In many parts of the world, access to basic electricity services remains a significant challenge. The status quo mode of electrification is central grid extension; however, in many areas off-grid technologies like mini-grids and stand-alone systems are more suitable for promoting electricity access under cost constraints. Unfortunately, these opportunities are often overlooked due to the complexities of electrification planning, especially for large areas. Researchers have designed techno-economic planning tools that can be scaled to cut through aspects of this complexity and be fit to address different places and contexts. This working paper describes a computer-based optimization tool that performs automatic electrification planning and is able to identify lowest cost system designs to most effectively provide desired levels of electricity access to populations of any given size. In doing so, the model determines the most suitable modes of electrification for each individual consumer. Concretely, this represents specifying whether customers should be electrified via grid extension, off-grid mini-grids, or stand-alone systems. For each system, the model supplies detailed technical designs at the individual customer-level. This software tool - named the Reference Electrification Model (REM) - has been used in real planning activities in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The description of the capabilities of the model is supported by case examples. REM stands apart from other planning tools because of its high granularity and its capability to provide concrete plans for a wide range of geographical scales. Because of these benefits, REM has the potential to help rationalize electrification planning and expedite progress towards universal electricity access worldwide.
Keywords: decision support models, universal access, rural electrification, techno-economic tools, least-cost planning, geoprocessing
Registration date: 2018-09-28