Mini- and microgrids key to universal energy access by 2030


Terry Mohn, co-chair,
Mini/Microgrids Working
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil — (METERING.COM) — June 25, 2012 – Mini- and microgrids are key to meeting universal access to energy by 2030, and could account for as much as 42 percent of the off-grid electricity requirements by that time, according to a new report from the Energy Access Practitioner Network.

However, a clear, uniform, and well documented operating process is needed to ensure reliability and safety. Government policy is called for to treat microgrids as authorized, even when a franchised grid operator exists. Additionally, policies should ensure that microgrids will not compete with larger utilities.

There is also a need for consistent, long term policy to encourage open access and incentivize use of advanced technologies that increase capacity and enhance efficiency and reliability. Additional mechanisms such as pilot demonstrations must be created to bring together various industries, including power, information and communication technology, manufacturing, and government towards advancing this agenda and producing a blueprint for smart grid implementation.

According to the report, mini- and microgrids are operating in a number of countries throughout Asia, Latin America, and Africa. For “base of the pyramid” customers, effective subsidy instruments that have been deployed for mini-grid applications include rural electrification funds, bulk power subsidies, lifeline rates and cross subsidies, and subsidies to customers involving a diverse customer base with wide variation in ability to pay.

For stand-alone systems, favorable government frameworks that support SMEs are important for delivery of rural energy services and clean energy. Interventions can reduce barriers to private participation in rural energy delivery, increase fair competition, advance supportive policies, and promote “smart” subsidies that minimize distortions and target the poor.

The Energy Access Practitioner Network was set up by the United Nations Foundation to support UN Secretary-General’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative, which aims to achieve universal access to modern energy services as well as a doubling in the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency and a doubling in the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix by 2030.

The report, Towards Achieving Universal Energy Access by 2030, sets out the recommendations of the seven working groups (mini-/microgrids, energy and agriculture, energy and health, finance and investment, resource mapping, standards, and supply chains and entrepreneurship) based on international on-the-ground experience.

According to the report five areas are of particular importance – understanding the market, improving policy and regulatory frameworks, facilitating finance, improving standards and testing, and advancing mini- and microgrids.

“Developing countries can leapfrog developed countries’ technology adoption by incorporating smart grid systems and providing supply companies with an opportunity to demonstrate that their services offer true potential,” said Terry Mohn, chief strategy officer of General Microgrids, who co-chairs the Practitioner Network Mini/Microgrids Working Group. “The question becomes: how long will traditional electric utility grids remain relevant?”

The Energy Access Practitioner Network numbers more than 500 international experts, representing a range of disciplines and organizations.