Mini-grids – barriers and solutions


New Delhi, India — (METERING.COM) — July 10, 2013 – Mini-grids (aka microgrids) are expected to play a significant role in efforts to address access to energy in rural areas, but there are still a number of barriers to scaling up deployment, according to the outcomes of a roundtable discussion at the recent Fourth Clean Energy Ministerial in April.

These include technological barriers, with renewable energy-based mini-grids require potentially expensive energy storage technology, as well as barriers pertaining to business models and financing, policy, and regulation. Further, there is a shortage of information in the public domain regarding process issues, permitting, and standards for mini-grid developers, and also a lack of consumer awareness and access to information.

The discussion, which is now summarized in a new report, was focused on identifying these barriers and on potential solutions to them. The majority of mini-grid projects are currently in the pilot phase, but there is increasing interest in advancing mini-grid technologies and practices and accelerating deployment. This is due in part to the falling costs of renewable energy generation and improvements that make system maintenance easier.

Outcomes with recommendations and actions included:

  • Development of standards, with the International Electrotechnical Commission proposing to develop a complete set of mini-grid standards, including conformity assessment schemes and certification of installation and repair companies, among other elements.
  • Establishment of viable and long term business models for mini-grids, including those backed by anchor tenants and prepaid meters, along with methods for increasing private and public financing options. For example, business solutions based on high value, bankable anchor tenants such as telecommunications companies could represent a new solution driven by the private sector.
  • Development of energy resource and demand side information, especially for rural areas, and data on mini-grid companies and projects, as well as platforms for making this information readily available. The International Renewable Energy Agency proposed to undertake data collection within its 120 member countries.
  • Investment in capacity building, as the design, installation, operations, and maintenance skills are critical components to a sustainable solution.