply”, which has led to special issue of the Energy for Sustainable Development journal on off-grid electrification in developing countries. Another DfID-EPSRC funded project, “Rural off-grid electricity generation for communities in Africa”, is led by one of STEPs project partner institutions, the University of Southampton.
Numerous reports and market surveys have also been written, notably by the Alliance for Rural Electrification, the Energy Sector Management Assistance Programme ESMAP-World Bank, or Lighting Africa.
One of the unique features of the STEPs project is the focus on thermal energy services like heating or hot water, and not electricity services. The fact is, currently there is very little literature on thermal energy services in developing countries.
Research questions this project will try to answer include: can business models for off-grid electrification be extended to thermal energy services, or should business models be completely different? Can the same actors propose both kinds of services? But, linked to the issue of how to structure an offer of thermal energy services is the question of demand: is there a sufficient demand for thermal energy services in rural areas of developing countries to justify the establishment of specific rural thermal energy services companies, or should thermal energy services be sold by non-specialised rural energy services companies?
– Xavier Lemaire, UCL Energy Institute