Scene is Introducing Evolving Grids in Rwanda
29 November 2021 – Scene Connect is a social enterprise that operates in the Local Energy and Energy Access sectors in the UK, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The scene is a consultancy and R&D business meaning it has unique market insight as both practitioners and researchers.
Solar-home systems and traditional mini-grids are seen as the key solutions for rural energy access where the national grid cannot reach – but there remains an access gap between these solutions. Solar-home systems cannot power rural industrialisation and traditional mini-grids are expensive and often not viable in the hardest to reach locations. In the attempt to achieve SDG 7 – access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all – there are consumer segments at risk of being further left behind.
Scene has designed a new type of grid – an Evolving Grid – for energy companies like mini-grid developers and solar-home system providers to address this access gap. From the bottom-up, Evolving Grids interconnect distributed renewable energy assets to form community networks of producers and consumers. Internet of Things (IoT) and automation technologies facilitate energy and financial transactions between buildings, new connections and loads can be added when needed, and grids can grow organically in step with wider community development.
With solar and batteries dispersed at grid edges, and by optimising power flows around the network, an Evolving Grid reduces the cost of electricity transmission infrastructure. By enabling local energy markets of peer-to-peer energy traders, developers can move away from revenue models based on variable per-unit energy consumption toward consistent energy-as-a-service fees. For solar-home system providers struggling with customer retention and the prospect of millions of stranded products after customers complete credit payments, an Evolving Grid offers longer, better quality relationships and easier appliance upselling. The project is backed by Innovate UK.
There are 18 customers, each with solar and batteries (of different sizes), buying and selling energy between themselves. As the default grid operator, Scene provides financing for new appliances and takes a subscription fee for enabling access to the local energy market. Customers received first-time access to lighting, TV’s, radios, and fridges. The next evolution is to introduce new machineries like agricultural processing, metal welding, and carpentry tools. Early results show that a subscription-based business model outperforms a pay-for-what-you-use model and that grid utilisation is higher than in a traditional system. This means a better revenue model for grid operators, all while delivering affordable and reliable power to customers.