Mini grids

In the last 5 years, in India, there has been a blind rush to implement mini-grids: for providing immediate energy access to 300 million Indians who still do not have access to electricity. Unfortunately, the rush does not consider learnings from other types of installed mini-grids which need to address long term ownership and sustainability, user perspective, alternative financial and business models. While the intentions are in the right place, many of the methods and thought process are still extremely immature – which would have unintended large scale failures in the sector of distributed renewable energy (DRE). One needs to understand that technology is just one aspect for providing reliable energy access to the poor. The other ones are of understanding the needs of the poor, segment specific financial models and related eco-system. Many, if not all, of the mini-grid solar based models faced the same issues that were plaguing the large utilities but were masked because of enormous amount of soft money that got deployed into the sector in the name of creating the market. It became quite apparent that philanthropic monies were used without a long-term strategy in place thus leading to large scale failures. The failures have triggered numerous alarms for the sector. There needs to be an urgency in rectifying this sector, from a development perspective, else should not be another case where the poor are subject to incomplete thought processes and in-comprehensive short-term strategies, just as was seen and learnt from the micro-finance sector years ago. Lack of attention to details of eco-system and lots of soft money led to derailing of the micro-finance movement in India and that seems to be headed the same way for micro-grids. Though it is still not too late. Learning’s from micro-finance and other similar sectors can be brought in and good models could still be implemented and scaled. For that to happen help and learning must be taken for various financial institutions across the country. Villages that have a mix of household loads and large income generating loads (like rice mills etc.) are ideal candidates for micro-grids: the larger loads give financial stability to the system. One needs to understand the existing and perceived future needs of the selected areas, prevailing social structures, cash flow dynamics, income streams etc. to determine if micro-grids make economic sense or individual systems. The stakeholders must rely on personal with numerous years of ground experience and the design of micro-grids should be done with a multi-disciplinary approach: keeping the end-user at the center of it. As like any other sector, ‘one size’ or type will not fit the needs of the poor.

 

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