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When more than money talks: Multi-criteria decision analysis of fuel cells for sustainable power supply in Sub-Saharan minigrids

Schöne, Nikolas; Rochette, François de; Heinz, Boris

To close the gap of 500 million people living without access to electricity in rural Sub-Saharan Africa strategies of countries facing forced action rely on minigrid deployment. While recent studies on fuel cells in such energy systems are limited to technical and economic considerations, this paper performs a multi-criteria decision analysis to investigate their holistic fit into the economic, technical, environmental, and social system, comparing results against established power generation technologies. Findings from scenarios which shed light on 1. strategically important criteria according to academic expert opinions captured in a survey, 2. criteria decisive for actual market penetration of technologies and 3. future parameter and criteria in alliance with sustainable development, indicate the fuel cell to be highly suitable for rural power generation in minigrids. While large-scale centralized water electrolysis could improve the low economic performance – still major disadvantage – of stand-alone fuel cells, the authors see relevant future work to be made in the definition of economic niches and use-cases for decentralized hydrogen production, as reliability of supply and synergies to other end-uses are promising.
Published in: Renewable Energy and Sustainable Development, 10.21622/resd.2021.07.1.005, Academy Publishing Center