Energy Access Issue Solved Through Microgrids

We have the privilege of a basic electricity supply, but there are approximately 1.1 billion people living without energy access presently. The difficulty is meeting the energy demand in areas without the National Grid connections- rural villages. In order to solve this issue in a sustainable way, renewable energy technology has been utilised by many regions including Africa and India. With high solar insolation, the regions are best suited for solar powered microgrids. Microgrids are individual power generating systems with its own generator, load and usually storage. In the recent research project, I studied the various barriers and drivers of microgrid implementation as well as governance as a factor affecting microgrids. I conducted field visits to various villages with working microgrids in Maharashtra, India. Semi-structured interviews were also conducted to evaluate the policy scenario on a national and state level basis.

There are social, economic, political aspects that emerged in the research from a variety of stakeholders of the off grid solar network. In remote and rural areas, basic needs of the citizens are often neglected due to their geographical location, social class and weak governance. However, as energy access is often linked with development, there is a growing need for an efficient technology. Villagers in such areas have protested, sat on hunger strikes, or repeatedly sent requests to the government for merely an electricity connection. In terms of the social drivers of microgrids, such rural areas with unelectrified households have a high demand for microgrids. 

“Once a government official had come to the mainland for inspection of village electrification status, but ignored our village completely”, said one villager from a small rural village in Maharashtra. 

“There were many nights when our kids were exposed to snakes as they played in the dark, now there is security as we have lights in the village”, explained another villager of an electrified village by Gram Oorja’s solar microgrid. 

Even in areas with an electricity connection using the National Grid, the supply is irregular with power outages. Consumers in rural areas have continuously noted that they do not receive 24/7 power. Reliability is a key factor driving microgrids forward as the systems with storage can provide enough electricity to meet the consumers’ requirement. Microgrids in India are owned by state or private operators. Operators such as Gram Oorja have ensured that electricity is supplied in such remote location through solar microgrids by innovating flexible business models according to the area and consumers. This gives numerous advantages including: pricing, local and grass-root management and maintenance costs.

Another social factor driving the microgrid industry is affordability, which has been overcome by operators by customising the business models to allow affordable power rates in rural households. Most of the households connected to the microgrids in the interviews could afford the bills. Importantly, there are financial and regulatory changes needed to be made in the energy policy for further microgrid implementation. 

Priyanka Shendage
MSc Sustainable Development
University of Exeter
shendage.priyanka@gmail.com 

References:

1) Shendage, P. (2018), ‘Barriers and Drivers of Microgrid Implementation and its Governance’, Unpublished
2) Tozzi A., and Katre A. (2018) Impact Assessment Report Gram Oorja Solutions, University of Minnesota
3) Tongia, Rahul (2018). “Microgrids in India: Myths, Misunderstandings, and the Need for Proper Accounting”, Brookings India IMPACT Series No. 022018. February 2018 

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