Distributed Renewable Energy (DRE)/ Micro-Grids hold a lot of potential especially in a rural context where electrification shall lead to a positive impact in terms of agriculture, small industries, communication and education. They also lead to replacement/reduction in the use of kerosene and diesel in these areas.
These Micro-grids are typically set up with solar based power generation (20-40kW), battery banks and a grid network of 3-5km. The consumers are provided with smart prepaid meters with differing tariffs depending on the time of consumption. Due to the energy consumption in the vicinity, these plants also save on the transmission costs and losses.
Currently, the key players in the microgrid market include Gram Power, Mera Gao Power, DESI Power, Omnigrid Micropower, Mlinda and Gram Oorja Solutions. Most of these players deploy solar-based microgrids in combination with smart grid technologies in states such as Karnataka, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
These mini-grids have led to a slew of developments in the villages with respect to:
• Rice hulling units
• Mustard oil expellers
• Cold storage to help in saving the produce and better supply chain management
• Wheat/maize/spice milling machines
• Metal fabrication units
• Healthcare centres
I see following being the key challenges in the sector and would like to hear perspectives and solutions:
• What are mechanisms put in place for payment security?
• Have Micro Grids based solely on Solar worked in any areas? or they have always been supplemented with batteries, to what extent? What is decision matrix on quantum of batteries and payment mechanisms to make battery + solar feasible
• What have been the sources to fund the capex for these projects? Have banks provided debt, do they have any special schemes by banks?
• Are there any Government schemes that subsidise or support DRE?
I feel the best bet is to use energy when Available and minimise requirements when solar power is not there.
Most of the Inductive / Mechanisation load could be run during day time and Night could be limited to Lighting and basic electronic goods like TV, Mobile etc.
This could be achieved either through differential pricing or any other mechanism.
The other way of looking at this is to look at total energy storage needs and use Batteries to do multiple tasks.
For example an assessment, Agri related Mechanisation, Mobility and Lighting etc Could be consolidated and a common Energy storage / Battery swapping could be implemented this will ensure Battery utilisation goes up and TCO will come down