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Cover Story | April 2016

Microgrids at slow pace due to financial, operational challenges

Prasad Chaporkar | Head-International Business, Waaree Energies Limited

What are the problems in reaching power to remote areas through traditional means and that of rooftop/field-based solar or other renewable sources?
Connecting remote villages in difficult terrain that too in a country as big as India by conventional electricity grid is always a challenge. A decentralised distribution of electricity is a fast and sustainable approach in providing electricity to the millions presently deprived of it. Despite the advantages of micro-grids for communities, micro-grids in India have been scaling up at a slow pace mainly due to financial and operational challenges in developing a functional commercial model. An ideal model would be one that generates sufficient revenue from end-users to cover upfront capital expenditures and also ongoing maintenance costs, while delivering a financial return. If we talk about the individual rural household who aspires to have access to power by installing a household solar system, high initial capital cost is a major deterrent.

To what extent renewable energy sources can be used in electrification of rural/ remote villages and hamlets and what are the technologies that would be of help in addressing cost, security, 24 hour supply and other issues?
The Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM) Phase-II has envisaged to give a major thrust to off-grid solar power applications in areas where grid has not reached, or the areas where electricity supply is poor. It is estimated that more than 300 million of our fellow citizens are still living off the grid and even in places where there is access to the grid, there are frequent outages. This unfulfilled demand for electricity presents a big opportunity for off-grid renewable energy soutions, in particular, solar based systems and decentralised renewable energy systems.

Traditionally, off-grid populations have relied on diesel generation and kerosene lighting. Low-cost renewable generation devices such as solar lanterns are already providing many people with very basic needs. A household Solar system with battery backup can provide a further advanced and reliable solution. Going a step further, micro-grids are modern, small-scale versions of the centralised electricity system. They are very effective for achievement of community-level electrification in remote areas, using renewable energy sources and have a low carbon footprint. Micro-grids generate, distribute, and regulate the flow of electricity to consumers locally. Micro grids are an ideal way to integrate various renewable resources and allow for community participation in the electricity enterprise.

- BS Srinivasalu Reddy

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