Agro-centric mini-grids and solar trolleys could transform Indian farming

A group of private companies is pioneering a new approach to powering the agricultural industry in rural India that could significantly increase productivity of small-holder farmers, by combining mobile and stationary solar-powered mini-grids and linking them to a range of agricultural services, beginning with irrigation. Claro Energy is at the center of the new initiative, piloting an “irrigation-as-a-service” business model in Bihar state that is already being used by dozens of farmers, according to the company’s head of Institutional Business, Sonal Adlakha. Claro, in collaboration with Smart Power India (SPI), an initiative established by The Rockefeller Foundation, is also working with private utilities at about 10 mini-grid sites, including Husk Power Systems and other SPI partner developers, and is experimenting with how irrigation can serve as an “anchor load” for existing or new mini-grids.

Many of India’s small-holder farmers grow crops on less than an acre of land, often on plots that are not connected to one another. In addition, they have traditionally rented expensive diesel pumps for their irrigation needs, reducing profitability and productivity.

Irrigation is just the start for Claro, which has installed or maintains over 8,000 systems in India. The new model is focused on powering a wide range of income-generating uses of electricity in agriculture, such as cold storage, honey processing, milk chilling, oil expelling, rice hulling, water treatment and spice grinding. By delivering reliable, stable power, rural communities can get a much needed boost for micro-enterprises, fostering socio-economic growth in the form of income generation and job creation.

Apart from integrating irrigation and other agro-processing into stationary mini-grids (which have capacity ranging from 17 to 40 kW), Claro has also pioneered a mobile irrigation service, retrofitting e-rickshaws with solar panels that can get to remote villages and provide irrigation on a pay-per-use basis.

Using ‘pay-as-you-go’ RFID cards, cash or micro-finance, the mobile solar trolley is offering affordable, on-demand irrigation without requiring capital investment. In turn, farmers save up to 50% of irrigation costs by displacing diesel, Adlakha said.

“One of the biggest roadblocks to sustainable agriculture in India, especially in the northern belt of India, is poor agriculture yield for farmers. Heavy reliance on diesel for irrigation and small farmer landholding are the primary cause for this,” says Samit Mitra, director, Demand and Innovation, Smart Power India. “This spurred Smart Power India’s Innovation team along with Claro to explore how irrigation can serve as an ‘anchor load’ for mini-grids to provide reliable irrigation to farmers at 30% less cost than diesel-based pumping.”

“It has been a rewarding experience to be able to successfully harness the power from renewable energy-based mini-grids to provide irrigation service to farmers. This has enabled them to increase their irrigation intensity, adopt multi-cropping and substantially drive their income levels. Driven by mini-grids, the irrigation-as-a-service model has the potential to change the irrigation landscape in India,” he adds.

Claro’s IoT and power electronics also allow for remote monitoring of the mini-grids and trolleys, and the company has developed a mobile app allowing farmers to schedule and pay for irrigation from their smartphones. It also provides a toll-free number for farmers for extending continued assistance in booking and using this service.

Besides the new technology and service platform, Claro is also working at the grassroots level to help farmers adopt better practices, and efficiently utilize the electricity generated from solar panels to uncover further opportunities. For example, Claro is advising farmers to incorporate a third crop to their normal rotation of two crops, during previously fallow months. In an emerging economy such as India’s that is largely comprised of rural areas, and heavily dependent on the agricultural sector, such interventions could pave the way to improved livelihoods.

According to a 2017 Bloomberg New Energy Finance report, a total capital expenditure of US$60 billion is required to replace the 20 million currently installed power and diesel irrigation pumps in India with solar. The report also said that annual consumption of diesel by 8 million diesel pumps in India each year was worth US$11 billion.

Mini-Grids for Rural Growth

One of the best ways to bring electric power to millions in the Global South is to invest more in “mini-grids” – small, localized power plants and distribution networks that can cheaply serve remote communities. But for power generation to go small, big changes will be needed. 

NAIROBI/NEW DELHI – More than 300 million people in India lack access to electricity, while in Sub-Saharan Africa, twice that many live without power. With population growth forecast to exceed connection rates, “energy poverty” is expected to worsen before it improves. For decades, rural communities in frontier economies have waited in vain for government-supplied electricity to arrive. But today, new technologies – coupled with cheaper solar panels, better batteries, and mobile payment systems – are changing how power is produced and distributed. With so-called “mini-grids” – smaller, localized power utilities – independent producers can electrify remote communities faster and more cheaply than traditional utilities can. The challenge is convincing politicians, financiers, and vested interests of the value in going decentralized. Tackling rural electrification with mini-grids is not a new idea; communities from the United States to Cambodia have long used this approach to weave local infrastructure into regional or national grids. And for energy-starved communities, mini-grids are a potential game changer. According to the International Energy Agency, decentralized solutions such as mini-grids are the most cost-effective option to deliver electricity to more than 70% of the unconnected, provided that projects can attract new sources of capital. With $300 billion in investment and supportive policies, the IEA says, mini-grids could serve 450 million people by 2030.

The Weekend Read: Value generation with rural mini-grids

Commercial mini-grids: To provide electricity access for all by 2030, the International Energy Agency estimates mini-grids will provide power to one-third of the 1.1 billion people without electricity. Powering equipment that can generate income for rural villagers is hailed as one of the most important ways of enhancing rural mini-grid bankability. Rural mini-grid companies today are working with communities to understand what income-generating equipment, called productive uses of electricity, can make viable businesses.

Rural mini-grids offer an opportunity to provide electricity to one-third of the 1.1 billion people currently without access today, based on IEA estimates, and increase overall economic development through income-generating equipment.

A powerful virtuous cycle is created when rural mini-grid developers power equipment that can increase a customer’s income. In an ideal situation, the boost in the customer’s income more than covers the operating cost of the equipment, and the resulting profit allows the customer to afford additional services powered by the mini-grid.

This scenario is more than a rosy-eyed vision. This virtuous cycle is a critical part of the rural mini-grid business model. Benjamin Attia, Solar Analyst at GTM Research who covers energy access markets, explained to pv magazine, “Productive uses of electricity can lower the risk of mini-grid projects by raising revenue, diversifying the loads powered, and boosting overall income in the community which increases repayment.”
However, as Maarten Fonteijn, Business Development Manager of Rafiki Power, a mini-grid company with eight systems in Tanzania, articulated to pv magazine, powering productive-use equipment is not as simple as building the mini-grid and waiting for customers to prosper. “Developing productive uses is one of the main challenges across the sector. Connecting people to the mini-grid and waiting for them to adopt appliances won’t result in a viable business model.”
There can be numerous barriers to the adoption of productive-use equipment. One such challenge is customer’s limited ability to pay for the up-front cost of equipment. Emily Moder, COO of SteamaCo, a mini-grid developer turned technology company, relayed SteamaCo’s differing experiences operating mini-grids across Kenya. “In the wealthiest villages, there was an existing base of appliance ownership. Electricity from the mini-grid reduced the cost of running appliances by a factor of four, and appliance adoption grew very quickly. On the other hand, in poorer villages, it took several years of saving before customers could purchase appliances.” SteamaCo found that financing appliances allowed poorer customers to grow productive energy demand much faster. Today, a growing number of mini-grid companies offer some form of appliance financing to accelerate demand for electricity.

Microenterprise support

Financing can make appliances and equipment more accessible but financing itself won’t lead to the adoption of equipment. People in rural communities are very risk-averse, and many are hesitant to expand their existing businesses let alone start a new business if the market is unproven. Providing market access for new products or increased production is a critical step for de-risking new business opportunities.
Smart Power India, an organization established by the Rockefeller Foundation that supports the mini-grid industry in India, explained to pv magazine, “The biggest challenge that mini-grid companies face in viably powering productive uses of electricity is the absence of market linkages and efficient rural supply chains. Products produced by the local community also need marketing and branding support to be able to compete in outside markets. Identifying and supporting able rural entrepreneurs and the identification of the right technology are other key challenges.”
To overcome some of these challenges, mini-grid companies are providing business and technical training to microenterprises powered by their mini-grids. In situations where the business challenges are particularly high, some rural mini-grid companies are choosing to take temporary or permanent ownership of the microenterprises.
Vijay Bhaskar, Managing Director for Mlinda, a mini-grid developer operating 13 mini-grids in India, described to pv magazine their approach to fostering microenterprises on their mini-grids, “Mlinda’s involvement varies by the activity. Irrigation pumps are individually owned and require limited technical support. Rice hullers are also owned at a family level but require more business training. Mustard oil expelling, on the other hand, requires larger economies of scale to be viable, so right now, we are doing a large amount of the managerial work in the oil expelling businesses. Across the microenterprises, the villagers do around 10 to 40 percent of the work with Mlinda doing the rest of the work. The goal is to eventually have the enterprises run entirely by the villagers, though right now there is still a need to develop the business model and train villagers in managing the businesses.”
Not all mini-grid companies consider providing microenterprise support a long-term priority. Given the frontier-status of the rural mini-grid market, many mini-grid companies today are providing these support services themselves because few other organizations operate in the villages they serve.

Partnerships

Increasingly, rural mini-grid companies are seeking partnerships with non-governmental organizations and private companies to allow these other organizations to provide the microenterprise support services necessary to promote demand growth.
Fonteijn of Rafiki Power explained, “At this stage, we are still quite strongly involved in supporting the microenterprises on our mini-grids, but over time, we would like to see our partners provide most of these services. We see the development and operation of the mini-grids as our core business. We have had good discussions with organizations in the development space, and they have demonstrated a strong interest in our work. Since we visit our villages frequently and have good connections with village leaders and valuable information on the creditworthiness of our customers, we have a lot to offer potential partners.”
The value that mini-grid companies can provide to other organization was reiterated by Rik Wuts, Co-Founder and Head of Business Development of Powerhive, a technology company turned mini-grid developer in Kenya and Nigeria, “Agricultural trading businesses have expressed a strong interest in partnering with us because the customers they want to reach are already our customers.” Powerhive has partnered with fertilizer companies in pilots to provide productivity-enhancing agricultural inputs like irrigation pumps and fertilizer to their customers.
Attia of GTM Research echoed this sentiment by saying, “Mini-grids can serve as the spearhead of the last-mile development network for many other industries. Mini-grid companies’ presence in these communities gives them an opportunity to become an aggregator and consolidator of the supply chain serving last-mile communities.”
Wuts of Powerhive emphasized the value of their relationship with the customer. “By leveraging our existing customer relationship management (CRM) and billing systems, other companies can more easily reach and interact with our customers.” Through these pilots, Powerhive is increasingly focused on providing services to their customers. “One of our greatest assets is our relationship with our customers. We have spent a lot of time building that trust and it enables us to offer a range of services to the communities which in turn provide them with meaningful ways to improve their quality of life.”
Powerhive has even gone so far as considering letting other companies provide the power for their mini-grid. “We have looked into signing power purchase agreements with other companies so that we can focus solely on our customers. You could call this a capital-light model, though, in this model, we would need to be very careful about the partners we select to power our mini-grids.”

Identifying enterprise opportunities

Even with financing and support services available, there is always a risk that the microenterprises will fail. As Fonteijn of Rafiki Power put it, “It doesn’t do us any good to arrange all of these services if the businesses go bust in a few weeks.”
Identifying microenterprises that can sustainably and consistently generate value is another challenge for fostering productive uses. Eva Lee, Business Development Analyst at Rafiki Power explained to pv magazine, “We have tried to analyze the whole agricultural value chain to identify opportunities for capturing more of the value chain within the local villages.”
Bhaskar of Mlinda described their process for identifying their productive-use enterprises, “Nearly 85% of our mini-grids are in villages that are connected to the government grid, but the grid voltage is too low to power equipment and only provides single-phase power, which means people can’t power equipment from the national grid. We also observed that when the government grid was installed, the distribution lines only ran amongst the houses in the village, but the water sources were around one kilometer from the village. Mlinda built a distribution line to the river to power irrigation pumps and unclogged the government-built pipes that are used to bring water from the river to the fields.”
Wuts of Powerhive divides their productive-use strategy into two categories, “We call the first approach “one-to-many” as the productive uses can be adopted by numerous people in the community. These productive use loads include equipment for breeding chickens, irrigation pumps, and computer tablets with internet connectivity to allow people to complete basic tasks like those on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. The second approach we call “one-to-one” where only a few appliances can exist in a village given supply chain constraints such as a welder or grain mill.”
Village Infrastructure Angels, a developer of off-grid productive use systems, has collaborated with Project Support Services in Papua New Guinea to develop a range of low-power agricultural equipment from 120 to 1200 watts. These low-power, low-cost machines can make productive-use equipment more attainable for villagers and easier for mini-grid companies to explore and identify new business opportunities.

