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The Rockefeller Foundation and US-based advisory service company CrossBoundary have launched the Mini-Grid Innovation Lab in Nairobi, Kenya. This is the first research and development fund for sub-Saharan Africa, focusing exclusively on testing business model innovations in the minigrid sector. 

Mini grid business models

“The Lab takes a data-driven, iterative testing approach to put numbers to the questions that governments, donors, and investors need answers to. Do mini-grids deliver power to the standard of the main grid? Do mini-grid customers use energy to increase their income? How do mini-grids integrate with the main grid? By partnering with developers, who are closest to the daily challenges of providing power to rural customers, we can answer these questions with real world data,” says Gabriel Davies, Head of Energy Access at CrossBoundary.

The lab will be working with over 15 minigrid developers across Africa, as well as with the African Mini-Grid Developers Association, Energy4Impact, Duke University, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Power For All.

The lab will be looking at how minigrids can integrate with the main grid, and how household and business energy use on minigrids changes tariffs. Preliminary research, using millions of data points provided by developers from their customer smart meter data, shows that rural mini-grids provide far more reliable power to their customers. The lab has found that rural mini-grids have 2% downtime during evening hours, compared to downtimes of 53% on average in the some urban grids such as Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

According to the Rockefeller Foundation and CrossBoundary, the lab will test business solutions for mini-grids based in Africa so that they can provide more power, to more people, at less cost, aiming to demonstrate to governments, policy makers, investors and donors that mini-grids can play a key role in connecting 600 million people in Africa without power.

“We’re launching the Mini-Grid Innovation Lab at a time where when momentum is building for the sector. Achieving the Lab’s objectives could potentially accelerate the ability of mini-grids to provide power to millions of people in Africa and deliver on SDG7,” says Matt Tilleard, Managing Partner, CrossBoundary Group (seen above).

Image credit: Copyright: binkski / 123RF Stock Photo

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