Investment firm CrossBoundary, in partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation, on Tuesday launched the Mini-Grid Innovation Lab, in Nairobi, Kenya.
The lab is the first research and development fund for sub-Saharan Africa that focuses exclusively on testing business model innovations in the minigrid sector.
Working with over 15 minigrid developers across Africa, as well as with the African Mini-Grid Developers Association, Energy4Impact, Duke University, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Power For All, the lab will test business solutions for minigrids based in Africa so that they can provide more power, to more people, at a lower cost.
It aims to demonstrate to governments, policymakers, investors and donors that minigrids can play a key role in connecting 600-million people in Africa who do not have access to power.
“We’re launching the Mini-Grid Innovation Lab at a time when momentum is building for the sector. Achieving the lab’s objectives could potentially accelerate the ability of minigrids to provide power to millions of people in Africa,” CrossBoundary managing partner Matt Tilleard said in a statement on Tuesday.
In the near term, the lab will consider how minigrids can integrate with the main grid, and how household and business energy use on minigrids changes, if they are charged electricity tariffs on par with main grid tariffs.
Early research findings show that rural minigrids provide far more reliable power to their customers, with 2% downtime during evening hours, compared with the power some urban grid customers receive, which were found to have downtimes of 53% on average in Dar es Salaam, in Tanzania.
“We are delighted to be partnering with the CrossBoundary group. The ultimate goal of this effort is to equip governments, investors and developers to dramatically accelerate rural electrification in an integrated manner, unlocking new economic opportunities for millions of households,” Rockefeller Foundation smart grid VP Ashvin Dayal said.