This project aims to introduce mini-grid technology into Lesotho, and demonstrate that they can be a superior sustainable solution for rural energy access. We will adapt the successful mini-grid model that project partner Gram Oorja has applied in over 50 remote rural communities in India to create an innovative technology and business model for Lesotho. The model combines a mini-grid with a set of tailored productivity-enhancing technologies and services (water pumping, grain milling, entrepreneurship, etc.). Adapting this to Lesotho’s requirements will see us engaging with local communities to design and test tailored technology and business models that deliver energy access whilst increasing rural productivity and economic growth in those communities. We will test two alternative versions of the innovative model by installing and monitoring the performance of two mini- grids — one for compact rural communities, and if possible one for more widely dispersed ones.
Thus our outputs will be a rigorous assessment of needs and priorities from mini-grid technology in Lesotho, a set of two complementary technology models adapted to Lesotho’s needs and conditions, a set of business models similarly adapted to Lesotho national needs and behaviour, a validation of that technology and business model as a commercially sustainable and high impact solution for rural electrification, and an innovative finance model for scaling up the mini-grid models for widespread adoption in Lesotho.
Our project aims to deliver 24×7 reliable electricity to the people of the target villages. The electricity will not only cater to the domestic needs but also to small businesses, schools, and enable establishment of new microenterprises and services such as mills, pumps, etc. The project will provide clean energy at affordable prices, boosting commercial activity in the villages. Given the solar incidence data, solar PV is the most appropriate technology to use. Although small-scale micro-hydro has been identified as a further option in certain communities, this comes at a considerably higher complexity of installation, maintenance and dependence on rain, and hence has been judged not to be suitable for these particular communities.
To ensure that the system is sized optimally, we will aim to manage demand distribution during the day, and will aim to reduce the night time load. We will ensure especially the day time usage of the commercial load of motors in the village. We aim to do this with a combination of smart metering and through the usage of timers. This demand management will also ensure that battery life is optimised, so that replacement cost is kept at minimum possible levels. We will include street lighting in the project in addition to other community services and productive use technologies. With the addition of lighting in community spaces, public safety increases. Public lighting will also increase the social fibre in the community. The combination of a social community based model combined with a high quality solar system makes it a pioneering project in Lesotho.
Preferably, mini-grids setup in very remote locations should be community-managed, where the technical and financial responsibility for the ongoing management of the plant resides with the communities. In each location, we aim to gain the trust of the communities and develop a deep understanding of the local realities and communities’ needs. These provide the necessary socio-cultural context in each location, facilitating the initial process of trust building and social engagement.
We will invest significant time and resources in building knowledge of the remote rural communities and their needs for development beyond water and energy. The team will engage in regular site visits and build relationship with local organizations.
Our design and installation phases will be characterized by a combination of technical and social activities to ensure that both usable power supply is provided to the communities and local institutional capacity to govern the systems is established early on. These Village Energy Committees will be ultimately accountable for the ongoing effective operation of the plant and retain the authority to set rules according to the communities’ needs, ensuring their enforcement on an ongoing basis. Governance procedures will include regular village committee meetings to discuss technical and service issues, billing and collections of tariffs, adapting rules when required. All members of the community are encouraged to participate in meetings, raise issues for discussion and propose changes in the rules.
A local technical operator will also be appointed in each village and trained by project staff. The operator is responsible for performing basic technical tasks such as turning on and off the plant/water supply, maintaining the system clean and operative, and informing the local partners in case any major issues arise. The operator is also generally in charge for the monthly billing and collection of tariffs from each house. In many of Gram Oorja’s villages almost all the committee members and operators are women.
This diagram describes our overall approach with respect to community, skills, components, business models and impact. Over time, local institutional capacity is built. However, the consortium continues to hold long- term accountability for any major technical issues with the system.