Social impact

While in the end, most mini-grid companies are fostering productive uses to demonstrate a viable business model, there is a clear “win-win” quality to the virtuous cycle of productive uses. Through access to productivity-enhancing equipment, villagers can increase and diversify their income, reduce transportation and processing costs, and have more time in the day to devote to other livelihood or leisure activities.
The impact of productive uses can be sometimes hard to imagine. UNICEF, the United Nation’s children organization, estimates that globally women and girls spend 200 million hours (or 22,800 years) each day collecting water. Stewart Craine, Managing Director of Village Infrastructure Angels, described their work with drinking water pumps, “In Vanuatu, we found that water pumps focused primarily on irrigation, but most people wanted pumps for drinking water. There was a hole in the market for low-volume, low-cost pumps, so we found a supplier for such a pump and started deploying pumps for drinking water. Now in the dry season, women don’t have to spend entire days out of their week retrieving water.”
Rafiki Power has also had success with their first drinking water pilot. They reported a doubling of the amount of clean drinking water available to the village after drilling a 180 meter-deep well.
Bhaskar of Mlinda articulated a higher-level description of the effects of their work in rural villages, “As more and more villagers migrate to cities and industrial areas in search of work, we are one of the few forces working against this urbanizing trend by bringing economic opportunities back to rural villages. Capturing more of the value chain in villages provides long-term secure social security and opportunities for people to stay in the places they grew up. This change won’t happen overnight, but we believe in the power of our work and the potential of the people we serve.”
By: Dustin Zubke

Myanmar: Rockerfeller Foundation drives electrification access

The Rockerfeller Foundation has selected Pact, the largest international non-governmental organisation in Myanmar, to establish the Smart Power Myanmar facility in May 2018.

According to the Foundation, Myanmar has one of the lowest electrification rates in Asia, with more than 60% of the population without access to a modern form of electricity, placing constrains on socio-economic development.

The Smart Power facility aims to advance public-private partnerships that significantly accelerate universal rural electrification and improve the lives of all people, including women and ethnic nationalities, by enabling access to productive power that will spur economic development.

The founding Members of the facility—The Rockefeller Foundation, World Bank, USAID, and Yoma Strategic Holdings—will seek to align and coordinate existing and potential future investments in decentralised renewable energy mini-grid systems with the services provided by the Smart Power Myanmar facility.

Specifically, the facility will focus on three priorities:
•    project development support and demand (household and productive loads) facilitation for energy service companies (ESCOs) and developers
•    investment facilitation and business modeling for last-mile electrification models; and
•    policy support and industry coordination.
Underpinning the three priorities will be a powerful data analytics and knowledge function designed to build policy evidence, strengthen the investment case, and better equip developers with world-class capabilities.

“Our work will focus on geographical areas where the private sector, government, and communities have a shared interest in establishing mini-grid projects. It will seek, wherever possible, to advance rural electrification based on integrated plans that identify a clear roadmap for mini-grids and other distribution systems to be rolled out, and in line with the country’s National Electrification Plan,” the Foundation said in a statement.

The Foundation added: “We decided to undertake this work based on the success we’ve experienced in our Smart Power India effort. In India, we’ve incubated several models with private energy service companies to extend electrification through mini-grids that now power more than 120 villages in some of India’s most energy-starved states.

“Fueled by a network of partners, Smart Power India has energised 5,000 enterprises and is transforming the lives of more than 60,000 Indians. And it taught us a valuable lesson in India: People are willing to pay for access to productive, reliable power and their ability to pay is often very reliable. With these lessons and a commitment to bring access to reliable power to millions of poor and vulnerable people, we’ve expanded Smart Power not only to Myanmar but to parts of Sub-Saharan Africa as well.” Read more: Kenya: Developers launch mini-grid innovation lab

In addition to launching the Smart Power initiative in Myanmar, The Rockefeller Foundation’s support for the people of Myanmar is focused on strengthening civil society organizations and governance and facilitating dialogues to promote inclusive development planning and cultural diversity and awareness.

Solar micro-grids enable sustainable rural living

Community managed solar micro-grids have the potential to provide reliable and affordable energy access to remote villages in India

Over one billion people live without access to energy globally, but despite this, the latest World Energy Outlook paints an optimistic picture about the future. Progress towards global universal electrification is accelerating and India’s “colossal achievements” put the country on course to reach universal electrification by 2030.

To date, India’s remarkable progress has been largely driven by the expansion of the central grid, with a rate of electrification that has doubled since the early 2000s.The Indian government has claimed that 100% of villages are now considered electrified as part of the Dindayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana scheme promoted by the Ministry of Power.

Most recently, the Saubhagya scheme aims to extend electricity infrastructure to all households by March 2019. With 46 million rural households still lacking an electricity connection, this will be a challenging task.

Grid connectivity alone cannot be an indicator of development unless usable, affordable and modern supply is ensured. The reliability, quality and duration of the supply from the central grid continues to be a particular problem in the Indian subcontinent, especially in rural areas of the country, which is home to almost 70% of the population. Surveys in some of the most energy poor states highlighted how a large portion of rural electrified households still rely on kerosene lamps as their primary source of illumination, with significant implications on the health and well-being of these communities.

Remote villages are particularly challenging when it comes to provision of reliable and affordable power. By some estimates, the costs of a central grid extension to a remote rural village of around 30 households whose distance from the closest grid line is approximately 5 km could be up to INR 46 (USD 70 cents). This is far higher than the INR 3 (US 4 cent) per unit that an average urban residential consumer pays.

Community solution

In such remote rural areas, community based solar mini-grids (SMGs) have gained popularity and programmes including Smart Power India promoted by the Rockefeller Foundation plan to install over 1,000 solar grids in rural parts of the country. Sustainability of decentralised energy systems benefit from the active involvement and participation of local communities, as it increases the impact and long term success of installations, empowering rural communities, as they become the owners and managers of the plants.

To better understand the impact of these systems and how they can be successfully replicated and scaled, a recent study looked at 24 community-managed SMG implemented by Gram Oorja, a social enterprise working in Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Karnataka. Gram Oorja works together with local NGOs to install community-based micro-grids for electricity and drinking purposes, involving the local communities at all stages of installation.

Upfront capital costs are provided through donations, whereas recurring operations and maintenance costs are borne by the community. Each household pays a monthly tariff based on metered electricity consumption, collected by a local operator and deposited in a village bank account. The local operator is also in charge of basic troubleshooting of technical issues and a locally elected Village Energy Committee ensures daily operation of the plant, establishing, setting and enforcing rules and penalties.

Ingredients for success

The study provided key insights on the ingredients for long-term sustainability of these systems. Good quality of supply and strong engagement with local communities are both key. The first is achieved through high quality, durable, reliable and affordable power supply. Setting right expectation with the communities on the level of service ensures satisfaction, willingness to pay and system maintenance.

It is also very important that expectations are set up front, and discussed jointly between community members and all other stakeholders. Consultation with the community from the installation phase should be coupled with on-going interaction and capacity building activities to create and strengthen ability to manage systems locally.

Effective institutional capacity at local level doesn’t happen overnight. Local bodies such as the Village Energy Committees are new in these settings and need time to establish and gain legitimacy in the community. The study also revealed that the presence of functioning women’s Self-Help Groups in the village had a marked positive effect, as it leveraged women’s organisational skills, ensuring more rigorous mechanism for money collection and deposits. The systems also provided quantifiable social and environmental benefits in the areas of education, health, safety, well-being, increased time for productive activities, and a less polluted indoor environment.

Barriers and opportunities

Despite these successes, the study also revealed some barriers. Particularly, very low levels of energy consumption and limited engagement in productive and business activities were detected across all sites, even in systems that had been operational for many years.

The evidence that access to reliable electricity does not organically lead to increased productivity and economic engagement is particularly relevant in the current debate that promotes decentralised energy systems as enablers for economic development of rural areas. This result highlights the need for stakeholders and national governments to think of targeted interventions to ensure communities benefit from energy access beyond the purpose of illumination.

The global development agenda set by the Sustainable Development Goals has a comprehensive mandate, looking at the interconnections between energy, livelihood, water, sanitation and gender issues, among others. To achieve these targets, a more comprehensive and holistic approach to development is required, one that goes beyond the mandate of social entrepreneurs to deliver energy solutions to rural communities, establishing approaches where government agencies, the private sector, local NGOs and residents work together to develop integrated strategies for sustainable rural development.

For better policy practice, it is important to start thinking about comprehensive strategies, those that consider the nexus between multiple development issues, particularly water, energy and food, three of the most challenging requirements faced in India’s villages. Such a holistic approach, where clean energy access is integrated in smarter systems assessing multiple needs of the communities, could not only improve the efficiency of energy use but also provide key additional services that contribute to create better environments for sustainable rural living.

India: Solar power pushes lights up & create options for rural women

In her village of Komalia, the fog swirls so thick at 7 a.m. that Akansha Singh can see no more than 15 meters ahead. But the 20-year-old is already cycling to her workplace, nine kilometers away. Halfway there she stops for two hours at a computer training centre, where she’s learning internet skills. Then she’s off again, and by 10 a.m. reaches the small garment manufacturing plant where she stitches women’s clothing for high-end brands on state-of-the-art electric sewing machines.

Solar energy powers most of her day – the computer training centre and the 25-woman garment factory run on solar mini-grid electricity – and clean power has given her personal choice as well, she said. If the mini-grid system had not been put in place, Singh – a recent college graduate without funds to pursue training as a teacher, the only job open to women in her village – would have had no alternative but to marry, she said. In fact, “I would already be married off,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Today, however, she earns 4,500 rupees ($70) a month working on solar-powered sewing machines. She uses part of that to pay 300 rupees ($4.70) a month for her computer education class – and is planning to start a computer training centre closer to home.

Like her, most of the women at the factory earn between 2,500 and 4,500 rupees ($39- $70) a month, which has helped their families eat better, get children to school and pay for healthcare, they said.

“With a month’s earning alone we can buy new bicycles for ourselves and our school-going children,” Bandana Devi, a mother of four, told the Thomson Reuter Foundation, as she looked up from her sewing.

She bought one for her 12-year-old daughter, she said, and her 6-year-old rides pillion with her to the school, 2 km away.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced a $2.5 billion plan to electrify every Indian household by 2019 – a huge task in a country where close to 240 million people still have no access to electrical power.

Solar power – including the use of small local grids – is likely to be a big part of the push, with 60 percent of new connections expected to be to renewable power, according to a report by the International Energy Agency.

STABLE POWER, MORE CONTRACTS

In a clearing in an acacia plantation, the more than 140 solar panels that make up the Kamlapur mini-grid are being cleaned early in the morning.

The 36-kilowatt plant, set up by the for-profit OMC Power Private Ltd.(formerly Omnigrid Micropower Company) in 2015, distributes solar energy over 2.4 kilometres of power lines to 70 households, two telecommunications towers, the clothing manufacturing unit and several other small businesses.

Solar mini-grids usually rely on one or two large users of power – often mobile phone towers – to provide a stable base revenue for the system. But as solar electricity becomes available in areas beyond the traditional grid, power-hungry small businesses are emerging that could become anchor users.

Kamlapur’s garment factory, for instance, consumes 10 kilowatts of power each day – the same as the telecom towers, said Ketan Bhatt, an OMC official in Uttar Pradesh state.

The state in 2016 became India’s first to put in place a mini-grid policy, recognising private solar companies as legitimate players in India’s push to get power to all.

Company owners, in turn, say solar mini-grids – which can be more reliable than the unstable grid power their competitors rely on – is giving them a business advantage.

“Because the power supply is steady, we are regularly able to deliver on contract deadlines, which in turn enhances our reputation to bag more contracts,” said Mohammad Riyaz, who set up the Kamlapur garment unit in 2016.

Rohit Chandra, a co-founder of OMC, said he was seeing many solar power users moving beyond simply buying power for home lighting and appliances. Now, he said, they are harnessing solar energy for profit.

“We see barbers installing televisions and fans in their shops to attract more customers. Carpenters buy electric saws and wood polishers, fruit sellers are adding electric juicers. Health centres and dispensaries are coming up in underserved villages too,” Chandra said in a telephone interview.

“People are now continuously climbing,” he said.

Sangeeta Singh, of the Uttar Pradesh New and Renewable Energy Development Agency, said rural villagers “are willing to pay for assured, customized hours of supply, even at a higher price.”

“The myth that rural consumers will not pay for electricity is now demolished,” added Jaideep Mukherji, the CEO of Smart Power India (SPI). “Over the last two years we’ve discovered not only do rural consumers pay for the electricity, 93 percent pay on time.”

SPI is backed by the the U.S.-based Rockefeller Foundation’s $75 million Smart Power for Rural Development initiative, which aims to get power the “last mile” to users without it in India, Myanmar and sub-Saharan Africa.

SPI works with seven private mini-grid operaters, including OMC, in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand – some of India’s least electrified states – to boost demand for solar mini-grid power and help develop rural economies.

The aim is both to improve life for poor people in power-hungry regions and help make sure solar mini-grid power is financially feasible for its operators, Mukherji said.

Chandra, of OMC, said that, on average, after supplying reliable power for a year, “we see around 30 micro-enterprises come up in each village”.

Though most are expansions of existing businesses, some are new ventures – such as a new water purifying plant in Kamlapur.

Sanskrit language teacher Aparna Mishra has just invested 400,000 rupees ($6,240) to set up a reverse osmosis water purifier.

Starting later this month, 100 customers – including schools, hotels and homes in the area – will begin receiving 20-litre refillable jars of water, dropped off at their doorstep, the entrepreneur said.

Mishra’s two-year target is to produce 3,000 litres of clean water a day, delivered over a 12 km radius from the 5-kilowatt plant.

“If villagers can understand the link between good health and clean drinking water from my plant, that itself is the biggest return on my investment,” the 26-year-old told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

An assessment of Smart Power India villages at the end of 2016 found that after two years of access to mini-grid power, small businesses using it had increased their monthly income by 13 percent.
A PRICE TOO HIGH?

While Smart Power India is reaching a growing share of communities without electricity, a 2017 study by the International Center for Research on Women found that large numbers of women and poor families still lack access to clean energy, even in areas where it is available.

For some of them, the cost of private mini-grid power is a deterrent to using it.

Riyaz’s clothing factory, for instance, pays 25 rupees (39 cents) for each kilowatt of the 10 kilowatts of power it uses each day – well above the 11 to 17 rupees that rural users of grid power pay.

“The electricity bill pinches,” the 45-year-old tailor said.

Chandra, of OMC, admitted that “on the face of it, our charges for reliable power might look high”.

But grid power users in Uttar Pradesh must pay a minimum monthly fee of 1,000 rupees, he said. With many small solar businesses – such as phone recharging – using less power, and even larger businesses often saving energy by using efficient machines, solar mini-grid power can come out cheaper, he said.

As 23% of India’s population is still thirsting for electricity, US foundation calls it a private business opportunity

At a time when the Government of India (GoI) has claimed that 99.4% of the country’s villages have been electrified, but the GoI’s powerful thinktank electrification, Niti Aayog, has pointed out that there are 304 million people who still lack access to electricity in its draft National Energy Policy (NEP), released in mid-2017, top US business interests have begun to see it as an opportunity.

Dr Rajiv J Shah, current president of the Rockefeller Foundation (RF), who served as administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) from 2010 to 2015, has strongly pitched for “the fundamental role of public-private partnership to lift millions of Indian households out of poverty” by providing them electricity.

Shah was speaking at the India Energy Access Summit in Delhi on February 12, following which, a day later, he met Niti Aayog vice-chairman Rajiv Kumar. At both the spots, he stressed on the need for strong private partnership in India to electrify the country’s rural households, even as suggesting, this has been demonstrated by RF investing nearly $150 million over the last 20 years “to impact the lives of the most vulnerable people in India.”

Regretting that in India a village is deemed electrified even if only 10 percent of homes and a few rural institutions are connected, the top US philanthropic organization, which is running Smart Power India project has “appreciated” that the draft NEP recognizes “a need to redefine the concept of ‘electrification’ with the village being deemed completely electrified if and only if all households of a village have an electricity connection, which witnesses reliable supply of electricity at least for a set number of hours”.

Meanwhile, a writeup published in RF site and published as a blog, which Shah particularly focussed upon, has said, “The hope is that the ‘set hours, will cover daily needs”, adding, “With 23% of India’s population still thirsting for electricity and millions more receiving only poor and unreliable access, it would seem that India needs to rapidly add generation capacity.”

“However”, the RF blog says, “This too presents a contradiction, in that India has significant generation capacity idling, with an aggregate capacity utilization of about 60%. So why not just d https://www.rockefellerfoundation.org/blog/24×7-power-access-not-electrification/ irect the unused capacity to meet rural demand? Problem solved, right?”, it asked.

“Simply put, it is not viable to distribute the access to the people who need it. Rural electricity supply and service costs are prohibitively high, while rural demand density is low and fragmented”, the blog says, adding, “Furthermore, pilferage and losses are high and the tariffs are well below delivered cost. This is a huge disincentive for India’s debt-plagued state-owned distribution companies (DISCOMs).”

“The challenge is so large that a portfolio of approaches needs to be tested and deployed”, the blog opines, adding, “New models of electricity distribution are emerging. In nearly 110 villages across Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand state, more than 40,000 people have access to reliable grid-quality electricity from privately operated renewable energy mini-grids supported by RF’s Smart Power India programme.”

Pointing out that the draft NEP has also stressed the “need to incentivize the mini-grid sector by encouraging independent developers and supporting them to scale”, the blog stresses, “Privatizing electricity distribution has proven successful in some Indian metros in improving quality, reliability, collection and loss reduction.”

It adds, “More private players can be attracted to scale up mini-grid deployment if the government announces a national target for mini-grids along with a package of incentives. More importantly, public-private partnership pilots for rural electrification need to be modeled and tested in partnership with existing state DISCOMs to address the access challenge.”

“Such partnerships forged in rural electrification can unleash on a large scale innovative business models, new technologies and operational efficiencies to make a breakthrough in bridging India’s chronic energy access gap. It could help realize the national goal of “24×7 Power for All” by 2022”, it believes.

The push for solar power lights up options for India’s rural women

In her village of Komalia, the fog swirls so thick at 7 a.m. that Akansha Singh can see no more than 15 meters ahead. But the 20-year-old is already cycling to her workplace, 9 kilometers away. Halfway there she stops for two hours at a computer training center, where she is learning internet skills. Then she is off again, and by 10 a.m. reaches the small garment manufacturing plant where she stitches women’s clothing for high-end brands on state-of-the-art electric sewing machines. Solar energy powers most of her day — the training center and the 25-woman garment factory run on solar minigrid electricity — and clean power has given her personal choice as well, she said.
If the minigrid system had not been put in place, Singh — a recent college graduate without funds to pursue training as a teacher, the only job open to women in her village — would have had no alternative but to marry. “I would already be married off,” she said in an interview.

Today, however, she earns 4,500 rupees ($70) a month working on solar-powered sewing machines. She uses part of that to pay 300 rupees ($4.70) a month for her computer education class — and is planning to start a computer training center closer to home. Like her, most of the women at the factory earn between 2,500 and 4,500 rupees ($39 to $70) a month, which has helped their families eat better, get children to school and pay for health care.

“With a month’s earning alone, we can buy new bicycles for ourselves and our school-going children,” said Bandana Devi, a mother of four, as she looked up from her sewing. She bought one for her 12-year-old daughter, she said, and her 6-year-old rides tandem with her to the school, 2 km away.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced a $2.5 billion plan to electrify every Indian household by 2019 — a huge task in a country where close to 240 million people still have no access to electrical power. Solar power — including the use of small local grids — is likely to be a big part of the push, with 60 percent of new connections expected to be to renewable power, according to a report by the International Energy Agency. In a clearing in an acacia plantation, the more than 140 solar panels that make up the Kamlapur minigrid are being cleaned early in the morning.

The 36-kilowatt plant, set up by the for-profit OMC Power Private Ltd. (formerly Omnigrid Micropower Co.) in 2015, distributes solar energy over 2.4 kilometers of power lines to 70 households, two telecommunications towers, the clothing manufacturing unit and several other small businesses.

Solar minigrids usually rely on one or two large users of power — often mobile phone towers — to provide a stable base revenue for the system. But as solar electricity becomes available in areas beyond the traditional grid, power-hungry small businesses are emerging that could become anchors.

Kamlapur’s garment factory, for instance, consumes 10 kilowatts of power each day — the same as the telecom towers, said Ketan Bhatt, an OMC official in Uttar Pradesh state. The state in 2016 became India’s first to put in place a minigrid policy, recognizing private solar companies as legitimate players in India’s push to get power to all.

Company owners, in turn, say solar minigrids — which can be more reliable than the unstable grid power their competitors rely on — is giving them a business advantage. “Because the power supply is steady, we are regularly able to deliver on contract deadlines, which in turn enhances our reputation to bag more contracts,” said Mohammad Riyaz, who set up the Kamlapur garment unit in 2016.

Rohit Chandra, a co-founder of OMC, said he is seeing many solar-power users moving beyond simply buying power for home-lighting and appliances. Now, he said, they are harnessing solar energy for profit.

“We see barbers installing televisions and fans in their shops to attract more customers. Carpenters buy electric saws and wood-polishers. Fruit-sellers are adding electric juicers. Health centers and dispensaries are coming up in underserved villages too,” Chandra said in a telephone interview. “People are now continuously climbing.”

Sangeeta Singh of the Uttar Pradesh New and Renewable Energy Development Agency said rural villagers “are willing to pay for assured, customized hours of supply, even at a higher price.” “The myth that rural consumers will not pay for electricity is now demolished,” added Jaideep Mukherji, the CEO of Smart Power India (SPI). “Over the last two years we’ve discovered not only do rural consumers pay for the electricity, 93 percent pay on time.”

SPI is backed by the U.S.-based Rockefeller Foundation’s $75 million Smart Power for Rural Development initiative, which aims to get power to the “last mile” of users without it in India, Myanmar and sub-Saharan Africa.

SPI works with seven private minigrid operators, including OMC, in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand — some of India’s least electrified states — to boost demand for solar minigrid power and help develop rural economies.

The aim is both to improve life for poor people in power-hungry regions and help make sure solar minigrid power is financially feasible for its operators, Mukherji said.

Chandra, of OMC, said that, on average, after supplying reliable power for a year, “we see around 30 microenterprises come up in each village.” Though most are expansions of existing businesses, some are new ventures — such as a new water-purifying plant in Kamlapur. Sanskrit language teacher Aparna Mishra has just invested 400,000 rupees ($6,240) to set up a reverse-osmosis water purifier. Starting later this month, 100 customers — including schools, hotels and homes in the area — will begin receiving refillable 20-liter jars of water, dropped off at their doorstep, the entrepreneur said.

Mishra’s two-year target is to produce 3,000 liters of clean water a day, delivered over a 12-km radius from the 5-kilowatt plant. “If villagers can understand the link between good health and clean drinking water from my plant, that itself is the biggest return on my investment,” the 26-year-old said. An assessment of Smart Power India villages at the end of 2016 found that after two years of access to minigrid power, small businesses using it had increased their monthly income by 13 percent.

While Smart Power India is reaching a growing share of communities without electricity, a 2017 study by the International Center for Research on Women found that large numbers of women and poor families still lack access to clean energy, even in areas where it is available. For some of them, the cost of private minigrid power is a deterrent to using it.

Riyaz’s clothing factory, for instance, pays 25 rupees (39 cents) for each kilowatt of the 10 kilowatts of power it uses each day — well above the 11 to 17 rupees that rural users of grid power pay. “The electricity bill pinches,” the 45-year-old tailor said. Chandra, of OMC, admitted that “on the face of it, our charges for reliable power might look high.”

But grid power users in Uttar Pradesh must pay a minimum monthly fee of 1,000 rupees, he said. With many small solar businesses — such as phone-recharging — using less power, and even larger businesses often saving energy by using efficient machines, solar minigrid power can come out cheaper, he said.

Solar power push lights up options for India’s rural women

KAMLAPUR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – In her village of Komalia, the fog swirls so thick at 7 a.m. that Akansha Singh can see no more than 15 meters ahead. But the 20-year-old is already cycling to her workplace, nine kilometers away. Halfway there she stops for two hours at a computer training center, where she’s learning internet skills. Then she’s off again, and by 10 a.m. reaches the small garment manufacturing plant where she stitches women’s clothing for high-end brands on state-of-the-art electric sewing machines.

Solar energy powers most of her day – the computer training center and the 25-woman garment factory run on solar mini-grid electricity – and clean power has given her personal choice as well, she said.

If the mini-grid system had not been put in place, Singh – a recent college graduate without funds to pursue training as a teacher, the only job open to women in her village – would have had no alternative but to marry, she said.

In fact, “I would already be married off,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Today, however, she earns 4,500 rupees ($70) a month working on solar-powered sewing machines. She uses part of that to pay 300 rupees ($4.70) a month for her computer education class – and is planning to start a computer training center closer to home.

Like her, most of the women at the factory earn between 2,500 and 4,500 rupees ($39- $70) a month, which has helped their families eat better, get children to school and pay for healthcare, they said.

“With a month’s earning alone we can buy new bicycles for ourselves and our school-going children,” Bandana Devi, a mother of four, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, as she looked up from her sewing.

She bought one for her 12-year-old daughter, she said, and her 6-year-old rides pillion with her to the school, 2 km away.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced a $2.5 billion plan to electrify every Indian household by 2019 – a huge task in a country where close to 240 million people still have no access to electrical power.

Solar power – including the use of small local grids – is likely to be a big part of the push, with 60 percent of new connections expected to be to renewable power, according to a report by the International Energy Agency.

STABLE POWER, MORE CONTRACTS

In a clearing in an acacia plantation, the more than 140 solar panels that make up the Kamlapur mini-grid are being cleaned early in the morning.

The 36-kilowatt plant, set up by the for-profit OMC Power Private Ltd.(formerly Omnigrid Micropower Company) in 2015, distributes solar energy over 2.4 kilometers of power lines to 70 households, two telecommunications towers, the clothing manufacturing unit and several other small businesses.

Solar mini-grids usually rely on one or two large users of power – often mobile phone towers – to provide a stable base revenue for the system. But as solar electricity becomes available in areas beyond the traditional grid, power-hungry small businesses are emerging that could become anchor users.

Kamlapur’s garment factory, for instance, consumes 10 kilowatts of power each day – the same as the telecom towers, said Ketan Bhatt, an OMC official in Uttar Pradesh state.

The state in 2016 became India’s first to put in place a mini-grid policy, recognizing private solar companies as legitimate players in India’s push to get power to all.

Company owners, in turn, say solar mini-grids – which can be more reliable than the unstable grid power their competitors rely on – is giving them a business advantage.

“Because the power supply is steady, we are regularly able to deliver on contract deadlines, which in turn enhances our reputation to bag more contracts,” said Mohammad Riyaz, who set up the Kamlapur garment unit in 2016.

Rohit Chandra, a co-founder of OMC, said he was seeing many solar power users moving beyond simply buying power for home lighting and appliances. Now, he said, they are harnessing solar energy for profit.

“We see barbers installing televisions and fans in their shops to attract more customers. Carpenters buy electric saws and wood polishers, fruit sellers are adding electric juicers. Health centers and dispensaries are coming up in underserved villages too,” Chandra said in a telephone interview.

“People are now continuously climbing,” he said.

Sangeeta Singh, of the Uttar Pradesh New and Renewable Energy Development Agency, said rural villagers “are willing to pay for assured, customized hours of supply, even at a higher price.”

“The myth that rural consumers will not pay for electricity is now demolished,” added Jaideep Mukherji, the CEO of Smart Power India (SPI). “Over the last two years we’ve discovered not only do rural consumers pay for the electricity, 93 percent pay on time.”

SPI is backed by the the U.S.-based Rockefeller Foundation’s $75 million Smart Power for Rural Development initiative, which aims to get power the “last mile” to users without it in India, Myanmar and sub-Saharan Africa.

SPI works with seven private mini-grid operators, including OMC, in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand – some of India’s least electrified states – to boost demand for solar mini-grid power and help develop rural economies.

The aim is both to improve life for poor people in power-hungry regions and help make sure solar mini-grid power is financially feasible for its operators, Mukherji said.

Chandra, of OMC, said that, on average, after supplying reliable power for a year, “we see around 30 micro-enterprises come up in each village”.

Though most are expansions of existing businesses, some are new ventures – such as a new water purifying plant in Kamlapur.

Sanskrit language teacher Aparna Mishra has just invested 400,000 rupees ($6,240) to set up a reverse osmosis water purifier.

Starting later this month, 100 customers – including schools, hotels and homes in the area – will begin receiving 20-litre refillable jars of water, dropped off at their doorstep, the entrepreneur said.

Mishra’s two-year target is to produce 3,000 liters of clean water a day, delivered over a 12 km radius from the 5-kilowatt plant.

“If villagers can understand the link between good health and clean drinking water from my plant, that itself is the biggest return on my investment,” the 26-year-old told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

An assessment of Smart Power India villages at the end of 2016 found that after two years of access to mini-grid power, small businesses using it had increased their monthly income by 13 percent.
A PRICE TOO HIGH?

While Smart Power India is reaching a growing share of communities without electricity, a 2017 study by the International Center for Research on Women found that large numbers of women and poor families still lack access to clean energy, even in areas where it is available.

For some of them, the cost of private mini-grid power is a deterrent to using it.

Riyaz’s clothing factory, for instance, pays 25 rupees (39 cents) for each kilowatt of the 10 kilowatts of power it uses each day – well above the 11 to 17 rupees that rural users of grid power pay.

“The electricity bill pinches,” the 45-year-old tailor said.

Chandra, of OMC, admitted that “on the face of it, our charges for reliable power might look high”.

But grid power users in Uttar Pradesh must pay a minimum monthly fee of 1,000 rupees, he said. With many small solar businesses – such as phone recharging – using less power, and even larger businesses often saving energy by using efficient machines, solar mini-grid power can come out cheaper, he said.

Reporting by Manipadma Jena; editing by Laurie Goering :; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women’s rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate

Indian-American Rockefeller Foundation prez to visit India

Cambridge (US), Feb 11 (PTI) Rajiv J Shah, the Indian- American president of the Rockefeller Foundation, will visit India from tomorrow as part of the US-based philanthropic organisation’s efforts to help the government electrify villages across the country. The Rockefeller Foundation is one of America’s largest and most influential philanthropies which commits USD 200 million every year towards social and philanthropic causes globally, including India.

“We have been working on what we think is the next big challenge to end poverty in India and that is bringing power and energy to rural communities that otherwise don’t have sufficient access to power,” Shah, 44, told PTI ahead of his maiden India visit in this capacity. Formerly the head of USAID under former US president Barack Obama, Shah is the first-ever Indian-American to serve as the president of the foundation which played a key role in India’s green revolution in the 1960s.

“We have an effort called Smart Power India that is helping to electrify villages across the country. That works with the government and private entrepreneurs who are bringing a solar mini grids and other new technologies to help families move themselves out of poverty by using electricity,” he said.

For several years, the foundation and its non-profit subsidiary Smart Power India have worked with a network of partners and private energy service companies to build rural mini-grids that serve off-grid populations for both domestic and productive uses. As of now, more than 130 mini-grids are energising more than 5,000 enterprises in India’s most energy-starved states, transforming the lives of over 45,000 Indians. It’s the largest cohort of mini-grids in India and by some counts the world.

He said the purpose of his India visit from February 12 to 15 is to review progress in the foundation’s effort in this regard and advance partnerships with the government and other funders to “ensure that we can work to really fulfil Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi’s vision to end energy poverty” in India.

“And to make sure every single Indian family has access to power and electricity and therefore the ability to connect to a modern global economy,” Shah said. He is also planning to meet and work with new philanthropists across the country who would like to partner with the foundation to extend the reach of their own philanthropic effort.

While in India, Shah will focus on engaging with the government, multilateral, corporate and philanthropists. The overarching theme of his visit will be to underline the power of partnerships and collaboration in helping achieve India’s development goals across various areas from health, to energy access, to ‘Digital India’. His India visit will focus on ‘Power of Partnerships’.

The Rockefeller Foundation has had a tremendous history in India for many years working to improve the lives of vulnerable children and families, he said. “We were a big part in helping India achieve green revolution that helped to dramatically improve food production and save millions of people from hunger and starvation many decades ago,” Shah said. During his four-day visit, he would travel to New Delhi, Bengaluru and Mumbai, and meet key government and political leaders and other significant philanthropists to discuss areas of interest such as energy, health, urban resilience and co- investment.

He is scheduled to deliver a keynote address at the India Energy Access Summit where he will be making a couple of financial announcements in the energy sector and renewing the foundation’s commitment to working with the government’s Power for All agenda. Shah said the first thing that India needs to do is to set a very high ambition which also requires a very significant investment and participation from the government as well as the private sectors.

“So, we hope that the State and the federal government in India will expand their approach to public-private partnerships and accelerate a collaboration with us and others in order to reach more families and difficult to reach areas with power, electricity,” he said.

Observing that India is making tremendous progress in bringing new power generation to the grid system, Shah said while the foundation’s work right now focuses on community that don’t have access to the grid, he hopes India will expand its grid and transmission system more aggressively into lower income communities. India has dramatically increased the contribution of wind power and solar power to its total power sourcing, he said. In India last spring, wholesale solar power prices reached a record low, dropping 40 per cent in a year to only 2.62 Rs per kilowatt hour. Electricity can now be so abundant, low-cost and reliable that every person on the Earth should be able to access and consume as much as they need, he said, adding that it has also increased the use of coal.

“When you look at it, the cost of renewable power, in India, the tariff is now for some of the solar projects three cents per kilowatt hour or lower. That is very, very inexpensive, very efficient power.

“The technology curve in renewable energy is so powerful that in a few years it’s going to be so incredibly cheap and consistent and environmentally healthy to bring power to everybody that we really do believe that is the long-term and medium-term solution,” Shah said. India has the chance to be on the technology frontier in renewable energy and they have suggested they want to be for the last many years, he said.

Renewable generation capacity has doubled over the last five years, with solar power capacity alone increasing more than 12-fold in that time. A decade ago India had only 12 gigawatt of renewable capacity, and last year that number rose to over 60 gigawatt. Overall, new capacity built under the 12th ‘Five Year Plan’ exceeded the target for the first time in decades adding over 100 gigawatt of generation capacity against a goal of 89 gigawatt.

This helped reduce India’s energy supply deficit so much that in 2017 India enjoyed an energy surplus for the first time. PTI LKJ CPS AKJ CPS

Disclaimer: This story has not been edited by BW staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.

Global Energy Transition: Here’s Why It’s India’s Opportunity To Leapfrog

The government has asked NITI to draw up a plan for India to have only EV sales by 2030.

Baker Institute’s Center for Energy at Rice University recently organised a global energy transitions summit, a forum for key market players and decision-makers to gain insight into the future of the energy industry. Various speakers with expertise in oil, gas, power, solar, energy related technologies and geopolitics discussed how transition from fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal) to renewable (solar and wind) will affect the global energy in the future.

The summit was held amid a Wall Street Journal report that some energy experts are predicting the biggest shift in energy consumption since the industrial revolution when coal started to replace fire wood.

However, the long term energy forecasts made by governmental institutions such as International Energy Agency (IEA), US Energy Information Administration (USEIA) or even companies such as BP, ExxonMobil, etc do not reflect the impact of energy transitions.

For example, according to USEIA, fossil fuels will meet 77% of world primary energy demand in 2040 which is only about 8% less than in 2015.

A realistic forecast taking into consideration various factors affecting energy transition discussed in this article would have showed a larger drop for fossil fuels. They do show a drop in coal contribution of about 5% and 3% in oil whereas renewables share goes up by only 7%.

Table – 1. Comparison of various forecasts of India:

http://www.outlookindia.com/public/uploads/editor/2017-10-24/1508834253.png

Complexity in planning

Developed countries have already invested in infrastructure needed for fossil fuels (refineries, petrol stations, power plants, pipelines, etc). They, however, need huge investment in the future to transition to renewables. On the other hand, developing countries have the advantage of avoiding huge investment in fossil fuels infrastructure by proper planning and they can leapfrog to renewables as they were able to do with mobile telephony. This clearly shows that India should plan smartly for energy transition.

The following example illustrates the complex problems Indian planners will face as India is on the threshold of energy transition along with the rest of the world as discussed in this article.

It is time India puts together a high level committee of world class experts with different backgrounds to draw up an action plan for the country. The recent Draft National Energy Plan (DNEP) has made a good beginning. But it failed to incorporate the full impact of energy transition comprehensively (see Table-1).

In 2014, the Indian government (under UPA) decided to manufacture diesel locomotives for Indian railways in Bihar and signed a contract with GE. Later, it was signed off by the NDA when Suresh Prabhu was railways minister.

When Piyush Goyal took over the ministry, he announced that Indian railways will go for complete electrification by 2022. This resulted in the government asking GE to change their plans of manufacturing diesel locomotives.

However when GE threatened how such a breaking of the contract can affect future foreign direct investments, government rescinded their decision and agreed to comply with the original contract of manufacturing diesel engines.

Before signing a contract with GE, did Indian government study the pros and cons of diesel versus electric engines? Did they undertake a scenario analysis to find out what happens should the government decide to adapt complete electrification? Can such a major investment of constructing diesel manufacturing plant lasting over 30 years change in mere four years?

Table-1 gives key statistics of three forecasts of India’s primary energy demand. Though they are not comparable, some useful observations can be made. Total energy demand in 2035 as per BP is 1803 million tons of oil equivalent (MTOE) while IEA and DNEP predict it to be 1909 and 1862 MTOE respectively. Thus, BP is far more bullish in predicting energy demand (if we add demand for five more years) than the other two.

However, there are some significant differences in how the total energy demand is met. While DNEP forecasts significant reduction in contribution from coal, other two are not so optimistic.

On the other hand, DNEP is optimistic in increasing the contribution from renewables, other two are less pessimistic. But all three have more or less similar contribution from oil and gas ranging between 31.8% and 30.8%. This clearly shows that all three have ignored the potential impact of energy transition from fossil fuels likely to be brought about by Electric Vehicles (EVs) and renewables.

Factors affecting energy transition:

There will be massive energy transition taking place because of the four factors outlined below.

  • Rapid drop in the price of renewables like wind and solar.
  • Faster penetration of EVs in transportation sector because of their competitive price against the internal combustion engines (ICEs).
  • Faster adaption of distributed power with improvement in storage battery, digitization (smart metering) and nanotechnology.
  • Finally efforts to decarbonize energy sector to reduce greenhouse gases to combat climate change and the approaching end of coal era.

It is not obvious based on the statistics given in Table-1 that the three forecasts discussed earlier have fully or even partially reflected the impact of massive energy transition.

In the beginning of the 20th century, horse drawn carts were replaced in mere 15 years by ICEs. Some experts predict a similar development with electric vehicles. Such a massive change in transportation is bound to have an impact on oil demand. In India, consumption of petrol and diesel in transportation sector accounts for 40%. The same is even more true for the world oil consumption. Based on USEIA 2017 world energy outlook, oil demand will be 113 million barrels per day (mmbd) in 2040 and 56% of oil is used in transportation. On a very conservative basis, even if 20% of global fleet adapt EV technology, oil demand can decrease by 20 mmbd. As discussed earlier, none of the major forecasts show such dramatic decrease in oil consumption. This is one of the major uncertainties energy planners are facing today.

Are EVs game changer?

Few years back, there was the fear of Peak Oil Supply. It implied that the world will not have enough oil reserves. Now there is the excitement (if one is not an oil company or member of OPEC) of Peak Oil Demand (POD). This implies that some oil reserves may not get developed. Both IEA and BP expect POD to take place after 2040. However Shell and Statoil expect POD to occur between 2025 and 2030. ExxonMobil and Chevron do not even consider the possibility of POD. Such a divergent view of peak oil demand clearly shows the difficulty of getting ready for energy transition. Factors affecting POD are adaption of EV technology, policies to fight climate change, absorption of new fuel energy efficiency, etc. Surprisingly BP does not think EVs are a game changer!

Countries like Norway, France, Britain, Netherlands and some European countries have declared the goal of banning ICEs between 2025 and 2040. China has announced its intentions to ban ICEs by 2030. India is even more ambitious. Government has asked NITI to draw up a plan for India to have only EV sales by 2030. NITI’s current target is 44% for the fleet to be EVs by 2030. Even assuming that India will be able to meet more than 75% of the target, it will reduce the consumption of petrol and diesel significantly. This in turn will have an influence on future refinery yields which will have far reaching impact.

World’s car manufacturers like GM, Ford, BMW, Daimler, etc are also announcing plans one after the other to produce EVs. Volvo and Jaguar have announced plans to produce only EVs and hybrids after 2020. Tesla, the first car company to develop EVs will soon have plenty of competition. However in India, we do not see such exciting development. While Mahendra is producing some EVs, and Maruti has made some announcement to get into the market, there is no such exciting development in EV sector. Only the government is making a lot of announcements, but no specific achievement yet. Just giving GST relief of 12% versus 43% for EVs and Hybrids is not enough. On the other hand, China has already taken a major initiative to force both the private and public sector car companies to start manufacturing EVs from 2019.

Like the “black gold” oil on which India depends today to meet its oil consumption by importing more than 80%, EVs will shift the import bills and fuel security to “white gold” lithium. Researchers at Council on Energy, Environment and Water, estimate that to meet the complete electrification of vehicles sold in India by 2030, India needs 40,000 tons of lithium. Just four countries Argentina, Australia, China and Chile account for 95% of lithium global production of 35000 tons in 2016. According to Bloomberg’s New Energy Finance, out of global vehicle sales of 83 million, only 0.65 million were EVs. In other words as EVs become popular world demand for lithium will explode unless it is replaced by some material which is abundant and cheap. This clearly indicates to prepare for EV transition, India needs a robust supply chain to secure lithium and to support an aggressive R&D in battery technology. After all the car battery is the single biggest value item in EVs.

Increasing number of EVs will need more number of charging stations and less number of the current petrol stations. EVs will also increase the demand for electricity and how and when these are charged will have a major impact on the stability of the grid. Are our planners for the private and public sector oil/power companies tuned to this possibility? Shell recently bought the largest EV charging company in Europe, New Motion as a strategic step to take advantage of EVs displacing ICEs.

Distributed power supply

With dropping in solar and wind energy prices to compete with coal, India should seriously consider distributed power for electrifying villages. In recent months, during auction for wind energy, bid price of Rs. 2.64/kwh was lower than coal based power cost of Rs. 3.20/kwh. Last bid price for solar has been even lower at Rs. 2.44/kwh.

Electrifying villages based on solar energy using distributed with or without connecting to the grid will revolutionize power market in India. It will be similar to the rapid spread of cable TV which met 60% of the Indian market in less than 10 years and provided employment to thousands. Mobile telephony is another example.

Each village can have a micro/mini unit based on distributed energy using PV solar energy. Already a Smart Power India, an NGO supported by Rockefeller Foundation has supplied power to about 106 villages in UP, Bihar and Jharkand meeting the power needs of 42000 through mini grids. Their model can be replicated in other parts of India with some refinement if required to meet the goal of supplying power to all by 2022 and also on 24 X 7 basis. It is surprising that why NITI did not incorporate such a model while developing DNEP though the plan provides for 120 GW of distributed power (10% of total generating capacity) in 2040.

As India like the rest of the world shifts from coal and other fossil fuels to renewables, India should also launch a new initiative for this dramatic transition. One of the guiding principles for energy transition should be India’s civilizational value of “simple living and high thinking” and not to maximize gross national product as other countries do.

India’s overriding goal (not just in words as in the past but in deeds) should be to reduce grinding poverty. Energy plays a key role in improving standard of living as we have seen throughout history. During the last ten years, India has succeeded in reducing energy growth to GDP growth to 0.77. This is a remarkable achievement considering it was more than 1.0 for all developed countries during the early part of their development. But it has not succeeded in either giving electricity to all nor providing modern cooking fuels to all. Historically we have seen how the mankind transited from wood to coal starting in late 17th century, and then to oil from late 19th century. Now finally the era of renewable energy sources has arrived and India should plan aggressively and smartly to leapfrog to the new era by avoiding the investment needed by fossil fuels.

Opinion: We need to build the ‘power grid of the future’ today. Here’s how.

A view of the 8.5 megawatt solar field at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Villagein, Rwanda. Photo by: USAID / Power Africa / CC BY-NC

While technological innovation has revolutionized communications, transportation, health, and education, more than 1 billion people around the world still lack access to reliable electricity — whether to light up a room, or enable them to make a decent living. So while the rest of the world powers their way toward ever-brighter futures, one in seven people around the globe is left behind. This World Energy Day, it’s time to talk about what the “grid of the future” might look like.

The international community has called for universal access to energy by 2030. Business as usual, or expanding existing, centralized grid systems that are expensive to extend to rural areas cannot on their own get us there in time. Decentralized renewable energy innovations can.

Taken together, companies in this sector are one of the largest utilities in the world, projected by World Bank and Bloomberg New Energy Finance to connect about 100 million households by 2020. In the grid of the future, the grid versus off-grid dichotomy will no longer be relevant: such a grid will be integrated, smart, and accessible anywhere power is required.

Emerging markets are already laying the groundwork. Technologies and services in these countries are less bound by existing infrastructure than by the need to be much more affordable and versatile, allowing entrepreneurs to unleash a wave of decentralized renewable energy innovation. Mini-grids, for example, are rising up in rural areas around the world: India has targeted 10,000 by 2021, and it is estimated that sub-Saharan Africa will need 100,000 by 2040.

For every day that we stall on 20th century methods of energy expansion, inequality deepens and universal electrification moves further out of reach.

Technological innovations such as Utility-in-a-Box, which provide solar panels that can power entire villages just days after breaking ground, or cheaper battery designs that can withstand harsh climate conditions, will help these regions meet these targets.

Beyond energy-generating infrastructure, players in this space are hacking perennial problems in electricity supply and demand, such as non-payment, leakage, and ineffective use. For example, they are driving down the cost of smart meters to make “last-mile” electrification more affordable. Not only are they pioneering new ways of remote monitoring, but are on the cusp of being able to use new technology breakthroughs to allow remote management. “Pay-as-you-go” models pioneered in Africa are creating new innovation in managing customer payments, collecting meter data, and managing demand. From Brooklyn to Bangladesh, blockchain-type approaches are enabling “swarm electrification” or peer-to-peer energy trading, making the market more efficient and flexible to respond to user needs in real-time. Meanwhile, programs such as CLASP improve the energy efficiency of everyday appliances, helping reduce bills as well as carbon impact.

These innovations are a few examples of what is happening in the sector to build the future grid, which would include a mesh of centralized and decentralized networks that can be tailored and adapted per local needs and conditions. Mini-grids, for example, can connect to the central grid, creating an integrated electrification framework, providing power to anyone, no matter where they are. This innovative approach is already gaining traction through early-stage pilots in India and in Africa. In Rwanda, for example, the Sustainable Energy for Economic Development program is exploring such an approach to help the government design a plan to electrify 70 percent of the country in two years, with savings of $20 million.

Access to energy is an essential step in economically empowering people and communities on a global scale. It ensures better health care and education, food security through higher crop yields, clean water through pumps, and job creation. In Indian villages powered by mini-grids in The Rockefeller Foundation’s Smart Power for Rural Development initiative, shops and micro-enterprises saw a 13 percent average increase in monthly revenues; 11 percent expanded their business by purchasing newer appliances; and 7 percent were newly created as a direct result of energy access. The foundation is now funding projects that are piloting interconnection with the mainline grid to amplify this impact throughout an integrated “future grid,” by starting today.

The World Bank estimates that delivering electricity to the world’s energy poor could create 1.5 trillion additional productive hours, save $38 billion in energy expenditures, and enable nearly 300 million school-aged children to study longer under better conditions. Rather than retrofitting existing systems, we have an opportunity to construct new infrastructure with new approaches that build brighter futures. For every day that we stall on 20th century methods of energy expansion, inequality deepens and universal electrification moves further out of reach. This World Energy Day reminds us that the time to build the grids that will power our shared future is now. Emerging economies are already building them.

The viability of rural energy access programs – contrasting private and public values

The lack of access is a result of low paying capacities on the consumer end, and uncertain financially viability of catering to areas with low and fluctuating demands and dispersed populations on the supplier side.

In 2017, India still has a significant energy access problem. While official estimates indicate India is over 97% electrified, over 250 million Indians still lack access to reliable electricity. The discrepancy is explained by the definition of village electrification as specified by the Government of India, by which a “village is considered to be electrified if basic power infrastructure is provided in the inhabited locality as well as associated dalit bastis; electricity is provided to public spaces like schools, panchayat offices, health centres, dispensaries, community centres, etc.; the number of households electrified are at least 10% of the total number of households in the village. We can all agree that this definition is very limited, and in fact, conversations are ongoing to change the definition.

But beyond definitions, the lack of access is a result of low paying capacities on the consumer end, and uncertain financially viability of catering to areas with low and fluctuating demands and dispersed populations on the supplier side. With 2014-24 being declared as the Decade for Sustainable Energy for All, a number of international and local actors have begun to participate in the mission to enhance energy access in India and several other developing nations. There is wide variety in the programmatic structure and sources of financing that interventions have developed – from NGO driven grant funded projects and programs; to private sector led sale of solar home systems, batteries, and lanterns; to the development of micro-finance models for the purchase of power generating devices.

While there has been some success in the dissemination of small scale systems such as lanterns, home lighting systems, DC micro-grids, and so based on different sources of power, there are few examples of financially viable community or village scale systems. Some successful initiatives have benefitted from initial grant support which has aided in subsidising the high capital costs involved for installation. Subsequently, these companies have claimed a move to financial models that are independent of grant support. But without publicly available data, it is not possible to ascertain whether rural electrification projects operating on commercial or utility models are financially viable. Financial viability is of considerable importance with the increasing emphasis on private sector involvement and PPP modes of service delivery. If viability is uncertain, will the private sector really invest or partner on such projects? And secondly, a point which we come back to later, do we lose out on the bigger picture by focusing so narrowly on financially viability as key our indicator of “success”? How else can viability be measured?

Among initiatives to enhance private sector participation, one model currently being tested by the Rockefeller Foundation under its Smart Power for Rural Development (SPRD) program focuses on anchor loads as a means to improve the financial viability of the electricity supplier. The program works with privately owned Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) through a newly established entity called Smart Power India (SPI). These ESCOs install decentralised electricity systems in rural areas where demand is ascertained in markets and households. However, the crux of the model lies in the dedicated or anchor load, such as a telecom tower to which the ESCO supplies a significant portion of its electricity to. In some cases, the anchor loads absorb about 80% of the total electricity generated whereas the remaining is supplied to consumers in nearby villages. The model tries to ensure the financial viability of the ESCO through a guarantee of power purchase by the anchor load consumer. This diversification on the demand side could potentially enhance the attractiveness of serving rural consumers among the private sector.

The ESCOs operating under SPRD are OMC, TARA Urja, Husk Power, Desi Power, Freespanz and Mlinda. These ESCOs operate across 106 villages from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand and serve around 11000 household and enterprise customers. 81% of the decentralised grids use solar energy, the rest use biomass or a combination of solar and biomass technology. OMC which operates over 50% of the grids installed under the program has experimented with the anchor load model and has proven to be the most successful example of decentralised electricity system, under the program.

But coming back to the question of viability itself. On the one hand while it is important to assess viability from a purely financial perspective to enhance private sector participation, just looking at the finances might not justify additional investments such as market development, support for capital costs, scoping and evaluation studies and so on. This is where the delivery of electricity transitions from being simply a service, to an essential tool for development of rural areas. Most projects today are able to justify the higher costs of providing small scale electricity access in terms of the developmental gains such as local economic growth from productive activities utilising electricity, better educational outcomes for children owing to lighting, better health outcomes owing to reduced use of kerosene lamps and improved rural health services and so on. While progress has been made in evaluating the financial viability of such systems, the evaluation of these broader developmental outcomes is still in its nascent stage.

One of the many steps forward in this direction is also found in the SPRD program which evaluates the change in gross village domestic product (GVDP) from electricity interventions. Termed for simplicity as GVDP+, the methodology requires implementers to collect data on changes in household expenditure and the growth of small and medium scale enterprises which now utilise electricity. Examples of such enterprises include computer centres, shops that have procured refrigeration units, wheat grinding units and so on. The growth here is demonstrated through more labour employed and increased capital investments. An exercise conducted recently found that just over a period of 6 months, a small but significant change was observed in GVDP in a set of 6 villages. Such numbers allow us to imagine electricity access as not just a service to be delivered, but justify the need for government support (through grants, subsidies, tax breaks and so on) to enhance public well-being. While one conversation does focus on private sector viability, it needs to be nested within broader mandates of delivering public good.

The road to complete electrification is long. Even if the infrastructure is available, demand is quite low in many regions owing to low paying capacities. Electricity cannot be expected to solve this more fundamental problem of poverty alone. However, it can become an important input for developmental progress, and feed back into greater abilities to pay among rural consumers. Over the coming years, a mix of strategies that both improve financial viability, as well as enhance developmental outcomes from electricity are required. Progress in this direction has begun and as more information on the positive financial performance of private companies/ESCOs becomes available, we hope more and more players will join in to get India to 100% electrification.

(Swapnil Shekhar is COO and Director Evaluations at Sambodhi Research, India, K Rahul Sharma is a PhD Scholar at the University of Santa Barbara and a Consultant with Sambodhi Research, India on Energy and Environment; Mimansa Mishra is a Research Manager with Sambodhi Research, India.)

Solar Mini-Grids – a Saviour for Flood-Ravaged Bihar

Ashish Mishra recalled how a renewable energy-based mini-grid proved to be boon while managing relief and rescue operations last month, when the devastating floods in northern Bihar were at their peak.

When there was no power supply from the grid, uninterrupted power supply from the mini-grid of Tara Urja helped us to operate smoothly to manage flood relief work, and ensure our connection to officials of district headquarters of Siwan and state disaster management department in Patna. The top government official of the block said relief coordination during flood could have been badly affected without electricity. “We had lost hope to coordinate flood relief and rescue operations without power, after the electricity grid was damaged by the flood,” he told indiaclimatedialogue.net.
“But thanks to power supply from mini grid, our computers, fax machine, internet and mobile phones operated as usual, which helped us to work for flood relief without any interruption.”
If there had been no power supply from the mini-grid, Mishra would have been forced to use highly polluting diesel or kerosene generators.

Decentralised Electricity

Decentralised power generation has a role to play in increasing resilience to disasters in all countries, not just those with energy access challenges. Decentralisation means that the entire network is not interrupted when one weak point fails. A grid-linked mini-grid, for example, can disconnect and continue to operate uninterrupted. A solar home system, or solar lantern, can help a household weather a crisis.
Resilience to disaster includes the speed of recovery. Decentralised generation means that rebuilding efforts can focus on the highest priorities, for example, quickly rebuilding a hospital’s mini-grid. In contrast, a centralised grid requires resurrecting the entire network in order to power essential services.
Harihar Mandal, a marginal farmer living in a village under Jokihat block in Araria district, remembered that when they were without power during the flood, power supply from the mini-grid helped them to charge their mobile phones and light their houses at night. Araria was one of the worst affected by the flood in 2017.
Power supply from the solar plant helped us to charge our mobile phones and enabled us keep in touch with others,” Mandal told indiaclimatedialogue.net. “It was something that was not possible earlier.”

Devastating Floods

Bihar faced its worst floods in recent decades this year, with 514 deaths reported by the Bihar Disaster Management Department (BDMD).
The floods affected more than 17 million people living in 187 administrative blocks in 19 districts, official data shows.
Tara Urja, a private energy service partner of Smart Power India, is operating a 30 KW solar power plant in Lakri Nabiganj. Smart Power India implements the Smart Power for Rural Development (SPRD) programme, which is designed to deliver viable electricity solutions through decentralised renewable energy mini-grids.
Tara Urja, which offers a reliable source of electricity, has hundreds of customers, including the block development office, other government offices, shopkeepers and private houses.
The consumers particularly benefit in the evenings, which is the peak hour, and when power outages from the grid is common. “We provide power to the local community, including the block development office, which uses mini-grid power during the hours when they receive no grid-connected power,” Mukesh Khandelwal, Chief Operating Officer of Tara Urja, told indiaclimatedialogue.net.
Mandal, a resident of Baharbari village, praised Decentralised Energy Systems India (DESI Power), another energy service company, for providing free mobile charging facility and domestic lightning during the floods. “We were without power for over a week, as power supply from grid was disrupted due to flood, but Desi Power’s mini-grid supply made it possible for us to not go back to the lantern age.”
We have been operating 49 solar plants in 15 villages in Jokihat. DESI Power’s mini-grid with capacities of 0.5 Kw to 75 Kw are operating in the villages.”

Portable Power

Amitabh said DESI Power managed to provide electricity to people in villages during the floods, as mini plants are portable and easy to shift from one place to another. “After the flood hit, we have shifted our portable mini plant either to the rooftops or to the first floors of buildings and continued to provide power supply to households.”
“Soon, we are planning to add some smaller decentralised, or one or two big centralised RO drinking water facility in some of our other plant sites. One centralised drinking water facility is already under planning stage in Chakai village near our plant.”
Dharamraj Singh, head of Tara Urja in Bihar, said BDO Mishra had sought help for uninterrupted power supply from their mini-grid to ensure that electricity supply to the office coordinating flood relief efforts was not affected.
It was in the third week of August when dozens of villages in Hardiya, Nabiganj and Dumarsan received severe flood alerts due to rising water levels of the Gandak river. Soon, floodwater entered villages and forced the state government to set up relief camps for displaced residents. Tara Urja has eight plants in Gopalganj, Saran and Siwan districts of Bihar.
We relied on their electricity for over 50 hours during the floods.
“When nine of the 11 panchayats comprising of dozens of villages in our block were severely affected by the floods, we sought the help of Tara Urja’s mini-grid to assist us with flood relief work,” Mishra told indiaclimatedialogue.net.
This story was originally published on India Climate Dialogue.

Green mini-grids support disaster relief during Bihar floods

Decentralised solar mini-grids ensured that relief and rescue operations were not hampered during the Bihar floods, in addition to providing a regular and reliable source of electricity to power-starved villages

Ashish Mishra recalled how a renewable energy-based mini-grid proved to be boon while managing relief and rescue operations last month when the devastating floods in northern Bihar were at their peak.

“When there was no power supply from the grid, uninterrupted power supply from mini-grid of Tara Urja helped us to operate smoothly to manage flood relief work and ensure our connection to officials of district headquarters of Siwan and state disaster management department in Patna,” said Mishra, Block Development Officer of Lakri Nabiganj block in Siwan district.

The top government official of the block said relief coordination during flood could have been badly affected without electricity. “We had lost hope to coordinate flood relief and rescue operations without power after the electricity grid was damaged by the flood,” he told indiaclimatedialogue.net. “But thanks to power supply from mini grid, our computers, fax machine, internet and mobile phones operated as usual, which helped us to work for flood relief without any interruption.”
If there had been no power supply from the mini-grid, Mishra would have been forced to use highly polluting diesel or kerosene generators.

Decentralised electricity

Decentralised power generation has a role to play in increasing resilience to disasters in all countries, not just those with energy access challenges. Decentralisation means that the entire network is not interrupted when one weak point fails. A grid-linked mini-grid, for example, can disconnect and continue to operate uninterrupted. A solar home system or solar lantern can help a household weather a crisis.
Resilience to disaster includes the speed of recovery. Decentralised generation means that rebuilding efforts can focus on the highest priorities, for example, quickly rebuilding a hospital’s mini-grid. In contrast, a centralised grid requires resurrecting the entire network in order to power essential services.
Harihar Mandal, a marginal farmer living in a village under Jokihat block in Araria district,remembered that when they were without power during the flood,power supply from the mini-grid helped them to charge their mobile phones and light their houses at night. Araria was one of the worst affected by the flood this year.
“Power supply from the solar plant helped us to charge our mobile phones and enabled us keep in touch with others,” Mandal told indiaclimatedialogue.net. “It was something not possible earlier.”

Devastating floods

Bihar faced its worst floods in recent decades this year,with 514 deaths reported by the Bihar Disaster Management Department (BDMD). The floods affected more than 17 million people living in 187 administrative blocks in 19 districts, official data show.
Tara Urja, a private energy service partner of Smart Power India, is operating a 30 KW solar power plant in Lakri Nabiganj. Smart Power India implements the Smart Power for Rural Development (SPRD) programme, which is designed to deliver viable electricity solutions through decentralised renewable energy mini-grids.
Tara Urja, which offers a reliable source of electricity, has hundreds of customers, including the block development office, other government offices, shopkeepers and private houses. The consumers particularly benefit in the evenings, which is the peak hour and when power outages from the grid is common. “We provide power to the local community, including the block development office, which uses mini-grid power during the hours when they receive no grid-connected power,” Mukesh Khandelwal, Chief Operating Officer of Tara Urja, told indiaclimatedialogue.net.
Mandal, a resident of Baharbari village, praised Decentralised Energy Systems India(DESI Power), another energy service company, for providing free mobile charging facility and domestic lightning during the floods. “We were without power for over a week as power supply from grid was disrupted due to flood but Desi Power’s mini-grid supply made it possible for us not to go back to the lantern age.”
“We have been operating 49 solar plants in 15 villages in Jokihat,” Kunal Amitabh, Chief Operating Officer DESI Power in Araria, told indiaclimatedialogue.net. “DESI Power’s mini-grid with capacities of 0.5 Kw to 75 Kw are operating in the villages.”

Portable power

Amitabh said DESI Power managed to provide electricity to people in villages during the floods, as mini plants are portable and easy to shift from one place to another. “After the flood hit, we have shifted our portable mini plant either to the rooftops or to the first floors of buildings and continued to provide power supply to households.”
“Soon we are planning to add some smaller decentralised, or one or two big centralised RO drinking water facility in some of our other plant sites. One centralised drinking water facility is already under planning stage in Chakai village near our plant.”
Dharamraj Singh, head of Tara Urja in Bihar, said BDO Mishra had sought help for uninterrupted power supply from their mini-grid to ensure that electricity supply to the office coordinating flood relief efforts was not affected.It was in third week of August when dozens of villages in Hardiya, Nabiganj andDumarsan received severe flood alerts due to rising water levels of the Gandak river. Soon, floodwater entered villages and forced the state government to set up relief camps for displaced residents.Tara Urja has eight plants in Gopalganj, Saran and Siwan districts of Bihar.
“When nine of the 11 panchayats comprising of dozens of villages in our block were severely affected by the floods, we sought the help of Tara Urja’s mini-grid to assist us with flood relief work,” Mishra told indiaclimatedialogue.net. “We relied on their electricity for over 50 hours during the floods.”

How Off-Grid Renewable Energy Came To The Rescue In India’s Flood Zones

People stand on the roof of a submerged house as they wait to be rescued in Patna, in the eastern Indian state of Bihar. (Photo credit Getty Images)

Recently, deadly floods in India and South Asia and powerful storms in United States knocked out power to millions. But when people’s lives are thrown into chaos by devastating natural disaster, using alternative energy source may not seem like an obvious response. However, since energy grids are often the first to fail when a disaster hits, and outages hamper recovery efforts, energy entrepreneurs believe that off-grid renewable energy could provide an instant source of power to those who need it most.

“After a natural disaster hits, it can take weeks or longer for power to be restored and the expense of repairing transmission lines can be very high. Solar and battery mini-grids are a more resilient solution, as it allows local and remote communities to regain access to power, clean drinking water, medical facilities and communications immediately,” says William Brent, director of Power For All, a coalition of 200 public and private organizations campaigning to deliver universal energy access by 2030.

“Also, in the case of renewable mini-grids, the fuel — the Sun — is local, unlike diesel generators, which are subject to disruption in fuel supply because of a disaster,” adds Brent

In August, Bihar, one of the poorest states in India, faced its worst flooding in decades, affecting 13 million people. With uncertainty about the availability of grid power, renewable energy mini-grids — Tara Urja and Desi Power — stepped up to provide back-up power and assist with relief operations in eight villages, including Nabiganj, Siwan and Araria. ?Tara Urja and Desi Power are private energy service companies working with the Smart Power India, an initiative funded by Rockefeller Foundation to help scale mini-grids in India.

“In Bihar, mini-grids and battery energy ensured relief operation was not hampered due to power outages, and the affected villages were not plunged into darkness by night,” says Mukesh Khandelwal, COO of Tara Urja, “Our electricians maintained a round-the-clock watch during the peak days of flooding to make sure that the village-level office received electricity through a feeder line to coordinate relief operations,” adds Khandelwal.

In Araria, a village in Bihar that was under three feet of water, Desi Power provided over 16,000 people to power a range of standard appliances. “Even when villages were submerged and grid connectivity was off, we also had to shut down the grid, but the plant was kept open to help people access essential services such as charging mobile phones and solar lantern from our battery backup,” says Kunal Amitav, COO for Desi Power. “The plant area was also opened up to provide shelter to people, as it was on a slightly higher ground.”

Apart from the mini-grids, Desi Power operates around 40 pico-grids, a small portable system, which users can plug their phones into to charge, to light up homes, and purify drinking water. “In Aamgachi, a village that was under five feet under flood water, each pico-grid plant supported about 25 households,” says Amitav.

Since water contamination is a concern after flood, Desi Power, with Smart Power India, has set up a water treatment plant to provide clean drinking water to the villages for six months. Apart from Bihar, local mini-grids also provided uninterrupted power in flood-affected villages in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand.

But off-grid power is not only needed in times of natural disasters. The most poverty-stricken regions of India lack access to continuous power. ?“Electricity supply to rural parts of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand are erratic at best. Over the years, micro-enterprises in villages have been relying on mini-grids for power supply,” says Khandelwal.

Renewable energy resources are still in its nascent stage in India. The Indian government has set a target of 10,000 mini-grids by 2021, as over 300 million people live in total blackout in the country. So far, private energy service companies and Smart Power India have built 111 projects.

According to Khandelwal, decentralized renewable energy is the only way to bring electricity to India’s poorest and most vulnerable regions. “In Bihar, solar-powered mini-grids are used across several villages. Currently, these mini-grids are off-grid but have the potential to be integrated with the grid to offer seamless power during outages.”

Communities take a punch when the lights go out. And the growing intensity of floods and storms on account of climate change is making things even worse. Is frequent natural disasters then driving home the value of off-grid energy systems? Resilience, Brent says, is increasingly becoming important to the security and reliability of energy systems amid the rise of extreme weather events. “Mini and micro-grids can create a strong infrastructure for universities, hospitals, industrial parks, and communities. Individual mini-grids can join up to form a single utility grid or can also isolate from the grid and operate independently in case of disaster. This also allows easier integration of distributed and renewable generation,” adds Brent.

I am interested in ideas and enterprises — in all shapes, sizes and guises, whether well-cooked or medium-rare. After working for most of my career in Dubai in different newspapers, including Gulf News, I relocated to India and worked for The Times Group in Pune. During my …

India can light the way

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with US President Donald Trump last week was a display of what the two leaders called “true friendship“ reaffirming India-US relations. Against the backdrop of recent tensions and strong differences in position, not least on climate change, the visit demonstrated Prime Minister Modi’s diplomatic skills and his stature as a global leader. Modi must now use this goodwill to assert his vision in driving the international community toward a low-carbon world.

Indeed, with the US’ retreat from the Paris Climate Agreement, it may be Modi -with his bold renewable energy agenda, `power for all’ commitment, and push for widespread adoption of LED (light-emitting diode) light bulbs -who steps up to the plate. His leadership in energy will be even more critical as India flexes its economic muscles.

Energy access will be the cornerstone of India’s economic development.It is an often-repeated fact that nearly 230 million Indians have little to no access to electricity , hampering their ability to join the modern economy .

The World Bank estimates that globally , delivering electricity to the energy poor could create 1.5 trillion additional productive hours, save $38 billion in energy expenditures, and enable nearly 300 million school-age children to study longer under better conditions. India can only truly rise if these 230 million rise as well. And it starts with reliable energy access.

Modi’s government in New Delhi understands this well. Under its steward ship, India is growing into a laboratory not only for the development of clean technology but also for new models of power distribution, particularly of decentralised renewable energy . Today, India’s largest cluster of renewable energy mini-grids, developed under the Rockefeller Foundation’s innovative Smart Power for Rural Development programme, has powered more than 110 villages and illuminated the lives of 40,000 people.

These results are significant not only in scale but also in human impact. With tools and machines powered by reliable electricity, carpenters, tailors and small entrepreneurs have more than doubled their productivity . Cold storage facilities are being built, keeping fresh farm produce from spoiling, so farmers can sell more and at better market prices. Entrepreneurs have opened car washes, water purification and delivery systems, and computer training centres. Essential health services are now within reach.

Looking at the transformation of these villages, it’s clear that access to suf ficient and reliable energy is the missing link that can unleash their people’s potential, empowering rural Indians to lift themselves out of poverty.

In villages touched by the Smart Power for Rural Development programme, energy access has enabled enterprising Indians to raise their local economy by $18.50 per capita -accounting for an increase in economic productivity and the value of benefits to health, environment and social well-being.

Micro-enterprises have reported a 13% average increase in monthly revenues, and there is evidence that business is growing: 11% of businesses reported some form of expansion, and 7% of them are entirely new, established as a result of gaining access to energy . Other countries can benefit from what India has achieved so far. Many emerging economies hunger for power that can help their citizens lift themselves out of poverty and reach their full potential. Because they know what India’s government knows: if you provide reliable and sufficient electricity, social and economic development will follow.

This is where India can truly lead.Modi should leverage India’s achievements to rally the world around a renewable energy revolution that uplifts people from poverty while driving forward the Paris agreement commitments.

It’s already clear that large-scale programmes on solar, wind and hydropower will redefine India’s emerging role as a leader in clean energy and climate change, and our work together on behalf of the poorest Indian families will change the lives of tens of millions of people.

If Modi stays committed to energy access for all Indians, India’s renewable energy leadership will be an incredible legacy for the world.

The writer is president, Rockefeller Foundation, New York City

How India can rally the world around a renewable energy revolution

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with US President Donald Trump last week was a display of what the two leaders called “true friendship” reaffirming India-US relations. Against the backdrop of recent tensions and strong differences in position, not least on climate change, the visit demonstrated Prime Minister Modi’s diplomatic skills and his stature as a global leader. Modi must now use this goodwill to assert his vision in driving the international community toward alow-carbon world.

