Mini-Grids+Solar Promise Reliable Power, Community Income for World’s Poorest Countries
With mini-grid technology that allows peer-to-peer solar energy trading well in hand, the next step for poor countries like Bangladesh is to allow individual solar home systems (SHS) to connect to the public grid, a move that would boost energy equity and overall grid stability while enabling joint public-private energy planning, inclusive business consultancy Enleva states in a recent blog post.
In what “could be described as ‘Airbnb for the energy world’,” Enleva writes for the Next Billion initiative, mini-grid technology stands ready to “empower communities to earn additional income by selling their surplus electricity, while at the same time giving new users access to electricity for the first time in their lives.”
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But Enleva points to a huge barrier to scaling up the technology: only the well-off can afford to buy and install a home solar system. Everyone else must either plug in to the usually heavily-subsidized public grid, or go without power while waiting for grid extensions that may never materialize.
Those challenges are right out front in Bangladesh, a poor country that leads the world in the number of home solar systems it has installed, but where off-grid households can pay 100 times more for electricity than grid-connected urban residents, Enleva says. The company will be working with solar pioneer SOLshare, the Bangladesh government, and the country’s national grid operator on a pilot plan to “bridge the off-grid/on-grid divide”.
One stimulus for the Bangladeshi pilot, writes Enleva, is that “trading renewable electricity through a mini-grid can unlock the roughly 30% of electricity produced by existing SHS that’s currently going unused, reducing the annual cost of energy access by 25%.” Another major advantage is that mini-grids “continue to provide power when the national grid goes down.”
The potential of mini-grid electricity “extends far beyond Bangladesh,” Enleva adds, with the cost of photovoltaic solar modules falling by about 80% since 2009, and global solar capacity expected to triple by 2022.