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Mini-Grid Innovation Lab: Overcoming the challenges of big data collection


Energy 4 Impact has published a new report presenting lessons from managing one of the largest mini-grid datasets in sub-Saharan Africa to date. The report was produced for the Mini-Grid Innovation Lab – Africa’s first R&D Fund exclusively focused on testing new business model innovations for mini-grids. The Lab provides funding to mini-grid developers to test business solutions so that they can provide more power, to more people, at less cost. The work presented in the report has been funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.

Between January 2017 and December 2019, Energy 4 Impact and CrossBoundary collected, cleaned and analysed 550 million data points for the Lab, using smart meters, field surveys, and financial records from 62 sites of 12 mini-grid developers (seven in East Africa, four in Nigeria and one in Zambia). 

The data collection had two main objectives: tracking how business model innovations, such as tariff reduction or appliance financing schemes, affected the revenues and costs of mini-grid developers; and measuring the socio-economic development impact on the communities served by the mini-grids. 

Different types of data point were collected, such as consumption and payment data, socio-economic data, and project economic data via developers’ internal systems or household surveys. 

Collecting large amounts of data from developers in different countries using different systems and technologies posed challenges around quality and comparability of data. There were also challenges in designing and conducting household surveys so as to produce meaningful and statistically relevant data points.

“Our research study exposed a lack of data management standards among mini-grid operators, as well as a lack of automated data management systems and smart meters,” explains Maria Knodt of Energy 4 Impact. 

The lessons learned on optimising data management processes can inform public and private players in the energy access sector, including mini-grid developers, donors, governments, industry associations and practitioners seeking to implement mini-grid projects.

The report provides a number of recommendations for donors to provide dedicated funding for enabling data management technologies; for industry associations to follow the lead of the Africa Minigrid Developers Association (AMDA) which is currently setting up data standards; and for developers to outsource or automate data processes where possible.

Click here to download the report.