Mini-grids have potential to bring electricity to half a billion people – World Bank study

Mini-grids, previously viewed as a niche solution, can provide electricity to as many as 500 million people by 2030 – helping close the energy access gap, according to a new World Bank report. The combination of falling costs, dramatic increase in quality of service, and enabling policies has made mini-grids a scalable option to complement grid extension and solar home systems.

Mini-Grids for Half a Billion People: Market Outlook and Handbook for Decision-Makers is the most comprehensive study on mini-grids to date. It provides policymakers, investors, and developers with insights on how mini-grids can be scaled up.  It takes stock of the global market and industry, analyses costs and technological innovations, and shows the importance of microfinance and income-generating uses of electricity.

Compared with main-grid and solar home systems, mini-grids are a more viable solution for areas with high population density and medium electricity demand. Extending the main grid to serve remote communities is often prohibitively expensive. Globally, at least 19,000 mini-grids are already installed in 134 countries – representing a total investment of US$28billion and providing electricity to around 47 million people. Most are deployed in Asia, while Africa has the largest share of planned mini-grids.

At present, the total mini-grid investment in countries with low levels of electricity access in Africa and Asia totals US$5billion. It is estimated that US$220billion is needed to connect 500 million people to 210,000 mini-grids in these regions by 2030. Across the globe, countries need to actively mobilise private sector investment. This can be achieved by setting up policies that support comprehensive electrification programmes, promoting viable business models, and providing public funding – for example, through performance-based grants.

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“Mini-grids are now one of the core solutions for closing the energy access gap. We see great potential for mini-grid development at scale, and are working with countries to actively mobilise public and private investment,” said Riccardo Puliti, Senior Director of Energy and Extractives at the World Bank.

“The World Bank has been scaling-up its support to mini-grids while helping countries develop comprehensive electrification programmes. Our commitments to mini-grids represent about one-quarter of total investment by the public and private sector in our client-countries. The Bank’s portfolio spans 37 mini-grids projects in 33 countries, with a total commitment of more than US$660million. This investment is expected to leverage an additional US$1.1billion in co-financing.”

In addition to being cost-efficient, mini-grids have many other benefits. They have positive environmental impacts: 210,000 mini-grids powered by solar energy would help avoid 1.5 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions globally. They also offer national utilities a win-win solution in the electricity sector, by paving the way for more financially viable future grid expansion. By the time the main grid arrives, significant demand for electricity would already exist and customers would have greater ability to pay through the generation of productive uses made possible by mini-grids.

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