Technical, environmental and quality of service regulations
One of the pre-conditions for scaling up mini-grids is that they provide a high quality, safe, reliable, environmentally friendly and cost effective electric power supply.
This may be measured in different ways:
- Power quality (i.e. voltage and frequency within tolerances)
- Power availability (i.e. hours of service, power and energy levels)
- Power reliability (i.e. number and length of outages)
- Safety (i.e. standards to minimise risk to health and life)
- Customer service (i.e. satisfactory responses to customer requests, in terms of both time to respond and content)
- Environmentally friendly (i.e. emissions, noise levels)
Policymakers and regulators have to draft appropriate technical, environmental and quality of service regulations for delivering electricity for different levels of service. These regulations and standards may be controlled in different ways:
- Mandatory standards for all mini-grid operators enforced by the regulatory and environmental authorities (e.g. permits and licences issued upon compliance with standards); or
- Incentives provided to those mini-grid operators that meet certain standards (e.g. linking the disbursement of grants to the application of certain standards).
Enforcement may be done in different ways:
- Regular checks by experts, for example environmental checks, which are very costly to implement for small, remote mini-grids; and
- Customer feedback to a regulator, which is much cheaper to enforce but still requires the regulator to set up a customer complaints unit.
There are two main types of technical regulation and standard:
- Type 1 defines minimum technical specifications of mini-grid components (e.g. the accuracy level of electric meters in a mini-grid, or the minimum cross-section of cables). There is little room for the mini-grid operator to deviate from the specifications and implementation for the regulator is relatively simple.
- Type 2 defines the quality of service, health and safety standards, and environmental controls on electricity generation, distribution and sales (e.g. the minimum and maximum voltage for a customer at their connection point, the maximum noise level of the generation unit). There is more room in these regulations for the mini-grid developer/operator to make technical/environmental adjustments for different business models. This approach is well suited to a sector like mini-grids, which is still refining its business models for different village sizes.
National regulators are strongly advised to consider using international electricity standards such as those of the IEC and IEEE before developing their own. These standards are based on commonly agreed frameworks, which allow electrical equipment and services to be adopted widely, creating economies of scale, reducing the costs of business and ultimately lowering tariffs for end users. National regulators may build on or modify these standards, based on local needs and conditions.
Finally, given the technical differences between mini-grids and the main electricity grid, there is a strong case for regulators to create mini-grid specific standards rather than apply main-grid standards to mini-grids.
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