Mini grids, operations and networks

Mini grids consist of a power plant linked to a local mainly isolated network to distribute power to consumers. Mini grids, driven by renewable energy systems (some with hybridisation) offer the best economic approach to deliver electricity access in rural areas since national grid expansion is very expensive to provide such a service. Our work in such rural, off-grid areas focuses on sustainable electrification and socio-economic studies where we have implemented six solar photovoltaic powered mini grids in Kenya, Uganda and Cameroon. Some of these mini grids are now being used to test their networks to enhance resilience. This is undertaken by studying network operational performances, as lone grids, connected together and connected to the national grid.  In addition, research is also being undertaken on DC mini grids where the footprint consumption area is limited in size.

Solar home systems (SHS)

SHS are small PV power units ranging from 10 – 200 Watt based on one or two solar modules, battery storage and balance of system. SHS are a widely used solution for off-grid electrification at the household level – for lighting and other appliances, depending on requirements. It is estimated that about 180million solar PV SHS units are currently in use in off-grid communities. Our e4D research focuses on ‘how SHS can be optimised coupled with efficient appliances’ geared to reduce cost making them more affordable to end users.

Productive use of electricity and efficient appliances

Both mini grids and SHS offer the possibility to unlock services (education, health, clean water) provisions, entrepreneurships, employment, and development. The e4D programme under both mini grids and SHS projects provides pathways to productive use of energy for small enterprises within village centres. Coupling productive use of electricity with appliances efficiency results in better utilisation of the available electrical power, providing savings for the users and their customers. In essence, e4D research, supports SDG7 as the key catalyser for other SDGs by continuously focusing on inclusive growth in the societies its projects serve, at the individual entrepreneur and larger productive users of electricity.

Capacity building

Developing capacity in electricity access is important to support national programmes in providing electricity to rural communities. The e4D programme led by the ECCD team have provided such capacity building in Africa, Asia and the Middle East covering the above research areas as well as energy efficiency in buildings. Both are geared to transition energy use to low carbon.