Prospects for Electricity Access in Rural India using Solar Photo-Voltaic based Mini-Grid Systems

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Prospects for Electricity Access in Rural India using Solar Photo-Voltaic based Mini-Grid Systems

Presenters: Anshuman Lath (Gram Oorja Solutions Private Limited) and Shruti Mahajan Deorah (Goldmann School of Public Policy, UC Berkeley)

Rapporteurs: Avantika Jalan and Katie McCloskey


Solar photovoltaic (PV) based mini-grid systems have the potential to be an environmentally friendly and sustainable long term solution for electricity access in India. However, the high upfront costs of these mini-grids present policy makers, entrepreneurs and consumers alike with difficulties in financing them. Other challenges to their implementation stem from socio-economic issues and from the lack of adequate support from government agencies. We assess the potential for deploying solar PV based mini-grids to provide on demand electricity access, beyond just lighting. We describe one very high-quality installation in detail, in operation for 20 months now, that exemplifies several of the challenges involved in providing end-to-end solutions in rural India, as well as some solutions. We review the policy measures of the Indian government in the context of scaling out such innovative solutions, and argue that government must work together with entrepreneurs to create an Energy revolution akin to the Green revolution in India in the 1970s[1].
File:Experience from First Solar Mini Grid Service in Bangladesh.pdf

Issues Presented

​​► Please see the presentation.

  • Creating the ecosystem required to get mini grids on the ground. If entrepreneurs are to take on the responsibility, capital costs are huge. This is an example where the conditions were viable.
  • Community was given full ownership of the microgrid; “ownership transfer” is key—gives people sense of ownership over the grid to maintain it
  • 300 million people in India without electricity, yet a favorable climate for photovoltaics
  • Ladakh very remote area, northernmost part. Largest amount of people still lacking access to electricity.
  • Biggest challenge comes from policy and entrepreneurship- issues with tendering etc
  • There is a clear mandate and will by Indian government to use sustainable electricity projects
  • Large parts of india in markets run on diesel. They do not focus on those people believe that grd is going to reach at some point
  • Households use kerosene for lighting and wanted to access entertainment like in the city. Lighting means that you can always go back to kerosene therefore wanted to focus NOT only on lighting. Pumps are VERY important now (for water). Photocopy machine can run on energy and this is a discovered use of electricity
  • In the very bad monsoon months there is a drop in electricity
  • Have a metered connection of about 20 rupees of kw/h. but this should be enough to cover costs of batteries. Monthly bill comes every month. For the next 4-5 years it can function. Makes system sustainable
  • As pumps kicked in, now the use of energy has increased and therefore can help in battery change and even generate revenue
  • Quality of installation is up to utility specification and can be long term
  • People in the village can connect to a wider system not just a tiny system
  • Complete transfer of ownership- higher intensity of keeping care of system
  • Adoption – people go back to kerosene, using panels only for tv.
  • Leakage in the system if don’t sustain: battery, tariff stricture, community interaction, ownership transfer or design aspirations (not only focus on lighting)

Q & A

1. How sustainable is the solar project in the villages? Furthermore, how is the project funded? Is the cost (Rs.20/kwh) the price enough for installing and maintaining?

  • A: Village pays money only for maintenance, (Rs.20) does not cover installation cost. The first installation in Darewadi was part of a research grant, to show that if the project is community managed, the micro-grid initiatives can be very successful. The idea is that the Indian GOVT has a mandate to provide electricity to each citizen, they have 7.1 billion dollars that have been already spent on micro-grid projects and grid extensions. The key issue is adoption and sustainability of the projects, the Oorja model shows that if it is managed well, these initiatives can be successful.

2. What are the main challenges to scaling up?

  • A: Technology will work but the challenge is in meeting the local needs and operational scheme to meet the local needs. Have to understand the local scenario. The financial component has to incorporate the international funding.
    • Policy is also a challenge. Growth still focused on grid connection in India. Now changing to what kind of schemes would work for entrepreneurs.
    • Combination of international cooperation

3. How do the projects enhance quality of life?

  • A: Pumps work for water so women have more time
    • Cook stoves
    • Community consciousness with more and more projects
    • People understand that electricity is important
    • Spark interest in electricity

4. What should we really provide?

  • A: Need to match demand with supply
    • Have to cover policy issues: what if government grid extends and then what will happen to the mini-grid?

5. What is the micro grids- policy there?

  • A: Micro grids not based on renewables in place
    • The state today has failed to take electricity to all its citizens and therefore there are mini-grids
    • 5 or 10 rupees charged for energy and there’s an overload. The government has set the threshold too high and therefore there is over demand and the grids have failed
    • Diesel is more expensive and solar is more expensive than the national grid in Bangladesh.


  1. Prospects for Electricity Access in Rural India using Solar Photovoltaic based Mini-Grid Systems. Leena Chandran-Wadia, Shruti Mahajan Deorah, Sameer Nair and Anshuman Lath.