Mini-grids, small-scale electricity generator interconnected to a distribution network to power to a small group of customers can augument supply from the creaking grid, experts say.
Matilda Obuh, a renewable energy specialist, said mini-grids are beneficial to rural communities that have access to limited energy.
“Mini-grids benefit unserved and underserved communities, especially rural areas that do not get more than 2-4 hours of energy per week or are not connected to the grid.
Obuh further said that Mini-grids provide reliable energy at an affordable cost.
“Across the globe, electric power systems are usually perceived to be large power plants with uni-directional energy delivery through a massive, centralized transmission and distribution grid system to demand centres such as homes and businesses, however, this is fast changing following the increasing need to democratize, decentralize, decarbonize, and digitalize electricity access,” said Collins Obi, an energy specialist.
According to the energy specialist, mini-grids fit this new paradigm shift and are fast becoming the new normal as it’s proven to be much more modular, decentralized, resilient, and reducing losses – bringing energy production closer to demand centres.
Nigeria’s power sector is riddled with multifaceted challenges ranging from operational governance issues, liquidity problems, infrastructural deficiencies, high Aggregate Technical Collection & Commercial (ATC&C) losses, to energy theft, Obi said.
According to him, mini-grids by design can take care of these challenges given modularity, functional capability, scalability, and cost.
“Mini-grids are usually deployed through a community-based model characterized by small manageable area, effective demand and supply management, effective metering, effective stakeholder engagement, optimal operational governance, accountability, reliability, and sustainability.
“Power infrastructural investments are very expensive, and mini-grids are effective in electrifying remote unserved communities distant from the central grid, thus, effectively reducing electrification cost and accelerating energy access,” Obi said.
Further, the capital cost to deploy such projects is reduced when mini-grids are grid interconnected.
Obi said: “This least-cost electrification approach further necessitates collaboration between traditional utilities and developers to electrify underserved communities.
“The financials of most traditional distribution utilities in Nigeria’s power sector are unattractive to investors, and mini-grids are vehicles to effectively link the capital to business opportunities in the energy industry, given that solution deployment is site-specific with limited, manageable, and smaller ring-fenced boundaries.
He further said a significant number of Nigeria’s 87 million people without energy access dwell in rural areas. Mini-grids may be the most impactful and attractive electrification model to evade grid constraints and geographical barriers to electrifying these areas.
Further, locally operated mini-grids support the local economy and enable local job opportunities. Deploying mini-grids is not without challenges.
“However, de-risking these projects through investment-grade energy audits, field surveys, productive use equipment, and alignment with traditional utilities’ electrification and grid extension plans will enable project viability and long-term sustainability,” he said.