Is using a mini-grid an alternative to the Solar Home System for rural electrification in developing countries?

Chukwuma Leonard Azimoh, of Mälardalen University, Sweden, examined whether mini-grids could provide a solution to off-grid electrification in South Africa.

Chukwuma Leonard Azimoh

Chukwuma Leonard Azimoh


Off-grid electrification is a central issue in realizing the goals of the Free Basic Electricity policy (FBE) of the South African government. The key policy objective of the FBE is to bring energy access and linked socioeconomic development to previously deprived households in rural settlements. Reports have shown that financing rural electrification programs from national utilities incurs huge financial, technical, and managerial burdens on the energy providers. However, attempts to meet this objective using Solar Home Systems (SHSs) have been unsuccessful. Furthermore, the sustainability of the program is facing challenges, resulting in the withdrawal of some of the energy providers. Therefore, in this study a mini grid energy alternative is used to improve the situation in rural households. It is envisaged that this could bring development to the affected communities.


The load profile for a village using the mini-grid was designed to meet the energy needs for domestic, commercial, agricultural, public utilities (clinic, primary and secondary schools etc.), as well as carpentry and metal work activities. The load obtained is compared with an existing SHS load pattern in Thlatlaganya village under the current SHS concession program of South Africa. Homer™ hybrid energy model was used to assess the techno-economic feasibility of mini-grids and the optimization process was used to obtain the optimum energy mix in specific locations. The sensitivity analysis assesses the reliability of the system under varying wind and fuel price situations.

Results and conclusions

The technical analysis revealed that the mini-grid system is a more viable alternative to SHS, and the economic analysis indicates that distance of the un-electrified village to the grid is a major determinant of success. The study shows that locations close to inland waterways with good hydrology and high availability of sunlight provide the most competitive energy mix for the establishment of mini-grids in rural communities. Roughly an 80% reduction of carbon emissions and 72% decrease in the cost of electricity was achieved when compared with the national utility in the study.


Charles Mbowa, University of Johannesburg, South Africa.

Manfred Strubegger, Energy Program, IIASA

Holger Rogner, Energy Program, IIASA


Chukwuma Leonard Azimoh, of Mälardalen University, Sweden, is a citizen of Nigeria and was funded by the IIASA South African National Member Organization during the SA-YSSP.

Please note these Proceedings have received limited or no review from supervisors and IIASA program directors, and the views and results expressed therein do not necessarily represent IIASA, its National Member Organizations, or other organizations supporting the work.   

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Last edited: 03 February 2016

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