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.

Minigrids can power rural economic activity, says Smart Power’s Mukherji

Mini grids can spur economic activity in rural areas and accelerate the process of expanding mobile phone network across the country due to their large capacities and the ability to connect to the national grid, according to Smart Power India.
A mini grid, as defined by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, is an off-grid power system with a generation capacity of between 10 KW and 500 KW. There are a number of other solutions of smaller capacities that rural areas can use such as a solar lantern, a solar home solution, or even a community solution like a micro grid. But a mini grid is the only alternativethat provides the kind of electricity that can be used for business activities, Jaideep Mukherji , Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Smart Power India told The Hindu.
“One of the deficiencies of the other off-grid power solution models is that while these solutions are good in moving households away from kerosene and providing them with reliable and clean energy, they do not provide the energy required to fuel enterprise or commercial activity. You will not be able to power equipment, motors, etc,” Mr. Mukherji said.
“A mini grid is a larger system that converts direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC) and it provides safety as per REC and CEA standards,” he explained. “Usually, the power coming from the smaller off-grid solutions is DC energy. While it is good for lighting, it does not satisfy the community’s requirement to run any sort of business,” he said.
The power generated from a mini grid can be seamlessly transferred to the national grid since it is already going through a a charge controller which manages the flow of energy and an inverter which converts the electricity from DC to AC. It also has a storage facility to meet night demand as well.

No fluctuations

“The power that comes out is regular and standard with no fluctuations,” Mr Mukherji said.
Apart from commercial enterprises, rural banks or schools, Mr. Mukherji said that a large part of the demand for mini grids came from telecom service providers for powering mobile towers.
“They (mobile towers) have a presence across rural India and all of them suffer from inadequate power and so have to use diesel,” Mr. Mukherji said. “There is a national mandate to green 50–60 per cent of the telecom towers and also the cost of using diesel is very high and it (the risk) includes diesel theft and all the other nefarious activities that go along with it not to mention the pollution. The power demand of a telecom tower is 24/7.”
Even from his company’s point of view, one of the important criteria in selecting a village to install a mini grid is to see whether there is at least one customer in the area – like a telecom tower, petrol pump, school or bank – that could make up a significant portion of the energy demand from the mini grid.

Business potential

“The selection of the village is very important. We look at the number of households and the potential of existing commercial activity and the future potential demand. There should be a threshold amount of economic activity. And the other important criterion is the presence of an anchor-load customer, a single customer who can guarantee at least 25-30 per cent of the demand” he said.
A combination of flexible regulation by the government and erratic power supply from the national grid has meant that mini grids can complement the national grid and, according to Mr. Mukherji, often the mini grids are installed in places already covered by the national grid.
“Where the grid has reached, the power is inadequate, erratic and not able to meet the energy requirements of the village,” he said.

Flexible rules

Government regulations also provide complete flexibility to the investor, allowing them to compete with the grid, if they choose, sell their excess power to the grid or even exit by selling their assets to the distribution companies.
“Tariff flexibility is also given such that the tariff for the power coming from a mini grid is decided between the provider and the community served,” Mr. Mukherji said.
“At the moment, the government has not set the upper limit on the tariffs and has left it to the market. It’s not as if people will buy power at any price. At the lowest tariff level, they would pay 5–6 rupees a day to light up their home or shop using a mini grid. That is a big saving over diesel or kerosene and the power comes with the benefit of being regular and standard,” he said.

Rockefeller Foundation’s mini-grids operational in 106 villages in India

US-based Rockefeller Foundation’s (RF) subsidiary Smart Power India today said its mini-grids are now operational in as many as 106 villages in India.

The grids are operational across three states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. In the long-term, Mukherji said these grids have the ability to integrate with the discoms’ grids and would help accelerate the realisation of the government’s ‘power for all’ vision.(Representative image Reuters)

US-based Rockefeller Foundation’s (RF) subsidiary Smart Power India today said its mini-grids are now operational in as many as 106 villages in India. Smart Power India is setting up these mini-grids under the Foundation’s Smart Power for Rural Development programme.

“The mini-grids are now operational in 106 villages in India. We are already in the process of building 125 new mini-grids with our partners … It is the largest privately operated mini-grids cluster globally,” Smart Power India CEO Jaideep Mukherji said in a statement.

The grids are operational across three states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. In the long-term, Mukherji said these grids have the ability to integrate with the discoms’ grids and would help accelerate the realisation of the government’s ‘power for all’ vision.

He also said that the increasing affordability of solar equipment is a positive development for the mini-grid sector as it would help reduce the cost. “Our mini-grids are helping bridge energy access gap by supplying power not only to homes, but also for commercial and productive activities in the village,” he added.

Deepali Khanna, Director of Rockefeller Foundation said that they are aiming at powering 1,000 villages in the country. “Currently we are working with our partners to expand our work to Jharkhand,” she said.

