DEES | Decentralized Energy Supply

Global needs for basic energy supply

Over 1.6 billion people have no access to electricity and more than 2 billion people rely on wood and dung for fuel consumption. (U. Fritsche, F.Matthes, World Summit papers of H. Böll Foundation No 22, 2003) As agreed on the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg 2002, the United Nations Plan of Implementation states that “…access to energy facilitates the eradication of poverty”. It continues, “the access to reliable, affordable, economically viable, socially acceptable and environmentally sound energy services and resources” should be improved “through various means, [including] enhanced rural electrification and decentralised energy systems, increased use of renewables, …”


Energy supply – a poverty-related basic needs service

Access to electricity constitutes the basis for a minimum standard of living. It is fundamental to social and economic development and plays a vital role in improving equal gender opportunities. It also enables the deprived to improve their quality of life. Basic electricity supply for household and handicraft is thus a key component of poverty-oriented basic needs services.

Particularly in remote mountainous areas (such as the Himalayas Region) people often live under extreme conditions. The harsh climate in high-altitudes, limited available natural resources and the remote location of most villages make life challenging.

The subsistence agriculture is primarily aimed at surviving the long winter periods. The highly limited existing income sources hinder the poor population’s access to basic services such as electricity supply, and restrict adequate participation in “normal” economic life.

Due to the remoteness of most villages, the majority of settlements are not connected to a central power grid. The lack of economic opportunities leads to large scale migration.

BORDA's Approach

Conventional local and governmental energy supply concepts often fail to reach the population in remote areas. BORDA seeks to bridge this deficiency by

  • generating electric power with utilization of local energy sources (mountain rivers and streams)
  • implementing demand-based service provider concepts to demonstrate decentralized energy supply
  • disseminating this approach in cooperation with various stakeholders

The aim of BORDA energy supply projects is to provide access to electricity for all households within a project village (e.g. for evening lighting). This changes the investment cost-benefit analysis for local SMEs. The willingness of the target group to actively participate in the project realisation is essential for the sustainability of these measures and is a precondition for project implementation.

Even though the people developed strategies for survival, the long and cold winters are always extremely challenging. Energy for heating and light is scarce.

The Challenge

Limitations of centralized energy supply systems

Local and state governments in developing countries show little effort in supplying remote rural areas with electricity. This is mainly due to the difficulty in connecting these areas with a centralized power grid. Therefore, centrally operated and government-run systems are often limited to the larger urban areas.

Diesel generators

Conventional diesel generators represent a problematic solution for rural electricity supply:

  • high costs for operation
  • high breakdown rates
  • expensive maintenance
  • private providers often do not guarantee energy supply for all the households in a given village
  • not environmentally friendly

Efforts to provide an electricity supply to remote mountainous villages using diesel generators face numerous challenges, as the necessary supply chain activities in these locations incurs costs and risks that are too high for most users to bear.

Good Practice: Decentralized Energy Supply with the Micro Hydro Power Concept

All households from a project village now have access to electricity - for light, hot water and other economic or business activities (i.e. handicraft production)

 A Viable Alternative

As centralized power supply systems often fail to reach the remote areas and diesel generators have a number of (previously discussed) shortcomings, decentralized energy supply with Micro Hydro Turbines MHT (capacity 1kW to 20 kW) represent an attractive option for electrification in mountainous areas.

Successes in India, Vietnam and P.R. China

In 1988 BORDA started the dissemination of poverty-oriented, decentralized energy supply systems in remote areas of Ladakh, (Jammu & Kashmir, India) and is now also active in Vietnam and P.R. China.

Continuous improvements of technical components and the development of an appropriate and demand based service provider concept make the Micro Hydro Power Concept (MHPC) a sustainable decentralized energy supply system. BORDA’s engagement in disseminating this concept is based on surveys and feasibility studies.

Capacity building and training for partner organisations

‘Good Practices’ are first introduced by pilot or demonstration projects. Training requirements, user demands and regional considerations must be paramount. Results are then integrated as options into the further dissemination

Characteristics of Micro Hydro Turbines:

  • Decentralized: Managed by local operators
  • Affordable: Affordable by communities
  • Simple: Minimum operation and possible maintenance
  • Eco-friendly: Utilizes renewable energy
  • Reliable: Continuous operation
  • Appropriate: Demand oriented
  • Sustainable: O&M by user groups
Demand-oriented Approach

Flow measurements and planning. Engineers from partner organizations are trained on the job by BORDA experts.
The MHT is installed with the help of the villagers. They are organized in an electrification committee. The operator is responsible for daily management of the power system.

Informed choice

Feasibility studies provide the first data on technical possibilities in new regions. Potential users and different stakeholders are then informed about the new power supply options to enable an informed choice about preferred solutions and technical options. This allows a comprehensive final selection of user groups and stakeholders – according to the criteria of a demand-oriented approach.


