The Potential Of Solar & Mesh-Grids For Last-Mile Electrification

When I first heard the term “mesh-grids,” I wasn’t sure what to think. Was this just a new name for mini-grid projects or some sort of connection between solar home systems? In fact, mesh-grids are a combination of both, and have quickly become a viable option for last-mile communities looking for reliable and affordable clean energy. Essentially, a mesh-grid is a connection of individual clean energy installations which are able to function collaboratively as a unit to provide reliable clean energy. By combining the energy potential of mini-grids with the ease of use and low cost of solar home systems (SHS), mesh-grids are well-suited for many communities still in need of electrification. 


Mesh-grids are able to offer a more affordable solution than traditional off-grid installations, oftentimes costing just 60% of the cost of mini-grids. While the power potential of mini-grids make them a viable solution for densely populated areas, they are too expensive for rural areas with low population densities. Prohibitive costs for distribution in mini-grids (conductors and poles) as well as the higher operation and maintenance costs are due to higher voltage equipment and diesel fuel costs for hybrid mini-grids. On the other hand, SHS provide the simplicity and speed of installation that is required by last-mile electrification. Unfortunately, due to the size limitations of a solar home system they often cannot provide enough energy for businesses and other large energy consumers.


Mesh-grids offer several advantages for areas that are not in need of commercial-sized energy loads. These include the optimization of energy transfer to reduce loss, as well as households being able to connect via SHS which can be integrated into the mesh-grid at any time when there are connections nearby. This is due to node-to-node distribution in mesh-grids, significantly lowering the power going through the line, and as a result, the distribution cost compared to centralized mini-grids.