New technologies are key to growth of India’s decentralized solar mini-grids

IndiaCSR News Network

MUMBAI: India’s decentralized renewable energy sector needs new and innovative technologies to reduce the costs of setting up and running solar mini-grids and to accelerate growth in supply and demand, according to a new report of the Institute for Transformative Technologies launched today.

rockefeller-foundationEven though decentralized solar mini-grids are an ideal solution to rural electrification in India, a number of technological hurdles are preventing them from becoming a more affordable option for both developers and their customers.

“Solar power has finally made inroads into the Indian market, and can soon become cost-competitive with conventional sources. However, a number of technological and business innovations are needed to make it affordable, especially for India’s rural poor,” Jamshyd Godrej, Managing Director & Chairman of Godrej & Boyce, noted in the foreword of the report entitled Achieving universal electrification in India.

The report suggests that technology innovations that reduce the currently-high cost of operating a minigrid and introduce energy-efficient appliances to consumers can make solar mini-grids become a low-cost and large-scale reality in rural India.

“The Rockefeller Foundation is funding The Institute for Transformative Technologies (ITT) to support the design of these technologies to bring down costs and improve efficiency in the operations of mini-grids,” said Ashvin Dayal, The Rockefeller Foundation’s Associate Vice President and Managing Director, Asia, during the report launch at the Sankalp Global Summit 2016.

The support to ITT is provided as part of the Foundation’s Smart Power for Rural Development initiative that aims to provide electricity to 1,000 villages in rural India by 2018. “These technology innovations will play a key role in accelerating growth in the sector and unlocking the rural electrification market,” said Mr. Dayal.

The report suggests that alternatives to existing batteries for energy storage in solar plants must be evaluated and developed to replace lead-acid batteries which tend to underperform or need to be replaced frequently.

These improved batteries and other new technologies must be integrated to bring about a more compatible and standardized suite of components. Such an integrated system can reduce capital expenditure by 10-20% while also stream-lining operations and improving efficiency.

The report also recommends that new technologies should be evaluated to make key appliances, such as refrigerators, fans and irrigation pumps, more affordable and energy-efficient.

As a result rural households and businesses would be able to access a greater number of services from solar electricity. In addition, the report suggests the need to determine the feasibility of large-scale manufacturing of each of these technologies in India to ensure financially-viable businesses up and down the value chain. In the next few years, ITT will work on the design, testing and commercialization of these promising technologies, working closely with partners across the private, public and non-profit sectors.

“Addressing the problem of universal electrification in India will require a truly multifaceted approach, blending innovations in technology, business and policy. A number of key public and private sector players have stepped up to the challenge, and the time is ripe for new breakthrough technologies,” said Shashi Buluswar, Chief Executive Officer of The Institute for Transformative Technologies (ITT).