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Home Energy Renewable energy company ZOLA Electric launches first-of-its-kind distributed mini-grid in  Rwanda   

Renewable energy company ZOLA Electric launches first-of-its-kind distributed mini-grid in  Rwanda   

by Milcah Lukhanyu
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 ZOLA Electric, the Emerging Market energy technology company has  announced the launch of the first-of-its-kind, distributed mini-grid.  

The groundbreaking mini-grid project, installed in the agricultural villages of Gakagati I and II in Nyagatare, Rwanda – the country’s largest and second most-populous district – will deliver clean, affordable, reliable power via ZOLA’s innovative INFINITY technology, to over 1,000 homes, businesses, schools and clinics.

Bill Lenihan, CEO at ZOLA Electric, said:  “Via the Gakagati project, ZOLA is driving immense social impact across Rwandan communities most in need of clean, accessible, reliable, and affordable energy. The transformative potential and power of mini-grids in Rwanda, across Africa, and emerging markets more widely, is hugely exciting. 

“As the world’s first distributed mini-grid, it is another significant milestone in ZOLA’s mission to solve Energy Access and Energy Equality in emerging markets – whilest also protecting the environment, supporting economic development and sustaining the livelihoods of those in need. We thank USAID, Facebook, the Shell Foundation and others for their backing and look forward to using mini-grids as a key part of our technology platform to support and connect communities across the world.” 

The project received funding from Facebook, the Shell Foundation, USAID and Endev, and technical support from NXT Grid. After a ten month, three-phase rollout, the grid went online on 30th September 2022.

ZOLA provides distributed energy solutions that – as a network – enable community level electrification. It is the world-first technology platform purpose-built to deliver reliable, affordable and clean power to the 2.2 billion people and hundreds of millions of businesses globally, who currently lack access to it.

 A first of its kind, ZOLA’s distributed mini-grid – with decentralized and modular technology – allows infinite scaling to power not only villages, but also larger towns and cities. This modularity extends to the ability to connect and work together with a national grid or other mini-grids.

ZOLA’s mini-grid can grow smoothly with increases in energy consumption, unlike conventional solutions which struggle to adapt to changes in energy use and connectivity. The result is a better use of capital – directly leading to lower costs for end users, and more resilient, reliable and flexible power generation than the traditional centralized architecture that has stumbled for decades.

Rwanda’s economic, industrial and social development has been constrained by profound energy access and inequality issues. 90% of Rwandans lack reliable, affordable energy with nearly half having no access to electricity at all. While endowed with natural resources such as hydro, solar, and methane gas, Rwanda fills its Energy Access gap with diesel and kerosene. This results in some of the world’s highest energy costs for unreliable energy sources – the definition of Energy Inequality.

Ashish Kumar, Climate & Innovation Lead at Shell Foundation, said:  “We are pleased to support ZOLA Electric’s project to launch the world’s first distributed mini grid. ZOLA has long been a leading innovator in the energy access and transition space and this new project is tremendously exciting. Although the technology is continuing to mature, the emerging data from the initial phased roll out has shown huge potential for it to be rolled out more widely across emerging markets.” 

The 120 kWp Gakagati project is transforming the lives of the local community by powering 931 homes, 58 businesses, three religious centers, a school, a health center, and five irrigation systems, with an expected gradual capacity expansion to 240kWp over two years. The grid runs on solar energy supplied by African renewables champion – Equatorial Power.  

Central to the new grid are ZOLA’s INFINITY BOXES, a crucial innovation on the path to decentralized, smart energy supply. Built from peer-to-peer, modular AC units, INFINITY provides a versatile and infinitely scalable energy solution for the largely unelectrified agricultural villages Gakagati I and II. In comparison to a typical grid – in a clustered and centralized location – ZOLA’s boxes and panels are distributed throughout the village.  

To support and monitor its network, ZOLA employs its management software platform, VISION, enabling adjustments without any decline in service – underpinning the grid’s reliability and performance. VISION is INFINITY’s competitive differentiator, as it grows with demand, conducts accurate demand assessment, optimizes the network and drives down operating costs.

The impact of INFINITY, ZOLA’s mini-grids technology is significant and effective against Energy Inequality in all markets, urban or rural serving residential, commercial or industrial Energy Access customers. By combining unprecedented scalability with cost efficiency, INFINITY-powered mini-grids are set to be a turnkey factor in developing a sustainable Emerging Market energy infrastructure built for the 21st century.  

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