The foundation has launched an initiative to use renewable power-based mini-grids to light up villages. It is working with the government to develop central and state policies that support growth of the mini-grid sector in India.

Rockefeller has invested USD 1.5 million to resolve the battery storage challenge.

RF’s mini-grids operational in 106 villages

Working with govt to support mini-grid sector: Rockefeller

New Delhi, Dec 25 (PTI) The Rockefeller Foundation, which has launched an initiative to use renewable power-based mini grids to light up villages, today said it is working with the government to develop central and state policies that support growth of the mini-grid sector in India.

Through its initiative, the US-based foundation currently has 94 fully operational plants that are serving about 30,000 people.

“Beyond our goal of electrifying 1,000 villages, we are working with government to develop central and state policies that support the growth of the mini-grid sector, providing financing and engaging other investors to encourage their participation,” the Rockefeller Foundation (Asia) MD Ashvin Dayal said. He said these mini-grids can be built in 2-3 months, which can rely on renewable power and provide enough consistent energy to light up multiple homes and businesses within a village. Currently, over 3,500 small businesses, 150 telecom towers and over 31,000 people are powered by mini grids under the Foundation?s Smart Power for Rural Development initiative. He also said there has been a rapid change in the policy and regulatory environment in India to support the deployment of renewable energy based mini grids. The drafting of a dedicated National Mini-grid Policy, state-level policy by UP along with keenness by Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha to introduce measures for such deployment reflects Indias intent to bridge the current policy gaps and create an enabling environment for entrepreneurs and investors, Dayal said. The Foundation has initially focused on states with the least access to electricity that includes Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha. PTI RR ARD

RF’s mini-grids operational in 106 villages

New Delhi, May 18 (PTI) US-based Rockefeller Foundations (RF) subsidiary Smart Power India today said its mini-grids are now operational in as many as 106 villages in India. Smart Power India is setting up these mini-grids under the Foundations Smart Power for Rural Development programme. “The mini-grids are now operational in 106 villages in India. We are already in the process of building 125 new mini-grids with our partners … It is the largest privately operated mini-grids cluster globally,” Smart Power India CEO Jaideep Mukherji said in a statement. The grids are operational across three states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand.

In the long-term, Mukherji said these grids have the ability to integrate with the discoms grids and would help accelerate the realisation of the governments power for all vision.

He also said that the increasing affordability of solar equipment is a positive development for the mini-grid sector as it would help reduce the cost. “Our mini-grids are helping bridge energy access gap by supplying power not only to homes, but also for commercial and productive activities in the village,” he added. Deepali Khanna, Director of Rockefeller Foundation said that they are aiming at powering 1,000 villages in the country. “Currently we are working with our partners to expand our work to Jharkhand,” she said. The foundation has launched an initiative to use renewable power-based mini-grids to light up villages. It is working with the government to develop central and state policies that support growth of the mini-grid sector in India.

Rockefeller has invested USD 1.5 million to resolve the battery storage challenge. PTI RR MR

RF’s mini-grids operational in 106 villages

US-based Rockefeller Foundation’s (RF) subsidiary Smart Power India today said its mini-grids are now operational in as many as 106 villages in India.

Smart Power India is setting up these mini-grids under the Foundation’s Smart Power for Rural Development programme.

“The mini-grids are now operational in 106 villages in India. We are already in the process of building 125 new mini-grids with our partners … It is the largest privately operated mini-grids cluster globally,” Smart Power India CEO Jaideep Mukherji said in a statement.

The grids are operational across three states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand.

In the long-term, Mukherji said these grids have the ability to integrate with the discoms’ grids and would help accelerate the realisation of the government’s ‘power for all’ vision.

He also said that the increasing affordability of solar equipment is a positive development for the mini-grid sector as it would help reduce the cost.

“Our mini-grids are helping bridge energy access gap by supplying power not only to homes, but also for commercial and productive activities in the village,” he added.

Deepali Khanna, Director of Rockefeller Foundation said that they are aiming at powering 1,000 villages in the country. “Currently we are working with our partners to expand our work to Jharkhand,” she said.

The foundation has launched an initiative to use renewable power-based mini-grids to light up villages. It is working with the government to develop central and state policies that support growth of the mini-grid sector in India.

Rockefeller has invested USD 1.5 million to resolve the battery storage challenge.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

Mines, Clean Energy and Investment: India’s Triple Bottom Line

he Kamuthi Project, one of the world’s largest solar parks, spread over 2,500 acres in southern India, was commissioned by Adani Power and completed in 2016.

By Joseph Kirschke

India is the world’s fastest-growing energy consumer and a global leader in clean energy — third only to China and the U.S. 

And by 2035, when non-fossil fuel capacity surges from 22 to 54 percent, India will have reached critical mass as the planet’s most populous nation.

India’s 1.3 billion people also offer investors an unprecedented opportunity to scale climate resilient communities, commerce, and industry in one of the world’s most dynamic emerging market economies where up to 460 million must survive without electricity.

