Solar mini-grids light the way in Indian villages

- Reuters, ATRAULI (INDIA)

Apr 4, 2017-

A dusty plastic sheet covers a large diesel generator in a corner of a petrol station in Atrauli, a village in India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh, a modest but telling sign of progress.

The gas station used to shut at 7 pm every day because the lights would often go off, and there was no way to know when they would come back on, said Sudhakar Singh, the manager. “The main power supply was very irregular, and operating the generator was expensive, so we could not afford to stay open beyond 7 pm,” Singh told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, as motorbikes and trucks lined up for petrol and diesel.

Last year, the pump got a connection to a solar mini-grid, a local power network not connected to the national grid, which guarantees six hours of electricity every day. The pump has since stayed open all night.

“Now, our expenses are lower and we earn more because we can stay open all night. We have not used the generator once since we got the ... connection,” said Singh.

Atrauli’s electricity revolution is a symbol of the energy paradox dogging India, one of the world’s fastest growing economies, where power cuts are rampant and per 

capita electricity consumption is about a third the global average.

Fast-dropping costs for solar power, combined with plenty of sun and a huge need for electricity in a country where about 300 million people—a quarter of the population—are still without it means solar energy has huge potential in India.

Despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pledge to supply power to every citizen by 2019 and a surge in solar production, reaching remote villages remains a challenge, with distribution losses as high as 30 percent on antiquated lines, low tariffs and limited use. Most of those without electricity live in the 99 percent of villages the government deems to be electrified because at least 10 percent of households and public places have electricity.

But at least half the electrified households do not get at least six hours of electricity a day. “While the grid has expanded and we generate enough power, distribution companies are not in a position to take that power, and are not interested in going into rural areas,” said Aruna Kumarankandath at the Centre for Science and Environment.

Published: 04-04-2017 09:57

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