The success of deploying energy and water technologies in remote communities in developing countries can be improved by considering their synergistic relationships and their social, economic and environmental implications. This paper first evaluates social implications of current energy and water supply in a prototypical remote community against five future (2030) scenarios for synergistic provision of electricity, heat for cooking and water. This is followed by an integrated assessment of the social, environmental and economic life cycle sustainability through multicriteria decision analysis. The Business-as-usual (BAU) scenario shows high life cycle health impacts but low impacts from local air pollution. The contrary is true for the Independent and Advanced Independent scenarios which assume community self-sufficiency in energy and water supply. Greater access to electricity and water in the Advanced and Advanced Independent scenarios increases the potential for human development and security of supply, but there is an increase in the risk of accidents and decrease in social acceptability of the water supply. Similarly, a transition towards clean cooking fuels away from traditional solid biomass reduces local air pollution but increases reliance on imported fuels (BAU and Advanced scenarios). The Transition scenario is socially the most sustainable option, while Independent and Advanced Independent are the best options environmentally. They also have the lowest total operating costs, but have higher capital requirements than most other scenarios. Overall, unless extreme preferences for either environmental or social aspects are adopted, the Transition and Independent scenarios emerge as the most sustainable options. This suggests that current energy and water supply to remote communities can be transitioned sustainably to a self-sufficient system that does not depend on imported resources. The scenarios developed in this work present a framework for an integrated design and evaluation of energy and water supply in remote communities with the aim of aiding stakeholders in defining sustainable transition pathways.
Access to clean water is one of the targets in the UN Sustainable Development Goals. However, millions of people are still without basic water services, predominantly in rural areas in developing nations. Previous studies have investigated the environmental impacts of water provision, but they mostly focused on large-scale urban systems. This paper considers for the first time the life cycle environmental impacts of different water supply options applicable to remote communities in developing countries. Focusing on the Southeast Asia-Pacific (SEAP) context, a cradle-to-grave approach is followed to estimate the impacts of locally-sourced groundwater, surface water and desalinated seawater as well as externally-sourced bottled water. The results reveal that surface water is environmentally the most sustainable alternative. Locally desalinated water, powered by diesel electricity, has two orders of magnitude higher impacts than surface water. However, externally-sourced water in plastic bottles is the worst option with 4–155 times higher impacts than desalinated water and up to three orders of magnitude higher impacts than surface water. This is largely due to the impacts related to the production of bottles. Doubling their recycling would reduce the impacts by 7–23% but bottled water would still be environmentally the least sustainable option. Although water in single-use bottles currently provides only 3% of the water supply of a representative remote community in the SEAP region considered in this study, it accounts on average for more than 50% of the total impacts from water consumption. By 2030, population increase could lead to greater reliance of remote communities on bottled water and 60–73% higher impacts of water consumption per household. Relying solely on local surface, ground and water desalinated using solar power and avoiding bottled water would reduce the impacts by 33–99% relative to the current situation. This would also improve considerably water availability and security in remote communities. The findings of this study will be of interest to national and local governments developing future policies aimed at increasing access of remote communities to clean water.
Access to clean cooking fuels and technologies is essential for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly in developing countries, to minimise human health and environmental impacts. This paper assesses for the first time the environmental sustainability of household cooking, focusing on remote communities in developing countries in the Southeast Asia-Pacific (SEAP) region and considering both life cycle and local impacts. To guide rural development policies, the impacts of the following cooking fuels are considered: liquefied petroleum gas, kerosene, wood, charcoal, crop residues, biogas and electricity. Both the present situation and three future (2030) scenarios are evaluated on 18 life cycle impacts, as well as on local environmental and health impacts caused by cooking. The results show that electricity is the worst option in 13 out of 18 life cycle categories since it is generated from diesel in off-grid communities. Biogas from manure is the best fuel with 16 lowest life cycle impacts. Biomass fuels can have lower life cycle impacts than fossil fuels but they have high combustion emissions which lead to higher local environmental and health impacts. Future scenarios with higher biomass utilisation have up to 47 times lower life cycle impacts than at present, but 4–23% higher local impacts. Health impacts related to fuel combustion are higher in Vietnam, the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar compared to the other SEAP countries due to regional background pollutant concentrations and health trends. A fuel mix with liquefied petroleum gas, biogas and renewable electricity offers considerable reductions in 13 life cycle impacts compared to the present situation, while also reducing local health impacts by 78–97%. A self-sufficient fuel mix with local biomass and renewable electricity would reduce 17 out of 18 life cycle impacts, but all local impacts, including on health, would be 11–28% higher than at present. The results from this study can be used by policy makers and other stakeholders to develop policies for clean cooking in remote communities and reduce both environmental and human health impacts.
