Why Mini-grids?

This article was written by Abigail Jibril

Why are mini-grids considered a solution to getting power to the unelectrified? 

An estimated one billion people in the world do not have access to electricity. Yes, we know this. Did you also know that a larger number of these people are in off-grid rural communities? How do we get these people to experience the benefits of access to electricity at a rate that is affordable for them? 

The International Energy Agency says mini-grids could be the most cost-effective way to deliver access to more than a third of the 1.1 billion people across the world who still lack any electricity supply. 

Mini-grids are systems involving small-scale electricity generation and the distribution of electricity to a limited number of customers via a distribution grid that can operate in isolation from national electricity transmission networks and supply relatively concentrated settlements with electricity at grid quality level.

Several governments are integrating the deployment of mini-grids into their national energy plans e.g Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya, India etc. So, why mini-grids? What are the benefits of mini-grids?

Also Read: What is a mini-grid?


The financial and technical implications involved in extending the national grid to off-grid locations e.g islands, mountainous regions, rocky and hilly regions etc. are on the high end. However, mini-grids are an easier approach as they can be deployed anywhere and the designs can be altered to be site-specific. 


Countries have varying regulations with regards to mini-grid development. When mini-grids are built with ideal specifications conforming with that of the national utility, they can be integrated with the national distribution network. 


When compared with other decentralized energy solutions such as Pico solar lanterns, solar home systems and more innovative approaches, mini-grids stand out. Why? Other systems provide power to access to basic lighting, phone charging, television and refrigerators. But, mini-grids go further, they can be likened to the national grid providing power for all uses including, welding, cooling, basic lighting, milling amongst others.

You should read…
Energy Access: a tool for poverty alleviation in rural communities
What does universal energy access need?


With the conventional means of power generation, transmission and then distribution over long distances, there are a number of electrical losses in the process. In Nigeria, at an average 7.4% (January to July 2015), transmission losses across the network are high compared to emerging country benchmarks of ~2-6%. Technical losses in the distribution network are estimated at 12%. These technical losses lead to financial losses for the power companies.

Mini-grids are deployed in proximity to where they are needed. Therefore, the electrical power losses will be reduced when compared with the national power grid. This also guarantees power quality and security.


With mini-grids, especially hybrid mini-grid systems, the reliability of power supply to unserved and underserved areas is greater when compared to the current national grid. With hybrid systems, there is a guarantee of the availability of power when one resource is unavailable. 

In conclusion, what is needed to eliminate energy poverty and improve energy access are systems that can deliver cheap and dependable power at scale, drive higher living standards, productivity growth and economic transformation. Mini-Grids are one of those. 

Mini-Grids are extremely relevant in locations that are suitable for sustainable and commercially viable business models. You should read, Are mini-grids always the best option?

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