Impacts of Pico-PV Systems Usage using a Randomized Controlled Trial and Qualitative Methods

Michael Grimm, J Peters, M Sievert

Research output: Book/Report/Inaugural speech/Farewell speechReportAcademic


In recent years, costs of both LED lighting diodes and photovoltaic (PV) systems have decreased substantially. In widely non-electrified rural Africa, this has induced a silent revolution, the market based dissemination of dry-cell battery or solar driven small LED lanterns in rural areas. These devices are in many cases of a very low quality, which might threat the sustainability of these new markets by a loss of trust among customers. The international community has responded to this development by promoting so-called Pico-PV systems that meet sufficient quality standards. Supported by the Dutch Daey Ouwens Fund, the British company ToughStuff Ltd. has recently started to market such Pico-PV-Systems in Rwanda. The ToughStuff systems include a 1 Watt panel, a small lantern, a mobile phone charger, and a radio. Together with ISS, RWI has been assigned by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs to evaluate the impacts these systems have on households in rural areas. For this purpose, a Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) is conducted in 15 remote communities in which households do not have access to electricity and rely on candles and kerosene for lighting and dry-cell batteries for radio usage. Mobile phones can only be charged in the next grid connected area or against charging fees in shops that have a generator or a car battery. After a baseline survey, for which 300 households are interviewed, 150 of them are selected randomly to receive a ToughStuff Pico-PV system for free. The baseline data is used to randomize within similar strata or pairs of households. The “winners” also receive the same short training on how to use the Pico-PV system as ordinary ToughStuff customers who buy the solar system on the market. A follow-up survey will be conducted 6-12 months after the randomization of the Pico-PV systems. This research set-up allows for two principal research questions to be addressed: First, since the capacity of the Pico-PV system will in most cases not be sufficient to allow full usage of all three energy services – lighting, radio, mobile phone charging – we investigate how people living in absolute energy poverty decide between these three services. Second, the unbiased impact of using a Pico-PV system can be estimated due to the RCT approach. Indicators we examine are energy expenditures, lighting usage, mobile phone usage, and radio usage as well as the knowledge about contraceptive usage, family planning, and malaria prevention, which might be affected through radio information campaigns. In addition to the RCT, a small survey of around 100-150 households in regions in which ToughStuff is already promoting its products on the market is conducted in parallel to the follow-up survey. The purpose is to check the extent to which the usage and impact results in the RCT can be transferred to “real-world” users.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Place of Publication[The Hague]
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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