Low-voltage System Designs for Energy Access
The potential for innovative designs for last-mile distribution and/or stand-alone systems for electricity access in low income settings is explored. The last decade has seen innovations and scaling of off-grid technologies such as solar/battery home systems and minigrids. While still expensive per kWh compared to grid tariffs, they offer the possibility of a lower capex, faster execution times, and institutional flexibility particularly if planning for the first few kWhs/month of service. Their viability for immediate first access to lighting and small DC loads is becoming clear, but that of providing pathways to larger consumption and economic growth is less clear. The paper articulates research questions surrounding the emergence of demand, data based expansion of grid coverage, ensuring cost-effectiveness of resources, and pros/cons of time horizons in planning and addressing non-residential demands. What role do sectors-specific (e.g. residential, transport, agriculture, industry) needs and policies have on the prioritization of grid roll-out and minigrid deployments? The paper describes lessons learnt from several minigrids deployed in Africa and an example of agriculture-sector specific provision of electricity for irrigation. Some of the lessons from these innovations on smart metering and payments apply equally well to grid customers as well and the implications are discussed.