Can Solar Micro-Grids Transform The African Grid?

Can Solar Micro-Grids Transform The African Grid?

By Justin Guay — From Huffington Post

Nearly 100 million people are now on the first steps of the energy ladder thanks to the rapid deployment of solar home systems in poor communities across the world. That’s incredible progress that marks the beginning, not the end, of clean energy access. With increasing attention being paid to the missing middle (the area where those moving up the energy ladder meet those being forced down by dysfunctional grids reliant on distributed diesel generators) excitement about the opportunity to end energy poverty is palpable. Now an emerging set of micro grid developers are bent on proving they can make good on that promise and potentially transform the architecture of the grid while they’re at it.

Community-level solar micro-grids supply electricity to a network of houses in a community, providing clean reliable electricity 24 hours a day. Leveraging AC power and larger power capacities they can support the next levels of energy access by incorporating productive end-use applications like drip irrigation systems, grain mills, and refrigeration. Perhaps most importantly they can be grid interoperable meaning they could provide the back bone of a truly resilient distributed, smart grid in countries that have yet to build out grid infrastructure.

That’s the vision that has spurred NGO’s, and start-ups tfrom Nepal, to India to East Africa into action. In Nepal Gham Power partnering with U.S.-based nonprofit GRID Alternatives is working to Power Up Nepal starting in the countries most remote, least developed districts, heavily affected by the 2015 earthquakes. Half a world away in East Africa Power Gen and PowerHive are pioneering efforts to enable private sector start-ups to become retail electricity providers for the Kenyan state owned utility by deploying smart, grid interoperable micro grids. And in India developers like OMC are working to make good on the countries newly drafted mini-grid policy to be grid extenders.

But despite of all of this activity micro grids lack a systemic effort from the multi lateral system to build the market infrastructure required to truly scale their efforts. There is no Lighting Africa for micro grids, no industry association like GOGLA (though the World Bank is currently working to rectify this), and most importantly there is precious little money floating around.

Read more at Huffington Post