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Minigrids: Catalyzer For Powering Productive and Income Generating Activities in Rural Areas in Africa

image credit: Benedikt Lenders, Head of Minigrids and Managing Director, ENGIE PowerCorner Africa

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Minigrids are capex-intensive infrastructure-type projects that can be considered as the least-cost-electrification solution for high-population density villages, including income generating activities and productive usages, which require a higher power capacity to run effectively.

Significant challenges have been raised about whether minigrids are able to power higher capacity usages like milling machines, dehullers or oil expellers, and even electric pressure cookers. In our minigrids in Tanzania and Zambia, we have successfully introduced such appliances, leading to increased productivity and economic and health benefits for our customers.

This type of costumer, due to the direct and indirect socio-economic and environmental benefits linked to the adoption of these appliances, justifies the high investment cost of minigrids compared to other off-grid electrification solutions, like solar home systems. These solutions are hence not to be seen as competing technologies but as strongly complementary for offering access to energy to the full range of users in rural Africa, where minigrids focus on the large consumers and SHS on the smaller consumers.

However, powering these types of large customers, appliances and possible additional anchor load customers also means that the minigrids need to be designed and scaled accordingly, which generates additional challenges linked to financing and for bridging the viability gap for minigrids. This presentation illustrates why it is important to include minigrids with a focus on productive usages and IGA's in the rural electrification strategies with some concrete examples/successes, how it is complementary to other solutions in offering a full Access to Energy product range, and what are some of the challenges we are confronted with in this strategy.

This presentation was part of the Microgrid Global Innovation Forum in September 2020.  The next edition of this event will be held September 7-9, 2021 in London.

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