Why Just Households? Providing a couple of bulbs at home is fine, and needed. As aspirations soar, the need to examine the entire bouquet of power needs of a household – higher wattage applications like TV, fans, irrigation pumps – is being felt. Why ignore the commercial needs in a village – shops, hotels with chillers and freezers, flour mills, ATMs, a petrol station if near a highway? DREs projects, or mini-grids with capacities to do all this is seen as a solution whose time has come.
These mini-grids, primarily solar, mimic the main grid; power generated at a location in the village and wires strung across poles to individual homes and establishments. All energy needs of a community, not just lighting, are to be met. A Business-to-Business (B2B) component would be an ideal addition to prevalent B2Cs.
Mini-grid solutions with capacities exceeding 25 kW to cater to basic commercial applications not only bring in different tiers of consumers but also lend a degree of robustness and resilience to the model.
Again, it’s not as if mini-grids are a novelty in India. Sagar Island in the Sunderbans, for instance, has had a solar mini-grid since 1996. Mini grids cover over 1400 habitations in Chhattisgarh. These are largely governmental initiatives.
Now, a strong business case for off-grid energy is being promoted. The idea is to attract robust private sector involvement in the mini-grids space and run them on commercial terms as viable, scalable, bankable entities. Husk Power and Mera Gao Power are prime examples in this space.
A recent study by The Climate Group, an international non–profit focused on clean technologies and the Goldman Sachs Center for Environmental Markets forecast rapid growth in the installation of mini grid capacity. (see Green Light)
"What India needs is a decentralised approach to energy access; let thousands of mini-grids emerge," says Krishnan Pallassana, Executive Director- India, The Climate Group. It’s beginning to happen. "We want to impact the village GDP through energy access," says Jaideep Mukherji, CEO, SmartPower India, a nonprofit company incorporated by the US-based Rockefeller Foundation and tasked with fostering a mini-grids ecosystem in India.
SmartPower, with an allocation of $75 million, is crafting coalitions of ESCOs, telecom tower operators and investors with the target of establishing 1000 plants in the next three years, impacting over a million lives. Over 70 grids are already up and running in UP and Bihar.
A large consumer — a telecom tower or a rural bank — functions as an anchor in this model which is often described as the ABC (Anchor-Business-Community) model in developmental parlance.
ABCs accord a degree of financial and operational stability to mini-grids as around 30% of power can be signed out to one anchor load. Along with households there is a clear focus on commercial users of power.