Increased integration of off-grid electrification systems

Why is this gap important?

The wide array of system designs now available – off-grid, mini-grid and on-grid – increases the number of methods available to obtain electricity access. Off-grid technologies (such as stand-alone solar home systems), mini-grids and energy-efficient appliances are complementing efforts to provide electricity access from grid expansion. Such decentralised systems can help fill the energy access gap in remote areas by delivering electricity at a level of access that is currently too expensive to be met through a grid connection, and in urban areas by providing back-up for an unreliable grid supply.

Technology solutions

So far, solar home systems, which are increasingly cost-competitive with kerosene and diesel, have been the technology most widely deployed with these new mobile platforms and pay-as-you-go (PAYG) financing. PAYG (TRL 11) helps consumers overcome the high upfront costs of the technology that traditionally has been a significant barrier to uptake in poor communities. Mobile technologies, such as cloud-based metering and software platforms (TRL 10), can also be paired with larger systems such as mini-grids, which could be used to offer households additional services and provide power for productive uses such as irrigation, for example.

Highly efficient household appliances integrated with a core solar product are being more widely deployed but could benefit from further innovation in both offerings and technology bundles. Decreasing electricity demand through the use of efficient appliances can reduce the upfront costs of a system, such as a PV panel, delivering significant cost savings even when the increased cost of the appliances is taken into account.

Beyond its use for billing and asset monitoring purposes, the wealth of data generated by many off-grid systems could be subjected to big data analytics and artificial intelligence interpretation to enable better tailoring of equipment and modular asset scale-ups, better planning, improved device management and maintenance, and wider commercial offerings.

Solutions that link to productive-use appliances and energy carriers (e.g. agricultural implements, refrigerators) have a great potential to accelerate these systems.  Large suppliers of mini-grids, industrial captive power or larger stand-alone systems, and that have knowledge of the productive-use market, could benefit from collaborating with smaller-scale providers of off-grid systems that are deploying innovations to manage large numbers of households smartly.

Pay-as-you-go (PAYG) mobile platforms Readiness level:

Cloud-based metering and software platforms Readiness level:

Productive use energy carrier integration Readiness level:

Colored bars represent the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of each technology. Learn more about TRLs

What are the leading initiatives?

BBOXX, M-Kopa, Off-Grid Electric and Mobisol have entered the market in Africa, bringing new business models that target areas covered by mobile networks but not electricity grids.