And with prolific metalsminerals, and fuels including iron, steel, coal, lignite, aluminum and bauxite, one of the world’s largest mining industries offers a fast-evolving solution.

India’s government, with international help, is pushing hard for renewables: In fact, new coal-fired power plants are on hold until 2022 – the year 175 gigawatt of solar and wind power are projected to come online. Meanwhile, energy needs for India’s power-hungry mines remain at a premium.

Last month, state-owned National Aluminium Company Ltd. announced plans for 150 megawatts in solar and wind power. London-listed multinational Vedanta Resources had already entered the country’s solar sector by bidding for 500 MW in projects; then, in December, subsidiary Hindustan Zinc pledged solar deployments of 115 MW in addition to currently installed 474 MW of thermal power and 274 MW of wind.

Indian mining companies aren’t alone: Since 2011, mines worldwide are economizing through alternative energy. This subsector, expanding in ChileCanadaAustralia and Africa, is poised to save billions as installations are forecast to quadruple to $3.9 billion within five years.

Fossil fuels were the backbone of India’s commodity-driven supercycle of the 2000s which, together with China’s, was the greatest in modern history. Amid mounting smog, heat waves and droughts – and collapsing prices for clean technology – Indian coal and oil firms are now unlikely allies with solar.

Coal India Ltd., the world’s largest state-owned coal miner, is planning more than 600 MW of solar in four states, while NLC India Ltd. has tendered for 260 MW of grid-connected solar in two. Oil giants Indian Oil Corp. and Oil India Ltd. have similarly permitted a 1 GW solar farm.

But the true potential lies in integrating these deployments with existing clean-energy distribution in regions home to at least a third of the world’s population living without electricity. A prime example is India’s high-voltage Green Energy Corridor underwritten by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) which, despite some success, has officials concerned over uneven penetration in the poor states it aims to benefit.

Madhya Pradesh, where Coal India has signed for 200 MW of solar, is one. Rajasthan, home to India’s largest single deposit of lead, zinc and silver – and where Hindustan Zinc commissioned 15 MW of solar late last year – is another. Elsewhere, in Andhra Pradesh, Tata Power Renewable Energy Ltd. operates a 100 MW wind farm.

In Gujarat, Gujarat Mineral Development Corp. installed a 5 MW solar farm at a reclaimed mine. And in Maharashtra, under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Chang (UNFCCC), the renewable energy division of iron ore producer Essel Mining and Industries Ltd. installed 75 MW of wind in exchange for carbon credits.

The industrial-scale infrastructure associated with India’s mechanized mines — including extensive transportation systems — hold promise, too. In particular, efforts are underway to green segments of India’s railway network – one of the world’s largest – which consumes more diesel and electricity than any other part of the economy.

Indeed, as climate change is being recognized as an existential threat, India has seldom held more appeal for international asset managers – even among some of the biggest, normally risk-averse institutional investors like pension funds, banks and insurance firms. Yet amid green bondsclimate funds and other inventive mechanisms, large financiers still grapple with cohesive approaches.

Perhaps most onerous is India’s lack of development coupled with erratic policies and regulations. But a flexible and burgeoning impact investment market can stimulate matching finance from development agencies, lenders and large institutions. Take the Rockefeller Foundation’s Smart Power India initiative, the country’s largest “anchor-based” network encompassing telecommunications towers, which seeks to spread clean energy to 1,000 rural Indian villages this year.

Acumen is also India-focused and invests millions in off-grid clean energy for homes and businesses; Frontier Markets, a Rajasthan-based for-profit, seeks to provide clean energy access to 1 million Indian households by 2020. Last week, reports emerged private equity fund Actis will invest $500 million into a successful bidder for a World Bank-financed 750 MW solar park.

One nonprofit is advancing this narrative, if quietly, through a unique human capital approach.

Barefoot College is a pioneer which trains women from across the global south to become solar engineers and educators. After sponsoring their travel, the NGO — also Rajasthan-based — enabled participants from 77 countries to bring newfound technical skills back to their local communities.

One returned home to Ollagüe, Chile, where Italy’s Enel Green Power installed a solar plant with more than 1,600 photovoltaic panels through a partnership with Phoenix-based mining giant Freeport McMoRan Inc. Now the 150 families of the indigenous Quechua community are enjoying their first ongoing supply of electric power.

For all the challenges inherent in its extreme poverty, India is blessed with mineral resources, clean energy and an entrepreneurial spirit which may make it the planet’s ideal ecosystem in the fight against industrial carbon emissions.

And for investors striving to enact change through COP21 and its $13.5 trillion commitments, it cannot be overlooked.

