January 29, 2019
Leveraging Income Generating Appliances to Further Minigrid Development
Energy is central to human development, and limited access to electricity remains a fundamental challenge worldwide. Roughly three in ten people on the planet are unable to meet even their most basic needs like lighting, cooking, and phone charging let alone power income generating appliances (IGAs). Appliances that support income generation are an important driver of rural development across off- and weak-grid environments.
Both for this potential and the ability to boost minigrid revenues, these IGAs have generated particular interest among proponents of minigrids. However, these appliances often require higher power and are rarely connected to remote, renewable minigrids. Their technical characteristics, utilization patterns, and financial and technical impact on the minigrid are unknown or not well understood.
To unpack the opportunity and challenge of IGAs, Factor[e] Ventures and The Energy Institute at Colorado State University (CSU) conducted high fidelity laboratory testing to evaluate the electro-mechanical efficiency and characteristics of three appliances: an informal stick welder, multi-purpose agricultural mill, and solar powered water pump.
The purpose of this work was two-fold: 1. To establish open-access test methods especially attuned to the technical concerns of minigrid developers and appliance retailers selling into the off-grid or weak grid market, and 2. To test representative appliances and uncover critical technical information that has not been available to date. These appliance characteristics can inform in-market pilots and fill in knowledge gaps currently preventing the sale or support of IGAs in the rural context.
An in-depth introduction to the study, methods, and results are within the report at the link below. In summary, income generating appliances can technically be powered by minigrids, but a win-win business case for the minigrid developer and appliance operator may not always exist. For example, an irrigation pump can technically be powered by a minigrid, but the distance and cost to connect such a pump may be greater than the additional revenue that pump generates. With a greater understanding of IGAs, minigrid operators can serve existing “anchor” customers, which improves the minigrid business model and ensures access to electricity for other consumers. Appliance pilots are needed to validate the laboratory findings and proposed solutions to technical concerns, but the results point to a promising and bright future for IGAs among renewable minigrids.
case study resources
Read and annotate the report: "Laboratory Characterization of Income Generating Appliances"
Download the raw data: Stick welder, agricultural mill and water pump data