Energy and environmental technology Environment

Updated October 1999

Outline and Questionnaire

FAO study on the impact of solar photovoltaic systems on rural development

Outline/questionnaire | Preliminary paper | Syria project

Update: PV impact study gaining momentum

Please fill in our questionnaire...

As part of the FAO study, a questionnaire on the impact of photovoltaic systems has been prepared for key people involved in the organization and installation of PV systems in rural areas. The questionnaire can be downloaded here in Word 6.0 (zipped, 21K), filled electronically and sent to us as an email attachment. Alternatively it can be downloaded in PDF (60K), printed and sent by mail or fax. The questionnaire contains full instructions and mailing addresses.

Over the last month, more than 250 questionnaires have been sent out - most of them electronically, some by fax - and we understand that many have sent on the questionnaire to other contacts.

Completed questionnaires are coming back - slowly but regularly - from countries all over the world. As expected, most of the projects deal with solar home systems, but some very interesting new and productive applications are being reported as well, especially in Latin America and Asia. Where we still lack information is in Africa, especially West and Central Africa. Therefore, we will be focusing more attention on these areas in the coming weeks.

Another area for greater attention is commercial PV sales. Although the questionnaires have been sent to commercial PV-selling companies as well, most of the data we receive is on sponsored projects, which - in general - contain a large grant component. We realize it is probably easier to receive data from these kind of projects, but we also know that a large number of the PV installations in rural areas in developing countries are supplied through private commercial cash sales. Commercial companies have often taken the lead in exploring new uses, markets and organizational mechanisms to diffuse PV technology.

As well as the questionnaires, people are sending us various studies that have already been done regarding PV markets and impact, mostly concerning a specific project or country: e.g. South Africa, Kenya, Colombia, Nepal, Mongolia. These studies help us gain a broader understanding of the impact of PV-systems and will be duly used and referred to in the final report.

Finally, many people and institutions have expressed their interest in the subject and in cooperating in follow-up activities, such as in-depth field studies of selected projects, discussions and publications.

It is still too early to draw any conclusions. We have therefore extended the period for receiving questionnaires until the 15 December 1999. However, we will be presenting the preliminary results at the Conferencia Latinoamericana de Electrificación Rural (7 - 11 November 1999, Recife, Brazil). We expect the presentation and discussion in Recife will draw in more stakeholders and enrich the study.


The main objective of the FAO study is to assess the impact of PV systems on rural development - concerning both the area and intensity of the impact (e.g. agricultural, social or rural industry development) and the main beneficiaries of the impact - and to contribute to the improvement of this impact.

While accepting the importance of PV programmes in bringing light to households as a admirable goal in itself, the FAO study hopes to go beyond this and try to measure or describe the impact PV systems have on social and economic development of communities in rural areas. An important focus of the study is therefore to identify opportunities for PV systems to generate income and employment. Community projects - such as drinking water, health centres, etc. - have the potential for providing whole communities with basic services.

It is of paramount importance to identify these potential contributions to rural development in order to support the design of PV programmes likely to have a significant and sustainable impact on rural development and to gain further financial and political commitment for PV projects, but at the same time know the limits of PV electrification and avoid false expectations.

To reach the main objective the following specific objectives were formulated:

  1. make an overview of PV projects/systems in rural areas, their major uses and impact on rural development;
  2. make an inventory of PV projects/systems with a significant impact on rural development, especially income generation;
  3. draw conclusions on the potential and limitations of PV projects/systems and their impact on rural development;
  4. distill the lessons of the projects studied to identify ways to maximize the positive impact of PV-projects/systems on rural development;
  5. publish and discuss the results of the research with different actors active in the field (governments, distributors, NGOs, international organizations, etc.);

Questionnaire: objectives and follow-up

As a first step towards the above objectives, FAO is distributing a questionnaire to key people involved in the organization and installation of PV systems. It asks their assessment of the impact of PV systems with which they are involved (for a copy of the questionnaire, see downloading instructions above). However, a questionnaire is a limited instrument and should be followed-up with more in-depth studies. The objectives of this questionnaire are therefore more limited:

  1. establish the main areas of impact of PV systems installed around the world, their potential and limitations and the (general) lessons to be learnt from them;
  2. make an inventory of PV projects and applications with a major impact on rural development, especially focused on income-generating activities;

The results of this first phase (tentatively ready by October/November 1999) should be the input to:

  1. in-depth impact assessment of some of the projects identified with a major impact on rural development (especially on income generating activities), including field assessments;
  2. a discussion, involving interested parties worldwide, on how to organize PV projects in order to optimize the impact on rural development - depending on the interest generated, the discussion could be in the form of meetings, a round-table, (electronic) conferences, discussion groups, etc.

You are kindly invited to fill in the questionnaire and to join in the discussion later this year. Please feel free to send any remarks, criticism, suggestions or questions to us. We are looking forward to hearing from you!

Gustavo Best, Senior Energy Coordinator, Team leader - tel: (39).06.57055534
Daniele Guidi, Renewable Energy Consultant - tel: (39).55.9910092
Bart van Campen, Rural Energy Development Officer - tel: (39).06.57054563 (email:;


Mailing address:
Sustainable Development Department, Room F-801
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
Viale delle Terme di Caracalla , 00100 Rome, Italy

Download: Questionnaire on impact of solar photovoltaic systems on rural development - PDF (60K) and Word 6.0 (zipped, 21K) formats.

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