Image courtesy of the author

Joseph Kirschke is a consultant who advises mining companies on sustainability and clean energy, is a former editor at Mining Media International, a Jacksonville-based publishing house

Energy Access Builds Inclusive Economies and Resilient Communities

More girls in rural Bihar, India are going to school after mini-grid-powered household lights give mothers and children two extra hours of evening work and study time. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

NEW DELHI, Feb 16 2017 (IPS) – Jaipal Hembrum runs three one-man home enterprises – a bicycle repair shop, a tiny food stall and a tailoring unit in Kautuka, a remote village in eastern India. Sewing recycled clothes into mattresses late into the evening, the 38-year-old father of three girls says two light bulbs fed by a solar power system have changed his life.

Given the trajectory of development India is currently pursuing, energy access for its rural population could bring dramatic economic improvement. Yet 237 million people — a fifth of its 1.3 billion people, many of them in remote villages with few livelihood options — do not have any access to it.

The Delhi-based research organisation Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) stipulates that if even half of households deemed electrified through the national power grid are not receiving the guaranteed six hours uninterrupted supply, the number of people who are electricity-poor in India totals 650 million.

In this scenario, renewable energy-based mini-grids, particularly in remote villages, are considered the best option to manage local household and commercial energy demand efficiently by generating power at the source of consumption.

This is being proven true by the Rockefeller Foundation’s Smart Power for Rural Development (SPRD) initiative in two of India’s poorest states, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where 16 and 36 percent of households respectively are electrified. In India, 55 percent rural households have energy access, often of unreliable quality.

The challenge India faces is how to meet its energy requirements while also meeting its emission reduction commitment to the global climate deal.

Started in 2014, the SPRD project has helped set up close to 100 mini-grid plants, covering the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and lately, in Jharkhand too. According to Rockefeller Foundation sources, these plants are serving a customer base of around 38,000 people. Over 6,500 households are benefitting, along with 3,800 shops and businesses, and over 120 institutions, telecom towers and micro-enterprises.

Over 2014 – 2017, the Rockefeller Foundation aims to make a difference to 1,000 energy-poor villages in India, benefitting around a million rural people. For this effort, the Foundation has committed 75 million dollars, partnering and funding Smart Power India (SPI) a new entity designed to work closely with a wide range of stakeholders who help scale-up the market for off-grid energy.

Jaipal Hembrum stitches old clothes mattresses in the evening by the light of a solar-powered bulb. The 50 dollars a day he earns is kept aside for schooling and marriages of his three daughters. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

What can mini-grids can do? Plenty

A recent evaluation of the mini-grids’ impact on communities they serve in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh already show a broad range of economic, social and environmental benefits.

Entrepreneurship and new businesses have grown, with 70 percent existing micro-businesses reporting increased number of costumers after connecting to the mini-grids and 80 percent planned to expand.

Nine in 10 household users said their children’s daily study time has increased by two hours since they got the lights. Women said they had increased mobility after dark and theft cases had fallen. Use of kerosene and diesel has fallen dramatically — to virtually zero, according to Khanna.

Micro-businesses like cyber cafes, fuel stations, mobile and fan repair shops, banks, schools and hospitals are the fastest growing commercial customer section of mini-grids constructed under Smart Power India.

In Shivpura village of Uttar Pradesh, where TARA Urja, a small energy service company (ESCO), started providing reliable electricity from a 30-KW solar plant, Sandeep Jaiswal set up a water purification processor in 2015. In just over a month he was rushing 1,200 litres of water on his new mini-truck to 40 customers. TARA, also a social business incubator, has financially supported Jaiswal with 530 dollars, in return for a one-year contract to source electricity from TARA.

Smart Power India supports the development of rural micro-enterprises through loans, community engagement and partnerships with larger companies with rural value chains, for instance, city malls that source vegetables from rural farms.

India confronts a demographic youth ‘bulge’ with 64 percent in the working age group in 2020, requiring 10 million new jobs every year in the coming decade. Using green mini-grids to create rural livelihoods can also reduce urban migration.

Innovating a business model that propels construction of mini-grids

Mini-grids are a decentralized system providing a renewable energy-based electricity generator with a capacity of 10 kilowatts or more, with a target consumer group it supplies through a stand-alone distribution network.

The sustainability of private companies in the rural power supply sector depends on generating sufficient revenue long-term. To make it profitable for smaller-scale ESCOs to bring electricity to rural parts of the developing world, the Smart Power model ensures fast-growing sectors with significant energy needs such as telecom towers in rural areas, to provide steady revenue. In return, the ESCOs provide contractual guarantee of reliable power supply to the towers.

“There is an opportunity to catalyze the telecommunication and off-grid energy sectors. Currently cell phone towers in rural areas are often powered by expensive diesel generators and companies are looking for cheaper alternatives, thereby creating the possibility for a strong anchor,” says Ashvin Dayal, Managing Director, Asia, of the Rockefeller Foundation.

Telecom towers — by becoming the ‘anchor’ customers – help make ESCOs bankable. They then can expand supply into rural household lighting and local enterprises.

