PV Systems for Rural Applications

PV systems for remote applications typically include three basic elements: one PV panel that converts solar radiation into electricity, a means to store the electricity produced by the PV panel, which is normally an electrochemical battery, and an electronic device that helps control the flows of electricity within the system, thus protecting the battery by properly dispatching available energy. A variety of devices capable of using electricity to provide comfort, entertainment and other services for the benefit of the user are then attached to the PV system by means of the electronic charge controller (ECC). Figure 24.1 shows a schematic diagram of a general PV system...

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Photovoltaic (PV) technology nowadays is considered one of the most appropriate options to electrify dispersed population in remote places [8]. From an engineering point of view, modu­larity is perhaps the single most attractive feature of this technology. It allows designers to tailor electricity-generating systems as small in capacity as a few watts, or as large as many megawatts to suit specific needs, just following basic rules of electrical engineering. This feature combined with the suitability of the technology for autonomous operation, producing electricity with locally available sunshine, plus other characteristics such as lightweight, low-maintenance requirements and long useful life, has led people to consider photovoltaics as an attractive option for rural elec­trification...

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Basic Sources of Electricity

With the introduction of the transistor radio and the handheld flashlight dry cells became a favorite means to provide light and entertainment in rural areas. Dry cells can be purchased in many places and are easy to carry. Thus, many rural families spend substantial amounts of money on them. Transistor radios play an important role in the life of remote communities, not only because they bring music and entertainment, but also because radio broadcasts in many places carry important messages such as warnings of floods, instructions on health practices and other valuable services, such as family to family message delivery...

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24.1.2 Electricity Applications in the Rural Setting

The current patterns of energy use in rural areas show that the provision of small amounts of energy, especially electricity, changes the lifestyles of the rural population significantly. Energy applied to improve quality of life of the population may be a good first step to break the chains of underde­velopment. Applications such as lighting, clean water supply, entertainment and communications, preservation of vaccines and other medical supplies, and means for modern education, are usually welcome by governments, aid development agencies and the rural communities themselves...

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The Rural Energy Scene

Life in many rural areas of the world is no different today than it was centuries ago. Even energy cycles resemble those of early humans, albeit with the introduction of some modern elements. Firewood remains the main source of fuel in most rural communities, in spite of the alarming deforestation, dangers to health and the amount of work needed to collect it. In most places firewood is used mainly for cooking, followed by shelter heating and lighting. A good reference point at hand is the case of Mexico, one of the most advanced economies in the developing world. Here, firewood consumption in 1997 represented around 2.7% of the total energy supply, a share that is larger than that of coal and nuclear electricity taken together and almost equal to that of hydroelectricity [7].

Kerosene lam...

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Rural Electrification

At some point in time, agricultural processes were identified as potential applications for electricity and, consequently, the lines began to be extended into the rural areas. Here, the density of potential clients and the intensity of electricity use was not as large as in the cities or the industrial centers; therefore investments in grid extensions became hard to recover, so new institutional and financing mechanisms were developed to support the operation. Official rural electrification programs were introduced in the most advanced nations, an initiative that eventually trickled down to the developing countries.

As rural electrification proved beneficial to developed societies, early policy planners felt that the same or similar benefits could be achieved in developing societies...

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The Centralized Electrical System

Electricity is certainly the most sophisticated and flexible form of energy in use today around the world. But it has some drawbacks: electricity has to be used almost immediately after it is generated, as storing it may be expensive, time-limited and inefficient, and in the current scheme of supply, it has to be transported over long distances from the point of generation to the point of use, which can be inefficient and unreliable, especially when these two points are too far apart from each other in places lacking support infrastructure.

In the early days of the electric power industry, electricity was generated right at the point of use. Around 1880, even street lights in places such as Paris and London had their own individual generators [6]...

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One-third of Humanity Still in Darkness

Unfortunately, even today, not everybody has the fortune of enjoying all the benefits of progress: about one-third of humanity lacks access to electricity and, therefore, to a large number of electricity – based services and commodities. Around two billion people, mostly in the so-called developing countries, have remained in the earlier stages of human development, and still rely on wood fire, animal grease or kerosene lamps to light their paths and their homes at night. Modern means of communication and entertainment are either not known to them or are a distant possibility. Millions of people die every year from drinking polluted water, while others suffer from the lack of basic medical services...

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