Smart grids and renewables to power India's remote areas

September 02, 2011

India has begun setting up computerized ‘smart’ mini-grids, powered with renewable energy sources, to provide electricity in inaccessible areas.

India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) last month commissioned the country’s first 'renewable energy-based smart mini-grid system' at Gurgaon, outside New Delhi.

The computerized electricity distribution system is equipped with sophisticated sensors and control devices to manage local electricity supply drawn from a mix of solar cells, micro-hydro power plants, wind turbines and biomass.

The national power grid and small diesel-powered generators offer a back-up to the system should renewable energy supply fail. Response to power fluctuations and blackouts is faster than the conventional grid, Parineeta Mohanty, fellow at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), New Delhi, told SciDev.Net.

"The system is based on a computer program that picks up electricity from these sources, and monitors and balances the power according to requirement. The program dictates how much energy will be picked up from which source at a particular time," Bibek Bandyopadyay, who heads the solar energy centre at MNRE, said.

"Renewable energy, like solar and wind, is not always available. The smart grid helps in switching from one energy source to another depending on demand and availability, so that reliable power supply can be ensured at an affordable cost even in remote areas," he explained.

Smart grids can be used, for example, in Lakshadweep, an archipelago in the Arabian Sea, which now depends on diesel shipped in from the mainland to power generators.

TERI developed the smart grid with help from Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. Similar grids are widely used in advanced and developing countries.