Off-grid thinking

Solar lamps can reach where transmission lines cannot

Published: Tuesday 15 June 2010

Off-grid thinking

In India 73,000 villages are not connected to the grid. The national solar mission can easily become a model for supplying power to rural areas and poor homes, said Ranjit Deshmukh of Mumbai non-profit Prayas Energy Group. He has pegged hopes on small solar power plants away from the grid.

The solar mission aims at generating 1,000 MW by 2017 through small solar power plants, rooftop solar photovoltaic panels, home lighting systems and other technologies. Micro-credit, small loans and subsidies will help set up such systems. Officials in the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, said the ministry, along with the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency, is drafting guidelines for the off-grid scheme. But the scheme does not spell out how this power will be generated and distributed to villages, so it cannot be said with surety how much power will reach villages and far-flung areas.

Mix ’n’ match
Inderpreet Wadhwa, whose company supplies power to villages in Amritsar, said a good model is a combination of off-grid, a mini-grid, micro-finance and pre-paid tariffs. The grid wastes electricity in transmission, but if places producing electricity also consume it, the losses can be cut, he added. Wadhwa proposes a model where electricity by a solar power plant can be connected through an 11-Kv line to a local grid with a substation, which will relay it to houses. Micro-finance can help villagers buy prepaid meters. He accepts solar power is expensive but says costs will fall over time.

But the easiest and most effective way of providing power to villages is through solar lanterns, said Deshmukh. Solar lanterns fitted with efficient led s can replace kerosene lamps. A part of the kerosene subsidy can be used to fund solar lamps. Government can also help set up 50 to 100 kW solar plants with battery storage. Schemes promoting solar home lighting systems have worked for several places in India.

Inputs from Kumar Sambhav Shrivastav

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