Energy return on investment (EROI) of mini-hydro and solar PV systems designed for a mini-grid
With dramatic cost declines and performance improvements, both mini-hydropower and solar photovoltaics (PV) now serve as core options to meet the growing demand for electricity in underserved regions worldwide. We compare the net energy return on energy invested (EROI) of mini-hydropower and solar electricity using five existing mini-hydropower installations in northern Thailand with grid-connected solar PV simulations. Both assessments use a life cycle perspective to estimate the EROI. We find that distributed mini-grids with penetrations of solar PV up to 50% of annual generation can exceed the EROI of some fossil-based traditional centralized grid systems. The analysis will help planners and engineers optimize mini-grids for energy payback and utilize local resources in their design. The results suggest higher EROI ratios for mini-hydropower plants than solar PV, though mini-hydropower plants typically yield lower EROI ratios than their large-scale hydropower counterparts.
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