The Role of Microgrids in empowering remote and underserved communities
Role of Microgrids is playing a significant role in the development, empowerment, and uplifting of remote and underserved communities by ensuring reliable and affordable electricity. Such communities often lack central grid connectivity due to the nature of their location. Microgrids provide a local power distribution and generation network for such communities.
Based on the nature of such locations, microgrids support the development of small and medium-sized renewable energy resources, such as biogas, wind, solar, hydroelectric, tidal, etc. On one side, microgrids are reducing the dependence on fossil fuels for such underserved communities, and on the other side, they are creating job opportunities for local people, thus, empowering them to develop technical skills and uplift the whole community.
Microgrids for remote areas are becoming a lifeline, considering the increasing climate change and extreme weather events. It is difficult for many remote areas to get central grid connectivity and service time for such communities is much higher as compared to the electrical networks in cities. In the case of natural events like earthquakes, floods, fires, etc., it becomes a challenge for electric utilities to restore the supply of remote networks. In such scenarios, microgrids support the local community and provide a backup local electrical grid which fulfills the local need and provides connectivity with emergency services, and also maintains a reliable supply of electricity.
Microgrids – Ensuring sustainable power in remote areas:
Microgrids are providing a sustainable and localized grid for remote rural areas of Brazil, India, Tanzania, Italy, and Chile. Role of Microgrids in the village of Pali, Rajasthan, India is a living example of the potential of microgrids for remote rural areas. This microgrid has a capacity of 1.5 MW and can serve almost 1,000 households’ electricity needs. Rockefeller Foundation provided funding for this microgrid project while designing and implementation were done in partnership with Smart Power India and Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Prasaran Nigam Limited (RVPN).
Another example is from Brazil, where a 1.1 MW microgrid is being developed by Enel Green Power in the remote rural area of Boca do Acre, Amazon rainforests. This microgrid utilizes solar energy and battery storage technology to provide reliable electricity for this area.
Madison County in the US is another example of a remote rural area, where a 10 kW microgrid is serving the local community in Western North Carolina and provides electricity for a community center, health clinic, and many other critical facilities. This microgrid incorporates solar power, battery storage, and a backup generator and was developed by the nonprofit organization, the Canary Coalition.
Another perfect example of empowerment of rural remote communities is the Indiana National Guard microgrid. This 1.4 MW microgrid is developed by Duke Energy for the Indiana National Guard. It incorporates solar power, a battery solution, as well as a backup generator to provide reliable and sustainable electricity to the Guard’s training facility in northern Indiana. The microgrid can work in island mode, in case of power failure of the central grid.
Global companies engaged in the implementation of microgrids in remote areas:
Husk Power Systems (HPS) is a prominent company in the development role of microgrids in off-grid and remote rural areas all across the globe. HPS has completed 100 microgrid projects in the state of Bihar, India. These microgrids use rice husks as an energy source and enable local development by providing sustainable electricity supply for an estimated 300,000 people in rural areas. In Utter Pradesh, India, HPS has developed a microgrid in the village of Dharani. This project supports almost 300 people in a remote community and incorporates battery solutions and solar power. HPS has also developed microgrid projects in West Bengal, India, and Tanzania.
The company has developed over 35 microgrids in Tanzania, empowering almost 20,000 remote community members. HPS has collaborations and partnerships with major global firms like Shell Foundation, Swedfund, Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the African Development Bank (AfDB), and the UK’s Department of International Development (DFID), for the development of microgrid projects.
Nuru is another key player that provides remote off-grid microgrid development services. This company, which is based in Africa, has developed microgrids in Migori (Kenya), Dodoma (Tanzania), Kayonza (Rwanda), and Togo. Nuru is actively developing the role of microgrids based on solar power technology. In Migori, a remote area in Western Kenya, over 5,000 people are getting sustainable electricity supply due to the microgrid developed by Nuru. After Nuru installed a microgrid in Dodoma, Central Tanzania, 1,500 people gained access to electricity. Nuru is also working with the Togo government to implement plans for the development of microgrids in Togo’s remote areas, thus serving almost 0.5 million people in rural and underserved communities. Nuru has partnerships and collaborations with organizations like Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, Kiva (a microfinance organization), M-KOPA (solar home systems), One Acre Fund, and USAID for microgrid projects.
Role of Microgrids Empowering Rural India’s Energy Landscape:
According to an estimate, almost 65% of the population of India (estimated at 916 million people) live in rural areas. It is a big challenge for power utilities to supply uninterrupted power supply to all remote rural communities. In this context, companies are investing in the development of localized grids and microgrids. One such prominent company in India is ‘Gram Power’. Gram Power has developed microgrids across India, especially in Bihar, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Gujarat. In Bihar, Gram power has developed a microgrid-powered smart grid with solar power and battery storage. This project is serving almost 5,000 remote local community members. In Gujarat, Gram Power has developed a microgrid system for empowering 300 remote local community members. In Rajasthan, Gram Power has implemented microgrid projects to supply electricity to 2,000 households in rural areas.
In the 21st century, electricity is one of the basic needs of human beings. According to an estimate by the World Bank, 9.7 % of the world’s population is still deprived of electricity. This absence of reliable electricity translates into thousands of missed opportunities for these communities and pushes them further below the poverty line. However, with each problem comes an opportunity. Role of Microgrid technology is providing an alternative localized grid, capable of islanding and working with the central grid. This technology provides an opportunity to empower rural and underserved remote areas with reliable and cheap electricity production. Another major outcome of microgrid development is support for renewable electricity generation. Local community members can avoid costly fossil fuels and depend on low-cost wind, solar, hydro, and battery energy solutions. Local business opportunities and local job opportunities also provide an incentive for governments and utilities to invest in this technology.