Microgrids can help provide energy in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Microgrids can help provide energy in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Beyond the Grid: How Microgrids Can Help Sub-Saharan Africa Achieve Universal Energy Access

By National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Worldwide, an estimated 1.1 billion people still lack access to modern electricity services—and roughly 600 million of them live in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Furthermore, achieving universal energy access by 2030 is expected to require an investment of roughly $45 billion each year. To help encourage private investment in this monumental task, NREL has supported the Power Africa Beyond the Grid Program by helping build an enabling environment for bankable, microgrid investments. NREL recently published two reports in support of this effort.

The first report, Productive Use of Energy in African Micro-grids: Technical and Business Considerations for Developers and Entrepreneurs, focuses on the productive use of energy in microgrids, which is a key success factor for attracting investment because of the typically low energy usage of residential customers. This report, written in cooperation with Energy 4 Impact, is designed to help entrepreneurs and developers understand the technical and business model challenges related to productive use in smaller microgrids.


Three phases associated with achieving energy success goals in Sub-Saharan Africa
Most developers are in the pilot phase or the beginnings of regional expansion, but scale is required to achieve energy access goals.

The report also provides actual customer demographics and load profiles from productive uses on microgrids operated by PowerGen Renewable Energy in Tanzania. For instance, one microgrid in Tanzania that includes a maize mill compares a base case with ones where the mill is operated under various loading scenarios, such as 33% loading (2.6 hours per day), 50% loading (4 hours per day), and seasonal operation. Some of these scenarios increase costs while others decrease costs and this type of analysis can help developers make informed decisions about when to add productive use loads to their microgrids.

The second report, Customer Agreement Considerations for Microgrids in Sub-Sharan Africa, focuses on the agreement between microgrid developers and their customers. It highlights several examples from NREL partners and their current approaches. How agreements could be approved is also highlighted, as well as the need to strive toward stronger agreements to support scaling up to serve the needs of the hundreds of millions of people in Sub-Saharan Africa who still lack reliable electricity.

This blog was originally published by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). 

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