Synergistic generation of energy and water in remote communities: Economic and environmental assessment of current situation and future scenarios

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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 2,944 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 263% 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 (5,364 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.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnergy Conversion and Management
Early online date12 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2020


  • Household cooking heat
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Life cycle costing
  • Off-grid electricity
  • Rural development

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Energy
  • Global inequalities


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