Mini-grid Infrastructure Sustainability

Variation in successful microhydro mini-grid projects

Long-term, sustainable operation of mini-grid infrastructure is critical to ensuring the economic viability of this energy access solution.

This project examines the variation in successful and failed microhydro mini-grid projects (MHPs) including technical, economic, and institutional factors. Duke University’s interdisciplinary team is working with the Alternative Energy Promotion Center in Nepal to investigate the sustainability of rural infrastructure, and to identify interventions that disrupt the downward cycle of investment and service quality known as the “infrastructure quality trap”. In this work, policymakers and practitioners are critical to the evaluation of energy systems on the ground.

Duke Staff/Faculty: Robyn Meeks, Subhrendu PattanayakDalia Patino-EcheverriErik Wibbels

Students: Gigil Ghosh, Ian Ferguson, Caitlin Bonney, Gordon Li

Non-Duke Staff: Dipendra Bhattarai

Funder: Duke Energy Initiative Seed Grant

Podcast: A Small Green Idea to Power Rural Nepal

Our Partners

This work builds on a relationship with the Alternative Energy Promotion Center in Nepal (AEPC). AEPC is an organization within the Government of Nepal dedicated to developing and promoting renewable energy technologies in the country. Previous work with this organization examined the impacts of grid and off-grid electrification in Nepal.

Image credit: Robyn Meeks

Stage One

In its initial stage, researchers from across three Duke schools and the Nepalese government began developing a study of why some MHPs succeed at delivering reliable and affordable electricity. Through extensive desk study, field visits by 3 faculty, a summer masters project, and consultation with key Nepalese stakeholders, we learnt two sets of lessons. First, mini-grids can be costly for poor customers, and are challenged by climate change, inadequate technical capacity, poor operations, and insufficient community engagement. Second, financial sustainability, optimal engineering and local governance capacity is potentially of paramount importance. We also identified a survey firm and developed surveys.

The research activities of this project complemented a Nicholas School of the Environment graduate student master’s project synthesizing the existing qualitative research and anecdotal evidence on why mini-grids may or may not be well-functioning.

Stage Two

We are now in the position to test some of our hypotheses by conducting a survey of these MHPs and similar sites to understand how competing ownership and governance approaches influence their success. Our survey can provide initial feedback to the government on alternative governance. Keep an eye on this page for future updates!
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