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Mini-Grid Design Manual





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same copyrights as other ESMAPpublications.




The Joint UNDP/World Bank Energy Sector Management Assistance Programme (ESMAP) is a special global technical assistance program run as part of the World Bank's Energy, Mining and Telecommunications Department. ESMAP provides advice to governments on sustainable energy development. Established with the support of UNDP and bilateral official donors in 1983, it focuses on the role of energy in the development process with the objective of contributing to poverty alleviation, improving living conditions and preserving the environment in developing countries and transition economies. ESMAP centers its interventions on three priority areas: sector reform and restructuring; access to modern energy for the poorest; and promotion of sustainable energy practices.


ESMAP is governed by a Consultative Group (ESMAP CG) composed of representatives of the UNDP and World Bank, other donors, and development experts from regions benefiting from ESMAP's assistance. The ESMAP CG is chaired by a World Bank Vice President, and advised by a Technical Advisory Group (TAG) of four independent energy experts that reviews the Programme's strategic agenda, its work plan, and its achievements. ESMAP relies on a cadre of engineers, energy planners, and economists from the World Bank to conduct its activities under the guidance of the Manager of ESMAP, responsible for administering the Programme.


ESMAP is a cooperative effort supported over the years by the World Bank, the UNDP and other United Nations agencies, the European Union, the Organization of American States (OAS), the Latin American Energy Organization (OLADE), and public and private donors from countries including Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Finland, France, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America.


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ESMAP c/o Energy, Mining and Telecommunications Department The World Bank 1818 H Street, NW Washington, DC 20433 U.S.A.



April 2000

Joint UNDP/World Bank Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP)

Copyright C 1999 The Intemational Bank for Reconstruction and Development/THEWORLD BANK 1818 H Street, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20433, U.S.A.

All rights reserved Manufactured in the United States of America First printing September 2000

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Deigt* -W Manual

Tableof contents

I. Introduction II. Setting the context for low-cost mini-grids

IvoryCoast Laos Irian Jaya DominicanRepublic Conclusion

III. Preconditions

and action plan

Willingnessand ability to pay Identificationof a responsibleindividual/organization Adequacyof electricitysupply Grid extension Diesel/gasolinegenset Hydropowerplant Wind turbine Solar PV station Plan of action

IV. Electricity uses and demand assessment

Typesof uses Lighting Entertainment Motor-basedapplications Heat-generatingappliances Demand assessment Demand-sidemanagement

V. Mapping

and system layout

Mapping Systemlayout Powerhouselocation Placingthe lines Locatingpoles

VI. Line configuration

Optionsforline configuration Single-phasesupply Three-phasesupply Systemgrounding

VII. Conductor

Typesof conductor Overheadvs. Underground Conductorsizing









































Rough estimateof voltage drop


A more accurateestimate




Effect of conductorsize on power loss




Stringing and saggingthe conductor




Handling and inspecting the conductor


Preparation for stringing


Pulling the conductor


Sagging the conductor


V1II. Poles


Pole options

















IX. Poletop hardware and connectors


Joining conductors:Connectors


Twisted connections








Securing the conductors: Deadend hardware




Preformed deadends


Automatic deadends






Supportingthe conductor




Upset bolts


Support clevises


Swinging clevises




Other approaches


Lengthening conductor:splices





Preformed splice


Automatic splice




X. Guys and anchors


Strength of cable



on a deadend pole


Guy at a deviation


Securing the guy to a pole


Types of anchor



Sizing an anchor


XI. Safety and protection









Types of grounding


Ensuring a good ground


Protection devices




Miniature circuit breakers (MCBs)


Residual current devices (RCDs)


Protecting the system




overload currents




fault currents


Protecting against corrosion/oxidation


Protecting people


Nature of the hazard


Origin of body currents


Lightning protection


Consumer and operator education




XII. Service connection and housewiring



Service connection


Service drop


Service entrance




Conventional metering


Alternative "metering": load limiters




Standardized housewiring packages


Operation,maintenance,and consumer services


Operator selection and training


Regular operation and maintenance


Consumer education


Financial obligations


Disconnection policy


Theft of power


Awareness of options for electrical end-uses






Consumer services




Sales outlet for electricalcomponents


Battery charging


XIV. Tariffs




Project coststo be covered


Optionsfor coveringprojectcosts




Basic tariff types






Designing a tariff schedule




Appendix 1. Case study:IvoryCoast


Appendix 2.

Case study:BanNam Thung,Laos


Appendix 3.

Case study:Youngsu,IrianJaya



Case study: El Lim6n,DominicanRepublic


Appendix5. Calculatingrequiredpole diameter


Appendix6. Somebasic electricalconceptsand equations


Resistanceand reactance


Power and powerfactor


Voltagedrop/powerlossalong a line


Appendix7: Computationalexamples


(1) Impact ofpower factoron system cost


(2) Impact of configurationon distributionsystemcost


(3) Sizing a distributionlinefor motor starting


(4) Impact of approachto conductorsizingon accuracy






Areas for furtherinquiry


Acronyms,abbreviations,and definitions


Ampere,a measure of electrical current



Aerial bundled cable


Aluminum-conductor,steel-reinforced(a conductormade of aluminum,current- carryingstrands wrapped around a steel core which provides the mechanical strength)





Copperchromium arsenate, a popular waterbome preservativethat fixes itself to the woodfibers once it has been impregnatedinto the wood


Compactfluorescent light



The sumof the loads actually on at any instant of time (see p. 44)


Wire or cable



A customer(either a household or a commercialestablishment)receivingelectric power

consumer ground

A groundingelectrodelocated on the consumer's premises, which is bonded (connected)to the frame or chassis of all electrical equipmentfoundthere. The consumerground is not bonded to the systemneutral unless explicitlystated. See




The elongationof conductorunder tension. As tension is appliedto the

conductor,it stretches and will continue to stretch until

a balance between

tension and the materials strength is reached, usually after severalyears. See




Deca-newtonor of I kilogram

10newtons, a metric measure of force nearly equal to the weight


Direct current



Development& ConsultingServices, a non-profit research and development

organizationin Nepal that has been involved for severaldecades in micro-

hydropowerand rural

electrification efforts



Themechanicaltermination of a conductoragainst a support


A board or box on or in which are included the necessary items (whichmight includeMCBs, fuses, knife and light switches, and outlets)to controland managethe distribution of electricity withinthe home. This is located after the consumer'sservice entrance. Also referred to as a servicepanel.

dual phase

Three-wire,single-phaseconfiguration obtained by groundingthe center tap of the generatoror transformer supplying the mini-grid. Also knownas splitphase.


