A Blueprint for Rural Electrification: Building a Market for Mini-Grids in Niger

Niger
Niger
Niger, located in sub-Saharan Africa is one the least-developed nations in the world. But the Government of Niger plans to change that by electrifying rural homes and businesses.

Niger has one of the lowest electrification rates in sub-Saharan Africa. Only one in seven Nigeriens have access to modern electricity services, and just four percent of rural residents have access through the national utility. Without power, there is no viable path for economic growth and development, and few prospects for people living below the poverty line.

But Niger has a plan. The Nigerien Agency for the Promotion of Rural Electrification (ANPER) developed ambitious targets to bring clean energy to rural households, thus paving the path for sustainable development. The Government of Niger created ANPER to design, implement, and monitor country-wide rural energy efforts to help Niger achieve universal rural electrification by 2035. ANPER realized that solar mini-grids offer a cost-effective, fast pathway to delivering first-time energy access to 1,000 rural villages. ANPER also knew that the country needed a robust feasibility study to attract international mini-grid developers and private sector investment.

In January 2019, with support from USAID and Power Africa, ANPER launched a nationwide feasibility study on mini-grid development, bringing Niger one step closer to its universal energy access goal.

Power Africa formed a consortium of partners, led by the U.S. small business ECODIT LLC, to join forces with ANPER in producing the Niger Mini-Grid Feasibility Study. Over 18 months, the consortium performed a series of technical, economic, environmental, and regulatory analyses to facilitate financing, construction, and operation of mini-grids in rural Niger.

Map from the Niger Mini-Grid Feasibility Study.
Map from the Niger Mini-Grid Feasibility Study.
This map from the Niger Mini-Grid Feasibility Study shows the known electrical utility infrastructure in Niger along with “night sky” data (black), demonstrating where GIS datasets indicate the presence of electric lighting in the night sky. (Figure Credit: ECODIT LLC)

Mini-grid sites were selected based on private sector interest by American Towers (formerly Eaton Towers), a telecommunications firm and “anchor customer” interested in reducing reliance on diesel generators and contributing to community energy access. By leveraging the predictable energy consumption of American Towers, mini-grid developers and investors will be more likely to participate in electrification activities in these rural communities.

The geographical distribution of villages in Niger.
The geographical distribution of villages in Niger.
The geographical distribution of villages in Niger is shown with colors to indicate the status of energy access in each community. (Photo Credit: ECODIT LLC)

To strengthen the Government of Niger’s electrification activities, Power Africa provided ANPER with a complete set of tender documents to source public and private funding for the mini-grids through a results-based financing scheme. The feasibility study identified policy reforms — including clear mini-grid licensing procedures and grid encroachment regulations — that ANPER can quickly undertake to attract private investment. The study also enhanced ANPER’s capacity for project preparation by imparting knowledge on environmental and social impact assessments, geographical information systems (GIS), and advanced mini-grid analytics platforms like Odyssey Energy Solutions. To validate the study, Power Africa organized a one-day final validation workshop that brought together 50 stakeholders, including Niger’s Ministry of Energy, development finance institutions, and the private sector.

“We are excited to be part of this first-of-its-kind study that provides valuable data on the ‘anchor customer’ model,” said Power Africa’s Beyond the Grid Team Lead, David Stonehill. “With 240,000 telecom towers across Africa, I have no doubt Niger’s innovative rural electrification strategy will be watched closely by the energy industry and there will be valuable lessons learned for other countries.”

Energy companies and rural electrification agencies across sub-Saharan Africa expressed interest in this unique study that analyzes the financial viability of an “anchor customer” business model involving telecoms towers, thus demonstrating Power Africa’s catalyzing impact.

“The Niger Mini-Grid Feasibility Study is an innovative approach to project development that gives a unique opportunity to foster strong ties between American mini-grid developers and the Government of Niger, through ANPER.” said ANPER’s Director General, Salouhou Hamidine. “It is my strong belief that ANPER now has an effective blueprint to promote and develop rural electrification efforts in partnership with the private sector.”

Are you a mini-grid developer or investor interested in participating in Niger’s first large-scale solar mini-grid tender?

Want to learn more about energy access market opportunities in Niger?

Please contact David Stonehill at dstonehill@usaid.gov.

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A U.S. Government-led partnership that seeks to add 30,000 MW and 60 million electricity connections in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030 > https://bit.ly/2yPx3lJ

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