Getting access to a reliable electricity supply for the first time can be a transformative development in a community. It allows people to store food, run power tools or sewing machines or a computer. It can be a step change on the long road out of poverty, and it’s why universal energy access is so important – not just a solar light and a charger, but a decent electricity supply.
In the past, that required a grid connection, and those are expensive. In large developing countries, it would be almost impossible to run the grid all the way out to each last rural town or farmstead, and connection rates are much lower in the countryside.
Renewable energy has changed the economics of electricity connections. It’s now possible to install solar, hydro or wind power and connect it to a local grid. Add storage, and you have a reliable 24 hour supply of clean energy. There’s been a buzz about the potential of them for a while, but costs have now fallen enough that we are beginning to see micro-grids installed in greater numbers.
For example, two small towns in the African nation of Eritrea had micro-grids installed this year, bringing clean power to 40,000 people. It’s a hybrid system that uses Solarcentury PV panels, Tesla batteries, and Caterpillar diesel generators for back-up. It was funded by the Eritrean government, the UN and the EU. Local contractors were used, with Solarcentury providing training and support. Looking at the costs of the project, it works out at just under €300 per person, which sounds like very good value for an electricity supply. I expect we will see many more projects like this one, as whole towns leapfrog the big infrastructure of fossil fuel powered electricity.