As India steps up its household electrification scheme and pressure on microgrids grows, it is "only a matter of time" before most Indian homes have power, the report says, suggesting that microgrids could avoid redundancy by being interactive, or interactive-capable, with the grid. This could allow for the evolution of load and supply options and could offer primary power, backup or secondary power, islanding when needed and, when available, cheaper supply.
"Grid-interactive microgrids can play into evolving business models and competition based on smarter systems that dynamically engage with the grid (and change the direction of power flow) based on a combination of local load, local supply, and external grid conditions. These cannot work with simple DC microgrids," the report states.
Even cooking should be zero emission, often off grid
The 2016 Climatescope report—which focuses on the state of cleantech markets within 58 developing nations in Africa, Asia, Latin America, & the Middle East— found that renewable energy investment in developing countries is more attractive than the developed counterparts. Average system power for zero emission off grid systems is increasing including in developing countries so even the severe problems of cooking are starting to be addressed.
In October 2017, Renewable Energy World asked, "Why should rural electrification efforts worldwide — in Africa, India, Central and South America — isolate cooking from other core applications such as lighting, fans, phone charging, and TV? Why can't electricity for cooking be included in the overall solution? Why should the alternative to biomass burning — charcoal, dung, wood, kerosene — which causes 1.3 million untimely deaths due to smoke inhalation in India, only be LPG? ." This was the point made in Niti Aayog's strategy document "Electricity and Clean Cooking Strategy for India," April 11, 2016. The report noted, "The announcement in Union Budget (2016-17) of extending LPG connections to 50 million BPL (Below Poverty Line) families in the next 3 years is a major step forward. However, there is a total of over 120 million some estimate over 200 million households without a clean cooking solution so that a strategy based on LPG alone may take a long time. An advantage of the electricity-based solution is that it can make use of solar power in both urban and rural areas. The solution may be particularly attractive in remote rural areas where electricity grid may take time to reach but sunshine is plentifully available and solar energy may be easier to provide."
According to a NITI Aayog study, the consumption of 8 to 10 LPG cylinders (14.2 kg each) per year is equivalent to electricity consumption of nearly 4 kWh per day. This implies that at prevailing electricity prices, the electric solution costs about the same as the LPG solution at the crude oil price of around $60 per barrel. The authors assumed grid electricity prices; my independent calculations confirm this assessment to be true even for a solar + battery-based solution.
More than 10 000 solar PV village mini-grids exist in India but most are grid connected. India has a significant number of rice husk gasification mini-grids. 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 2017, 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 KhandelwalIn 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."
In October 2017, billionaire Manoj Bhargava offered a Rs 14,500 answer to India's power woes. His team has engineered a solar-powered PowerPack which includes a spotlight and room lighting, a USB port, and a 12-volt outlet for running small electronics. It can also be plugged into a regular wall socket and charged off the grid.
For more see the IDTechEx report, Off Grid Zero-emission Electricity 2018-2038: New Markets, New Technology Roadmap and attend the conference, Off Grid Energy Independence at "IDTechEx Show!" Berlin April 11-12. See www.idtechex.com
Top image: Claude Renault