To facilitate sustainable operation and further dissemination, service provider concepts must be supported by the main stakeholders. The user group, relevant government institutions and the partner organisation (usually NGOs) join together as a development cooperation and share the responsibilities of the project implementation. These responsibilities range from planning and construction to operation and maintenance (O&M). This can only be realised if the entire process is based on the demands of all stakeholders. Therefore, BORDA’s engagement in the project is tied to specific conditions that have to be fulfilled.


1. Participation of user groups

  • Essential: Poverty, a real need for power supply and the participation of user groups
  • Users are willing to operate and maintain the system independently
  • Selecting appropriate technologies guarantees that expenses for O&M can be covered by user fees.
  • Village Electrification Committees organize the participation during construction, O&M and fee collection.
  • Operators and secretaries are paid with user fees.
  • Investment costs for power houses, power poles, wires and light bulbs are mostly covered by users.

This demand-oriented selection and user participation guarantees high user acceptance.

2. Involvement of local, regional and national authorities

  • The involvement of policy-makers is necessary for the legal basis of the project.
  • Public authorities are integrated in the early stages of the dissemination process and are encouraged to take a stake in the project by providing services and/or co-finances.

3. Willingness of implementing partner organizations to learn and grow

  • Demand-oriented basic needs services can only be disseminated with regionally operating partner organizations.
  • To act as a provider for basic needs services they have to be able and willing to implement Micro Hydro Power Concepts, manage O&M and organize user committees.
  • They act as the locally responsible agency, right from the start of the demonstration and pilot projects.
  • They are continuously trained within the BORDA partner network.
Technical Options for Community Development

System flexibility

BORDA has developed a range of technical options that adapt the technology to user demands and topographic conditions:

  • Several turbine types with different capacities from 1 to 20 kW
  • Various levels of water power capacity can be utilized (depends on water availability and drop between intake and turbine)
  • Generated energy can be utilized for electric devices and for mechanically driven devices
  • Electricity can be used for small scale home industries and for household use (evening lighting, community/family sized water heater and other private devices)

Community development

For the socio-economic development BORDA provides various options of machines to improve production and therefore increase income of small-scale home industries: carpentry machines, electric saws, wood lathes, spinning machines and flour grinding mills.

Efficient technology

The Micro Hydro Turbine is a device for electricity generation that is powered by the water forces of mountain rivers and streams. The water is usually taken from a lateral irrigation channel nearby. Only a fraction of the water is required for power generation, thereby not impairing irrigation systems.

The turbine itself is installed in a small power house. The energy which drives the turbine originates from a strong water flow in a penstock pipe. The turbine is connected to a generator and operated via a control board. A small power grid connects the generator with the users. Components for MHT-units are produced in Vietnam, China and India.

Dissemination Strategy

Income Generation due to power generation
People are trained within the program in traditional textile and handicraft production trades, like spinning, weaving, knitting, carpentry and carving.
The manufacture of various products is enhanced by electricity for machines and light. The provision of energy infrastructure is extremely relevant to improving basic living conditions and village economies.

Informing key stakeholders

Early information to key stakeholders is vital to ensure continuous support for the program on a macro-level.

Informed choice

Users/communities are informed and choose technical options and service models.

Project planning

Project planning includes technical and socio-economic feasibility studies, construction design and legal aspects. 

Training programs

BORDA experts facilitate training programs for qualified staff of partner organizations to strengthen capacities of the local service provider.

Project implementation

To ensure high quality standards, major tasks are carried out by qualified experts. User participation in construction work reduces costs and generates ownership identification among beneficiaries. User committees are trained by experts for sustainable O&M.

Quality control

Internal and external evaluations ensure the quality of the service provider system and help improve performance.

Cost efficiency

With the distribution of financial investment across stakeholders, cost efficiency is increased; furthermore, O&M can be financed by user fees.

BORDA network

The international BORDA network facilitates further dissemination (knowledge transfer, trainings, conferences, cooperation between experts from partner organisations).






Benefits of Micro Hydro Turbine

Effective, efficient and sustainable basic needs service solution for decentralized energy supply

Improvement of livelihoods for marginalized people

Additional income generated by fostering small-scale home industries, e.g. agro processing, spinning and carpentry

O&M is covered by fees, managed by user committees and guaranteed by trained local operators

Capacity-building in technical, social and management competence e.g. training programs for handicraft production, facilitation of community workshops

Reinforcement of self-determination of user communities

Decrease of rural migration

Eco-friendly through utilization of renewable energy

Impacts are gender neutral as male and female benefit equally

The supply of electricity encouraged these women to establish a self-help group.
They produce traditional and modern clothes with mechanical and electric machines.