The notion of electricity access in India through centralized generation and grid-based distribution has failed to supply electricity adequately to two-thirds of our population even after seven decades of independence. The cost of maintenance and extending existing power line to the remote and electrified villages is too expensive and labor intense as well. The lack of efficiency of our state owned electricity companies have further slowed down this process.
Mini-grids/micro-grids are not new to Bihar. Over the past decade, one can roughly estimate over 50 mini grids cropping up in the state, and each one of them has its own specialty. Some of them run completely on solar photovoltaic panels with battery storage; some are coupled with diesel generators; some are husk based, biomass based or hydro power based. The most interesting part of mini-grids is the flexibility it offers in accordance to the local resources and load demand. There have been numerous successful stories about these grids supplying good quality power for years, and there have also been cases of failure where the grids couldn’t sustain for more than a couple of months. However, the bright side remains that courtesy the mini-grids, the villages that were living in the dark for as long as three decades, could also become hopeful and receive electricity.
The newly released renewable energy policy of Bihar has duly taken into account all the hard work that has been put into these mini-grids and aims to promote them by setting a target of additional 100 MW. In order to streamline mini-grids projects, ensure project sustainability and continuity of these projects even when the electricity reaches villages via the main grid, the policy entails provision for co-functioning of the mini grid along with the main grid. The policy is definitely a first of its kind to give due credit to the mini-grid business developers. Once the main grid reaches the mini-grid, the community can decide to operate the mini-grid parallel to the maid grid, or sell the excess/all power to the utility. They also have an option of transferring the project to the DISCOMs or work in a franchisee model.
These provisions shall definitely secure more investments in the mini-grid space, since the risk involved for bankruptcy is minimal. This in turn will improve local job creation in a more sustained manner and thereby uplifting the socio-economic status of the communities. This is definitely a big boon for a state like Bihar and as well as its neighbors like Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa.
Bihar has found its light in the end of its long dark tunnel, hope this is the beginning of this radiance and reform.
Anand P. Pathanjali is a Programme Manager – Clean Energy with CEED India.