A GNA feature by Iddi Yire, Edem Cudjoe Bensah
(lead), Dr Julius Ahiekpor, Dr Francis Kemausuor, Edward Antwi, Dramani Bukari
and Consolata Dassah
Accra, Oct. 9, GNA – At 84 per cent access to
electricity, Ghana is second only to South Africa in sub-Saharan Africa.
Nonetheless, about 33 per cent of rural households are not connected to the
Majority of these rural areas are islands and
lakeside communities along the Volta Lake, where it is not economically
feasible to extend the national grid mainly due to lack of infrastructure
(bridges, roads) and high cost of laying underwater cables from the nearest
A more feasible and less demanding option for
providing dependable electricity to remote regions lies with mini-grids.
Mini-grids are small-scale electricity
production and distribution systems, mostly defined to be between 10 kW – 10
MW, which are independent of the central grid.
However, they provide electricity for small
communities at the same quality as the central grid.
The source of power in mini-grids can be from
renewable sources such as solar, wind, biomass, biogas or from diesel
generators, but mostly from a combination of two or more sources, known as
The first mini-grid was established at
Appolonia in the Greater Accra Region in 1992 by Ministry of Energy, funded by
the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The source of electricity was from biogas
plants fed with night soil and dung. An engine was used to convert biogas to
electricity which was distributed to inhabitants in the area for street
lighting and small load domestic appliances such as lighting, radio and
In the mid-2000s, some attempts were made to
provide mini-grid electricity for some communities at Busunu in Northern Region
using Jatropha Oil; both these bioenergy-based mini-grids are currently not
The greatest boost to mini-grids came from The
World Bank under the Ghana Energy Development and Access Project (GEDAP) where
the Ministry of Energy piloted mini-grids in five island settlements.
The beneficiary communities are Aglakope
(Krachi West), Kurdokope (Krachi East), Atigagome and Wayokope (Sene East) and
Pediatorkope (Ada East).
Aside these interventions from the Ministry,
Blackstar Energy, a private company, has been licensed to install and operate
The company operates about 17 systems in
Ashanti and Brong Ahafo Regions at Katapei, Anyteneten/Odumasi, Kofihuikrom,
Affulkrom, Nyamebeye, Nyamebekyere and Mempekasa.
Another private company, Translight Solar is
also reported to be operating in the Upper East Region.
Government, through Ministry of Energy,
recognises that deployment of Renewable Energy (RE)-based mini-grids in island
areas is the surest way for Ghana to extend electricity to off-grid
communities, which is important to achieving universal electrification in 2020.
However, mini-grids are public-sector led,
taking the same character as other ongoing rural electrification projects, with
specific mandates placed on Volta River Authority (VRA) – (operation of
mini-grids), Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) and Northern Electricity
Distribution Company (NEDCo – (distribution and tariff collection), Energy
Commission (technical regulation) and Public Utilities Regulatory Commission
(PURC) – (inclusion of mini-grids in tariffs setting mechanism).
The Energy Ministry has tasked itself to
deploy at least 300 systems by 2030.
Already, five additional mini-grids are in the
process of being installed with support of the Swiss Government, with further,
55 mini-grids also to be rolled out soon under a facility from the African
The Chinese government is also expected to
provide support for additional 150 mini-grids.
Mini-grids improve the quality of life and the
standard of living of off-grid rural areas.
They offer many benefits – social, economic
and environmental – to local communities and the nation as a whole.
Availability of lighting improves education,
social cohesion, reduces drudgery and improve community security.
Meanwhile, the presence of electricity allows
access to information from radio, television and internet.
Moreover, they open up rural areas to the
establishment and/or growth of local businesses. Improvements in local
environments are also observed when kerosene and diesel-powered engines are
displaced by RE-based systems.
At the national level, energy security is
improved, rural-urban migration is curtailed, access to knowledge is increased
and overall progress in education, health and wellbeing, are all realised.
Thus, mini-grids deployment will enable the
country to achieve its 10 per cent (now at one per cent, minus large hydro)
target in RE in the generation mix, accelerate the meeting of national
developmental targets, expansion of the reach of core government programmes
(Planting for Food and Jobs, one-District-one-Factory), and achievement of
sustainable development goals, notably, Sustainable Development Goals One (SDG
1) (no poverty), SDG3 (good health and well-being), SDG4 (quality education),
SDG7 (affordable and clean energy), SDG9 (industry, innovation and
infrastructure), SDG13 (climate action), and SDG17 (partnership).
Evidence from beneficiary island communities
show that mini-grids have had considerable improvements on the quality of life
and standard of living of those areas.
A survey carried out by the Centre for Energy,
Environment, and Sustainable Development (CEESD) in 2016 at Aglarkope and
Kurdokope revealed establishment of new businesses including retail of frozen
fish and meat.
In education, availability of lighting has
enabled kids to study at night while teachers are able to prepare better for
classes in the evening.
