Minigrids: Changing the Face of Rural Kenya

July 24, 2020

In Africa, over 600m people lack access to electricity!

With electricity, comes new opportunities for millions of people and their communities.

Today, Kenya is providing electricity to more than 73% of its population-the highest in East Africa but connecting some remote areas like Rusinga Island to the national grid has proved to be nearly impossible.

The solution is a solar-powered mini-grid!! An affordable renewable alternative that can connect the businesses and homes in remote areas to power.

Minigrids are a set of self-sufficient electricity grids with their power generation, storage, and transmission capabilities. They serve businesses and households that are isolated from the main grid. More often than not, Minigrids can also be integrated with the main grid.

Minigrids are crucial in battling energy poverty in Kenya and Africa by 2030. Minigrids are the most affordable electrification option for many households and businesses in rural Kenya and Africa. The International Energy Agency estimated that Minigrids could serve at least 290m people by 2030.

Skepticism

Unfortunately, the actual deployment of Minigrids is extremely limited leading to a justifiable skepticism on whether its potential can be fulfilled.

To put this skepticism to rest, new research is being conducted to calculate the minimum number of people in Africa who can be connected to Minigrids.

Why is this research important? Because when donors, investors, and governments will reach a consensus, they will easily mobilize billions of dollars to supports millions of connections. For instance, the Pay-as-you-go solar home system in African raised over 750m dollars between 2012 and 2017.

This investment is dwarfed by the amount of investments from individual countries in their effort to expand their grid infrastructure. The Kenyan government for instance is investing 1.4 billion dollars with a 675-million-dollar purse from the World Bank, African Development Bank, and other development funders to increase generation capacity, transmission lines, and distribution networks.

Is Minigrids the most cost-effective option?

No single means of electrification is always the cheapest.

For people who live close to the mains, especially in urban and peri-urban populations, the main grid extension is the cheapest option.

Minigrids are the most cost-effective option for people who live so far from the main grid that extension costs are higher than building local generation and storage capacity, but in a densely populated location to support the fixed costs of building the minigrid infrastructure.

For everyone else, especially those in sparsely populated areas, solar home systems are the least-cost option. In these areas, running wires and poles even from local Minigrids becomes expensive.

Looking Ahead

There are many questions that need to be answered in the best way to realize sustainable, affordable, and reliable electricity access in Africa.

Mini-grids are increasingly becoming a more sought out scalable option for expanding energy services in Sub-Saharan Africa. With a favorable environment aided by new technologies, stronger policies, and innovative business models, mini-grids have the potential to provide quality energy to the main grid. Adrian Kenya has been working with developers to facilitate the development of Mini-grid solar plants in Kenya and Africa.

Mini-grids have opened the way for the private sector and community investments to rapidly close the access gap, and as a company, Adrian has positioned itself to partner with private investors and communities to establish mini-grid projects.

The amount of capital required and the number of people without electricity in Kenya is enough for governments and donors to allocate increased levels of funding to minigrids today.