Bringing Solar Power and Mini-Grid Technology to the Corners of the World
Dramatic price reductions and efficiency enhancements in solar, battery, and smart grid technologies are disrupting traditional energy systems, and making possible more efficient, more cost-effective and more sustainable ways to bring power to communities worldwide.
According to a recent World Bank report, there are hundreds of thousands of communities where mini grids are the best solution for electrification. In these remote areas where the cost of extending the main grid can be more than $2,000 for a single connection, mini-grids are a relative bargain at $500-$1,200 a connection. However, these costs are still too high to bring affordable power to the world’s poorest populations without a significant subsidy. By lowering those costs dramatically through a combination of economies of scale, technology innovation and robust data to drive least-cost planning and size systems appropriately, we will ensure that mini-grids make the best use of limited public funding and private investment to drive access to productive power globally.
- $2,000per connection
the least cost to extend the grid in rural areas
in the price of photovoltaic solar technology and battery storage solutions over the last decade
- $500-$1,200per connection
the cost of mini-grids can and should be as little as $500-$1,200
Our data efforts focus on understanding and predicting energy consumption and measuring and monitoring reliability in order to expand electricity access and economic development. Connecting our partners with the latest innovation in technology and data science we are working to unleash the power of distributed renewable energy.
Without robust customer demand estimates, mini grid developers may oversize their systems, dramatically reducing the viability of their project, or undersize them and fail to meet the needs of the community. Furthermore, prospective investors are reluctant to invest in capital-intensive decentralized energy projects when they don’t have confidence in projected revenues. Finally, governments looking to incorporate decentralized solutions in their energy plans need a granular understanding of current and future energy demand, especially in low-income communities that larger utilities have struggled to serve profitably. Without it, they run the risk of making costly capital investment choices that take too long to deliver.
The e-GUIDE Initiative brings together data scientists from four universities: University of Massachusetts –Amherst, Carnegie Mellon University, Columbia University and Colorado School of Mines. The team hails from across the globe including Cameroon, Colombia, India, Kenya, Lesotho, Mexico, Rwanda, and Uganda. The e-GUIDE team focuses on three key area related to estimated electricity demand and reliability:
Electricity Consumption Predictions
Where there are multiple excellent integrated electricity master planning tools, all of them suffer from limited data on electricity consumption growth. Using a broad library of historic consumption data, satellite imagery and other big data sources, together with custom deep learning models, the team is creating an open service with API access to electricity consumption growth predictions for individual businesses and residences. Our work initially targets East Africa with a goal to extend throughout the continent and beyond to developing regions in South and Southeast Asia. Better data will enable scarce resources to go further.
Opportunities at the Electricity-Agriculture Nexus
Significant investments have been made in finding better ways to generate and supply electricity in the developing world. However, consumption data suggest that new customers use very limited amounts of electricity. We believe more attention needs to be paid to HOW new consumers use electricity to ensure they reap the benefits of access and electric utilities are able to generate sustainable revenues. For example, electricity has the potential to transform the agricultural sector by increasing primary production, reducing post-harvest losses, and adding value to crops. We are investigating opportunities where coordinated planning of electricity and agricultural infrastructure will lead to financially sustainable utilities, improved food security, and agricultural productivity and better development outcomes.
Electricity Reliability from Satellite Data
Beyond access, the availability and predictability of reliability is crucial for community and economic growth. The team is developing a novel technique to provide wide-area, long-term estimates of grid stability across sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia using daily data on nighttime illumination. This data will be paired with the consumption growth models, and will be released data publicly for other applications from the community.
Our investment and partnerships in data and technology will accelerate the development of sustainable last-mile electrification solutions and drive the productive consumption of electricity in energy poor communities globally.
- $500or less
is our target cost-per-connection for mini-grid power
kWh per capita is the minimum level of energy consumption needed to spur economic development in emerging markets worldwide
is our target cost for mini-grid power for customers in areas of high-energy poverty
Meet our Partners & Grantees
Better electricity consumption predictions enable clear-eyed, informed planning of future electricity systems. If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.Jay TanejaDepartment of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Massachusetts at Amherst
For many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa the task would be near impossible without external loans that are a scarce and precious commodity. e-GUIDE will contribute towards shaping prudent cost-effective investment decisions, shaping grid roll-out to areas with a high potential for income generation that will be win-win: for people’s livelihoods and the utilities.Vijay ModiDepartment of Mechanical Engineering, Columbia University
In Sub-Saharan Africa almost 20% of cereals produced and nearly 50% of all fruits and vegetables are lost before reaching consumers. We believe that finding opportunities for coordinated energy-agriculture investments can simultaneously increase the efficiency of the agricultural supply chain, increase revenues for electricity utilities in dire need of sustainable business models, and support devePaulina JaramilloDepartment of Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University
We are developing methods for rating the reliability of electric power services using nightly satellite observations on electric lighting. We plan to develop national level maps showing the frequency of electric power disruptions.Christopher ElvidgeDirector of The Payne Institute for Public Policy’s Earth Observation Group, Colorado School of Mines
We knew that a new, more cost-effective solar microgrid would have enormous potential to scale in Indian conditions. We are excited that TP Renewable Microgrid now has the mandate to take this forward.Shashi BuluswarCEO, Institute for Transformative Technologies
Over the last several years, The Rockefeller Foundation has worked with the Institute of Transformative Technology and Smart Power India to develop the world’s most affordable smart microgrid systems.