How renewable-powered microgrids could bridge the energy access gap in India
By committing to supplying electricity to all of its villages by May 2018, and aiming to provide power 24-7 to all households by 2019, the Indian government has set itself a formidable challenge. However, the latest policy initiative, which focuses on the potential of renewable-powered microgrids and mini-grids appears to offer a realistic source of optimism.
Close to 300 million people are not connected to electricity in India today, while a further 100 million have access for less than four hours per day. Furthermore, these statistics don’t take into account the size of the population that suffers from unreliable supply, and increasing electricity demand combined with population growth is only likely to put more pressure on what is a relatively ineffective grid for a significant percentage of the country’s people.
While access to electricity does not automatically guarantee a better standard of living, it is an increasingly important aspect of it. Electricity is often the means to accessing better healthcare, education, livelihood opportunities and generally a better quality of life.
Designing decentralised, small scale systems powered by renewable sources of energy to complement access to the wider grid takes advantage of the latest technologies, and offers what is potentially a more affordable option, as opposed to building expensive infrastructure.
The concept of the microgrid is increasingly popular in various global contexts, even in places like Brooklyn, while generally the idea of a distributed and data-driven energy system, powered by renewable sources, is gaining traction and there are organisations who claim that there are existing contexts where it could be more effective economically and in terms of power generation.
Thread International’s Kelsey Halling previously wrote on Circulate that, “landfills are like telephone poles”, where low to middle income countries have the opportunity to skip a ‘development step’. She compared the transition direct to mobile phones, to the potential to move directly to an economy where the concept of waste is designed out from the starts, rather than having to develop expensive and complex waste management infrastructure. Perhaps a similar comparison could be made where creating microgrids and distributed electricity production replacing establishing the grid.
How the Indian government intends to implement their policy remains unclear, and there are obviously issues and questions, which are well voiced and addressed in the source article for this story. Still, it’ll be interesting to see how the initiative develops and if it does enable long-term and cost-effective access electricity, it could become an example of the potential of the latest technologies.