Groupe electrogene-&onomied'energie,an approachto electrificationfocusing on isolated generation,low-demanduses, and broad-basedaccessto electricity, seep. 193.


Generating set, a generatorcoupled to a prime mover (typicallya diesel engine)


A wire to restrainunbalancedforces on a pole, also knows as a "stay"


High-densitypolyethylene(in this case, usedas conductorinsulation)


Horsepower, a measureofpower, equivalentto about 750 W


Kilowatt-hour,a measureof electricalenergy, obtained by multiplyingthe power consumed (kilowatts)by the length that this power level is consumed(hours)

low voltage

Voltage usedto distributeelectricityaround the village or other load center. It is usually based on a nominalconsumervoltage of 120 V or 230 V, dependingon the country and is also referredto as a "secondaryvoltage".




Miniature circuitbreaker,a magnetic or thermaldevice that opens a switchwhen current exceedsa presetamount


A more efficientvoltageto transmitelectricityin bulk from source to loadcenter and usually not found in a mini-gridserving a single village. This voltageis usually in the range of 1 to 35 kV and is also referred to as a "primaryvoltage".


Relatedto hydropowerplantsgeneratingup to about 100kW


A distribution network,usually operatingonly at a low voltageand providing electricity supplyto a community. It is suppliedby either its ownpower generator,suchas dieselgensetor a micro-hydropowerplant, or by a connection to a local distributiontransformerconnectedto an extensionof the regionalor national grid.


Metal-oxide varistor,one typeof lightning arrester




Newton, a measureof forceequivalentto kgm/s 2 and equal in value to the weightof about 0.1 kg. To convertfrom a forcemeasuredin kg to one measured in newtons, multiplyby 9.8.


National ElectricalSafetyCode (U.S-A.)



Ohm's law

R = E I (see Symbols,p. viii)


Pascal, a metricunit ofpressure,equal to a N/m 2

peak watts

The output of a solar moduleunder peak outdoorlightingconditions


Related to hydropowerplantsgeneratingno more than a couple of kilowatts


A light fixtureor power outlet


Photovoltaic,generatingelectricityfrom light, usually sunlight


Polyvinyl chloride,most popular insulatingand sheathingmaterialfor low- voltage conductors


Residual-currentdevice (a device to protect people from potentiallydangerous electric shock,also known as a "ground-faultcircuitinterrupter"or GFCI)

service drop

The conductorbringingpower to a home from the nearest powerpole


Solar home system(a solar-PV-basedsystem to provide basic lightingand entertainmentneedsto an individualhome,with a capacity typicallyin the range of 10to 100peak watts)

split phase

Three-wire,single-phaseconfigurationobtained by groundingthe center tap of the generatoror transformersupplyingthe mini-grid.


One kilowatt-hour


U.S. dollars(1999)are used in this manual


Ultraviolet (lightwhich isjust outside the visible spectrumbut which can be destructiveto certainman-madematerials such as insulation)





x -Tor

gelecutrodde aco


distrbuton board




Conductorarea (mm 2 )



Cos 4

Power factor


Conductordiameter (meters,m)


Voltage (volts, V)


Frequencyof power supply (hertz, Hz, or, equivalently,cycle per second)


Horizontalforce on pole due to tension in the conductor(newtons, N)




Length(meters, m)


Power(kilowatts, kW, or kilovolt-amperes,kVA, unless otherwise indicated)




Unitresistance of a conductor(ohms/km)


Equivalent spacing of conductorsof a distribution line (meters, m), see Eqn. (3) and accompanyingtext on p. 226


Sag in a conductor(meters, m), seep.



Unit weightof a conductor(newtonsper meter, N/rn)


Unit reactance of a conductor(ohm/km)


Voltagedrop expressedin percent, e.g., for a voltage drop of 23 V when the supply voltageis 230 V, %VD = 10 (andnot 10 %/o)




The authorwishesto extend his appreciationto a numberof individuals who have directly contributedto this manual. Theseefforts have been especiallyvaluedbecause, while these individuals have often been preoccupiedwith other demanding matters,they have taken the time to share some of their experiences gainedover the years.

With over 25 years of experience with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association(NRECA) supervisingand managingrural electrificationassignmentsin Latin America and in Asia,MykManon has broughta dose of practical experienceand a usefulperspective. Recognizing the obstaclesto cost- effectiveelectrificationin the more remote rural areasand the need to be flexible in designs, he has contributedof his experiencein several sectionsof this manual. He was a useful and responsive source of informationon a variety of issues that arose duringthe preparation of this document.

Dr. Adam Harvey has been involved for a number of years in designing and implementingrural energy systems,focusingon micro-hydropowertechnology,as well as being involved in a range of overseas developmentefforts. He made initial contributionsto several chapters of this manual before recognizing the time and efforts which would be necessary in Laos where he is presently facing the challenge of implementingan off-gridelectrificationproject underthe auspices of the local utility, Electricite duLaos.

Dr.Nigel Smith, presentlyManaging Director of SustainableControl Systems and Principal Research Fellowat NottinghamTrent University,has 14yearsof experience in R&D, technology transfer and consultancyfor small hydro systems and low-cost electrificationaround the world. He contributedto the chapteron serviceconnectionand housewiring,which also includes a description of a load limiting devicehe recently developedto make access to electricityless costly for low-income households.

As a ResearchAssociatefor the Micro Hydro Groupat Nottingham Trent University, Phil Maher is responsiblefor a technology transfer project involvingvillage electrificationin Sub-SaharanAfrica. He is also working towards a PhD focusing on the optimizationof stand-alone electrification systems using pico-hydropower.He has experiencein the design of mini-grids from Nepal and Ethiopia. In between his activities,he has found the time to contributetext for several chapters in this manual and has continuedto contributeby promptlyrespondingto miscellaneousinquiries as they arose.

