Mini-grids Could Bring 100 Million Africans Clean, Affordable Power

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In Africa, over 600 million people live without access to electricity.  There is an ongoing debate on how to best implement power solutions for these people and new research by CrossBoundry shows that mini-grids could play an important role.

Different Methods Of Providing Power

When looking at the issue of how to provide power to people who don't have access, there are three primary methods: grid expansion, standalone home solar, and mini-grids.  All three have a role to play depending on the situation.

What is a mini-grid?

A mini-grid is a small scale grid that generates, stores, and transmits power.  They can serve isolated households and businesses that don't have access to central grids.

A mini-grid can be put together with any power generation technology, but things start to get interesting when the concept of a mini-grid incorporates solar.

A solar-powered mini-grid with battery backups allows rural communities to sustainable generate power regardless of location.

Who is the best candidate for a mini-grid?

A mini-grid isn't always the best means of providing power to people, but according to CrossBoundry, approximately 100 million people are perfect candidates for mini-grids in Africa.

CrossBoundry combined data from the World Bank and WorldPop to map the main grid and the distances of populations in relation to the grid.

According to GreenTech Media, "CrossBoundary started by combining the data on existing and planned high-voltage transmission lines from the World Bank with data on the population density of Africa by square kilometer from WorldPop. 

This allowed us to map out where each square kilometer of the population is relative to the high-voltage grid. These datasets paint a clear picture of the challenges for electrifying rural Africa. 

 image courtesy of Greentech Media

image courtesy of Greentech Media

First, Africa in parts is sparsely populated: Over 350 million people live in square kilometers that contain fewer than 100 people, equivalent to a family of five living on ten football fields of land. 

Second, people often live remote from infrastructure: 135 million people live more than 100 kilometers from existing and planned high-voltage lines."

The people who are best candidates for a mini-grid are those who live far from a central grid and live in places with high enough population density. 

How A Minimum Cost Was Estimated

CrossBoundry built cost estimates to achieve tipping points between mini-grids, main grid expansions, and home solar systems.  

They analyzed the costs of all three power generation methods to figure out a break-even distance where localized solutions become cheaper than grid extensions.

CrossBoundry found that "mini-grids are cheaper than grid extensions at an average tipping point of 25 kilometers from the high-voltage grids and less expensive than home solar at an average tipping point of 400 people per square kilometer."

How Much Would mini-grids Cost?

Upon finding the best candidates for mini-grids(100 million), 15 existing mini-grid projects costs were analyzed, and an estimate was created for providing 100 million people with mini-grids.

It is estimated that it would cost 11 billion USD to power 100 million people with solar powered mini-grids.

Conclusion

Many questions and hurdles still need to be assessed such as subsidies and private vs. public ownership mix.  Mini-grids though are the most economically viable method for providing power for 100 million people in Africa and needs to be taken seriously as donors and governments look into electrifying Africa.

 

Original Story at GreenTech Media