Community Involvement in Mini-grids
Introduction to Community Involvement
Effective and inclusive community consultation in all stages of the project cycle is essential for the success of mini-grid projects. This community involvement is not only valuable in case of community ownership of the mini-grid but makes also economic sense when other business models are used. Generally speaking, when communities feel ownership for the mini-grid and when local authorities are adequately involved more customers tend to be connected to the mini-grid and operation and maintenance cost tend to be lower, thus, the system is more likely to be economically sustainable. Case studies reviewed by the World Bank (2010) clearly show that “rural electrification programs benefit greatly from local community participation. Involving local communities from the start can help improve the design (Peru, Vietnam), gain local support (Bangladesh), mobilize contributions in cash or in kind (Nepal, Thailand), and increase local ownership, contributing to operational sustainability.”
Community Involvement in the Different Project Stages
Establishing community involvement entails, in the best case, a participatory communication and consultations approach. Community involvement should, at least, consist of local consultations, use local organizational structures and include the foundation of a community committee.
- Regular local consultations (e.g. quarterly/monthly at certain project stages) are important as project success depends on the satisfaction and the support of the end-users who are the ones using and paying for electricity. It is important to first inform the villagers on the intended mini-grid in an understandable way (e.g. how a mini-grid works, opportunity, limitations, cost and benefit, tasks and obligations of villagers). Then it is necessary to access the willingness to pay and the commitment of villagers for the mini-grid. In later stages it is essential to regularly discuss important topics such as the next activities, legal rights and obligations, tariff system, business ownership, in-kind contributions of the community, etc.
- Local organizational structures are usually already in place and should be respected as the support of authorities and opinion leaders have significant influence over local public opinion.
- Civil society active in local rural development should be approached for support for the community involvement.
- A community committee should be founded in order to channel part of the consultation process. This committee should involve local leaders but should also be representative of all potential customers groups, thus, measures have to be taken to avoid the risk of “Elite Capture”.
- Women should be represented and involved in project planning in a culturally acceptable way. Not least, because women are often responsible for the household budget and, thus, often for any electricity payments.
- In case of ownership of the mini-grid by the community: A community organization should be founded in order to provide the legal and functional basis for handing over the mini-grid. This organization should be small and functional and the legal status should be well considered (possibilities include a profit or non-profit limited liability company, a cooperative, an association, etc…)
In the system planning stage, community involvement is important to inform and consult the community on the mini-grid project, to assess current and future electricity demand, to evaluate the willingness to pay of the suggested system and to gain the support and commitment of the community. Furthermore, different legal or common rights issues have to be assessed (e.g. water rights, land rights, rights of way, property rights, etc.) In case of intended community ownership of the mini-grid a community organization has to be founded. Communities can also be supported in applying for funding for a community owned mini-grid, if necessary (as in the case of Indonesia), by for example giving advice on how to write a community proposal.
The planning stage of any mini-grid has to encompass awareness raising, which is the provision of information and knowledge on the mini-grid per se as well as on energy efficiency measures and on the potential of productive use of energy. The rationale behind this is that the potential rural target community should get all the information and knowledge necessary to be able to decide if they want the suggested mini-grid project. For this, villagers at least need information on the project opportunity, limitations, tariffs, expected benefits, the tasks and obligations of the community and safety or health risks.
Electricity demand and willingness to pay have to be assessed in the planning stage, in order to evaluate the financial viability of the mini-grid, as one of the first steps of any mini-grid project. For this assessment initial community involvement in the project and community support for the project is useful. The assessment should be conducted with support from local organizations or authorities, wherever this is efficient.