Whilenumerous individualsand organizationsthroughoutthe world have constructed mini-grids to bring the benefitsof electrificationto rural consumers,few of these experienceshave been documented. Interestedindividualshave thereforenot been able to build on these lessons learned. In light of this dearthof documentation,the author is appreciativeof the efforts of several individuals to take time to sharesome of their experiences.

Jon Katz,working with Ecopartners,a program of the Center for Religion, Ethics, and Social Policy affiliatedwith CornellUniversity,has been involved in an innovative pico-hydropower grid project as one componentof a multi-faceteddevelopmenteffort in El Lim6n in the western mountains of the DominicanRepublicover the past severalyears. Jon contributed a case study of this effort for this manualand continuedto provide details and photographsof that effort as his work proceeded.

MikeJohnson foundedHydro-TechnologySystems,and his work with the manufacture of micro- hydropowerequipmentin the U.S. eventuallyled to his involvement in the construction of a 170kW mini-hydropowermini-gridon the island of Kalimantan. He continuedwork in that part of the world by initiatinga technologytransfer programin LrianJaya,Indonesia, where he spent the subsequent 10years

traininglocal staff and implementingover two dozen hydropower-suppliedmini-grids in the course of those activities. The project at Youngsu documentedin this manualishis contribution.

For the preparationof the case study from Laos, the villageheadman,Mai Kaen Sengmala,and villagers from Ban NamThung, welcomedand hosted the authoron severalseparateoccasionsand shared details on the origin,construction,and operation of a self-helpvillageelectrificationproject theyhad themselves initiatedfroma shared desireto bring a valuedurban amenityto theircommunity.

Safety is an important issuein the design of mini-grids servicingrural communitiesstill unfamiliarwith electricity. Frequently,this subject is eithergiven low-priorityin an effortto reducethe cost of electrificationor used asjustification for blindlyadheringto standardsprepared for much larger systems, leadingto greater coststhan necessary. To ensure a safe systemat minimumcost, it is necessaryto return to basics to question what is actually necessary,when it is, and why. Witha firmknowledgeof conventionalelectrificationsystem design, NRECA's Jim VanCoeveringwas able to clearlyaddress my inquiriesand concems on the type and extent of groundingrequiredfor low-powermini-gridsas well as on a numberof other topics as they arose. Thethoroughnessand the clarityof his responseswere of considerableassistancein workingthrough these issues.

The authoralso appreciates the efforts of Jim Carter,wood preservationspecialistwith NRECA's Wood QualityControlprogram,and a number of other individualswho havepromptlyvolunteeredinformation to fill in gaps encounteredin the preparationof this document. The author's appreciationand respect also goes to all those individualsaround the worldwho have set examplesthrough their own smallefforts at electrificationand who have illustrated that suchefforts can begin satisfyingthe demandfor basic electrificationamong those deprived of this amenitysimplyby virtueof where theywere born.

This manualis an expandedupdate of an earlierdocumentpreparedundercontract with Electricitedu Laos,with the financialsupportof the JapanesePolicy and HumanResourcesDevelopment(PHDR) Fund. Theproject idea and TOR were developedby ESMAPas part of its design of the GEF-financed decentralizedrural electrificationcomponentof the IDA-financedSouthernProvinces GridIntegration Project.

AllenR. Inversin IntemationalPrograms NationalRuralElectric CooperativeAssociation Email: allen.inversin@nreca.org


The benefits of electrification are well known and demand for electricityservice is widespread. But,

because establishedutilitieshave often been preoccupiedwith meeting theneeds

economicallyattractive urban areas and with maintaining existingsystems,many have been unableto address needsof rural villages. Consequently, around the world,in rural areas beyond reach of the national grid,numerous individuals and communitieshave taken it uponthemselves to constructtheir own rudimentaryelectricity distribution systems supplied by isolatedpower sources, such as hydropower plants or diesel gensets. These mini-grids hold out the promise of being the lowest-costmeansof providing electricityto neighbors or entire communities.However,theyare often improvised,inefficient, unsafe, and short-lived (Fig. 1). Both national electric utilities and developmentorganizationsare therefore reluctant to encourage and support suchindigenous effortsin spite of their potential benefits. Furthermore,no guidelinesexist for those interested in constructingmini-grids to a higher standardof

of the vocal and

service and safety.

This manualhas been prepared to encourage and supportthe design of improvedvillage electrification schemes. It presents the theory as well as actual field

experiences. It is anticipatedthat it will be useful to.

rural developmentagencies and to national

provincial energycompanies and authorities. It is also hoped that, perhaps through intermediarieswho have somecommand of basic technical skills, it will

be useful to village entrepreneurs and village developmentcommittees.


In this publication,a mini-grid refers to a low-voltage (LV) networkwithin a village or neighborhood supplied ata singlepoint by, for example, a diesel genset or micro-hydropowerplant (Fig. 2). It includes the service connections and housewiring. It does not refer to the interconnection of two or more separatevillagegrids into a more extensive area-wide network. The designs covered in this manualrange

from low-costdesigns to servebasic lighting needs to - - more conventionaldesignsthat may become interconnectedto the grid within the near future.

This manualassumes the existence of a power supply

and doesnot deal with details of this supply. It rather to the left of the pole bringpowerup froma


Fig. 1. The twothin verticalconductorsjust

focuseson the design of the system to distributethe

350Whydropowerplantat its basein a

villagein Colombia.

From this pole, it is

power genratdtthcosumdistributed

usingbare conductorsto several

Mini-gridsas discussed in this manual do not involve the use ofany medium voltage (MV). However,it should be recognizedthat it may occasionallybe necessary to use MV to reduce overall cost. This

homesin threedirections.Twisted

conductorsare used for all connections.

Two guy cablesat the bottomencirclethe

pole. (Photo credit: Phillip Maher)

ChapterL. Introduction

mayoccur when servingtwo or more discrete load centers separatedby somedistanceor when transmittingpower from a generationsource plant located at somedistancefromthe load center. In this case, transformerswould be required. Medium-voltagelines areis outside the scopeof this manual.

This manual includesthe following:

* A summaryof severalexamplesof mini-grids fromaroundthe world to illustratethe contextin which such projects have been implemented. More detailed casestudies are found in the appendices.