Government figures say 2 billion litres of diesel is annually consumed by the 350,000 existing telecom towers in India, including those in remote rural regions. The challenge India faces is how to meet its energy requirements without compromising environmental sustainability, while meeting its emission reduction commitment to the global climate deal.

Solar power cost per unit has fallen in India to 0.045 cents, which makes it increasingly feasible to shift to renewable powered mini-grids, saving substantial subsidies spent on fossil fuels. The government in 2016 decided to construct 10,000 mini-grids in the next five years of 500 megawatt (MW) capacity, but this is clearly not enough, say experts.

India has a potential for 748,990 MW of solar power. Fourteen states, including Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, receive irradiance above the annual global average of 5 kilowatt-hours per square meter per day.

Around the world, approximately 1.3 billion people lack access to reliable and affordable means of electricity without which, growing their incomes, improving food security and health, educating children, accessing key information services becomes a major challenge. Energy access is critical to achieving several UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

Mini grids can power rural economic activity

Mini grids can spur economic activity in rural areas and accelerate the process of expanding mobile phone network across the country due to their large capacities and the ability to connect to the national grid, according to Smart Power India.
A mini grid, as defined by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, is an off-grid power system with a generation capacity of between 10 KW and 500 KW. There are a number of other solutions of smaller capacities that rural areas can use such as a solar lantern, a solar home solution, or even a community solution like a micro grid.
But a mini grid is the only alternativethat provides the kind of electricity that can be used for business activities, Jaideep Mukherjee, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Smart Power India told The Hindu .
“One of the deficiencies of the other off-grid power solution models is that while these solutions are good in moving households away from kerosene and providing them with reliable and clean energy, they do not provide the energy required to fuel enterprise or commercial activity. You will not be able to power equipment, motors, etc,” Mr. Mukherjee said.
“A mini grid is a larger system that converts direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC) and it provides safety as per REC and CEA standards,” he explained. “Usually, the power coming from the smaller off-grid solutions is DC energy. While it is good for lighting, it does not satisfy the community’s requirement to run any sort of business,” he said.
The power generated from a mini grid can be seamlessly transferred to the national grid since it is already going through a a charge controller which manages the flow of energy and an inverter which converts the electricity from DC to AC. It also has a storage facility to meet night demand as well.

No fluctuations

“The power that comes out is regular and standard with no fluctuations,” Mr Mukherjee said.
Apart from commercial enterprises, rural banks or schools, Mr. Mukherjee said that a large part of the demand for mini grids came from telecom service providers for powering mobile towers.
“They (mobile towers) have a presence across rural India and all of them suffer from inadequate power and so have to use diesel,” Mr. Mukherjee said. “There is a national mandate to green 50–60 per cent of the telecom towers and also the cost of using diesel is very high and it (the risk) includes diesel theft and all the other nefarious activities that go along with it not to mention the pollution. The power demand of a telecom tower is 24/7.”
Even from his company’s point of view, one of the important criteria in selecting a village to install a mini grid is to see whether there is at least one customer in the area – like a telecom tower, petrol pump, school or bank – that could make up a significant portion of the energy demand from the mini grid.

Business potential

“The selection of the village is very important. We look at the number of households and the potential of existing commercial activity and the future potential demand. There should be a threshold amount of economic activity. And the other important criterion is the presence of an anchor-load customer, a single customer who can guarantee at least 25-30 per cent of the demand” he said.
A combination of flexible regulation by the government and erratic power supply from the national grid has meant that mini grids can compete directly with the national grid and, according to Mr. Mukherjee, often the mini grids are installed in places already covered by the national grid.
“Where the grid has reached, the power is inadequate, erratic and not able to meet the energy requirements of the village,” he said. “In fact, of the 95 mini grids operational today, technically, almost 80-90 per cent of the villages are electrified as per government standards!”

Working with govt to support mini-grid sector: Rockefeller

The Rockefeller Foundation, which has launched an initiative to use renewable power-based mini grids to light up villages, today said it is working with the government to develop central and state policies that support growth of the mini-grid sector in India.

Through its initiative, the US-based foundation currently has 94 fully operational plants that are serving about 30,000 people.

“Beyond our goal of electrifying 1,000 villages, we are working with government to develop central and state policies that support the growth of the mini-grid sector, providing financing and engaging other investors to encourage their participation,” the Rockefeller Foundation (Asia) MD Ashvin Dayal said.

He said these mini-grids can be built in 2-3 months, which can rely on renewable power and provide enough consistent energy to light up multiple homes and businesses within a village.

Currently, over 3,500 small businesses, 150 telecom towers and over 31,000 people are powered by mini grids under the Foundation’s Smart Power for Rural Development initiative.

He also said there has been a rapid change in the policy and regulatory environment in India to support the deployment of renewable energy based mini grids.

The drafting of a dedicated National Mini-grid Policy, state-level policy by UP along with keenness by Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha to introduce measures for such deployment reflects India’s intent to bridge the current policy gaps and create an enabling environment for entrepreneurs and investors, Dayal said.