Regular consultations in the planning stage are best conducted using a rural electrification committee, which should involve local leaders and representatives of all potential customer groups. This can lead to local acceptance and provide valuable information for the overall system design. “Local officials on the committee can also provide the project designers with key information, such as where to site the generation plant without disturbing local traditions. In Bangladesh, consumer meetings were held before the arrival of the electricity supply, helping to avoid costly and time-consuming disputes over rights of way and construction damage. In some cases, failing to include local leaders has been perceived as a threat to their position in the village, resulting in improper maintenance and even the disconnection of the system.”  Furthermore, project developers should never approach a community with a predefined mini-grid project, without any potential for adaptation, as imposed solutions often result in inadequate system design, dissatisfaction and thus in lower mini-grid performance and in lower customer numbers. The community has to form different bodies and select members for these, e.g. a community organization and the operation and management team, in case of community ownership, or local operation and management of the mini-grid. These groups should consist of a small number of well-respected villagers with good standing and good reputation, and should, in the best case, include representatives of all different potential customer groups.
In case a regional/national mini-grid programme requires communities to apply for funding for a mini-grid programme, as is the case in Indonesia, providing advice for community project proposals is a valuable support activity. Details on this support measure can be found in GIZ MHPP (2012).
In this project phase, besides the continuous holding of local consultation meetings, it is important to establish an oversight body, representing the community, during construction and to provide capacity building for future managers, operators and accountants, in case of community ownership, management or tariff collection. Furthermore, communities can support the mini-grid project with in-kind distribution of labor and local materials.
The operators would should be mainly trained in general aspects of off-grid rural electrification projects (financial, technological and impacts/benefits), the plant operation and maintenance, and business management (accounting, fee collection, etc.). The end-users, in addition to the above mentioned, should be trained on safe use of electricity, in efficient use of electricity and on the productive use of electricity.
During operation, community involvement can be used in various forms, e.g. as continuing consultation mechanism and as education instrument on Demand Side Management strategies. Moreover an established community committee can support monitoring and evaluation measures (check the quality of power, and consumer satisfaction), act as an organizer of end-user training or as a facilitator to promote productive uses and other added-value activities.
“A Toolkit for Participatory Village Energy Planning”, by Development Alternatives (2012)
The toolkit gives insight into key aspects of scoping, planning, implementation and monitoring phases of community based renewable energy projects with a focus on community mobilization and usage of participatory energy planning.
“Best Practice Guideline – Off-Grid Micro Hydro Power Schemes for Rural Electrification”, by GIZ MHPP (2012), Indonesia
The approaches and recommendations presented in the report can be easily adapted for broader mini-grid project considerations. It covers, among others, recommendations on community preparation (p 25-26), awareness raising (p. 26-28), capacity building/training (p. 28 – 29) and community proposals (p. 30 – 31).
“ASEAN Guideline on Off-grid Rural Electrification Approaches”, by the ASEAN Centre for Energy (2013)
The report highlights do´s and don´ts of rural electrification and illustrates community involvement in different project stages more detailed.
“Review of Strategies and Technologies for Demand-Side Management on Isolated Mini-Grids”, by M. Harper (2013)
The report outlines necessary community involvement for Demand-Side Mangement Strategies, including topics to include in community trainings and discussions (p 8)
The manual offers a practical guide and materials for rural electrification trainers and facilitators on how to establish and capacitate a community based management committee to maintain and manage a micro power generation plant and a rural mini-grid
ADB (2013), The future of mini-grids: from low cost to high value. Using demand driven design to maximize revenue and impact, prepared by l. Frearson and M. Tuckwell
ARE/USAID (2011), Hybrid Mini-grid for Rural Electrification: Lessons Learned (Chapter 4)
D. Palit, A. Chaurey (2011) Off-grid rural electrification experiences from South Asia: Status and best practices, Energy for Sustainable Development
World Bank (2010), Addressing the Electricity Access Gap
- World Bank (2010), Addressing the Electricity Access GapfckLRhttp://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTESC/Resources/Addressing_the_Electricity_Access_Gap.pdf
- ARE/USAID (2011), Hybrid Mini-grid for Rural Electrification: Lessons Learned (Chapter 4)fckLRhttp://www.ruralelec.org/fileadmin/DATA/Documents/06_Publications/Position_papers/ARE_Mini-grids_-_Full_version.pdf
- “Best Practice Guideline – Off-Grid Micro Hydro Power Schemes for Rural Electrification”, by GIZ MHPP (2012), Indonesia.fckLRhttp://energy-indonesia.com/006Hydro/bpg.pdf