14 November 2016
Providing clean and affordable energy services to the more than 1 billion people globally who lack access to electricity is a critical driver for poverty reduction, economic development, improved health, and social benefits. More than 84% of populations without electricity are located in rural areas where traditional grid extension may not be cost-effective. Thus, distributed energy solutions such as mini-grids are critical—the International Energy Agency projects that to achieve universal energy access by 2030, more than 40% of total investments must be directed toward mini-grids.
Despite the growing interest in mini-grids and the relative maturity of the technologies underlying them, there are a number of barriers to scaling up deployment. Demonstrating commercially sustainable models and attracting low-cost financing are two particularly significant challenges. In addition, while mini-grids technology is maturing, the details of mini-grid construction and operation vary considerably in practice, including significant variations in power quality and reliability. The lack of common operational, monitoring, reporting, and financial practices results in a high-risk market of many one-off projects that discourages investment and scale-up in the sector. To address some of these root challenges to providing safe, high-quality, and financially viable mini-grid power systems to remote customers, the Clean Energy Ministerial’s Global Lighting and Energy Access Partnership (Global LEAP) teamed with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to develop a Quality Assurance Framework for Mini-Grids. The Quality Assurance Framework for Mini-Grids addresses some key challenges to providing safe, high-quality, and affordable power to remote customers, focusing on two key frameworks:
- Level of service framework: Defines a standard set of tiers of end-user service and links them to technical parameters of power quality, power availability, and power reliability. These levels of service span the entire energy ladder, from basic energy service to high-quality, high-reliability, and high-availability service.
- Accountability and performance reporting framework: Provides a clear process of validating power delivery by providing trusted information to customers, funders, and/or regulators. The performance reporting protocol can also serve as a robust monitoring and evaluation tool for mini-grid operators and funding organizations.
The Quality Assurance Framework for mini-grids will provide a flexible alternative to rigid top-down standards for mini-grids in energy access contexts, reflecting the range of service levels required to meet the needs of various segments of the off-grid consumer base safely and affordably. In addition, data generated through implementation of the QAF will provide the foundation for comparisons across projects, assessment of impacts, and greater confidence that will drive investment and scale-up in this sector.
Contact Ian Baring-Gould for more information.