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Government has plans to extend electricity to island and lake-side communities in Ghana using mini-grids. This decision will enable the provision of high quality electricity to over 2 million people in these difficult-to-reach communities who have suffered many years of neglect and may not have access to electricity from the national grid in 10 to 20 years’ time.
Mini-grids, which are small and independent electricity generation and distribution systems, can offer many social, economic and environmental benefits to rural communities and the country at large. Mini-grids improve the quality of life and the standard of living through the availability of electricity for households, industry and services. The presence of lighting improves education by enabling pupils to study and teachers to prepare their lessons in the evening. It also enables women to plan and manage their household chores better, thereby reducing drudgery. In the health sector, community nurses are able to attend to patients at night while administering drugs which are well preserved due to availability of refrigeration facilities. At the community level, opinion leaders are able to meet regularly in the evenings after work, allowing for improved dialogue, information sharing and social cohesion.
In economic terms, mini-grids investments will enable the potential of rural communities to be harnessed. The productive use of electricity can be realised in many sectors which are critical to the growth of rural areas, including agriculture, agro-processing and trading. In Ghana, farming and fishing sectors employ over two-thirds of the population in island and lake-side areas. However, the absence of electricity has resulted in low growth of the fishing sector. The lack of facilities for freezing forces fishermen and traders to sell their catch at low prices in order to avoid spoilage. Further, lack of freezing facilities accelerate deterioration of fish, agricultural produce and many food products, which affect the nutritional value and ultimately the health of rural populace especially women and children.
Similarly, entrepreneurs are faced with few opportunities for processing agricultural produce into higher value commodities for sale within and outside the local communities due to unavailability of electricity. Thus, the potential for rural economic empowerment becomes uncertain resulting in slow growth, lack of jobs and despondency among the youth.
Clearly, the wide-scale deployment of mini-grids by Government is a step in the right direction. Since mini-grids are powered mostly from renewable energy resources such as solar and biomass, the initiative by government will enable the country to quickly reach its target of 10% renewables in the national energy mix by 2030. Energy security will be boosted while carbon emissions will be reduced, enabling Ghana to meet its international emissions obligations.
In order to accelerate the realisation of mini-grid targets, from the current five to about 580 systems by 2030 as stated in the Renewable Energy Masterplan (draft), it is necessary for district authorities harbouring island and lakeside communities, such as Kwahu Afram Plains North and South in Eastern Region, Krachi East and West in Volta Region, Ada East in Greater Accra Region and Sene East in Brong Ahafo Region, to develop plans for electrification of their remote areas which reflect the national mini-grid development blueprint of government. In the case of Kwahu Afram Plains North District, specific actions and measures on mini-grid planning and development have been incorporated into their Medium-Term Development Plan (MTDP), enabling the district to liaise with government and development partners for increase support to their electrification needs. Thus, communities in the district are expected to benefit from mini-grids from government in the short-to-medium term.
Already, some 55 communities have been shortlisted for detailed site assessment and socio-economic impact study by the Ministry of Energy with funding from the African Development Bank. The USAID office in Ghana is also planning to deploy mini-grids in some communities in the Kwahu Afram Plains districts.. The district is also expected to benefit from interventions from USAID.
To ensure accelerated growth in mini-grids, local authorities of districts harbouring unelectrified island and lake-side communities must set targets on mini-grids and outline strategies for achieving them into their MTDPs. Such strategies should reflect the national plan while making room for funding support from development partners and involvement of private mini-grid developers. To this end, the Centre for Energy, Environment, and Sustainable Development (CEESD) has been advocating for accelerated deployment of mini-grids in Island under the aegis of The Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV) through its Voice for Change Partnership Programme (V4CP). This is done through engagement and consultation with relevant stakeholders. It is believed that, the decentralised nature of mini-grids would require different business models to ensure sustainability and efficient management, different from the existing models used under the rural electrification scheme. We call on the ministry of energy to seek wider consultations with stakeholders, especially with district assemblies who have been earmarked to benefit from mini-grid interventions.
This article was authored by Ing. Edem C. Bensah and Ing. Dr. Julius C. Ahiekpor, senior lecturers at Kumasi Technical University. Authors can be reached at: email@example.com