* Qualitative descriptionsofthe issues to

be addressed in planning for a mini-


* A range of designoptionsfor the

Fig.2. A micro-hydropowerplant servingremote householdsscaftered on the hillsidesnear


various componentsof a mini-gridand how these are sized and incorporatedinto a mini-grid.

The guidingprinciplesfor the designof mini-gridsystemsshould be that theybe safe, adequate, expandable,and efficient. Systemsare safe if they presentno greaterhazard to the public than standard urban grid-basedsystems. This canbe achievedby ensuringthat they are designedin compliancewith the spirit of any electricalcodesor standards in use in the country. The word "spirit"is criticalhere because accepted standardsare sometimesdesignedfor conditionsnot found in rural areas where mini- gridsmight be found. For example,to reduce cost and therebyincrease accessibilityto electricityin rural areas, small conductorsmaybe recommendedas appropriatewhere loads willnot, in the foreseeable future,even approachthosefoundin urban areas. But the same conductormightbe deemed unsafe accordingto the codesadheredto in an urbanenvironmentbecause increasedcurrent demand there could lead to a fire hazard. In suchcases,blindly abidingby these standardsmakeselectrificationunnecessarily more expensiveand less accessibleto rural populations.

Systemsare adequatewhen theydeliver sufficientpower when and where needed,with the required degree of efficiencyand servicequality.

System expandabilityimpliesthe use of designsthat minimizelife-cycle cost by makingprovision for a certaindegree of expansion,obviatingthe need to replaceor rewireportions of the system as the load increases.

An efficient system is one thatprovides acceptableelectric serviceat minimumcost over the expected life of the installation. It maynotbe efficient,for example,to use materialsthat are low-cost but whose low qualityrequires that theybe frequentlyreplacedor repairedor which present a safety hazard. Neither may it be efficient to save on costby restricting the capacityat the serviceentranceor housewiringlevel below that which couldconceivablybe used or to decreaseconductorsize and cost if that leads to excessivevoltage drop and powerlosses or to unsatisfiedconsumers.

If villagepower systemsrelying onmini-grids are to be sustainableand therefore widelyreplicable, designs specific to the conditionsfound in villagesmust be prepared. There is a need to break out from the standardmold, to review specificneeds in a community,to goback to basic principals, and to develop designs that most cost-effectivelyaddressthoseneeds. Withoutthis approach,complexity and high costs can quicklyplace mini-gridsbeyondthe reach of the typicalvillage. The manual therefore not only reviews a range of technical designsbut also covers in depth some of the other issues that must be addressed for successful,affordableelectrificationprograms.

From the four case studiespresentedin the appendicesand summarizedin the next chapter, the range of options available is clear. Theseprojects, most servingsomewhatmore than 100households, were specifically designed for bringingelectricityto isolatedvillages. However,even under these circumstances, one findsa widerange of costsand sophistication,from a villagemini-grid system costing about $3,000 in Laos to a number averagingmore than $90,000in the Ivory Coast. In addition, a generatingplant is requiredto supplythe mini-gridwith electricity. This adds from$1,000 to $9,000 for diesel gensets in Laosand the Ivory Coast, respectively,to from $4,000 to $20,000for a micro- hydropowerplants in the DominicanRepublic and Irian Jaya, respectively.

Any one of

designedto meet a particularset of conditionsundera specificset of constraints. But they do illustrate that numerousvariables must be consideredin the design of mini-gridand that it is not simply a case of using the same design in differentlocations, asis generallydoneby national electricutilities around the world. In addition to describingtechnical designs, an importantobjective of this manual is to increase awarenessof the range of issuesthat must be addressedin bringingthe benefits of electricityto rural

people around the world.

This publicationpresents graphs,equations,and other quantitativeand qualitative details to provide guidance for the selectionand sizingof the variouscomponentsthat could be incorporatedin an electrical mini-grid. But for suchprojects, sizingis relativelystraightforward. Of greaterimportance in implementing affordableand sustainablemini-gridsis an awarenessand understandingof the numerous other issues that must be addressedand resolved. The basic issues encounteredin the design and implementationof "standard"electrificationwere resolvedlong ago, and designsadopted by national electric utilities vary slightlyfromcountry to countryaround the world. However,if these same designs were to be adopted for mini-grids,costs would be high, and rural populationswould never have a chance to accessthe benefits of electrification. Alternatively,such projects would requiregovemment subsidies, but this is an option to which few countriesseem able or willingto commit.

these designsis not necessarilybetter or more appropriatethat any other. Each was simply

The rangeof design optionsis much more varied with mini-grids,drivenprimarilyby the fact that systems must remain affordable,yet adequate, if electrificationis to be more widespread. Only designs that achievethis willprove sustainableand replicable. But this requires that numerous issues be resolved. Examples of such issues includethe following:

* Most mini-grids are not grounded. What level of groundingis warranted? And how, after


through the expenseand effort of grounding,canthe effectivenessof groundsin providing a safe

environmentbe ensuredin a rural setting?

* To ensure safetyyet minimizethe cost of electrification,what minimum components must be included in the consumer'sresidence?

* What approachesare thereto reduce the cost of meters, meterreading, billing and collecting, because these can often cost more than the cost of the electricityconsumed?

ChapterI. Introduction


What typesof conductorare mostappropriateand available in the small sizes requiredfor mini- grids?

* Shouldsingle-or three-phasedistributionbe used?

* How can adequate servicequalitybe maintainedsuch that user appliances are not damaged?

* While serviceto urban consumersmust make provision for supplyingat least 1,000wattsand often considerablymore, how canmini-grids be redesigned to caterto a maximumdomestic demand of perhaps20 to 100wattsper household?

* How can conductorsbe joined when the appropriateconnectors arenot available for the sizes commonlyneeded for mini-grids?

* Adoptingconventionaldesignswouldresult in excess system capacity at a cost that the communitycould never afford. How does one assess the actual needsof a communityto ensure that the system is not overbuiltand priced out of range for the community?

These are someof the issues that must be addressedbefore even embarkingon the design and sizingof a mini-grid. Consequently,while equationsand graphshave been included, much of the manualfocuseson increasingawarenessof these and relatedissues and on providing insights gained to dateby those who have already designedand constructedsuchsystems.

