Power Grid Mapping

Power Grid Mapping Project


We are partenering with Mapillary is teaming up with YouthMappers, researchers at Arizona State University, and other partners to map fundamental spatial features that speed up efforts to design and install mini-grids in rural areas. By understanding settlement patterns, road networks, and existing electrical grid infrastructure, the team can speed up and scale up approaches to design mini-grids for rural electrification.

Sierra Leone, on the coast of West Africa, has a vast landscape connected by many roads leading to communities where most of the country’s population reside. Access to electricity across Sierra Leone is limited or unreliable, especially for rural communities. This has led to the exclusion and underdevelopment of remote communities with women and girls being the most affected. A new project seeks to address these issues.

Off-grid rural electrification through mini-grids are an optimal approach to addressing these challenges, but limited data on existing power system distribution networks in Sierra Leone hamper design processes. This collaborative project aims to map rural town distribution networks to inform mini-grid feasibility analyses. The methodology puts more towns on the map, as well as the roads running through and between them, then uses street-level imagery to survey the locations of utility poles that indicate connectivity to the power grid. This is being done with the efforts of YouthMappers chapters within the country, OpenStreetMap - Sierra Leone, the Mapillary team, and the ASU LEAPS team.

The data is being used to speed up the feasibility and design phase for installing micro-grids in scores of remote communities across the country. The methodology will support equitable access to electricity and is used as a model for scaling up electrification activities across the continent for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Many rural villages and towns struggle with access to adequate and reliable electricity to meet their needs. The United Nations calls for more focused attention to increase electrification in sub-Saharan Africa and advance Sustainable Development Goal 7, affordable and clean energy for all, by the year 2030.

Women and girls are especially empowered by access to modern and affordable energy in remote communities. They often bear a disproportionate labor burden for their households, while reliable power can help to alleviate many of these domestic tasks. Entrepreneurial activities that improve women’s incomes can be accelerated in places where electricity access is currently lacking. The provision of adequate energy sources also reinforces efforts to prevent disease and fight pandemics – powering healthcare facilities and enabling communications. Mini-grids will support the electrification of these rural towns isolated at long distances from the national grid. Mini-grids are also adapted to provide electricity through renewable energy generation like solar photovoltaics (PV) and wind.


The approach is an innovative combination of local and global volunteer open mapping with exponential technologies like augmented mapping, machine learning algorithms, and AI computer vision techniques advanced by Mapillary.

Data Usage

Distribution network data mapped in OpenStreetMap will be used to inform national and local decision-makers where and how to implement new mini-grids in rural Sierra Leone. By understanding the location and layout of current low-voltage distribution networks, more accurate estimates of mini-grid configurations can be designed.

The data will also be used for other electrification planning by the Ministry of Energy, national utilities, and other energy sector stakeholders. While regional transmission networks may be adequately charted, the local distribution networks are not typically well mapped. For this project, the team is focused specifically on mapping rural township distribution networks. These are the low-voltage power lines that connect to homes and businesses. Transmission networks, another type of grid network, transmit electricity over long distances between cities and towns. For distribution networks, mapping buildings helps improve understanding of where residents who use electricity live, and mapping roads indicates where power lines are found.