Paving the way to sustainable energy generation with microgrids

Bio-methane generators powering TATA Power microgrids meet rural electricity demands in UP and Bihar

By Maitreyi Karthik
Published: Wednesday 28 September 2022
The rural sector is largely dependent on diesel generators for its electricity needs. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Non-polluting energy producers can be transformative for rural India, which largely depends on diesel generators to meet its electricity needs. 

TATA Power Renewable Microgrid Ltd (TPRMG), a wholly owned subsidiary of TATA Power, has joined hands with Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI) for a unique programme. The two have planned 1,000 green energy ventures throughout the country.

Microgrids are energy distribution systems that include a generator and storage system that can be controlled either on-grid or off-grid. 

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There are already around 200 TPRMG installed across Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, with a pilot project in Odisha. The company intends to install 10,000 mini/microgrids in rural areas in the future to make it a more sustainable venture. 

In the new joint venture, TPRMG would supply rural areas with quality, affordable, clean energy, such as solar, wind and biogas. It will select enterprises within its microgrid system and further expand its reach into new lands.

Once the enterprises conclude their capacity-building measure, SIDBI will provide the enterprises with a Go Responsive Enterprise Incentive. It would also help organise finance options for developing businesses in the rural areas through its PRAYAAS scheme.

TATA Power manages one of the biggest microgrid systems in the world and works on the solar off-grid plant with energy storage to supply power in the remote parts of the country. 

Rural India uses diesel generators for commercial purposes to meet their electricity demands. This is where TPRMG can provide reliable and economic power supply with the installation of microgrids. This will also help in the development of the associated ecosystem. 

The cost of energy generation using mini-grids is relatively high in India and TPRMG tackles the issue with innovative technologies such as Group Smart Meter for customers, which is a patented technology of TPRMG in partnership with the Institute of Transformative Technologies (ITT).

The technology has a one-meter box that can provide supply to around six customers with remote monitoring and controlling features in it with load limiting, time of day and safety features available with it.

The company’s microgrid projects are running in Muzaffarpur and Samastipur villages in Bihar and Gonda and Bahraich in Uttar Pradesh. There are 18 microgrids in these areas that have been working successfully since March 2020. 

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TPRMG is currently using bio-methane generators, which use the waste from sugar mills to generate electricity instead of diesel generators. The price of diesel generators is high as compared to biofuel-based generation, said Sugata Mukherjee, head-operations, TATA Power RE Microgrid. 

Suppose around 70 agricultural customers receive electricity for agricultural pumps through microgrids, around 200 farmers benefit. Most customers don’t use the electricity supply for their own consumption; the microgrid is used for farming the neighbouring land too.

This helps their income and the benefit reaches other farmers as well. 

The cost of a bio-methane generation-based microgrid is higher compared to the solar microgrid. This is due to the maintenance cost of the plant as well as the sourcing of raw materials for the plant. 

A solar plant requires relatively less maintenance cost, and the plant’s raw material is abundant naturally. The only disadvantage of solar-based generation is that it can be tapped only during the daytime, which necessitates the requirement of the storage system. 

A microgrid is a very important infrastructure that helps in providing clean, affordable, and reliable electricity in rural/remote areas where the main grid has limited or no reach.

They contribute towards reducing emissions in the rural areas and help in the creation of village-level entrepreneurs, says Nivit Kumar Yadav, programme director, industrial pollution for non-profit Centre for Science and Environment.

One of the most important aspects of microgrids is operation and maintenance. 

Chhattisgarh Renewable Energy Development Agency (CREDA) has a dedicated cell for Operation and Maintenance, which caters exclusively to the maintenance requirement in the villages in Chhattisgarh where microgrids have been installed, said Rajeev Gyani, superintending engineer, CREDA. 

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Every village of the mini-grid has one operator. One cluster technician for every 15-20 villages has been provided by CREDA. The maintenance of the battery is crucial as it is the most important component for energy storage. The battery also needs to be replaced every five years.  

The collection efficiency of the plant should be such that it should meet the minimum requirements of financial sustainability. Capacity-building measures need to be undertaken for the technicians, villagers, and other stakeholders involved in the operation of microgrids.

TATA Power microgrids have so far proved beneficial to shops, healthcare facilities, flour mills, bulk milk chillers, RO cold water systems, schools, colleges and banks, among many others paving the way for sustainable energy in rural areas. 

Reverse migration happened during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the population from the urban areas shifted their base to their native village. TPRMG gave a good opportunity for those families to pursue rural entrepreneurship through microfinancing measures and paved the way to a sustainable economy for all.

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