Furthermore,while an objectivein mini-griddesign is to minimize the cost of electrificationfor rural consumersso that they mayaccess, and benefitfrom, this resource, severalguiding principlesmustbe kept in mind:

* Makingelectrificationmore affordabledoes not simplyrequire minimizing the total cost of componentsat the time of construction. Rather,the implications of system design onlife-cycle cost and systemperformance mustbe kept in mind.

For example,while the use of small,locally harvested,untreatedwooden poles mayappear an effectivemeans of reducingthe costof one of the most expensivecomponents of a mini-grid,the labor and materialscost for their subsequentfrequentreplacement may not only quickly overwhelmany initial cost savings,but it can put the sustainabilityof entire systeminjeopardy.

As anotherexample,if the potentialexists for increaseduser demandin the future,life-cycle costs mayactually be decreasedby initiallyoversizing the distribution line. If costsare minimizedby keepingconductorsizeto the minimum required to meet initial demand,then it will later have to be replacedwith largerconductor. The additional labor to replace the conductoras well as the additionalmaterialswillunnecessarilyincrease project cost.

* Minimizingsystem cost may notnecessarily be achieved by simplyminimizing the cost of each componentmakingup that system. The systemdesigner must realize that the designof one componentcan have implicationson the designand cost of others. For example,as willbe describedlater, increasingproject cost somewhatby incorporatingcapacitors in the designof fluorescentlightingunits to correcttheirpower factor can result in net savings by allowingfor the use of smaller and less costlyconductorand generator.

11.Settingthe contextfor low-cost mini-grids

Electrificationfirst began in the urbancenters in the industrialized nations and evolved in the following context:

* A geographicallycompactservicearea, facilitating the supply of electric power.

* A variety of end-uses(frompowering lights and radios to heavy industry) leadingto a wide range of per-consumerdemands.

* A consumerbase with readyemployment and access to financialresources to coverthe costs of installingelectrical service(the connectioncost), purchasing end-use appliances,and covering the costs for electric energy(themonthly kWh bill).

Overtime, standardtechnical and institutional designsevolved to most efficientlyserve thesecenters.

When electricitywas later introducedby these nations into cities in areas they had colonizedaround the world, thenatural approach wasto utilize these same standard designs. But in this new context,these designswere still largely appropriate,because comparableconditions were found in urbanareas in the developingas well as in the industrializednations.

But as the demand for electricityspreadbeyond the urban areas, first into the less wealthybut still densely populatedperiurban areasand later into the rural areas with poorer, more dispersedpopulations with morebasic needs, electricutilitiessimply expanded the systems using designs with whichthey were most familiar. But gradually,as the electrical network expanded, utilities found this workto be detrimentalto their economicwell-being:costs of supplying electricityincreased and per-consumer consumption,and associatedrevenuesreturning to the utilities, decreased. The utility responsewas either to avoidserving these areas or, if the central governmental directiveto serve the rural populationswas strong,to request the necessary financialresources to subsidize these efforts in areas beyondthe towns and cities.

But the demand for electricitycontinuedunabated and the more enterprising,unserved areasundertook their ownelectrification,relying on locally generatedpower. They also recognizedthat standarddesigns which had been usedcould not always affordably meet their needs. As a consequence,a range of new, less costlydesigns evolved. Thesenew designsrecognized the new context in which electrificationwas to evolve:

* Isolated serviceareas, often requiring local generation to avoid the high costs of bringingpower to these areas.

* Arange of more rudimentaryneeds, often focusing on meetingsmall energyneeds-such as for lighting,entertainment,and, to a limited extent, the operationof simple handtoolsand appliances-but at the sametime, occasionallyconsidering the limited use of somemore electricity-intensiveuses such as agro-processingor cooking.

* A broad range of affordabilityon the part on individual consumers, but with most consumers havingmore limited accessto financial resources.

* Because of their eagemessto get accessto electricity, the increased willingnessofpotential consumersto be activelyinvolved in the supply of their ownelectricity rather thanbeingmerely the recipients of services from an outside company.

* The possibility that mini-grids would be interimmeasuresand would not have to be designedto last the 30 or more years that is (or at least shouldbe) the case with conventional systems.

In conventional electrificationaround the world, designsthat are fairly standard from country to country

have been developed. But even in these cases,costscan vary broadly. In striving to develop new, less

costly designs to serve individualcomrnunities,it is clearthat, because of the broad nature of the context

in which electrification is to be undertaken, no singlestandard design couldbe developedas was the case

with urban electrification.

Designs developed or adopted for mini-gridsdepend heavilyon such factorsas the sizeand nature of load that is to be imposed; on the design life that is expectedof the system; on the availability and cost of materials, most notably poles; on the meteringsystemwhich is to be incorporated;and on the level of safety felt necessary.

To provide the reader with an idea of how designsevolvedin different contextsto bring electricity to isolated communities, four case studies fromaroundthe world have been summarizedbelow and included

in more detail in the appendices in this manual. Theseprojects have common characteristics:

* Reliance on an autonomous electricitysupply,which is eithera diesel or gasoline genset or, where hydropower resources exist, a micro-hydropowerplant.

* Meeting basic, low-powerneeds which are most efficientlyprovidedby electricity, primarily high-efficiency fluorescent lightingand entertaimnent(radio and TV).

* In cases where fossil fuel is used, restrictingthe hours of generationto early evening hours to ensure an efficient loadingof the powerplant.

* Dependence on the local communityto providesweat equity and local materials and to manage and operate the schemes.

* Reliance on fixed tariffs based on connectedload(watts) and not on actual consumption (watt- hours), obviating the need for energymetersand associatedadministrativecosts.

But in spite of this cornmonality,these case studiesillustratethe broad range of designs that have evolved and the wide range of costs that are possible-from about $3,000 to $90,000 for the mini-grid and housewiringalone, to serve roughly the samenumberof consumers.

And while one objective is to adopt designsthat canreduce the cost of electrification, anothershouldbe

to maximize the benefits which can be derivedfromelectrification. If the cost of fuel is relatively high,

such as with diesel generation,an effort must be madeto use availableenergy efficiently,by reducing losses to the extent possible and to displaceeven costliersources of energy, such as dry cells. If the cost


fuel is low, such as with hydropowergenerationwhere the "fuel" is free, then as many productiveuses


possible should be considered (Fig. 3).


