Building an alliance for scaling up mini-grids in Asia

Energy does not create revenues in itself in remote communities in developing countries. It is the individuals and the businesses in those communities who create revenue from entrepreneurial activities. More economic activities mean more electricity demand, which in return can only be satisfied by scaleable mini-grids. 

This is the equation we are aiming to solve in South-East Asia where more than 20% of population remains without electricity and island nations of Indonesia and Philippines are naturally fertile ground for off-grid systems. It is an equation that energy industry professionals cannot solve alone. The off-grid energy industry needs to speak with partners outside to create push and pull system, which brings energy access and at the same time offers economic activities - in agricultural, commercial or industrial space to clients of mini-grid systems. 

We already have (few) examples of projects that work. This week in ACEF 2017 in Manila, I presented 3 case studies from ARE members:

Ankur Scientific is building biomass collection supply chains that feed its biomass gasifiers in India. The biomass based systems keeps at least 70% of the newly created revenues in the community.

Studer Innotec installed hydro-electric system in Nepal, which supplies local hospital. This health center serves patients. It also creates jobs for doctors and nurses.

Mlinda is stepping up its mini-grids plans in Jharkhand from 8 to 45 mini-grids. The systems are designed around a community-based anchor load: Rice milling. Mlinda is working to have the rice produce certified as organic and sell it to wholesalers Mumbai.

There are other organisations working in the same direction. Rockefeller Foundation's Smart Power India programme is a perfect example. Microgrid Investment Accelerator launched by Microsoft, Facebook and Allotrope Partners will be launching a call for proposal by the end of this year.

These examples show the diversity of approaches to building revenue generating activities with mini-grids. All of them work in their specific conditions. Though, we still need to figure out how to build mini-grids at scale and answer the following questions:

  1. How can we connect with the communities better and find out faster what are the applicable productive activities in THAT specific area?
  2. Who can be the natural owner for this exercise? mini-grid developers could do part of the work, but don't have the resources to spend 2-3 years embedded within local communities to understand them. Can NGOs help and how can we connect to the right ones working in the specific geographical area?
  3. Who are the potential partners we need to connect with and how we can prioritise different productive uses?

Joins the Alliance for Rural Electrification and let’s tackle these questions together.

We have number of members working in Asia: Sunlabob and Engie,in South East Asia, Nizam Energy in Pakistan, IPS and Qinous in Indonesia, Homsol in Tajikistan and Rahimafrooz in Bangladesh. For all members case studies of productive use of renewable energy and other off-grid case studies, visit the ARE website .

Katarina Hasbani