The Foundation has initially focused on states with the least access to electricity that includes Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

Working with govt to support mini-grid sector: Rockefeller

New Delhi, Dec 25 (PTI) The Rockefeller Foundation, which has launched an initiative to use renewable power-based mini grids to light up villages, today said it is working with the government to develop central and state policies that support growth of the mini-grid sector in India.

Through its initiative, the US-based foundation currently has 94 fully operational plants that are serving about 30,000 people.

“Beyond our goal of electrifying 1,000 villages, we are working with government to develop central and state policies that support the growth of the mini-grid sector, providing financing and engaging other investors to encourage their participation,” the Rockefeller Foundation (Asia) MD Ashvin Dayal said. He said these mini-grids can be built in 2-3 months, which can rely on renewable power and provide enough consistent energy to light up multiple homes and businesses within a village. Currently, over 3,500 small businesses, 150 telecom towers and over 31,000 people are powered by mini grids under the Foundation?s Smart Power for Rural Development initiative. He also said there has been a rapid change in the policy and regulatory environment in India to support the deployment of renewable energy based mini grids. The drafting of a dedicated National Mini-grid Policy, state-level policy by UP along with keenness by Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha to introduce measures for such deployment reflects Indias intent to bridge the current policy gaps and create an enabling environment for entrepreneurs and investors, Dayal said. The Foundation has initially focused on states with the least access to electricity that includes Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha. PTI RR ARD

How Clean Energy Mini-Grids Can Empower Rural India

Far from the national power grid and without access to a reliable source of electricity, Sunil Kumar, the owner of a carpentry shop in Siwan, a district in Bihar, used to take three to four days to build a table. But when a solar-powered mini-grid was installed in his village, Sunil’s livelihood changed. Today his shop is buzzing with the sound of power saws and electric drills. He’s able do more work in less time and take on more customers. Business is booming.
Mr. Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, has described energy as the “golden thread that connects economic growth, social equity, and environmental sustainability.” These words—meant to spur action for the 1.2 billion people globally without access to power—couldn’t resonate more deeply from village to village in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, two of the poorest states in India, and where less than 10% of rural households are connected to the national grid. It’s also where the Rockefeller Foundation has been spearheading an innovative, market-based initiative since 2014 to bring electricity to the rural poor at a scale capable of stimulating economic growth across the region.
“Mini grids are small enough to construct quickly, rely on renewable power such as solar, [and] provide enough consistent energy to light multiple homes and businesses within a village.
In just two short years, the Smart Power for Rural Development (SPRD) initiative has helped install 93 mini-grids in India. Mini grids, unlike the national grid or small home systems, are small enough to construct quickly, rely on renewable power such as solar, but provide enough consistent energy to light multiple homes and businesses within a village. This influx of reliable energy has given local entrepreneurs the means and confidence to start their own businesses—from cyber-cafes and convenience stores to manufacturing and water purifying plants. Shopkeepers once limited by diesel generators now keep their doors open longer. Today more than 3500 small businesses, 150 telecom towers and 31,000 people are powered by mini-grids.
Mini-grids are not a new phenomenon in India. A handful of villages have used them for years, albeit on a modest scale. But the SPRD initiative is the first to pursue the creation of a mini-grid sector big and robust enough to fuel commercial enterprises and drive economic development beyond one village to many villages.
To achieve this catalyst effect, to build a new sector at scale, the Foundation and its partners are working to support an enabling ecosystem where mini-grids can thrive. We’ve worked with government to promote policy and regulatory frameworks so energy companies and their investors feel confident making long-term investment decisions—such as the mini-grid policy in Uttar Pradesh. We have supported entrepreneurial energy companies to build mini-grids by providing low interest loans to support start up costs. We have also established a non-profit company, Smart Power India (SPI), which supports energy service companies to be successful, works with villages to ensure micro-enterprises can grow, and secures agreement from telecom and other growing sectors to be anchor customers – ensuring a steady flow of revenue to the mini-grid operators. On the policy front, SPI informs government about policies that will create a pathway for mini-grids to expand in tandem with and be mutually reinforcing for the national grid.
Each partner in this system plays a crucial role in supporting the growth of this new sector, and the Foundation’s ultimate goal is to impact more than one million lives and establish self-sustaining momentum in the energy market for a new rural electrification model.
A recent evaluation of the mini-grids’ impact in the communities they serve uncovered a broad range of benefits:

Economic Impact

•    70% of micro-businesses report increased numbers of customers
•    80% say they plan to expand their business
•    Entrepreneurship and the number of new businesses has grown, particularly among women who are having to spend less time on household work, freeing them to start new ventures.

