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Mini Grids: The Future of Power Generation

A mini-grid, also sometimes referred to as a “micro grid or isolated grid”, can be defined as a set of electricity generators and possibly energy storage systems interconnected to a distribution network that supplies electricity to a localized group of customers. They involve small-scale electricity generation (10 kW to 10 MW) which serves a limited number of consumers via a distribution grid that can operate in isolation from national electricity transmission networks.

Nigeria and most of Sub-Sahara Africa suffers from lack of power; It has become a massive issue and has been affecting all areas of development and survival in this region. Areas including health, education and employment have been the worst hit by this ‘issue’. This is largely due to lack of proper and maintained grid network in countries across this region (in some cases, the grid is even non-existent).

Using Nigeria as a case-study, large areas of the country has absolutely no access to power as the population there are not ‘worth’ the expense of building expensive grid network to this regions. What is funny is regions in more urban areas are also facing ‘issues’ as regards to power. The ‘issue’ has been attributed to various things including corruption, bad maintenance culture and plain neglect.

 

Many Nigerians, including myself, have over the years berated the power generation and distribution companies in Nigeria due to the lack of power and the cost of having to generate the power we need ourselves. But lately, I have been looking at the situation we have in Nigeria and decided to think up a solution that is cheap, clean and accessible to everyone. At a meeting of hardware entrepreneurs in Lagos recently, I was privileged to have met Grit Systems founder, Ifedayo Oladapo  where he shared my views in the promise and possibility of mini-grids as the solution to Nigeria’s power problems.

By definition, most Nigerian homes already run and operate mini-grids with the use of generators and recently solar panels to power up their homes. The problem is they are very expensive to run based on the capacity needed by these homes.

This is a basic estimation of the cost of generating/ using power in Nigeria: Diesel Generator 71.7 Naira per kWh, Petrol Generator 69.5 Naira per kWh, PHCN Grid Electricity 23 Naira per kWh and Solar Power 15.5 Naira per kWh. This would clearly point to the use of solar as the preferred option and as been largely adopted in many urban homes. Many companies have begun seeing and building solutions in this space with Tesla Motors recently launching a solar roof and battery storage solution and with prices of solar components dropping, cost of owning a solar mini-grid solution is closer than.

But here lies my issue, time, time for these prices to drop fast enough to the level that an average home in Sub-Saharan Africa would be able to afford to get one. The problem of access to constant electricity especially in the rural areas and the issues arising from the lack of such access is greatly increasing as earlier indicated.

My two solutions: Technology and Government Intervention.

The option of Technology would be finding a highly cost-effective, clean alternative to solar or a hybrid of solar with other renewable energy solutions to generate enough power to these areas. Advancements in technology in this area has been growing in leaps and bounds and I am also looking into one-off such solutions with a water powered generator which should it work would revolutionize the energy industry like never before.

Government Intervention requires that governments of the Sub-Saharan states to come together funding and supporting the provision and development of mini-grids for affected areas. The recent Cop22 conference was a step in the right direction but much still need to be done even within the respective administrations themselves. The recent call by the Minister of Finance of Nigeria towards the funding of coal power plants is a largely worrying indication of non-correlation between what has been promised to the international community and the plans of the administration. I am very happy that regulations in Nigeria are allowing the development of mini-grids.

My hope is that they look away from harmful energy solution sources but rather into the possibilities of mini-grids which would serve Nigeria better and if done properly would make Nigeria and Sub-Saharan Africa ahead of the curve in its development.

Adedayo Ayo-Vaughan
Towards a clean energy future.