The rising demand for energy has given rise to two main challenges for the power sector , the addition of new generation capacity and expansion of the current transmission and distribution infrastructure. Decentralized generation has the potential to solve both these issues, particularly in remote rural areas. Access to modern and reliable source of energy is a major driver for rural development and improved livelihoods in India. One such sustainable strategy is to create clusters of areas around the rural areas where local renewable energy can be utilized to meet energy demand. The major renewable energy source for decentralized generation within rural areas is likely to be small scale solar home system. As a result the integration of such systems in a low voltage DC network will be a noteworthy step towards powering these societies as an efficient approach. Efficiency, protection, power quality and the relative advantages of DC network.
The use of low voltage DC distribution network for rural electrification is an intelligent grid concept to provide local communities in far flung rural villages with electricity supply generated from renewable energy sources. Since these communities subsist with no grid connectivity, they require a concept of micro-grid whereby individual Solar Home Systems (SHS) can be connected. The excess power required by any SHS is supplied from the grid to make the system more reliable. Furthermore, people who cannot afford Solar Home System can connect themselves with the grid as well and get access to the basic need of electricity through a simple power flow supervision system based on domestic and grid level DC electrical systems thereby moving into the self-reliant renewable energy based electricity generation. I feel many of the rural village clusters in India have a lot of potential for new business development based on this micro-grid concept.
Traditionally the Grid Extension and Decentralized Distributed Generation have been the two basic means used to electrify rural areas. Grid Extension GE involves laying out distribution infrastructure to reach out to the villages while Decentralized Distributed Generation comprises small, modular, decentralized off-grid energy systems located in or near the place where energy is used. While grid extension is a costly solution for connecting to remote locations and populations spread over a larger area, it does offer the benefits of being connected to the grid with access to relatively cheaper source of electricity, continuous supply, and access to energy generated by generating stations located far away from the consumption point.
On the other hand, the maintenance of a large distribution network and high Transmission and Distribution (T&D) losses on such a network are issues that the utilities have to deal with. Grid extension becomes prohibitively expensive in the cases of remote villages which are hard to reach due to their location constraints. Most rural electrification in India is currently implemented through this option. Micro grid therefore is the best option for rural electrification that has been implemented successfully across the world in nations such as Cambodia, Nepal, Kenya, China, and Philippines. Micro grid enables electricity generation at the local level using locally available resources ensuring reduced dependence on external resources.
Penetration of Micro grid into villages : As on 30 April 2010, 16.1 per cent of India’s villages were still un-electrified. These villages are expected to be electrified through a mix of Grid Extension and Micro Grids . MNRE has undertaken the remote village electrification program .Targeting at un-electrified remote census villages and remote un-electrified hamlets of electrified census villages where grid connectivity is either not feasible or not cost-effective. A total of 9259 remote villages/hamlets were identified for rolling out the project, out of which 8332 villages have already been covered.
The national Policy on RE based Mini/Micro grids June, 2016 encourages deploying of decentralized RE solutions to address the access challenge in rural areas in many parts of the country. With reducing costs and increasing efficiencies of RE technologies, RE based Micro and Mini grids solutions are being perceived as a durable solution able to provide reliable and cost-effective energy service, cater to productive and commercial loads, accommodate future loads, and connect with grid and feed surplus power if needed. Many supporting measures are employed by the Government to encourage ESCOs and investors in to the micro and mini grid space. The Ministry is keen on working with States (and State Nodal Agencies) to build a supportive ecosystem for development an environment able to minimize the risk associated with such investments, and mobilize capital. As micro and mini grids are main streamed, it will enable in meeting the goals of reducing dependency on fossil fuels, providing clean power to rural households, and meeting their aspirational needs.
RE based micro and mini grids with its enormous potential are a promising solution to the access to energy challenge in the country. In my opinion they are best thing to have happen as they offer the benefits of boosting local economy by meeting energy needs of residential and commercial activities thereby supporting enterprise development, generating employment opportunities, raising individual as well as household incomes both in the rural villages and in far flung areas in India.
I like to sign off with PM’s recent quote on the ramparts of Delhi’s Red Fort on India’s 71st Independence Day “ India’s stature in the world is rising. We have to change this ‘Chalta Hai’ (anything goes) attitude. We have to think of ‘Badal Sakta Hai‘ (things can change). This attitude will help us as a nation”.
SANJITH S. SHETTY