Social and Environmental Impact

•    87% of household users say their children use light to study after dark, increasing their average daily study time by two hours
•    86% of women surveyed reported increased mobility and a reduction in theft
•    50% of household users reported reduced eye problems
•    A dramatic decline in the use of fossil fuels: kerosene use dropped from 21% to 0%; diesel from 52% to 0%.
Supplying rural areas with strong and reliable electricity is never a simple proposition. But as these initial outcomes show, it can be done if there’s an enabling ecosystem that allows renewable solutions like mini-grids to take hold and scale.
“Today more than 3500 small businesses, 150 telecom towers and 31,000 people are powered by mini-grids.
India’s rise as a global economic power—and its goal of delivering power to 237 million “energy poor” people by 2022—will depend on large-scale solutions to its energy infrastructure. On 2 October, India ratified the Paris climate agreement. Greater reliance on renewable energy will also reduce the country’s use of coal and other fossil fuels that contribute to climate change.
The experience in the lives of rural villagers in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh illustrates the power and potential of that golden thread of energy that the UN Secretary-General so profoundly envisions. We are committed to doing our part to spur renewable energy access and economic development in India by working with our grantees and partners to guide that thread through the needle.

UP becomes lab for green energy firms looking to tap rural market

Companies, non-profits are testing the viability of supplying power from mini-grids and solar-powered systems

New Delhi: Uttar Pradesh, home to about 16% of India’s 1.2 billion population, many of whom have poor or no access to power, is emerging as the preferred testing ground for non-profits and companies trying out new business models as they seek to tap rising demand for electricity in rural India.

Across the state, these organizations are testing the viability of supplying electricity from mini-grids and solar-powered lighting systems specially designed for villages and small enterprises.

The first customers are telcos whose telecom towers in remote parts of the country have, until now, been powered by diesel generators; and shops, even individual households, in villages that were hitherto illuminated by kerosene lanterns.

According to Zia Khan, vice-president, initiatives and strategy at the Rockefeller Foundation, which has committed $75 million of debt financing and early investment capital to energy services companies in India, the market for mini-grids in Uttar Pradesh is promising.

“More consumers are signing up, no one has dropped out of the mini-grid ecosystem and more energy service companies are coming up,” said Khan.

The foundation provides finance for setting up micro-grids, helps these utilities in finding anchor customers (mostly telcos), and in marketing power to households and small commercial establishments.

About seven utilities that the foundation has financed have so far set up close to 100 grids in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. By 2018, they will connect around 1,000 villages.

For customers, the lure of renewable energy from micro-grids is in the cost.

According to Sunil Jain, chief executive officer of Hero Future Energies Pvt. Ltd, the cost of power from a diesel generator set comes to about Rs.22 a unit for telcos, which require higher capacity generators.

“Cost of solar power with adequate storage facility comes to not more than Rs.14-15 a unit. Innovation in solar power and storage facilities could further drive down the cost of off-grid power in the next few years and revolutionize the electricity sector,” said Jain, who is convinced that India’s mobile telephony story (in which competition, technology and enabling regulation combined to drive tariffs to the lowest in the world) could be repeated in energy.

For the non-profits and companies, Uttar Pradesh is a good testing ground for models they can apply elsewhere, in the country, and without—in other parts of Asia and in Africa.

According to the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2015 report, India has 237 million people with no access to electricity. In many villages, power supply is intermittent.

According to executives in power companies, 70% of those without access to electricity or with intermittent access to it are in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand.

In parts of Uttar Pradesh, where solar power is available to households and shops, consumption of electricity is growing steadily on the back of affordable solar-powered gadgets such as lanterns, mobile phone chargers and fans, even entire power systems suitable for a shop. To capture the market, solar gadget makers are tailor-making products for the rural consumer.

According to Nidhi Modi, executive director, RAL Consumer Products Ltd, which has so far sold 2.5 million solar lanterns in villages, a customer can recover the cost of a lantern in about four months from the savings made on the use of kerosene. A solar lantern providing 6-8 hours of uninterrupted lighting costs Rs.695, while kerosene costs a family Rs.150 a month.

Most consumers in rural areas can and will pay, says Modi. Her company designs solar-powered products based on expected hours of use, energy consumption and consumers’ ability to pay. “Then we arrange for loans for buyers from microfinance institutions without any collateral,” says Modi.

Encouraged by the response, RAL Consumer Products is preparing to sell these lanterns designed in India, but made in China, in similar markets in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

According to Jaideep Mukherji, CEO, Smart Power India, an entity established by the Rockefeller Foundation, the viability of a grid is determined by the number of households, shops and availability of an anchor customer that will buy about 25-30% of the power generated.

He said a two-room household that uses kerosene worth about Rs.180-250 a month could have a solar lighting and mobile charging facility for about Rs.110 a month. “Based on the wealth of experience in villages in India, we are looking forward to similar operations in other countries, too,” said Mukherji.

Zia Khan said the social impact of affordable renewable energy power is of immense importance to The Rockefeller Foundation. “Students are able to study for longer hours, women feel safer and micro enterprises stay open for more time,” Khan said.

In June, the central government set a target of installing at least 10,000 mini-grids, generating 500MW of power in five years and serving rural India.

