In the context of rapidly increasing price and the intermittent supply of fossil fuel, photovoltaic (PV) systems are an alternative energy supply option. Numerous PV system projects have been installed in health facilities in the past, and are mainly used to power vaccine refrigerators and lights. Nevertheless, the sustainability factors have not been considered sufficiently in many cases, due to improper system design, battery misuse, and under-estimation of the daily load.
Main criteria for selecting the appropriate technology are the economic and technical aspects of power generation options in rural areas. In small off-grid health facilities, where the daily load is low, experience shows that autonomous PV systems are considered to be the best energy option. However, for medium and large facilities, where the daily load is high, hybrid systems (e.g. PV with diesel generators) are likely to be the most economic and reliable power option. Lessons learned from field activities recommend installing a separate PV system only for vaccine refrigerator powering. Due to their energy efficiency, compressor refrigerators are recommended more than absorption refrigerators, and the new generation of solar direct-drive vaccine refrigerators can be an appropriate choice.
In the deployment of off-grid PV programs in developing countries, a significant role is played by main conducive factors, which include regulatory frameworks, institutional frameworks and business models. These factors can function through setting-up a clear policy and establishing an efficient management system, as well as a transparent financial scheme to enable ambitious programs.
Lessons learned from past projects show that the sustainability of PV systems requires consideration of technology aspects, capacity building, operation and maintenance. With PV systems for rural health facilities, the installation itself is often less a challenge than it is to establish sustainable financing for system maintenance and spare parts replacement.
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