Mini-Grid Innovation Lab for Sub-Saharan Africa launched

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Cross Boundary Energy and The Rockefeller Foundation recently launched the Mini-Grid Innovation Lab for Sub-Saharan Africa. The move aims to develop new business models for community-based, “green” energy systems and services.

These, in turn, will help spearhead sustainable, rural electrification region-wide more efficiently and at lower cost.

With the Mini-Grid Innovation Lab, at least 100m from the 600m Sub-Saharan Africans currently lacking utility grid access will be able to get electricity. This is from mini-grids which will provide affordable, reliable, resilient and environmentally friendly electricity. According to media reports, this amounts to an $11 billion market opportunity projected to expand with time.

The Lab also has over 15 other mini-grid developers across Africa. This is besides the CrossBoundary Energy and The Rockefeller Foundation. These include the recently launched African Mini-Grid Developers Association (AMDA), Energy4Impact, Duke University, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Power for All.

Renewable energy mini-grids have been deployed across the region. However, they have failed to take up as they should. This is in comparison with the uptake of off-grid, home solar energy kits, products and services, which have experienced steady growth region-wide and beyond.

Also Read: Positive prospects for solar-powered irrigation systems

According to Gabriel Davies, head of energy access at CrossBoundary, their partnering with developers will help answer some of the questions that often come up in association with power supply. These, he says, will prove useful since they are closest to the daily challenges of providing power to rural customers.

Some of the other issues the Lab will work on includes figuring out how mini-grids can best be integrated with utility grids. It will also research on how household and business energy use may change when delivered by mini-grids. That is, given electricity rates are at per with those for main utility grids.

Meanwhile, India’s Claro Energy is working to deploy 6,500 solar pumping systems in about 15 states. It is also looking to increase the number to as many as 15,000 by March next year. This is according to Claro director Kartik Wahi.

Whereas India’s market for solar pumps for irrigation and drinking water was unheard of 7 years ago, Claro Energy has played a big role in transforming the same. This is through capturing the attention of federal and state governments, including subsidies. As such, the move has resulted in the creation of a $700 million annual market that is set to expand rapidly.

According to the research report, the India-led International Solar Alliance (ISA) has set aside a US$2 billion line of credit to promote decentralized renewables in Africa. The report goes on to clarify that a portion of this will be used to deploy 100,000 water pumps.

Presently, Claro is also looking at the mini-grid space. This, according to Wahi, is with a view to determine the feasibility of installing solar pumps in rural communities. This would be similar to the model being used by the Smart Power India program that focuses on telecom towers.