Access to electricity is essential for people’s lives and livelihoods. The usages of electricity spans from fridges to cool and store foods, to charging of mobile phones, powering of television and other basic electrical household gadgets which makes life comfortable. Electricity is also needed in schools and for businesses.
With how essential electricity is to daily living, it is still surprising that about 590 million people in Africa currently live without it. Most of these people are found in the rural areas.
The population of those who have access to electricity is mostly through fuel or diesel-powered generators which pollutes the environment and at the same time highly unreliable.
What Then is The Answer?
The ideal answer to the plight of people living in the rural areas without electricity must be non-pollutant, reliable and affordable. With this, solar powered mini-grids could be answer since it is clean energy, reliable and cost effective in the long-run.
Solar powered mini-grid is clean and reliable but has one probable hindrance which is huge up-front investment but cheaper in the long run considering little or no maintenance cost and recurring bills. But what if the cost is shouldered by a company with a Pay-as-You Use payment plan for consumers? This is the payment plan that Vesselnet Solar is offering to communities, estates and rural areas. If you are a community leader or an estate manager, kindly contact us on how we can have a partnership.
What are Mini-Grids?
These are independently decentralized electricity networks functioning without the national grid.
Mini grid is used usually to generate electricity for local consumption as they are not linked to the main grid. The advantage of mini grid is that local consumption can be tracked and power supply is able to match up consumption needs. The epileptic power supply situation from the main grid is non-existent since mini grid isn’t connected in the first place.
Businesses, hospitals, stores and homes can function more effectively with dependable power supply. The benefits of electricity include lighting and communication primarily.
Mini Grid Installation in Nigeria
In Bisanti, Nigeria, private mini-grid developer Green Village Energy has built a mini-grid consisting of 126 solar panels, enough to provide electricity for 340 households in the area. The mini-grid also powers small businesses, a school and a health clinic.
In the Beginning
In the 1960s was when the African governments started building mini-grids. That was the period when diesel-powered generators were prevalent and easy source of energy while solar technology was just at its infant stage. From that time to now, solar technology has evolved to be what it is today-reliable and best source of power. Between 2009 and 2015, solar PV module prices also fell by 80% due to the solar revolution.
The Way Forward
Diesel-powered mini grids can be converted to solar powered grids. Or new solar mini grids can be installed across the rural areas. If this is done, the annual global CO2 emissions savings of up to 470 million metric tons which is equivalent to Brazil’s annual CO2 emissions can be achieved.
Probable Challenge to This
Just like every situation with challenges, there are three main challenges to this and they are discussed below:
Projects such as this would always have huge financial implication to kick off at least and the tradition with the African governments in the aspect of funding has always been lack of finance or adequate financing of projects. The government needs to find way to unlock capital flows.
Solar powered mini-grids have a high upfront infrastructure and installation costs which makes it funding challenging. The government of African countries just need to expand the budget allocated for electrification of rural areas in order to be able to afford these projects. Too much attention is given to the urban areas which causes it to be more crowded due to influx of more people from the rural areas to the urban centers.
This is something that the government can achieve over time if they make it a priority. The other sources of funding could be grants and loans. The African governments receives grants yearly for infrastructural developments.
Another source of financing is public private partnership where the government invites private investors to invest their monies and spread their return on investment over a period. This means the people or beneficiary can pay as they use. But for private investors to take interest in it, the government needs to make policies that are beneficial and a friendly business environment.
Deciding Who’s Building, Operating and Maintaining the Mini Grid
This presents us with four basic approaches to choose from which are: state-run utility, a private developer, a community owned-project, or a hybrid approach.
Since there is no one size fits all, individual communities can decide which approach would walk better for them. in the case of Nigeria, many communities prefer to negotiate tariff with private developers while in some other cases, it can be a government or community funded scheme or both (hybrid).
The advantage of the public approach is that the mini grid projects would receive finance and deliver a uniform tariff to consumers but there are some other rural areas that may not be included in the scheme.
Meanwhile, the coming in of private models would reduce the burden on the government and give them more time to focus on quality delivery. However, the return On Investment takes a longer time which makes it unattractive to private investors.
Balancing community needs and project costs
This is a very tedious stage but always worth it. this is because the mini grid project is developed for the people and so the developers must relate on daily basis with the people in order to be able to ascertain their energy needs and develop a system that is sustainable. Women should be involved in this process as they form the end users most of the time.
Another very important aspect is the cost of tariff. To ensure profitability, a tariff plan that the people considers moderate should be set. This can only be determined by working closely with the people before set up.
This is an opportunity for the African leaders to lead the way in embracing the numerous benefits of renewable energy and delivering on basic infrastructure to the people. Indeed, solar powered mini grid is the answer to a reliable power supply in rural areas in Africa.
Here at Vesselnet Solar, we have a flexible payment plan for our solar mini grid solution. Give us a call or simply email us today.
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