• Off-Grid Power
  • Energy Access
  • Distributed Generation

Smart Minigrids for Rural Electrification

Pritil Gunjan
Sep 24, 2020

Guidehouse Insights

Smart minigrids are intelligent distributed power generation and distribution networks that can supply electricity to residential and commercial and industrial consumers for the purpose of providing resiliency, energy access, and electrification across rural communities. In these systems, the energy demand is effectively and intelligently managed by a diverse range of distributed energy resources such as solar PV, biofuel systems, and small conventional gensets through smart control techniques. In areas where extending the main grid to power off-grid remote communities is expensive, smart minigrids provide an economically viable option. These solutions have the ability to reach remote communities and support overburdened urban grids.

India’s Himalayan region will soon be powered by a solar minigrid through a joint initiative of Power Roll and The Energy Resources Institute. The project is scheduled to run through the end of 2021. The modular solar plus storage solution has been designed to enable energy use at night, power water pumps, and gain access to communication networks. The project is being funded through Innovate UK’s Energy Catalyst Round 7 to evaluate the use of flexible PV film in powering rural, off-grid applications in developing regions. Remote communities of Asia Pacific and Africa offer great opportunities for solar minigrid systems to provide affordable power. Declining costs and increasing efficiency of hybrid renewable energy solutions (including distributed energy storage solutions, solar inverters, and smart meters) will continue to drive the uptake of minigrids across these emerging regions.

Financing Is Key for Developing Minigrid Projects

According to The World Bank, a new, third generation of minigrids has recently emerged. These minigrids are solar hybrids that incorporate the latest technologies such as smart meters and remote monitoring systems, and they are typically designed to interconnect with the main grid. Project developers can increasingly leverage digital enablers and control systems to provide affordable and efficient electricity across communities. However, financing these projects and securing returns for microfinance providers continues to be a restraining factor for project developers who rely on institutional funding for energy access.

Achieving universal electrification will continue to be a priority for governments around the world. It is essential that national electrification strategies factor in an inclusive approach to strengthening their energy systems. Unlocking private sector finance along with government funds can help secure opportunities in the longer term.