Many people ask how should we provide more electricity to people, but the missing question is "how should we do this equitably?"
December 30, 2018
Author: Destenie Nock
The power system is made up of large power plants, transmission lines, decentralized solar and diesel generators, and a multitude of other technologies. In the global south (i.e. Africa and South America) a major question is "how can we provide universal access to electricity?" In more developed nations (i.e. the USA) when stakeholders are looking to expand the power system, they start by projecting a future electricity demand. Then they add more power generation technologies to meet this projected demand. This system works well in areas where virtually everyone has universal access. On the other hand, when a majority of a country does not have access to electricity a few major questions that arise are:
Who should receive an electricity connection first?
How can you supply the most people with access?
Should you focus more on rural or urban electrification?
The questions listed above are highly susceptible to stakeholders preferences. For example, politicians may place a greater weight on their constituents receiving electricity first. Using optimization and mathematical models we can develop tools to understand how preferences for equity, in terms of the distribution of electricity, impact the ideal layout of the power system.
Preferences for equity in the distribution of electricity impact the ideal layout of the power system.
In my research I am developing a tool called the Maximize Energy Access model which incorporates an utility function into the power expansion optimization problem. Incorporating this will allow for a greater understanding of how stakeholder preferences towards everyone in a country receiving equal amounts of access to electricity will impact the overall power system layout. This will then show how a preference for electricity equity impacts the actual equity in the country. An interesting finding thus far is that high and medium equity preferences lead to similar levels of access around the country. Low equity preferences lead to less transmission line investment and greater gaps between urban and rural areas.
More to come in 2019!
Update from 2020: This work is related to following paper: "Changing the Policy Paradigm: A Benefit Maximization Approach to Electricity Planning in Developing Countries."Applied Energy. 2020. DOI https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apenergy.2020.114583
Note about the author: Destenie Nock is a 4th year PhD Candidate in Industrial Engineering an Operations Research at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is currently on the job market and looking for a faculty position in Academia. She earned a MSc in Leadership for Sustainable Development at Queen's University of Belfast, and two BS degrees in Electrical Engineering and Applied Math at North Carolina A&T State University. In her free time she enjoys playing tennis, painting, and hitting the gym.