Energy Catalyst report highlights the need for innovation in mini-grid development

A new report sheds light on the indispensable role of innovation when it comes to navigating challenges in the African mini-grid sector. Fledgling mini-grid developers typically contend with regulatory uncertainties, design challenges, operational hurdles, prolonged payback periods, and financing shortfalls across many parts of Africa. Innovative mini-grid developers, including companies in the Energy Catalyst cohort, are pioneering new technologies and business models in response, in order to gain a foothold in these emerging markets.

In the race to attain universal energy access, mini-grids have a crucial role to play in mitigating climate change, reducing reliance on fossil fuels, and bolstering the resilience of off-grid communities. The “Tackling challenges in mini-grid development: an innovation showcase” report provides a comprehensive overview of the sector, exploring trends and investment dynamics. Conventional pathways to commercial viability include optimising load factors, trimming expenditure, and enhancing operational efficiencies, as the report explores, but some trailblazing companies have attained growth by forging more inventive solutions.

The report, authored by Mercy Corps-Energy 4 Impact, features four Energy Catalyst portfolio companies who have embraced innovation to address challenges around predicting and optimising energy demand, in order to achieve scalability in their countries of operation.

  • Powerhive introduced its ‘Bee-Smart’ technology in Kenya to leverage machine learning software to better align supply and demand for mini-grid operators. It enables the design of systems with reduced battery sizes, thereby curtailing costs.
  • In Malawi, SteamaCo focuses on enhancing the anchor and productive loads at health centres connected to mini-grids, stimulating productive uses to generate the income needed for solar system operations and maintenance.
  • Malaysia-based Energy Action Partners developed the Community Energy Toolkit (COMET), a sophisticated mini-grid simulation software offering developers enhanced insights into future energy demand dynamics.
  • Gommyr Power Networks introduced their ‘eStreet’ concept as part of their renewable microgrid projects in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. By consolidating business users within a single physical hub, it optimises energy demand and fosters both economic and operational sustainability.

The report delves into greater detail about these projects, tracing how the companies iterated solutions tailored to the local market.

Mathieu Dalle of Mercy Corps-Energy 4 Impact commends the creativity and dynamism of Energy Catalyst companies in addressing endemic challenges in the mini-grid market. He says, “Their example shows that mini-grids can become more profitable and less risky through judicious innovation. By demonstrating operational viability in challenging African markets, mini-grid developers will then be in a stronger position to attract the financing they need to scale their transformative solutions more widely across sub-Saharan Africa.”

This report was launched at an Energy Catalyst public webinar on 18 April 2024. Watch the recording here: