India Drafts ‘National Policy for Renewable Energy based Micro Grids and Mini Grids’

 

India’s challenges to reach renewable energy targets include an already unstable grid, a crippling drought (hindering thermal generation and hydropower), and reaching the 237 million citizens who still require access to electricity.  According to a new draft proposal by India’s Ministry New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), the solution could be rapid microgrid deployment, in the range of 10,000+ over the next five years.

At the COP21 meeting held at Paris, India unveiled its plans to meet 40% of its installed electric power generation using renewable energy by the year 2030. The slew of measures the country undertook to meet those targets include its proposal to install renewable energy powered Micro and Mini Grids. The move purported install a minimum of 10,000 renewable energy using Micro and Mini Grids to achieve 500 MW yield in the next five years. In order to implement the project the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has issued a draft ‘National Policy for Renewable Energy based Micro and Mini Grids’ and invited comments from stakeholders before 20th June.

The policy is aimed to encourage the use of micro and mini grids connected to renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, biomass, hydro and wave power. The proposed power grids will be located in underserved and un-served locations of the country, to serve a part of its 237 million people, hitherto unconnected to electric power. Such grid installations, when completed, will offer a solution to the present last mile energy access problem and encourage rural employment opportunities. The proposed National Policy offers enough scope for both State government and private agencies to design their own network programs and systems to complete Mini or Micro Grid installations.

Presently, only a couple of Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) have installed Micro and Mini grid projects and a good number of others are in the course of developing a workable type. In order to attract such ESCOs the new policy proposes to include them as Rural Energy Service Providers (RESPs), by extending support and certain other privileges.

The proposed Micro and Mini grids will distribute the electricity produced using renewable energy.  While the Micro Grids will have the capability to produce less than 10 kW power, the Mini Grids will be designed to generate 10 kW or more power using renewable energy. The policy offers flexibility for the grids to use a single renewable energy source or work as a hybrid system connected to a mix of RE sources such as solar-hydro, solar-biomass, solar-wind and others. The policy opposes use of conventional fuels such as kerosene and diesel even for backup purposes.

The grids, which are normally expected to work in isolation to the DISCOMs (distributed companies), will use a Public Distribution Network to distribute the generated power. The Micro and Mini grids that produce more power will get interconnected and linked to a main grid to transfer the extra power generated. Such Micro and Mini Grid projects, while addressing the basic power requirements such as light, fan and mobile charging of the rural households also will meet the commercial and productive power in such locations.

Though the policy does not differentiate between an AC or DC grid system, it recommends the following levels for such grids.

DC Microgrids:

(i) 24 V DC up to 1 kWp

(ii) 72 V DC above 1 kWp to 10 kWp

AC Microgrids:

(i) 220 V single phase – up to 10 kWp

(ii) 440 V 3 Phase – beyond 10 kWp

The policy supports installation of bigger sized Mini Grid projects of 10 kW and above by the ESCOs. In the case of Micro grid projects, it suggests for a cluster format linking all the neighboring locations together. Such an initiative, while bettering the operational efficiency and cut down the costs, will also provide feasibility to interconnect projects when required.

The policy paper suggests involving agencies such as Public Sector Organizations, Rural Energy Service Providers, Financial institutions such as Commercial Banks/RRB/IREDA and NABARD, and Village Panchayats while implementing the projects. The State Nodal (renewable energy developmental) agencies (SNA) are expected to provide a simple single window clearance for the speedy implementation of the projects.  For the easy tracking of the mini grids, the government proposes to bring them under four broad categories on the basis of the installed capabilities.

The draft policy also talks about the incentives and financial assistance available for the Rural Energy Service Providers (RESPs), venturing such Micro and Mini grid installations. The RESPs serving the inhabitants living in under-served and un-served locations such as North East (NE) States, Special Category States (Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand), Andaman and Nicobar, and Lakshadweep Islands will get priority during the project allocation.

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