A design developed by a French organizationfor severalwestem African nations, includingthe Ivory

Coast, is one that might be expected from individualswho have been schooled in conventional designs but who, at the same time, recognize the new contextin which off-gridrural electrificationis to be


As might be assumed from the relative high project cost,which approaches$650/consumer,each system incorporatesconventional designsand components,althoughthese have been down-sized to cater to the

new, reduced demand levels. But with the still high costs of this project come additional benefits which are not generallyassociated with the other casestudies presented:

* To ensure consumer safety,residual current devices(RCDs, seep. 127)and more expensiveunderground distributionin the vicinity of the consumershave been used.

* While the designsadopted are considerablycostlier than those of the

otherprojectsdescribedin the

appendices,they should also have a considerablylongerlife and require less ongoingmaintenance and replacement.


Fig.3. Thismicro-hydropowerplantownerin Nepalissharpeningscissorsusingan electric- motor-drivenplaner,jointer,grindstone, andcircu- larsawcombination.In addition to generating

electricityfor lighting and to power


By using*

components,theobjectiveis tohave a

systemthat, at minimumcost, can be

connecteddirectly to the national grid, background. when it arrivesin the village at some time in the future,and be in accordancewith establishednational standards. At the time of grid- interconnection,a distributiontransformerwould simplyreplace the powerplant.


usesmechanicalpowerdirectlyfor oil expelling, flourgrindings,and ricehulling.The penstock pipeto theturbineis locatedin thecenter

* Fluorescentlighting is power-factor corrected. This reduces

line lossesthat are encounteredin

the other casespresented,losses that detract somewhat from the efficiencynormally associated

with fluorescentlighting.

What is not clear from the informationavailable on this project is whether, in an attempt to reducecost, the conductorhas been sized to meet onlythe average loadthe project designers expect (30 to 60 W per consumer). If this is the case, then reconductoringof the distribution system would be required if, when the grid arrives, consumersare ready to increasetheir consumption. This would increase the life-cycle cost of the system.

While numerous advantagesenumeratedaboveare associatedwith this project design, the questionthat remains is whethersuch a design makesthe system too expensiveand therefore too heavily relianton extemal fundingto be replicable in a environmentwith increasingcompetition for limitedpublic funds. On the other hand,the observationwas also made that consumerspresently spend more for electricity than theypreviously spent on altemative fuels displacedby electricity. Their motivation for doingso should be probed to determineconsumerwillingness to pay and to assess underwhat circumstances,if any, they can cover actual system cost.

Further details about this project are found in Appendix 1.


Unlikethe design prepared for the Ivory Coast, the design usedin the villageof Ban NamThung in northwestemLaos was prepared by a young manwhohad recentlycompleted agriculturaltrainingbut whohad no formalelectrical training. It probablyrepresentsthe most basic, minimum-cost,mini-grid design,requiringonly several sizes of conductorsand a few componentsin eachhousewiringcircuit. Poles are usually one of the more costlycomponentsof conventionalelectrificationprojects. For this project,live trees were used if they were in a suitablelocation;at other times, villagerscontributed hardwoodand bamboo posts, but these were untreatedand had to be periodicallyreplaced.

For the type ofmini-grid and housewiringdesign used,capital costsaverageabout $20 per consumer. A low-cost Chinese230-Vgenset was also used. Projectcost waslow, and the factormost affectingthe viabilityof this project at present is the cost of diesel fuelwhich has been rapidlyincreasingas the Lao currencydevalues.

A visitto the project site revealed severalproblems,which arosefrom a lack of knowledgeof proper systemdesign rather than due to an attemptto cut costs. Incorporatingdesign changesto resolve these problemsmay double the capital cost for the system,but this would still have been a very low-cost system. Problem areas include the following:

* Lack of control over consumption. Thetariffswere basedon total connectedload, generallyone 20-W fluorescentlamp per consumer. However,therewasno enforcement,and including one to three powerreceptacles in each home invitedthe use of appliances. Over-consumptionby one or more consumersmay have been one reason for the 10-kWgeneratorrunninghot and eventually buming out.

Each home has fuses, but at a rating of about 10amps (thesmallestsize fuse wire available onthe local market),these are more to protect conventionalhousewiringthan to limit consumption. If outlets are to be included in each home,provisionshouldalso have been made to includea properlysized fuse, circuit breaker, or otherform of loadlimiter (see p. 155).

* Inappropriatelysized conductor. A

7-mm 2 aluminum conductor was used

for a circuitlength in excess of 1 km. To ensure a suitable voltage at the end of the mainline, the generator was run at over 250 V. This not only resulted in reducing the life of lampsnear the generatorbut also placed an additional load on the generator, probably contributingto its eventual failure.hav

The area of this conductor

should have


been somewhatmore than doubled to- keep voltagedrop within the main village(about 350m long) to within an acceptablevoltage. But even then, the second villageof about 20 households

centered at about 700 m from the generator would still have been too far to alsobe servedwith the same conductor(Fig. 4).

Fig.4. Theconductorusedalongthisstretchof linebetweentwovillagesis toosmall forthe loads anddistancesinvolved.

* Lackof power-factor correction for the 20-W fluorescentlampswhich were the principal loadon the system. The generator was ratedat 3.3 kW per phase at a power factor of 0.8. This means that while the generator could have produced4.0 kW per phaseif the ballastshad been corrected to a power factor of 1.0, it only had the capacityto produce 2.0 kW with the uncorrected fluorescent lamps in place (withpower factor of 0.5). It is conceivablethat the lack of capacity- correction contributedto overloadingthe generator.

* Poor phase balance. Only two ofthe threephasesat the generatoroutput were used, permitting full use of only two-thirdsof the generator's10kW. Furthermore,a considerablygreater number of consumers were served by one phasethanby the other. Consequently,unbalancing of the generator output as well as excessiveloadingof one of the phasesmay also have contributedto eventual generator failure.