Smart power programme boosts small biz in state

PATNA: Raj Kumar Shah of Siwan exemplifies entrepreneurs whose business has grown over the past few months owing to the setting up of a decentralised renewable energy (DRE) mini-grid plant under the Smart Power for Rural Development (SPRD) programme.

 

 

 

Raj Kumar owns a general store cum printing shop near the main village market.

 

 

 

Its being one of the few printing shops among the 150 other shops in Nabiganj village, he has a regular customer influx. However, till a year ago, his printing business didn’t reap desired profits; the technology was time-worn, electricity availability was a major hindrance and his financial condition didn’t allow for any kind of investment towards machine upgrade. He was losing business of close to Rs 5,000 per month because of his inability to deliver the services on time.

 

Now, there are 25 operational plants across East Champaran, West Champaran, Araria, Supaul, Gaya, Saran and Gopalganj districts in Bihar. Two plants are in the construction phase in Gaya and West Champaran districts. The 25 plants are being operated, managed and maintained by Smart Power India’s (SPI) partner Energy Service Companies (ESCO). These are based on solar, biomass and hybrid (solar+biomass) technology. Approximately, 800KW of renewable capacity has already been commissioned in the state.

 

The decentralized electricity generation can make use of different renewable energy sources available in the state. Since Bihar is an agriculture based economy, rural areas have readily available biomass and large surfaces in the rural areas can be used for solar energy generation under SPRD programme, says Disha Banerjee, director, policy & communications, SPI.

Banerjee told TOI that the Rockefeller Foundation incorporated the SPI to implement the SPRD programme, which is an innovative, market-based model that operates through decentralized renewable energy (DRE) mini-grids powered by sources such as solar and biomass. Sustainable DRE mini-grids go beyond household lighting with a focus on productive use by creating an ecosystem that drives socio-economic development, she said.

Currently, there is only one anchor customer (a telecom tower) at the Bheldi site in Saran district. This solar mini-grid plant of 30kW capacity was commissioned in February, 2015. However, even when a connection to the national grid is available, the service of electricity is inadequate. Multiple electrification options are currently being explored and the SPRD programme can substantiate and complement the state government’s efforts towards rural electrification, Banerjee said.

New battery tech to bolster off-grid solar plants

New technology for batteries will soon electrify India’s off-grid power facilities. The Institute of Transformative Technologies (ITT) is currently working on three different battery types in the hope of reducing cost and increasing the lifespan of batteries.

Sanjay Khazanchi, Chief Executive, Access to Electricity (India), ITT, explained that storage of electricity produced in off-grid solar power facilities is one of the biggest challenges in the uptake of solar power in rural areas. One of the challenges lies in the high cost and the other is the relatively short lifespan.

Weakest link
“In a solar mini-grid the pain area is storage. A solar plant lasts for around 25 years. The weakest link is batteries. They last for as low as two years and at most five-six years. For maintaining a solar plant for 25 years, you have to keep changing the batteries. It increases the cost of capex,” Khazanchi said. The institute is currently testing three new battery chemistries from across the world — lithium ion; advanced lead acid batteries being produced in Australia; and a sodium ion chemistry from a company in the US.

Lifecycle tests

ITT is attempting to create the environment of a rural solar mini-grid in the lab, with high ambient temperatures of 45 degrees Celsius, to conduct lifecycle tests, along with replicating the load profiles seen by batteries in rural environment to see which battery performs better vis-a-vis the baseline of the existing technology.
“The intent is to see that the value these new technologies bring in would be far superior to the existing technology (lead acid batteries). Lead acid batteries in rural environment have their own challenges in giving adequate life,” Khazanchi said.
Newer batteries with extended life spans have the potential to attract more investors in the market, which is currently lagging despite big potential and high demand.
“Globally, the industry is watching how India is going to do the off-grid rural electrification. Unfortunately, the volumes we have on the ground and the visibility of the volumes likely to be there in the future is still low. It’s a catch 22 situation. Maybe since the technology is not there and storage is expensive because of that the volumes are low but if we bring in a solution maybe that would solve the problem and make it workable,” he said.
Deepali Khanna, Senior Associate Director of the Rockefeller Foundation, explained that the uptake of renewable energy is still rather slow in India.
“By 2030, renewables would only be 17 per cent of the total energy mix in India. There is a lot more that needs to be happening here,” she said.

Energy efficiency

Rockefeller has invested $1.5million with ITT to resolve the storage crisis. Besides storage, Rockefeller is also looking at facilitating more energy efficiency appliances in an effort to make it feasible for citizen of rural India to use these.
“We have a situation where people want to go beyond light bulbs and productive use and are looking at if they could hook up a TV, a fan or a fridge. So, we are looking at how to get more energy efficient appliances because we know their capacity to pay for electricity is limited. They can’t pay more than ?500 per month and that is also a lot when you are taking about rural areas,” Khanna said.