Working Paper No. 1 - "Of Monopolies and Mini-Grids: Case Studies from Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria and Senegal"

Recent advances in decentralised renewable electricity systems have undermined long-held assumptions that electricity access and rural electrification can only be achieved via the extension of the national grid. Renewable energy and solar hybrid mini grids are being promoted as one low-cost option to meet Sustainable Energy for All’s commitment to universal energy access by 2030, because of their potential to connect low-income, rural and/or dispersed communities for whom the cost of extending the main grid is considered too expensive. As this paper discusses in relation to four countries in sub-Saharan Africa: Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria and Senegal, in recent years new private sector actors in renewable energy mini grids have started to emerge, marking a shift away from large-scale diesel or hydro mini grids run by government utilities, and small-scale mini grid development previously led by bi-lateral donors and community organisations on a project-by-project basis. However, there have been considerable governance and regulatory challenges to the development and deployment of renewable energy mini grids at scale, which has often taken place in the absence of national regulation rather than because of it. Moreover, some state-owned electricity utilities and associated institutions have been resistant at once to new private sector actors and decentralised systems. Meanwhile, the term ‘mini grid’ lacks a common definition and is simultaneously associated with energy access as well as productive use, despite the often-competing objectives of these end uses. This paper unpacks some of these dynamics through an extensive desk-based study of grey and academic literature and a regulatory comparison of the four case study countries. Building on scholarship from development and energy geography, we argue that a more granular analysis is needed in order to account for the complex and evolving processes of electricity decentralisation in low- and middle-income countries.

Full text available here: Of monopolies and mini grids 220705-FINAL.pdf