The small polaron quantum master equation (SPQME) proposed by Jang et al [J. Chem. Phys.129, 101104 (2008)] is a promising approach to describe coherent excitation energy transfer dynamics in complex molecular systems. To determine the applicable regime of the SPQME approach, we perform a comprehensive investigation of its accuracy by comparing its simulated population dynamics with numerically exact quasi-adiabatic path integral calculations. We demonstrate that the SPQME method yields accurate dynamics in a wide parameter range. Furthermore, our results show that the accuracy of polaron theory depends strongly upon the degree of exciton delocalization and timescale of polaron formation. Finally, we propose a simple criterion to assess the applicability of the SPQME theory that ensures the reliability of practical simulations of energy transfer dynamics with SPQME in light-harvesting systems.

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