"Finally, God has come to our village"
India is home to over six lakh villages and over 70% of the country's population resides here. However, every minute, 25-30 people migrate to Indian cities in search of better livelihoods and lifestyles. With India's rapid economic growth, the local village economies must also be strengthened through reliable electrification to partake in this development. The government in its commitment to electrification has successfully electrified all villages in India. However, there are several rural pockets where topographical challenges have made setting up conventional transmission and distribution infrastructure and their maintenance difficult.
Tata Power - India's largest integrated power company that has been operating across the electricity value chain for 107 years, catering to 12 million+ people across urban India through its various distribution companies in states like Mumbai, Odisha, Delhi and Rajasthan - recognizes the need for bringing electricity to rural pockets where conventional supply is intermittent.
Rural electrification plays a significant role in promoting economic growth and energy independence in rural India. So why must rural pockets stay behind when the rest of the country is moving forward? To empower rural India and enable sustainable development, Tata Power has reached states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, to provide a reliable power supply that will help bridge the gap between modern India and 'Bharat'. To enable this transformation, Tata Power has come up with a unique proposition - So what if conventional electricity can't come to them? They can make their own!
Enter- Solar Microgrids. Integrated networks or 'grids' of power capture, store and distribute clean electricity to an entire rural community. These Microgrids consist of a network of small-scale solar panels and battery storage systems that can provide clean and reliable electricity to power rural businesses, homes, and other community infrastructure. Components can be brought to the site and assembled to create a grid that needs no input other than the sun to provide electricity.
Solar Microgrids can be a game-changer for small businesses in remote villages that face unreliable electricity supply. Businesses can reduce their dependence on expensive and unreliable diesel generators, which are commonly used in rural areas. Resulting in significant cost savings over time. They can also provide a stable and uninterrupted power supply, which is critical for businesses that require electricity to operate. This can lead to increased productivity and profitability, as well as improved product quality and consistency.
Tata Power Renewable Microgrid (TPRMG), a wholly owned subsidiary of Tata Power, was launched in October 2019, for setting up Renewable Microgrids to supply clean, affordable, reliable & quality power supply to rural India. So far, around 200 Microgrids are commissioned in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. A pilot Microgrid programme is also underway in Odisha. The goal is to roll out 10,000 Microgrids in the near future.
Initially, the Microgrids were set up to typically take care of basic needs such as lighting loads (bulbs, LEDs), cooling loads (Fans) and Appliance loads (TV, Fridge, Mixers, Mobile chargers, etc.). However, now the focus of TPRMG is to boost the local economy by powering Motive Loads ranging from 3 HP to 10 HP (Telecom Towers, Flour Mills, Rice Hullers, Oil Expellers, Masala Pulverisers, Bulk Milk Chillers, RO Plant, Irrigation Pumps, etc.). The company is also targeting to run captive loads in the range of 15 HP to 22 HP (Timber cutting machines, Sugarcane crushing machines, etc. and Rural MSME Industrial units (Ice Cream Factory, Bakery Factory, Printing Press, Utensil Manufacturing Plant, etc.).
TPRMG has also collaborated with financial institutions like SIDBI (Small Industries Development Bank of India) to launch 1,000 green energy enterprises across the country to promote sustainable entrepreneurship models and empower rural entrepreneurs in the country.
The beautiful village of Indrapur makes for an interesting story of how Microgrids are transforming rural lives through easy electrification. Set amid the Sundarbans, it is only accessible via a 90-minute ferry ride. The village used to pack all their activities into the limited sunlight hours, as they had no electricity, and connecting them to the grid was an extremely expensive (and technically challenging) undertaking. TPRMG's 110 kW grid matches the average sunlight that the village gets (one bright day followed by one cloudy day) by design: a two-day autonomy mechanism in which the battery bank was altered to discharge a 25 – 30% per day irrespective of a sunny or cloudy day.
Aside from the positive impact on businesses, and the general health of the population, electrification has had another pleasant side effect: an increase in literacy rates. Children are now able to use dependable, high-quality light in their homes to do their homework and studies, resulting in better student outcomes, and more children staying in school. Moreover, the community now enjoys other benefits of light: a bustling night market.
TPRMG is bringing electricity to not just the villages and rural entrepreneurs but to the remotest of towns and tribes across the country as well. The story of TPRMG's implementation of 100+ Solar Microgrids in Chattisgarh reads like an adventure tale. The tribal communities here are located centrally in the dense forests of Chhattisgarh, with absolutely no access to power. TPRMG was able to successfully implement the project in the village and also trained and educated the local communities in its maintenance, creating employment and acceptance of the project.
While the other villages enjoy nights with bright lights, the Hanle Observatory at Ladakh communes with the dark. Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIAP), Bangalore wanted TPRMG to build a 35 kWp solar plant at the IIAP's Hanle Observatory to power India's highest telescope. The project entailed various challenges such as being located high in the Himalayas where materials to Hanle could only be transported via mules and yaks. Ladakh also faces unpredictable and extreme weather conditions throughout the year which does not suit standard solutions, so TPRMG designed a solution that was specific to their use case.
Today, the solar Microgrid not only provides uninterrupted power to the Hanle Observatory but also helps them realise significant cost savings. Of course, they don't have to spend anything on the transportation of fuel, which traditional sources of power would have necessitated, even if the fuel were transported by the most untraditional means.
Moreover, the solar grid at Hanle is quiet. It produces no unsightly pollution, nor does it demand anything other than timely maintenance, and sunlight. It doesn't disturb the dark skies Hanle needs to do its important work of unravelling the mystery of the stars. There's something poetic about Hanle being powered by the energy of a star itself.
That then, is the promise of solar Microgrids. Light where we need it. Quiet where we need it. Power wherever we need it. Energy that comes from the same source that powers life on this planet. What could be cleaner, more dependable than that?
As Tata Power puts it so succinctly, #DependableAsTheSun.