Decentralized micro-grid solar power could be the ideal solution for rural communities that lack electricity.
African nations are making great strides regarding solar power, but most of the progress is due to large, grid-connected systems, and rural communities are at risk of being left behind. After all, 84% of people without electricity live in rural areas, and 95% of that population lives in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
Praxia Partners’ initiative, Community Renewable Energy, believes that micro-grids fulfill multiple economic, environmental, and humanitarian goals.
A decentralized micro-grid (or mini-grid):
- requires less land than a large, utility-scale project
- suffers less transmission loss because it serves only a 1-2 kilometer area
- provides electricity just like a traditional grid connection
- isn’t limited to lighting. Applications include commercial use, water filtration, sanitation, and communication systems.
International experts agree. It’s just a matter of seeing whether the private sector responds. Oxfam’s Climate Change Policy Advisor, Kathleen Mogelgaard, recently wrote:
Since the majority of those living without electricity access in sub-Saharan Africa are in rural areas often beyond the reach of the conventional energy grid, efforts to end energy poverty need to emphasize innovative mini-grid and off-grid solutions, powered through renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and geothermal. This will help to bring the world’s energy needs in line with planetary boundaries when it comes to climate change. Promoting energy access should also support inclusive, transparent, and accountable processes that place communities in the driver’s seat of their own energy development. Civil society should have a seat at the table when plans for addressing energy poverty are in the making.
So why are current renewable energy investments in Africa all but ignoring off-grid and micro-grid opportunities? A rural system requires batteries to ensure stable power. Without the ability to capitalize on economies of scale or to access the broader financing market, small, rural systems are unattractive to large solar development firms and unfeasible for small firms. We feel that with proper planning, however, governments can ensure that all of their citizens benefit from renewable energy through the use of micro-grids.
A version of this post originally appeared on Community Renewable Energy’s blog. Check out the blog for the latest on alternative energy, including news on Power Africa, the rise of community-owned solar power, and energy policy at home and abroad.