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Technology, Institutions, and Common Pool Resource Issues in Village-Scale Renewable Energy: The Case of Microhydropower in Thailand

Chris Greacen
Ph.D. student

Energy and Resources Group
University of California, Berkeley

Objectives/Hypotheses: To understand the dynamics between institutional arrangements and technical characteristics in the success and failure of community-scale renewable energy projects.

Rationale: Scientists who study global warming call for a massive transition to carbon-free power, particularly in developing nations. Village scale renewable energy projects using microhydro, wind, or solar electricity provide technically promising opportunities to address sustainable rural development goals with little local or global environmental impact. While there are millions of households worldwide currently served by these village scale systems, and while village power projects remain an electrification option frequently chosen by NGOs, state rural electrification utilities, and entrepreneurs, to date there has been little systematic research to understand under what conditions these systems work or fail. Anecdotal accounts from a variety of projects, however, indicate that these projects frequently encounter a variety of technical and socio-economic challenges for sustainable operation. My research is an effort to provide a theoretical basis for an improved understanding of the fate of these projects. This, in turn, will supply policy makers and rural development practitioners with new approaches for improving the viability of these and future sustainable development investments.

Approach: My research draws on common pool resource theories and an investigation of institutional arrangements to understand the dynamics in village-scale microhydro projects in rural Thailand. Microhydro is a particularly robust and inexpensive technology relative to other village-scale renewable energy options, and Thailand presents a useful case with over 70 projects installed by government, parastatal utilities, and NGO groups under a range of institutional arrangements. I employ three complementary academic perspectives. First, an engineering analysis seeks to interpret technical histories of the systems, and to explain and evaluate the engineering basis of the design, installation, and operations and maintenance choices made. Second, a common property analysis considers the relationship between the village power system and patterns of community consumption and collective investments in the system. Finally, an institutional analysis considers the agendas of various actors to understand the political and economic incentives that shape the project from its earliest origins through long-term operations and maintenance arrangements. My methods include interviews, surveys, and analysis of project documents.

See Photos from Microhydro Installation

PV System Installation in Northern Thailand

Donna Green
Ph.D. student
Energy and Resources Group
University of California, Berkeley

This work is taking place in Khun Huay Sai, a small Lahu village in the Chiang Mai province of Thailand. The objective is to install a PV and battery system at the village's school and meeting hall and to facilitate local training about the system's operation. The PV system totalled 500 Watts, which will be used for lighting and battery charging at the village. This work was done in cooperation with a local NGO, the Inter Mountain Peoples Education and Culture in Thailand Association.

See Photos from PV Installation

New NEDO Newsletter

Chris Greacen is co-editor of a new newsletter on Energy Issues compiled and published for IIEC and the Japanese aid agency NEDO that summarizes different renewable energy projects in SE Asia. This first issue includes a contribution from Jaquelin Cochran, a masters student in RAEL, who will be working in Cambodia this summer on a solar powered UV water treatment project. The newsletter will be published 10 times over the coming year and will be translated into Japanese. Each issue will cover a specific subsector in the energy industry, including renewable energy, energy conservation, power sector issues, oil & gas, and coal.

This first issue focuses on renewable energy news in the region. The Mekong has seen considerable changes in renewable energy in the recent past. This exciting energy frontier is driven by increasing concern over the local and global impacts of conventional electricity generation, and shaped by rapid technological advances and developments in institutional arrangements for renewable energy dissemination. Significant contributions are made by small NGOs (the Vietnam Women's Union), and small entrepreneurs (Ford Thai in Cambodia), academic institutions, as well much larger entities such government agencies or the World Bank's Asia Alternative Energy Program (ASTAE).

Download the first issue of NEDO News: Renewable Energy (PDF).

Last updated 10/14/2002

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