Extending grid electricity to remote rural communities is expensive and has low demand density, leading to slow rates of rural grid electrification. Off-grid solutions – mini-grid, standalone, and distributed systems – are hence favoured for these regions. Mini-grids are community-scale electrical distribution networks, operating autonomously from the grid. They can provide low-cost electricity far from the grid. Even so, due to the high infrastructural and equipment cost, the set tariffs are often several times higher than grid electricity tariffs, raising questions of fairness and justice in electricity access.
Tariff injustice is exacerbated by the political economy factors surrounding mini-grid development. Adopting the definition of Atteridge and Weitz, political economy broadly focuses on how resource allocation and development outcomes are shaped by the distribution of power, material, and ideational factors that influence the behaviour of various actors. Power manifests in many forms including security, money, and stakeholder influence. Electricity access is a political issue and often overlaps with the vested interest of individuals seeking to make money and increase local influence, fame, and prestige. Mini-grid development and deployment is thus a socio-technical phenomenon.
- Mini-grid electricity can have a significant contribution to universal access to electricity, especially in the sparsely populated, underserved, and island communities who are mostly poor.
- The political economy surrounding their deployment has far reaching tariff consequences.
- Even so, within the Kenyan context, mini-grids deployment requires cross subsidies to ensure equity and fairness in electricity access.
- Furthermore, dedicated policy, regulations, and clear strategies are required to manage the politics of power and material interest that negatively influences tariff setting: the contribution of critical actors’ networks is key for change.