Criteria for sustainable operation of renewable energy-based mini-grid services

Bharat Poudel

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

    225 Downloads (Pure)


    While renewable energy-based off-grid technologies can seem promising in terms of providing energy access for remote communities in developing countries, the existing evidence suggests that their functionality is often problematic. Previous studies have identified a number of operational and design factors influencing the performance of such off-grid systems. However, this previous work has largely involved case studies of single projects and has not sought to use or develop theoretical models to explain what drives sustainability more generally. This provides the rationale for conducting the research in this thesis to answer the main research question: Is it possible to discover a theoretical framework of project attributes that contribute to the sustainable performance of renewable energy-based mini-grid projects (micro-hydro) in Nepal?

    This research employed a mixed research method design to understand the characteristics of successful and sustainable projects, as well as the role of external support in achieving sustainability. In the first phase of the research, a qualitative study was carried out in a sample of 12 micro-hydro projects in rural Nepal. The objective of the qualitative research was to build on the literature and to develop a theoretically-based conceptual model of how operational, design and other factors influence the performance and sustainability of off-grid micro-hydro projects. In the second phase, through quantitative research and a survey of n=175 mini-grid projects in rural Nepal the initial conceptual model was tested and refined. By employing Partial Least Squares Structural Equation Modelling (PLS-SEM), key project characteristics and their influence on five dimensions of sustainability were identified.

    The results of PLS-SEM analysis supported 14 out of 16 hypothesised relationships in the conceptual model. The findings confirmed the importance of a number of factors identified in previous studies as drivers of technical and institutional performance of such schemes. These included participation of local communities in project design, daily plant operation practice, management capacity, and post-installation support. Further, the qualitative and quantitative research identified other project attributes influencing micro-hydro project performance, related to the availability and uptake of power supply and management characteristics which were under-explained in the literature. These included having both adequate and reliable power available for appliances, sufficiently long hours of plant operation, sound financial management, performance of management teams, and the productive uses of electricity in the village. In addition, relationships were discovered and quantified between various dimensions of sustainability in the context of off-grid hydro projects. Based on the findings from both the literature and this research, a theoretical model for the sustainable operation of mini-grid systems is presented.

    This thesis provides a theoretical model for the sustainable operation of renewable energy-based mini-grid projects. This research has identified a number of factors that drive various sustainability dimensions of off-grid hydro projects constructed in Nepal. This is another unique contribution to the government policy makers, development partners, implementing agencies and individual project managers. The key findings can be used to revise the policy documents, and project design and delivery guidelines. Further, project managers can use some of these findings to achieve more sustainable outcomes.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Charles Sturt University
    • Parton, Kevin, Principal Supervisor
    • Morrison, Mark, Co-Supervisor
    • Maley, Jane, Co-Supervisor
    Place of PublicationAustralia
    Publication statusPublished - 2020


    Dive into the research topics of 'Criteria for sustainable operation of renewable energy-based mini-grid services'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this