Interest in off-grid renewable energy systems is on the rise, both in developed and developing countries. A decentralised system requires less land than a utility-scale renewable project, experiences less distance-related transmission losses (as it serves only a local customer or area), and provides electricity like a traditional grid connection. Furthermore, off-grid systems are able to support the integration of decentralised renewable power generation into the grid and provide power reliability and stability, evidenced in reduced outages and their respective massive economic impacts upon related economic activities [IRENA, 2015a]. Declining costs and increasing performance for small hydro installations, solar photovoltaics (PV) and wind turbines, as well as declining costs and technological improvements in electricity storage and control systems, all support the business case for off-grid renewable energy systems for deployment in the long term [IRENA, 2013a].
Figure: Distributed power timeline [GE, 2014]
Locally, the uptake of off-grid renewable energy systems was seen on a residential level due to the need for energy security as a result of power outages. More recently, the need to electrify the South African population, created the opportunity for off-grid renewable energy systems, since the balance of non-electrified communities lie in deep rural areas where grid extensions become costly and impractical.
International Renewable Energy Agency (2013a), ‘International off-grid renewable energy conference. Key findings and recommendations’, IRENA, Abu Dhabi,
International Renewable Energy Agency, (2015a), ‘Renewable power generation costs in 2014’, Bonn: International Renewable Energy Agency.