Throughout sub-Saharan Africa, hundreds of millions of people live 'under the grid.'

Many communities are within energy distribution territory, but receive unreliable, inconsistent, or low-quality power that does not meet their needs – or they receive no power at all. These communities are undergrid and are underserved.

The Rocky Mountain Institute have released a new report - Under the Grid - about how to best improve the economics and reliability of rural electricity service with undergrid minigrids.


There is a new opportunity to better serve these customers and communities through minigrids by utilising existing distribution and incorporating distributed energy resources. These systems are called 'undergrid minigrids' and there are five main steps that define their pathway:

  1. Promote minigrid awareness
  2. Develop business models
  3. Implement pilot projects
  4. Enable market growth and scaling
  5. Evaluate and ensure benefits

Nigeria is a promising testing ground for undergrid minigrid deployment. Nigerian utilities have the third-lowest reliability in sub-Saharan Africa – 90 per cent of grid connections are considered unreliable, and outages are longer and more frequent in rural areas. Customers often average just two hours per day of unreliable, low-quality electricity service. 

The Nigerian government has demonstrated a commitment to increase both electricity access and reliability in part through significant support for undergrid efforts via regulatory and policy leadership. Although the report focuses on Nigeria, the steps and potential opportunity are applicable throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa for the benefit of millions of undergrid customers and the distribution companies and minigrid developers that serve them.

Learn more about RMI’s work to help governments in developing countries expand access to clean, reliable energy here.