Approximately 800 million people globally lack access to electricity in the world, of which 70 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa, the majority in rural areas.

Off-grid and decentralised electricity provision is anticipated to play a significant role in increasing access to electricity. This includes mini-grids, which are seen as a potential game changer for rapid, cost-effective, pro-poor, universal electrification globally. Despite this, the renewable energy mini-grid sector has not grown rapidly. Thus far progress has been patchy between and within countries, across rural areas and informal urban settlements and between high and low-income communities.

There are many social, political, economic and technical barriers to the development and deployment of mini-grids in sub-Saharan Africa. These include inadequate regulatory and tariff frameworks, a lack of capacity and tensions between incumbent utilities and new private players in the off-grid sector.

The Sustainability, inclusiveness and governance of mini-grids in Africa (SIGMA) research project, which involves Dr Lucy Baker and Dr Robert Byrne from SPRU is exploring the complex dynamics behind the challenges of installing mini-grids for electricity generation. Focussing on Nigeria, Senegal, Kenya and Tanzania, the project aims to analyse the regulatory frameworks in each country; the political economy drivers behind differences in the speed and nature of the deployment of mini-grids in each country; and the extent to which mini-grid deployment sustainable and inclusive, as well as low-carbon.


The project combines expertise from development studies, engineering and human geography in order to understand the complex processes inherent in the provision of universal electrification.

The project asks four key questions:

1. Which business models have succeeded in delivering financially and technically viable mini-grids in Sub-Saharan Africa?

2. Who and what have been the key beneficiaries of mini-grids in the case study countries and in what way?

3. Who and what drives or hinders the proliferation and the speed of adoption of mini-grids in East and West Africa?

4. What governance, regulatory and policy frameworks for decentralised systems of electricity provision exist in each case study country, how successful have they been and how do they differ?

The project will develop evidence through an extensive literature review, data collection from existing mini-grid projects and related stakeholders through visits, interviews, focus groups and surveys, and in-depth case studies of mini-grid projects in each country. This will involve considering the design, ownership, structures of finance and investment, the regulatory environment and the social sustainability of projects, in order to draw a comparison across the different countries and dimensions.

Impact and outreach

This research will provide critical insights for operators and investors, as well as national policy makers, regulators, rural electrification agencies, development finance institutions, NGOs and the private sector in order to ensure that mini-grids are at once sustainable and inclusive, as well as low-carbon.

Project Partners

  • De Montford University’s Institute of Energy and Sustainable Development (Lead)
  • African Centre for Technology Studies, Kenya
  • Institute of Development Studies, UK
  • International Centre for Energy, Environment and Development (ICEED), Nigeria
  • TaTEDO, Tanzania
  • ECREEE, ECOWAS Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency, Cape Verde

Further Information

Find out more about SIGMA