Indeed, with the US’ retreat from the Paris Climate Agreement, it may be Modi — with his bold renewable energyagenda, ‘power for all’ commitment, and push for widespread adoption of LED (light-emitting diode) light bulbs —who steps up to the plate. His leadership in energy will be even more critical as India flexes its economic muscles. Energy access will be the cornerstone of India’s economic development.

It is an often-repeated fact that nearly 230 million Indians have little to no access to electricity, hampering their ability to join the modern economy.

The World Bank estimates that globally, delivering electricity to the energy poor could create 1.5 trillion additional productive hours, save $38 billion in energy expenditures, and enable nearly 300 million school-age children to study longer under better conditions. India can only truly rise if these 230 million rise as well. And it starts with reliable energy access.

Modi’s government in New Delhi understands this well. Under its stewardship, India is growing into a laboratory not only for the development of clean technology but also for new models of power distribution, particularly of decentralised renewable energy. Today, India’s largest cluster of renewable energy mini-grids, developed under the Rockefeller Foundation’s innovative Smart Power for Rural Development programme, has powered more than 110 villages and illuminated the lives of 40,000 people.

These results are significant not only in scale but also in human impact. With tools and machines powered by reliable electricity, carpenters, tailors and small entrepreneurs have more than doubled their productivity. Cold storage facilities are being built, keeping fresh farm produce from spoiling, so farmers can sell more and at better market prices. Entrepreneurs have opened car washes, water purification and delivery systems, and computer training centres. Essential health services are now within reach.

Looking at the transformation of these villages, it’s clear that access to sufficient and reliable energy is the missing link that can unleash their people’s potential, empowering rural Indians to lift themselves out of poverty.

In villages touched by the Smart Power for Rural Development programme, energy access has enabled enterprising Indians to raise their local economy by $18.50 per capita — accounting for an increase in economic productivity and the value of benefits to health, environment and social well-being.

Micro-enterprises have reported a 13% average increase in monthly revenues, and there is evidence that business is growing: 11% of businesses reported some form of expansion, and 7% of them are entirely new, established as a result of gaining access to energy.

Other countries can benefit from what India has achieved so far. Many emerging economies hunger for power that can help their citizens lift themselves out of poverty and reach their full potential. Because they know what India’s government knows: if you provide reliable and sufficient electricity, social and economic development will follow.

This is where India can truly lead. Modi should leverage India’s achievements to rally the world around a renewable energy revolution that uplifts people from poverty while driving forward the Paris agreement commitments.

It’s already clear that large-scale programmes on solar, wind and hydropower will redefine India’s emerging role as a leader in clean energy and climate change, and our work together on behalf of the poorest Indian families will change the lives of tens of millions of people.

If Modi stays committed to energy access for all Indians, India’s renewable energy leadership will be an incredible legacy for the world.

The writer is president, Rockefeller Foundation, New York City

Multi-billion dollar Africa-India partnership aims to eradicate energy poverty

* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The area most ripe for immediate collaboration is solar irrigation, which is already scaling rapidly in India Pieces are falling into place for an important collaboration between India and Africa to end energy poverty. The stakes are high, as sub-Saharan Africa and India account for over 80 percent of the world’s 1.1 billion unelectrified.
On the heels of the first annual meeting of the African Development Bank (AfDB) ever held in India last month, this cross-continental partnership is evolving quickly, both in the public and private sectors.

Of note, it is taking place at a time when India’s long-time rival China is investing tens of billions of dollars in African infrastructure to secure resources for its future development, adding an element of geopolitics that will be worth following despite India’s position that it is not engaging in Africa with “strategic intent” but to end poverty and promote social justice.

India already pledged in 2015 a concessional credit line of $10 billion to Africa over five years, earmarking at least 15-20 percent (or up to $2 billion) for solar energy projects, largely off-grid, to be implemented through the India-hosted International Solar Alliance (ISA).

The area most ripe for immediate collaboration is solar irrigation, which is already scaling rapidly in India and will be a major help to the AfDB in its goals of achieving universal electricity access and ending hunger and malnutrition by 2025. India too has major ambitions, including 100 percent household electrification by 2019.

The intent to ramp up collaboration was clear at the AfDB meeting, where India’s government said it had received interest from Indian companies to install 664,000 solar pumps, install 56 megawatts of mini-grids and train 5,400 solar mechanics in Africa.

“We would love to share our experiences, to work together with the African continent and all the countries of Africa to take the benefits of modern technology, to take the benefits of low-cost deployment of these technologies on a larger scale to the remotest corners of Africa, to the poorest of poor of Africa,” said Piyush Goyal, India’s minister of state for Power, Coal, New & Renewable Energy and Mines, during the AfDB meeting.

“We should look at scaling up this engagement, being it skill development, being it expanding your micro-grids, or even utility-scale renewable energy programs, be it introducing the most modern technologies in Africa, being it helping you assemble in the initial stage and finally manufacturing solar and wind generating equipment,” he added in comments during the AfDB meeting.

Goyal said the ISA would launch a new program to scale up deployment of mini-grids in Africa, which would focus on design, adoption of common standards, aggregating demand, helping establish global credit enhancement and de-risking mechanisms, assessing demand and costs requirements, identifying and developing attractive payment models for consumers, and persuading member ISA countries with overseas assistance budgets to earmark a portion of their soft loan money.

Astrid Manroth, director of Energy Transformative Partnerships at the AfDB, added: “There’s so much experience here [in India]… and I think we’re very well equipped to take this back to Africa and also see how we can partner on a longer-term horizon.”

Aside from mini-grids, the opportunity for solar irrigation is immense. Sub-Saharan Africa has 60 percent of the world’s uncultivated land and the lowest yield of any region globally. Less than 6% of farmland in sub-Saharan Africa is under irrigation, compared to 20 percent in the rest of the world.

Solar-powered irrigation enables farmers to switch from expensive, heavy and polluting diesel-powered water pumps to sustainable, renewable power. This provides a consistent supply of water to support productivity throughout dry seasons, with knock-on benefits to nutrition and household income. Not only does decentralized renewable energy deliver electricity for improving rural, farming communities, it makes those communities more resilient to climate change and saves governments money (versus grid extension).

According to Indian private sector companies, the ISA line of credit is initially targeting deployment of 100,000 solar irrigation pumps in Africa. Because the credit has a local content requirement, they expect it to lead to increased business partnerships between Indian and African companies.

COMMERCIAL BRIDGES

Already, a growing number of Indian and African companies and social enterprises are building commercial bridges between the two regions.

Husk Power Systems was one of the first Indian companies to be actively involved in developing the energy access market in Africa, focused on Tanzania, Uganda and Nigeria. It develops biomass and solar mini-grids (and hybrids of the two), and is currently converting 5 mini-grids in Tanzania into solar/biomass hybrids, which can provide 24/7 power to homes and businesses. Husk is also committed to doing 5 mini-grids in Nigeria.

Husk has prioritized skill training to go hand-in-hand with technology transfer in order to scale deployment, and established a cross-cultural skill development program that has trained Tanzanians and Ugandans on mini-grid operations. In addition, Husk has worked extensively with regulators of multiple countries, and in 2015 hosted the Uganda Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development for two weeks for a training program on mini-grid technology and development.

Another leading Indian mini-grid developer OMC Power is also developing its strategy to enter the Africa market, starting in Kenya. Both OMC Power and Husk are part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s $75 million Smart Power India program, which has been working to commercially scale mini-grids over the past two years with a goal of eventually electrifying 1,000 villages in India, and which is now looking to expand its experience and learning into Africa.

On the solar irrigation front FuturePump – a solar irrigation company based in Kenya with manufacturing facilities in India, has installed 2,000 systems in Africa, and is now turning its sights toward India. Claro Energy, a leading Indian solar irrigation company which has 6,500 solar pumping systems in about 15 Indian states, is exploring how to enter the Africa market.

The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), a non-profit research institute in India, through its Lighting a Billion Lives program, has reached 20,000 homes in Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Mozambique, Rep. of Congo and Nigeria. Several educational institutions, including TERI University and Gujarat Energy Research & Management Institute, have also started programs to educate African officials, utility executives and entrepreneurs.

Interesting initiatives are also under way that originated in Africa and are finding their way into India. For example, Greenlight Planet is piloting its pay-as-you-go solar service in India based on its innovative business model in Africa that has reached over 5 million homes. D.light, another company that has established a strong foothold in Africa, is also looking at bringing the “paygo” model to India.

Civil society is engaging more deeply as well. Barefoot College, an India-based NGO, has trained solar entrepreneurs, with vocational training centers in Senegal, Burkino Faso, Liberia, South Sudan and Zanzibar that serve the Sub-Saharan region. The SELCO Foundation is also looking to establish its off-grid ecosystem model in Tanzania to help build the enabling environment needed to scale the sector.

Rockefeller Foundation to boost Uganda’s electricity access

Rockefeller Foundation President, Dr. Rajiv Shah (2nd L) and his delegation with President Yoweri Museveni (in a white shirt) at State House, Entebbe on May 23.

The Foundation plans to replicate the Smart Power India initiative in Africa starting with Uganda and Kenya The Rockefeller Foundation plans to create a Smart Power Africa initiative on the continent starting with Uganda and Kenya, according to its President Rajiv J. Shah.

Shah, who was in Uganda on May 23, revealed this after discussions with President Yoweri Museveni at State-House, Entebbe, Their meeting was attended by business leaders, and Foundation grantees to understand how the charity organisation can best contribute to fostering economic opportunity, and human rights and dignity.

The Smart Power Africa initiative will be modeled along the lines of ‘Smart Power for Rural Development’ initiative that the Foundation unveiled in India In April 2015 to extend electricity to 1,000 villages in three years to one million people in the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Details of the Smart Power Africa initiative have not been revealed.

In India, Rockefeller invested US$75 million and created a new organisation—Smart Power India—to expand the Smart Power model which uses mini-grid technology for both lighting and productive use.

The Rockefeller initiative is based on data showing that round the world, 1.3 billion people lack access to electricity. In Uganda, only 20 % of the country’s households have access to electricity, according to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, the lowest in East Africa outside of Burundi.

The Rockefeller Foundation, which has a net worth of about US$3.5 billion, has since 1913 worked “to promote the well-being of humanity throughout the world” by advancing health, revaluing ecosystems, securing livelihoods, and transforming. Rockefeller believes that while livelihoods of people around the world are threatened by demographic shifts and economic stresses, Africa’s faces a growing youth bulge.

In the meeting with Shah, President Museveni said Rockefeller could also support Uganda’s agriculture sector, solar power, research centres, and infrastructure. In Agriculture which supports 80% of the population, Museveni pointed out the fight against vectors like ticks in livestock.

“Our target is to have vaccines against tick-borne diseases developed. We shall be pleased if you could support us in this effort. If we can vaccinate, we shall have the capacity to protect the livestock without using acaricides,” Museveni told Shah.

Museveni said the Foundation could also support the country in the development of solar powered pumps for irrigation to enable year round food production by farmers. He said the government is committed to promoting use of solar water pumps and rural lighting and that promotion of the private sector led-growth requires availability of low cost infrastructure.

The Rockefeller Foundation’s involvement in Uganda dates back to the 1930s with investments in health and education. An early partnership was the establishment of the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI).

This was followed up with the discovery of what would later be known as Zika virus in the 1940’s at the Institute by Ugandan scientists.

Similarly, the Foundation helped found the world-renowned Makerere University and offered aid towards the development of agriculture, public health, medicine, and social science departments in universities across Africa.

In the agriculture sector, the Foundation’s investments in agriculture in the country goes back many years, with the more recent being the support for the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

Co-launched with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the organisation has resulted in AGRA directing more than US $30 million investments across key areas, including markets, better seeds, and improving soil fertility and health on the continent.

This has allowed AGRA to develop an array of networks from farmers through to private sector actors along the value chains up until the highest levels of government.

More than 175,000 farmers have received trainings in post-harvest management, reducing their losses by 15% and supported 18 doctoral students in seed breeding. In addition, more than 700 agro dealers have received certification to sell crop-enhancements to farmers.