Use of mini-grids will expand access to electricity for all

Vandalised transformer at Ongoro village, Kakang’utu sub-location, Rachuonyo East. August 5, 2021. [James Omoro, Standard]

According to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7, countries should work towards access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030.

This would enable social-economic transformation. Despite various initiatives, electricity access remains a challenge with more than 700 million people globally without access - majority in sub-Saharan Africa. Kenya is no exception with more than 20 per cent of its population without electricity.

But the government has intensified electrification bid through last-mile connection growing access from 20 per cent in 2013 to the more than 70 per cent currently. Enhancing access through grid extension is expected to plateau due to the high cost of connecting households far from the existing network.

This calls for alternative approaches such as the use of mini-grids and solar home systems. Mini-grids are electricity supply systems within a given area. The mini-grids are either connected to the main electricity network run by utilities such as Kenya Power or isolated with own generation.

In the electrification context, most mini-grids are powered by solar, wind, hydro and diesel or a combination of the technologies, supplying between 50 to 1,000 households. In Kenya, mini-grids were first developed by the government in 1980s to supply administrative centres far from the main grid. Such towns include Lodwar, Mandera and Marsabit.

The Kenya National Electrification Strategy (KNES) launched in 2018 identifies mini-grids as a key driver to universal access to electricity. It is estimated that more than 40 per cent of the non-electrified population are to be reached through mini-grids and solar home systems.

The US$150 million Kenya Off-grid Solar Access Project (KOSAP) sponsored by the World Bank in partnership with the government is enhancing electrification in 14 of Kenya’s underserved counties through mini-grids and solar home systems. More than 150 solar-powered mini-grids will be developed by the end of the KOSAP. In addition, there are more than 130 privately owned mini-grids in the pipeline.

The development of mini-grids needs to take place in a coordinated manner that ensures security to the investments and avoids duplication. The communities served by these mini-grids need to participate and own the projects.

The mini-grid sector stakeholders in partnership with the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (EPRA) have developed the draft Mini-Grid Regulations 2021. They are built on provisions of the Energy Act, 2019 and the mini-grid licensing guidelines developed by EPRA in 2017.

They seek a transparent regulatory framework to support Kenya’s electrification goals. In constructing the mini-grids, technical guidelines are proposed to guarantee quality of service and safety.  

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