mini-grids policy
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US-based advisory service firm CrossBoundary, in partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation have officially launched the Mini-Grid Innovation Lab in Nairobi, Kenya.

The Lab, with support from The Rockefeller Foundation, is the first R&D Fund for Sub-Saharan Africa that focuses exclusively on testing business model innovations in the mini-grid sector.

Working with over 15 leading mini-grid developers across Africa, the African Mini-Grid Developers Association (AMDA), Energy4Impact, Duke University, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Power For All, the Lab will test business solutions for mini-grids based in Africa so that they can provide more power, to more people, at less cost.

In doing so, it aims to demonstrate to governments, policy makers, investors and donors that mini-grids can play a key role in connecting 600 million people in Africa without power.

“The Lab takes a data-driven, iterative testing approach to put numbers to the questions that governments, donors, and investors need answers to,” says Gabriel Davies, Head of Energy Access, CrossBoundary.

Davies continued: “Do mini-grids deliver power to the standard of the main grid? Do mini-grid customers use energy to increase their income? How do mini-grids integrate with the main grid?

“By partnering with developers, who are closest to the daily challenges of providing power to rural customers, we can answer these questions with real world data,” Davies added.

Smart meter data

An early finding of the Lab comes from analysis of millions of data points provided by developers from their customer smart meter data.

Findings show rural mini-grids provide far more reliable power to their customers, with 2% downtime during evening hours, compared to the power some urban grid customers receive, which were found to have downtimes of 53% on average in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. Read more: Research uncovers the potential of mini-grids

The Lab and the mini-grid developers have demonstrated their readiness to work with governments, donors, academia, non-profits and other partners to support mini-grids to deliver affordable, reliable power to rural households and businesses.

Other near-term initiatives of the Lab include a closer look at how mini-grids can integrate with the main grid, and how household and business energy use on mini-grids change if they charge electricity tariffs on par with main grid tariffs.

Mini-Grid Innovation Lab

Ashvin Dayal, Associate Vice President and Managing Director (Smart Power), of The Rockefeller Foundation, says, “We are delighted to be partnering with the Cross Boundary Group.  The ultimate goal of this effort is to equip governments, investors and developers to dramatically accelerate rural electrification in an integrated manner, unlocking new economic opportunities for millions of households.”

Matt Tilleard, Managing Partner, CrossBoundary Group, concluded, “We’re launching the Mini-Grid Innovation Lab at a time where when momentum is building for the sector. Achieving the Lab’s objectives could potentially accelerate the ability of mini-grids to provide power to millions of people in Africa and deliver on SDG7.”

He added, “We are especially proud to partner with The Rockefeller Foundation, whose interests are aligned with ours, to see this through.”

African Utility Week