Sustainable Development of Renewable Energy Mini-grids for Energy Access: A Framework for Policy Design

Renewable energy-based mini-grids can be an important alternative to, or enhance the effectiveness of, central  grid  extension  as  a  way to  increase  access  to  reliable  electricity  services.  While  there  are  a number of challenges to implementing RE mini-grids, many of these can be addressed by well-conceived policy  measures.  In  this  study,  we  provide  a  framework  for  mini-grid  policy  design  underpinned  by specific implementation examples from seven different countries – China, India, Brazil, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, and Tanzania. These nations have chosen specific models for the institutional, technical and financial components in their mini-grid policies with varying results. Through our study, we highlight the critical  policy  components,  and  their  interplay,  that  are  required  for  sustainable  deployment  and operation of RE mini-grids. 

Our policy framework hinges on the definition of six elements of sustainability which should be explicitly considered in policy design from the perspective of all stakeholders: a) technical sustainability to ensure long-term reliable operation of mini-grids, b) economic sustainability that ensures affordable as well as a financially viable mini-grids, c) socially coherent deployment with value-adding community involvement, d) equitable access to electricity services, e) minimal environmental footprint, and f) potential for scaling up the deployment of mini-grids. We use these elements of sustainability to provide recommendations for designing the institutional, technical, and economic components of mini-grid policies.

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