June 28, 2019

Can Microgrids Enable Macro Development?

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

Developers, donors, and customers are increasingly interested in the potential for microgrids to provide power to hundreds of millions of people who lack it, particularly in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Microgrids offer the right combination of affordability, reliability, and capacity to service areas that need more power than a home solar panel can provide, but do not have enough load density for the central grid.

At the same time, microgrids still face a number of barriers. Rigorous research on how to overcome these barriers is sorely lacking.

In a blog post for The Brookings Institution, Rob Fetter, a senior policy associate with the Duke Energy Access Project, and researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Carnegie Mellon University discuss how they are helping to fill that gap. Known as the Mini-Grid Innovation Lab, this first-of-its-kind initiative is evaluating the effects of various business model experiments in several dozen microgrids. The work is being done in partnership with private microgrid developers; CrossBoundary, a financial services firm with offices in Nairobi; and Energy4Impact, an NGO that helps to develop energy businesses.