April 2015: The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has launched a study on mini-grids that proposes ‘Mini-grid Pooling Facilities (MPFs)’ as a solution to overcoming key investment barriers. Presenting mini-grids as a critical solution for improving energy access globally, the study examines the challenges of associated investment risks and transaction costs, and proposes addressing these through project and capital pooling.
The report, titled ‘Increasing Private Capital Investment into Energy Access: The Case for Mini-grid Pooling Facilities’: provides an overview of mini-grids, including ownership models; identifies and examines two key investment barriers, namely risks to investment in emerging markets and project costs in developing economies; assesses the benefits and drawbacks of project pooling facilities; and explores MPF structures and stakeholders.
On risks, the study notes that mini-grids in emerging markets present a complex risk profile. In addition to discussing perceived risks, such as political or fuel cost volatility, the study examines risks to investment in mini-grids during the development, construction and operation phases, as well as across phases. The study also identifies high transaction costs in developing countries in the areas of project identification, evaluation and diligence, and platform development.
According to some estimates, achieving universal electricity access by 2030 will require mini-grids to serve over 65% of off-grid populations globally. Arguing for the need to develop new financing models to reach such levels of deployment, the report presents MPF as conceptual framework for private-sector financing that pools projects and capital to support the development of mini-grids internationally. According to the study, MPFs can diversify risk and increase capital requirements by strategic selection of projects into portfolios.
The report suggests that MPFs can also help: lower transaction costs through centralizing fixed expenses; decrease technology costs; attract previously unavailable capital; and leverage philanthropic investment, among others. The study stresses the need for developers, investors and researchers to work jointly, conducting proper analyses and determining the appropriate structures for each working context. [UNEP Publications Webpage] [Publication: Increasing Private Capital Investment into Energy Access] More