While numerous design problemswere encounteredat this site, this project illustrateda basic design that showed the promise of being very low-cost. Even if the conductorsize had been increasedto reduce voltage drop within the mainvillage and breakershad been used in the hometo avoid the problemwith the use of incorrectly sized fuse wire, project costswouldprobablyhave been roughly $30 to $40 per household.

Further details about this project are found in Appendix2.


Irian Jaya, which forms part of the nation of Indonesia,is a rugged island with isolated populationcenters. This, coupled with high precipitation,makesit an area with significantmicro-hydropowerpotential. In this case, the hydropower plantprovides 24-hourpowerto the community.

As with the project in Laos, this is also a fairly rudimentarysystem. Themajor difference in cost is attributableto the significantlyincreased conductorsizeused for the main line. It is instructive to note that this project had a very similar configurationto the Lao project. They both had a generator of about the same capacity, generating at the same voltage,and servingroughlythe same number of consumers over aboutthe same geographicalarea. However,rather than using the equivalent of about 2.0 km of 7 mm 2 aluminumconductor, the project in Irian Jaya usedmore than 3.5 km of at least 35 mm 2 aluminum conductor.

Even with its more than adequately sized conductor,perconsumer cost for the mini-grid and housewiring averaged $60 per household. The powerplant averagedanother $130per consumer. However,because the provincial govemment covered the capitalcost of themini-grid, villagers were only responsiblefor the housewiringat about $22,plus somewhatmore than $2 monthly to coveroperating costs.

Further details about this project are found in Appendix3.


The Dominican Republic is a country havingone of thebroadest experiencesworldwidewith hanressing solar photovoltaic(PV) power and making efficientuse of the small amountof low-voltage (12 V) direct current (dc) energy generatedby such systems. It also makes wide use of the small streamflows foundin its numerousstreams, by transportingwater long distancesin polyvinylchloride (PVC) pipe for pressure (gravity) irrigation.

Whilesolar homesystems were available,theircapital cost and recurring cost (largely for the batteries whichneededperiodicreplacement)wouldhave placed an unacceptableburden on the villagers. When the idea of using a turbineto convertthe energyof the waterin the irrigationpipe into electricitywas proposed,this seemedan attractiveoption. It was clear that only small amountsof power could be generatedper family (roughly 30to 40 W) because of the size of the available pipe flows. However, becauseof cost,the villagers wereeager to devote their effortsto building a pico-hydropowerplant and mini-gridand using the PVC pressurepipe for two purposessimultaneously:irrigation and power generation.

In the DominicanRepublic, severaladvantageswere associatedwith the use of low-voltage directcurrent (dc). Fluorescentlamps run off dc werereadily available,and use of dc reduced potential safetyand fire hazardsin villagehouseholds withlittle prior experiencewithelectricity. The brightness of the dc lamps appearedveryinsensitiveto voltage. The availabilityof dc in the home held out the promise of battery- charging,permittingsignificantlymore power demandper household. And finally,use of dc power discouragesthepurchase and use of high-powerappliancesand devices, uses which put small systems at risk. The reducedavailabilityof dc appliancesand deviceson the local market also reduced this risk.

It was decidedthat eachhouseholdwould have accessto dc power in the homebut that the mini-grid wouldtransmitat 240 V alternatingcurrent(ac)to reduce the size and cost of conductor used in the mini- grid for transmittingpower fromthe powerhouseto the village. At the top of the pole nearest eachhome, at the beginningof each servicedrop,a transforrner/rectifierunit with circuitbreakers was installedto providedc powerto each home.

Inreality, the transformer/rectifierunit had twodisadvantages:it increased the cost and complexityof the connectionand itresulted in the loss of power. While this losswas estimated at 10W per household,this is a fairlysignificantportion of theoverall power available. There was the advantage that this unit limitedthe powerthat could be usedand ensuredequitabledistribution of power to all villagers but, in theoryat least,a current limiter couldalso have been used withan ac system. Time will tell whether conversionto dc was an effectiveapproachto take.

Thernini-gridsystem,with dc conversionand housewiring,cost on the order of $500 per consumer,with villager-producedconcrete polesand internationaltransportationof materialsaccounting for about40 % of this cost. Thepowerplantaddedthe equivalentof another$70 per household and a further $200per consumerwouldhave been addedif the cost of the pressurepipe had not been assumed by the irrigation project.

Furtherdetailsabout this project arefound in Appendix4.


The projectsummarieshighlightthe wide rangeof capitalcostsper consumer possible for mini-grid- suppliedelectricity. If one were to restrict projectdesignsto those describedfor the Ivory Coastand the DominicanRepublic,their high cost would probablyprecludethe electrificationof most villagesaround

the world.

Significantgrants and subsidieswould be required and the question is whether these couldbe

justifiedto the donor'ssatisfactionin lightof the benefits derived.

The other twoprojects presented-those in Laosand Irian Jaya-seem

promiseconsiderablyreduced capitalcosts. On the otherhand,higher recurring costs would be expected for maintainingand repairing these lower-costand consequentlyless robust systems. One questionthat

more attractive because they

remains is how much the cost incurred in these ongoingrepairsand replacementsadds to project cost? Wouldprojects with lower capital cost also have lowerlife-cyclecost?

Anotherquestion to ask is whether it is more effectiveto designand implementa high-cost, well- designedsystem at the outset, when all the expertise is on-site, thanto build a lower-cost systemby using less durable materials and designs and hoping that proper repairswill be made in subsequentyears as they are required. An engineer implementingprojects in Indonesiawrites:

I've come to the conclusion that "distribution"must be planned with a long term


will gradually replace them with steel or concreteas theyrot but howmany people

a nice idea to say we build and use bambooposts temporarilyand

ever get around to doing it?'

Thechallenge facing those charged with implementingsustainableand affordablemini-grids is to synthesizesafe designs that meet villagerneeds whilehavingthe lowest life-cycle costs. In the process, theymust keep in mind that, without properly trained local staff and possibly a mechanismfor providing technicalbackstopping,most repairs maynot be properlymade. Temporary fixes will probablybe undertaken-poles will be temporarilybraced if not left to dangle,fuses will be bypassedand no longer servetheir intended purpose, and hooked wire endswill replace broken switches. This will further increaselife-cycle costs or decrease system life over what wasplanned. Consumersare put at risk and the initial investmentmay not yield the expected benefits.