Another survey by the Netherlands Development
Agency (SNV, 2018) in 8 communities showed that mini-grids have enabled women
to perform household chores better and more efficiently.
On health, household complaints on ailments
(headaches, watery/red eyes, etc.) from candles, kerosene and other fuels for
lighting reduced from 30 to seven per cent following the introduction of
Further, they partly attributed it to improved
health enjoyed by children.
With regards to education, over 96 per cent of
respondents believe the systems have increased interest shown by pupils in
school activities who now study on average 3.5 h/d compared to 1.5 h without
Over a third of households confirmed improved
grades of their wards at school. Access to information had also improved
considerably due to increase in the use of TV and mobile phones.
CEESD and SNV explains government mini-grids
programmes to Sediakorpe community, Dwarf Island, Kwahu Afram Plains North
Currently, most mini-grids are not able to
provide 24 hours of electricity for the communities. According to business
owners using refrigerators, this situation is affecting growth of their
It was revealed that power generated is not
adequate to support high end gadgets like iron and microwaves at some points in
In the government operated systems, a third of
respondents complained about unreliability of power.
Cleary, the impact of mini-grids on the
fishing industry has not been pronounced as one would expect, noting that over
30 per cent of economic activities involve fishing.
The beneficiaries of privately owned systems
pay a little more per kilo Watt hour (kWh) than their compatriots on the
However, the number of days without power is
minimal with the privately owned systems.
While the benefits of mini-grid deployment
cannot be overemphasised, it is necessary to critically assess the challenges
of existing models and systems in order to effect the necessary changes to
ensure long-term robustness and operability of mini-grid infrastructure in
It is necessary to sensitise communities on
opportunities associated with productive use of electricity (PUE) especially in
the agricultural (including fishing and agro-processing) sectors.
Thus, the Ministry should set aside funds to
support PUE sensitisation of beneficiary areas in partnership with CSOs and
other government agencies.
It is also necessary to educate consumers on
energy efficiency practices as well as opportunities associated with productive
use of electricity;
Since it is the hard-to-reach areas such as
islands and lakeside communities that present the greatest challenge for grid
electrification, government mini-grid projects should target island
Also, permits for privately owned mini-grid
projects should be granted for island communities.
Most of the private companies are presently
operating on mainland, where the grid could easily reach in a couple of years.
There is the need to regulate while
simplifying regulatory processes for effective private sector participation.
The PURC should include private licensed
operators in their tariff setting mechanism to allow for cross-subsidisation,
thus ensuring that communities served also enjoy (at least) the same tariff
structure as those served by the main grid while the private investors make
appropriate profits for their investments.
This could attract banks to lend capital to
private investors and help reduce pressure on government in seeking donor
Since mini-grids fit into Ghana’s
developmental agenda and can help achieve almost all the SDG targets, it is
necessary for development partners to continue to offer financial and technical
support to government.
Many development partners (UNDP, GIZ, SECO,
World Bank, AfDB, DANIDA, EU and USAID) have already contributed considerably
to Ghana’s electrification drive and their assistance are still needed as Ghana
enters its last mile in reaching universal access to electricity.
UNICEF could look into mini-grids as an
opportunity to improve maternal and children wellbeing in targeted areas and
thus provide financial support to government.
The knowledge and skills level of local
institutions (VRA and ECG) should be built to enable them manage such small
systems which they are traditionally not used to.
The management of these systems could be
outsourced to private organisations or community groups who have presence in
The VRA, ECG and NEDCo should set aside annual
budgetary allocations for mini-grid development in support of government
efforts and to ensure accelerated deployment of systems to meet national
targets by 2020 and 2030.
Though the VRA provided logistical support
(such as boat transport of equipment and personnel) and financial assistance in
deploying existing systems, it can do more by allocating some internally
generated funds to establish additional mini-grids as part of its social
commitment and in support of government vision of realising Ghana Beyond Aid.
In addition, the VRA and MoEn should
continually monitor energy use patterns of communities and upgrade the capacity
of systems to take care of population increases as well as growth of economic
activities in order to whip-up interest among local groups.
Also, Energy Commission should conduct
periodic reliability and technology monitoring to ensure better customer
This article was authored by Centre for
Energy, Environment and Sustainable Development (CEESD) under the Voice 4
Change (V4C) of the Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV).
The V4C Partnership is a five-year project
funded by the Dutch Government and coordinated by Netherlands Development
The project empowers Civil Society
Organisations (CSOs) to advocate for enabling environment in off-grid
electrification; water, sanitation and hygiene and Food and Nutrition Security.
The authors Edem Cudjoe Bensah (lead), Dr
Julius Ahiekpor, Dr Francis Kemausuor and Edward Antwi.
The rest are Dramani Bukari and Consolata
Dassah of SNV, and Iddi Yire of the GNA are appreciated for supporting field
visits and providing valuable feedback on the article.
Mr Eric Banye, Project Coordinator of V4CP, is
acknowledged for facilitating field studies and ensuring provision of
logistical support for the project team.