Mini-grids can be a solution to the dire energy access problem in Bihar
• New Delhi based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) discussed the role mini-grid has to play to eradicate energy poverty in the country, at a workshop on ‘“Sustainable Mini-Grid for Energy Access” in Patna
• There are still more than 80 million households who have no access to electricity out of which around 15 million reside in the state of Bihar as per census 2011.
• It proposed a model to ensure at least twelve hours of electricity to every household per day.
• CSE recommends that it is time to make mini-grid projects bankable and investor friendly and at the same time move towards performance based incentives to make it sustainable.
Patna, May 30, 2014 Energy access in rural India has been a development priority for the government for many decades. 45 per cent of rural households still lack access to electricity, though its generation has grown at 7 per cent between 2002 and 2013. At 18 per cent, Bihar has one of the least electrification rate in the country, and more than 82 per cent of the people use kerosene for lighting. Even those connected to the grid do not have any respite as grid power is hardly available.
Renewable energy based mini-grids have emerged as a scalable and sustainable solution to this energy challenge. But mini-grids developed so far in the country are facing several challenges due to high capital and operating costs, high tariff and inconsistent revenue collection, low demand in the villages, and bureaucratic delays etc.
Centre for Science and Environment(CSE), a New Delhi based policy research and advocacy institution, organised a one-day workshop in Patna to deliberate on how to proliferate sustainable mini-grids for energy access by addressing these challenges. The deliberations included CSE recommendations on policy reforms and a mini-grid business model on which several stakeholders offered their views for future course of actions.
Currently the definition of mini-grids is vague in the country. CSE emphasized on the point of a clear definition of mini-grid and accordingly defined it in order to develop policies and regulations accordingly and build a sustainable model.
Tariff mechanisms for mini-grids
“In order to make energy access through mini-grid a reality, we need a simple but robust model to provide reliable electricity for most of the time to villagers. " said Nayanjyoti Goswami, Programme Director – Renewable Energy at CSE.
Besides the policy changes suggested by CSE, it also proposed a business model to make the operation of mini grids sustainable.
CSE divided the energy poor into two categories:
- grid connected rural areas (not receiving at least twelve hours of electricity in a day)
- remote villages and hamlets not connected to the grids.
In the grid connected villages, the mini-grid has to co-exist with the main, so that villagers receive reliable power on demand. Mini-grids in such situations must act like a franchise to the DISCOM, or the electricity distributor. Using reverse bidding, renewable energy based mini-grids would be set up for a cluster of villages to ensure minimum supply of twelve hours of electricity. The developers will receive feed-in tariff (FiT) and the villagers will pay a minimal rate for the power they use. The choice of technology can be left to the developer. The idea is to develop a mini-grid of mega-watt scale that can be a tail end generator. It can export the surplus power back to the national grid.
Remote villages will not come under the purview of DISCOMs under normal circumstances. Generation based incentives on the basis of the number of units generated or capital subsidy has been suggested by CSE.
Like the rest of the country, the north eastern region is dominated by fossil fuels when it comes to electricity generation. Even with an installed capacity of 3.5 giga-watts, the fact is that there is still a shortage of 5.1 per cent of electricity for the people in this region. This figure however does not include the millions of people who do not have access to electricity in the country.