Minigrids: Solutions for Africa’s Energy Challenges

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Many people are shocked to learn that there are roughly 700 million people still living without electricity. Most are in countries like Kenya India and Bangladesh. Countries like Kenya are making progress and helping with that progress are technologies like minigrids.

Definition of a minigrid

Similar to a microgrid, a minigrid provides power to a community or campus of buildings. Generally minigrids are found in remote location where no central grid is available, according to Wood Mackenzie. Microgrids are typically connected to a central grid and are able to connect or disconnect when there are problems with the central grid, or it makes economic sense to do so. Many times folks refer to minigrids as a remote microgrids.

The chart below from Wood Mackenzie offers a graphic on the differences between a microgrids and a minigrids.

mini grid

Commonalities and difference between microgrids and minigrids. Source:Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables

The potential for minigrids to help bring electricity to remote areas is often overlooked. A recent report by Wood Mackenzie’s Energy Transition Practice identified Kenya as one of the most robust private sector minigrid markets. These factors are driven largely by Kenya’s goal for universal electricity access by 2022.

The report also cites other positive attributes such as a positive regulatory environment that is reducing risk for private sector investments. In addition, many households are in communities where a centralized grid is not economically feasible, opening the door for more minigrid investment opportunities.

You can download an executive summary of the Wood Mackenzie study on the Kenyan minigrid market opportunity here.

For more articles on energy solutions for rural communities visit our remote microgrids channel.

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  1. It seems like countries like Africa and India are adopting the nano or micro grid for use on homes in small villages and towns remote from large city infrastructure. The industrial nations with there last century infrastructure limping along, copper wires strung for thousands of miles to deliver electricity to remote enclaves. Copper wires strung for hundreds to thousands of miles to allow telephony and a “land line”.

    In these “poor” countries most folks have cell phones, so they have communications, texting, internet without wires. They have been used to burning kerosene or candles for light at night. By purchasing a nano or micro grid system for their homes, they can light their homes with LED lighting stored from the solar PV panel(s) and not have to foul the air in their homes by burning fuels for light. For many by not having to purchase fuel to burn saves enough money to help pay for the solar PV system. In many places in Africa the equivalent wage in USD is $200 to $500 a month. Yet solar PV and battery storage helps set them free from expensive fuels, miles of travel to buy those fuels and the time away from their daily lives. The pay-as-you go solar PV programs can be paid for by putting a small charge on every monthly cell phone bill. As their use of time becomes more profitable for them and not for the fuel companies, they may want to “upgrade” their solar PV systems to generate, store power and add D.C. appliances like refrigerators/freezers, TV or computers with live streaming and maybe even a micro-wave oven.

    In industrialized countries like the U.S., our average home energy use per day is somewhere around 32kWh to 42kWh. In countries like India, its around 3kWh a day and in Africa it’s around 200 to 600 Wh a day.