Journal Article - November 2022

Rural electrification subsidy estimation: a spatial model development and case study

Lefu Maqelepo, Nathan Williams, and Jay Taneja
A global push to achieve universal electricity access, paired with drastic reductions in the cost of decentralized electricity technologies, has led to significant research on how best to roll out access to rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa. Various geospatial electrification models have been developed to aid the decision-making process considering decentralized grid alternatives such as mini-grids and solar home systems. Despite these tools suggesting that in many cases, decentralized systems are a more cost-effective electricity access pathway, grid extension still predominates in practice. This is due, at least in part, to institutional structures in most countries that provide significant direct and indirect subsidies to grid extension projects, commonly through publicly-owned utilities. These sources of finance are generally not available to primarily privately operated off-grid energy service providers. However, the subsidy provided for grid extension projects is not well understood. In this paper, we employ utility grid extension costs and revenue data, and geospatial grid infrastructure data to estimate the size and distribution of subsidy implicitly provided to rural grid extension projects for 129 communities in Mombasa County, Kenya. We also estimate subsidies for hypothetical off-grid electricity systems in the same communities that would deliver equivalent services to the grid. We allocate the cost of shared medium voltage (MV) distribution infrastructure using a marginal and an average cost method for grid extension and compare these with subsidies for off-grid systems. We find that the average of average subsidy per customer across communities for grid extension is US$5,118 and US$5,330 for the two MV cost allocation methods respectively, while for the off-grid systems the corresponding average of average subsidies are US$3,380, using a real discount rate of 1.3% evaluated from a nominal discount rate of 8% and inflation rate of 6.7%. Our results show that in the communities in our case study, 40% and 37% of the communities would command less subsidy while served by minigrids over the grid, and the switch would save 50% and 54% of the total cost for average and marginal cost allocation methods respectively. We also show that by using a multi-model approach to electrification and by reallocation of implicit subsidies that have been exclusive to grid extension to other technology options utilities can cast the net wider, without an increase in budgets.
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