Oncethe most appropriate, lowest life-cycle-costdesignhas been achieved, the questionsthat still remain are whetherfinal project costs will be affordableto the communityand whether the design is.sustainable. And if the project is a pilot project to be adopted elsewhere,anotherquestionis whether the final design is replicable. If not, the potential impact from the effort expendedonthis pilotproject will have been considerablyreduced.

111.Preconditionsand action plan

In the enthusiasmto get accessto electricityin areas far fromthe grid, there is often an eagerness to immediatelyget down to the job-gathering and settingpoles; stringingconductor;buying fuses, housewiring,and lightingfixtures; etc. However,before purchasingthe necessary materials and setting up a system,theproper design must be established. But even beforethis, it is critical that the necessary elementsfor a successfulproject are in place. While ensuringthis may not guarantee success, omittingto considerthem is a sure recipe for failure. These elements includethe following:

* Widespreadinterest in accessingelectricityand the abilityof a sufficientlylarge portion of the populationto cover,at the very least, the recurring cost of the project, if not a significant portion of its capital cost.

* Identificationof a well-established,suitably qualifiedlocal entrepreneur, organization, etc., that is

initiatingthe request for electrificationand that will have prime responsibility for operatingthe project on an ongoingbasis.

managing and

* A potentialsource of electricityin the vicinityof the communityin the quantities and at the times needed.

Becauseeach of these three elementsis critical to project success,a careful assessment of each in a

specificsituationmust be made before undertakingany work on the installation of a mini-grid. addressthemwouldput the entire project at risk.

It shouldbe notedthat a preconditionthat is assumed to be metbefore initiating a project is that national laws permitthe generationand sale of electricityby private individuals or by organizations other thanthe nationalutilities. If this is not the case, exceptionsto the law mustbe sought;otherwise those implementingsuchprojects could be placing themselves, theirinvestment, and their consumers at financialrisk.

Willingnessand ability to pay

Peoplein all walksof life are eager to get accessto electricity;however, this is clearly not a sufficient condition for embarkingonthe implementationof a mini-grid project. Coupled with this must be both the willingnessand ability to pay for this service.

The cost of serviceincludes the following components:


* Capitalcost incurred in the implementationof the mini-gridproject, with powerplant

* Recurringfuel cost (unlesssolar,micro-hydropower,or windpower is hamessed)

* Recurringoperations,maintenance,and overhaulingcosts,both labor and materials

* Equipmentreplacement costs

These costs canbe covered by severalmeans:

* Grantsand subsidiesfrom the government,bilateral aid organizations,or non-governmental organizations

* Villagerup-front contribution(such as througha connectionfee)



A portion of the capitalcosts may be covered by grants and subsidies. Villagersthemselvesmayalso

cover partof these costsup front. But while aid donorsor governmentsmight coverat leasta portion of the capital costs, theyare rarely, if ever, willing to takeon the responsibilityof assumingthe ongoing costs incurredin the operation and maintenance of suchprojects. These ongoingcosts, as well as the balance of the capitalcost, must be covered by the consumersthemselvesthroughtheir electricitybill. Any tariff scheduleusedto set consumerbills should thereforebe properlydesignedto generatethe necessaryrevenuesto cover these costs. If the villagersare not willing or ableto coverthese costs, the advisabilityof proceedingfurther with the project shouldbe reconsidered.

Precisely establishingthe cost of electrificationis difficultbefore a project has been designedand costed. However,the case studiespresented in the appendices and summarizedin ChapterII provide an idea of the broad limitswithinwhich the costswill likely be found,depending on the sophisticationof the actual design adopted.

The most basicmini-grid/housewiringsystem is one requiringa conductordownthe main streets, service drops on eitherside of the conductor, housewiring, and a basic distributionboardand fluorescentlight in each home. The cost mayaverage $30 to $60 per household. It wouldrely on locallyavailablepoles donated to the projectby the community. (See the casestudies for Laos and Irian Jaya astwo examples of suchprojects.)

On the otherhand, byusing more permanent concrete or treated woodpoles or someunderground construction,greater consumer and systemprotection, and higher-qualitydistributionboardsand components,distributionsystem cost mayaverage closerto $500 per consumer,approachingthe cost of a more conventionaldistribution system. (See the case studies for the Ivory Coastand the Dominican Republic for two examplesof suchprojects.)

Note that alongwith the above,the capitalcost of the power supply itselfmustbe added. This cost is highly variable,especiallyfor small powerplants, and dependson factors suchas size, the type of power being hamessed(e.g.,hydropoweror thermal power througha diesel plant), site conditions,the manufacturerand qualityof the equipment,and powerhousedesign. In addition, whilethe initial cost of a gasoline or diesel gensetmay be low,the cost of repair, overhaul,or replacementcould add considerably

to the life-cyclecost of the plant. This cost, in turn, wouldhave to be recoupedby the project owner

throughthe tariff imposedon the consumers. In addition,the recurring cost of the fuelmust be considered. The initialcost of a smallhydropower plantmaybe high but recurringcostsfor repair, maintenance,and "fuel"should be considerablylower. This cost would generallyhave to be borneby the consumersthroughtheirelectricitybill.

Therefore,while electrificationis not inexpensive, costsincurred in the constructionof mini-gridscan vary widely. The same is true of the monthlypayments expected of the consumers. To assist in assessing whethera communitycan afford to cover these costs, it is useful to obtaina rough estimate of howa given projectcost is reflectedin these consumer payments. This will givethose proposinga mini-grid project an indicationof whether, or under what circumstances,such a project couldreasonablybe expectedto succeedfinancially.

As a frameof reference,assume that a proposed, very low-cost,low-powervillagemini-grid,includingof

a small diesel genset,costs$10,000 and is to serve 100consumers. Assume furtherthat all costs are to be covered by the communityand that loans are available onreasonable terms(here assumedto be 10% annually over 5 years). Using Table 19(see p. 182) and interpolating,monthlypaymentsto repay a loan

for the full amountcan be calculated as ($10,000)(0.023)= $230 per monthor an averageof $2.30 per This payment is proportionalto project cost and inverselyproportionalto the consumerbase.

For example,if the projectwere to cost $50,000, the averagecost