Improving access to energy and water in remote communities is an important step towards sustainable development. However, integrated sustainability studies at the community or household scale are rare compared to industrial or national studies. Thus, this paper presents an integrated approach to the development and evaluation of energy and water supply systems in remote communities in developing countries. Termed here “synergistic generation” (“synergen”), the approach considers simultaneously electricity, heat for cooking and water supply to determine their environmental and economic sustainability on a life cycle basis. Life cycle assessment and life cycle costing are used for this purpose. Both the current situation and future scenarios to 2030 are considered for a representative remote community. The life cycle costs of the current energy and water supply are estimated at 2944 USD/household per year, most of which (91%) is due to bottled water. The latter is also the main cause of current environmental impacts (62%), followed by cooking fuels (33%) and electricity (5%). If business as usual (BAU) continues to 2030, air pollution and eutrophication could be reduced by >40% but other 14 impacts would increase by 2–63% on the current situation due to higher dependence on diesel for electricity generation and bottled water. For the same reason, BAU also has 82% higher life cycle costs (5364 USD/household∙yr) than at present. Assuming full supply self-sufficiency (Independent scenario) leads to a >12% reduction in all impact categories, except terrestrial ecotoxicity, which increases by 5% – both trends are due to utilisation of waste biomass for cooking. The life cycle costs are reduced by 92% (231 USD/household∙yr), mainly due to the phasing out of bottled water. However, capital costs are 21% higher due to the need for multiple renewable energy installations. Pursuing moderate rather than full independence of supply (Transition scenario) would reduce most impacts and costs below those of the current situation. Overall, the Transition and Independent scenarios have lower impacts than at present in almost all environmental categories as well as lower life cycle costs. These findings demonstrate the environmental and economic feasibility of energy and water independence in remote communities as well as highlighting the likely trade-offs that should be considered during the transition.
Small-scale off-grid renewable energy systems are being increasingly used for rural electrification, commonly as stand-alone home systems or community micro-grids. With the variety of technologies and configurations available, it is not clear which options are sustainable for remote communities. This study investigates the life cycle environmental sustainability of both home and community installations, designed as part of this work, which utilise diesel, solar, and wind resources coupled with battery storage. A total of 21 system configurations (six home systems and 15 micro-grids) have been designed and optimised for a prototypical rural community in the Philippines, considering both stand-alone and hybrid systems. Life cycle assessment (LCA) considering 18 potential impact categories has been carried out to compare the environmental impacts associated with electricity production of each option. At the household level, hybrid solar photovoltaics (PV)-wind systems with storage have 17–40% lower impacts than the equivalent stand-alone installations per kWh generated. Batteries are a major environmental hotspot, causing up to 88% of the life cycle impacts of a home energy system. Among the community micro-grid options, the PV-wind-lead acid battery hybrid system has the lowest impacts in many categories, including climate change, ozone depletion, and acidification. Comparing equivalent architectures for single-household and community-scale installations, PV systems are environmentally more sustainable if installed individually in households, while larger turbines in community micro-grids are environmentally better for wind utilisation. The results suggest that a household-scale PV system integrated within a micro-grid with community-scale wind turbines and Li-ion batteries is environmentally the most sustainable configuration.
Agricultural wastes are readily available in farming communities and can be utilised for off-grid electrification as an alternative to diesel generators. This work evaluates for the first time the life cycle environmental sustainability of these small-scale systems in the context of Southeast Asia. Rice and coconut residues are considered for direct combustion and gasification, and livestock manure for anaerobic digestion. Overall, anaerobic digestion is the best option for 14 out of 18 impacts estimated through life cycle assessment. The results also suggest that gasification has up to 12 times lower impacts per kWh than combustion, except for resource depletion. Combustion and gasification have 85% to two times lower impacts than diesel generators, except for eutrophication, ecotoxicity and human toxicity. Depending on the feedstock, global warming potential of anaerobic digestion ranges from being 170% lower to 41% higher than that of the diesel generator. Overall, providing power from residual biomass in small agricultural communities would reduce environmental impacts significantly while improving waste management practices.