Sustainable PV Mini-grids as an Alternative to Grid Extension in Lesotho

This project aims to deliver 24x7 reliable electricity to the people of the target villages. The electricity will not only cater to domestic and gendered needs but also to small businesses, schools, and enable establishment of new microenterprises and services such as mills, pumps, etc. The project will provide clean energy at affordable prices, boosting commercial activity in the villages. Given the solar incidence data, solar PV is the most appropriate technology to use. Although small-scale micro-hydro has been identified as a further option in certain communities, this comes at a considerably higher complexity of installation, maintenance and dependence on rain, and hence has been judged not to be suitable for these particular communities.

To ensure that the system is sized optimally, the project will aim to manage demand distribution during the day, and will aim to reduce the night time load, with a combination of smart metering and through the usage of timers. This demand management will also ensure that battery life is optimised, so that replacement cost is kept at minimum possible levels. We will include street lighting in the project in addition to other community services and productive use technologies; with the addition of lighting in community spaces, public safety increases. Public lighting will also increase the social fibre in the community. The combination of a social community based model combined with a high quality solar system makes it a pioneering project in Lesotho.

Ideally, mini-grids setup in very remote locations should be community-managed to increase ownership and participation, where the technical and financial responsibility for the ongoing management of the plant resides with the communities. In each location, the project will aim to gain the trust of the communities and develop a deep understanding of the local realities and communities’ needs. These provide the necessary socio-cultural context in each location, facilitating the initial process of trust building and social engagement.

The design and installation phases will be characterized by a combination of technical and social activities to ensure that both usable power supply is provided to the communities and local institutional capacity to govern the systems is established early on. These Village Energy Committees will be ultimately accountable for the ongoing effective operation of the plant and retain the authority to set rules according to the communities’ needs, ensuring their enforcement on an ongoing basis. Governance procedures will include regular village committee meetings to discuss technical and service issues, billing and collections of tariffs, adapting rules when required. All members of the community are encouraged to participate in meetings, raise issues for discussion and propose changes in the rules.

A local technical operator will also be appointed in each village and trained by project staff. The operator is responsible for performing basic technical tasks such as turning on and off the plant/water supply, maintaining the system clean and operative, and informing the local partners in case any major issues arise. The operator is also generally in charge for the monthly billing and collection of tariffs from each house (in many of Gram Oorja’s villages almost all the committee members and operators are women). Over time, local institutional capacity is built, however the consortium will continue to hold long- term accountability for any major technical issues with the system.