Development of a micro-hydropower pre-feasibility assessment tool for developing countries.
Thesis DisciplineCivil Engineering
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Isolated communities in developing countries struggle to meet their energy demands partly due to the difficulty in connecting to national electricity grids. Basic energy demands are often met with the use of expensive and polluting fossil fuels. An alternative way of meeting energy demands can be through the use of micro-hydropower (MHP) systems. For communities in mountain ranges with good hydrologic resources, community owned MHP can be a cost-effective technology that harvests the potential energy of rivers and generates electricity. The arrival of electricity to communities often brings numerous socio-economic benefits as well as improved livelihood.
Physical (e.g., head and flow) and economic requirements are essential for establishing the feasibility of MHP schemes, but social and environmental factors can also be critical for the performance and longevity of the scheme after its installation. There is a lack of available international studies on specific success and failure reasons. Community owned MHP feasibility evaluation requires an extensive holistic approach, and the success of schemes depends on the socio-economic characteristics of the community as well as other geophysical parameters of the environment. Schemes are operated and maintained by communities and their sustainability depends on the support and care of communities. The electrification of villages brings multiple livelihood improvements such as reduced drudgery, improved lighting, or overall comfort. However, there is a lack of international studies on livelihood improvements brought by the implementation of MHP schemes. Remote communities cannot carry out independent pre-feasibility assessments due to a lack of know-how. Local developers often identify potential sites by personal references and perform pre-feasibility assessments by sending a small group of engineers to record essential physical variables such as the head or the river flow. No holistic, efficient and easy to use MHP pre-feasibility assessment method exists.
The main objectives of this study were: (1) to create a framework to generate a scheme current success score (SCSS), identifying success and failure reasons; (2) to study the connection between livelihood improvements and scheme sustainability by evaluating a wide range of livelihood indicators from five broad livelihood categories: health, education, safety, community engagement and economy; (3) to create a MHP pre-feasibility assessment tool that can be used by communities and developers with the use of a multi-criteria decision method.
This study evaluated 35 communities from Nepal, Bolivia, Cambodia and the Philippines through site visits and interviews with developers, operators, key members of the communities and electricity beneficiaries. Failure and success reasons were recorded, and a framework to determine schemes current success score was created. The capability approach was used to measure the change in livelihood brought by the implementation of MHP schemes. The livelihood analysis was based on 17 communities from Bolivia and the Philippines, where 22 livelihood indicators were evaluated from five broad livelihood categories: health, education, safety, community engagement and economy. The analytic hierarchy process (AHP) was used as a multi-criteria decision making method to incorporate 15 key quantitative and qualitative criteria that affect the likelihood of success of community owned MHP schemes and create a pre-feasibility assessment tool. To validate the method, the pre-feasibility tool results were compared to the scheme current success score (SCSS).
Proper regular operation, ongoing strong support by the community, and the external long term support from the government or local developer were key factors for MHP scheme success. The most recurrent failure reasons were maintenance difficulties, extreme weather events, and the arrival of the national electricity grid.
Results from the livelihood analysis showed significant improvements in education, community engagement and economy. Improved lighting was identified as the most influential factor. Women appeared to benefit more from drudgery reduction and men from community engagement opportunities.
The analytic hierarchy process integrated the key qualitative and quantitative variables required for a MHP pre-feasibility study. Results were compared to the results of the SCSS analysis and showed a strong correlation of 0.868. The tool gave equal importance to the physical, social and economic factors, which were strongly more important than the environmental factor. Water availability, terrain quality, community cohesion and financial support were identified as the most important criteria affecting the likelihood of success of schemes.
This research identified the most common failure and success reasons and classified schemes across four countries by their success. The capability approach successfully identified the most common livelihood improvements that MHP schemes bring to communities and highlighted how communities value such improvements. A Micro-hydropower Pre-feasibility Assessment Tool (MHP-PAT) was designed that could be easily used and manipulated by developers and communities to generate assessments of the likelihood of success of schemes.