Micro Grids: Future Of 7×24 Hour Clear And Renewable Power For All – Analysis

India has about 240 million people without access to electricity – that’s about one fourth of the total global population who don’t have energy security. The seventh largest country world over by area, with a 1.3 billion population, India is host to a diverse, ecologically-sensitive terrain – mountains in the north and an extensive coastline. The energy needs are increasing and people from all corners of the country have started engaging in small businesses and demanding better infrastructure.

The electricity that powers your house comes from one common grid. Giant power plants deposit energy directly into the national grid, from where it gets distributed to consumers. But what happens if this centralized grid fails? A lot of houses are plunged into darkness! This is where micro grids come in. We can prevent this with a micro grid – a self-sufficient energy system with the strength to power small communities. If the grid power goes down due to weather conditions, human error, or unforeseen circumstances, a micro grid canprovide 24×7 power.

For villages sparsely connected to the grid, or getting irregular power supply and frequent blackouts, micro grids are an opportunity to continue with everyday tasks of life. Local people value the uninterrupted electricity that they offer and are ready to pay for their benefits. Long before the concept caught up with the world, people in India were using micro grids and mini grids with diesel generators. In the absence of electricity, they were powering small commercial facilities, farms and villages. But now, the focus has moved towards making the micro grids renewable-powered and expanding their reach.

Micro Grid Defined

A micro grid is a group of interconnected loads and distributed energy resources that acts as a single controllable entity with respect to the grid. It can connect and disconnect from the grid to operate in grid-connected or island mode. Micro grids can improve customer reliability and resilience to grid disturbances. Advanced micro grids enable local power generation assets—including traditional generators, renewables, and storage—to keep the local grid running even when the larger grid experiences interruptions or, for remote areas, where there is no connection to the larger grid. In addition, advanced micro grids allow local assets to work together to save costs, extend duration of energy supplies, and produce revenue via market participation.

A micro grid is a small-scale power grid that can operate independently or collaboratively with other small power grids. The practice of using micro grids is known as distributed, dispersed, decentralized, district or embedded energy production. Any small-scale, localized power station that has its own generation and storage resources and definable boundaries can be considered a micro grid. If the micro grid can be integrated with the area’s main power grid, it is often referred to as a hybrid micro grid.

Micro grids are typically supported by generators or renewable wind and solar energy resources and are often used to provide backup power or supplement the main power grid during periods of heavy demand. A micro grid strategy that integrates local wind or solar resources can provide redundancy for essential services and make the main grid less susceptible to localized disaster.

Buildings equipped with electric generation capabilities through solar panels and contingency generators can also generate energy and revenue during downtime. By joining together with Smart grid deployments, excess energy can be sold back to local micro grids to create revenue in addition to providing resilience and capacity to local electrical grids.

A micro grid is a local energy production and distribution network that can function independently when it is disconnected from the main power grid in the event of a crisis such as a black out or a storm, or simply to supplement peaks in demand from the micro grids users and thereby avoid higher energy costs. These small grids serve a defined set of nearby users such as a housing complex, business center, a hospital, or a manufacturing plant. Micro grids are powered by generators or renewable energy sources like solar panels or wind, and are generally combined with energy storage units such as batteries.

A micro grid can be fully isolated from the national grid or interconnected to it. If it is interconnected to the national grid, it must also be able to isolate (“island”) from the national grid and continue to serve its customers while operating in island or autonomous mode. An interconnected micro grid is a grid that can, with the closing of a switch on an existing physical line, connect with the main grid, usually through a distribution company (Disco), with the possibility of power flowing either from or to the main grid. A non-interconnected micro grid does not have a physical connection to a local Disco. Non-interconnected, geographically isolated micro grids have been the dominant type of micro grid in developing countries. In contrast, physically interconnected micro grids have been the dominant type in most developed countries. 

Micro Grid Benefits

Low environmental impact micro grids that integrate renewable energy generation and electricity storage systems are becoming increasingly widespread thanks to the:

  • The environmental sustainability due tothe achievement of targets relating to sustainabilityand the reduction of polluting emissions
  • The falling costs of energy storage technologies and renewable energy generation systems (e.g. photovoltaic systems)
  • Savings on electricity costs by taking power from the grid only when it is cheaper, thanks to distributed generation and batteries to boost self-consumption
  • The creation of an additional source of income by providing remunerated ancillary services to the national grid (where regulated/permitted)
  • The achievement of targets relating to sustainability and the reduction of polluting emissions
  • Improvements in safety and resilience thanks to the option of disconnecting from the grid in case of power outages in order to safeguard the continuous supply to critical loads even during potential blackouts
  • Cost optimization concerning the use of energy from the national grid, the generation of distributed sources and the charging of any storage systems, thanks to the micro grid’s own advanced management systems

Micro Grids: The Disruptive Possibility for National Grid

The applications of a micro grid are wide and the solution has come to technical maturity at the right moment for India. As a ‘power system in a box’ the micro grid presents disruptive possibility for the nation’s power grid, solving the problem of achieving massive scale in short time. Micro grids can connect remote areas which are not part of the main grid or provide support to the grid in times of urgent requirements.

A grid-connected micro grid can also transition seamlessly into ‘islanded’ mode, operating as an independent self-sustaining energy system. A range of lifecycle management, consulting and integration services enable companies to achieve maximum return on investment on their micro grids, from the initial design concept and on throughout long service life. With factory-tested, current plug-and-play micro grid solutions, installation is quick and easy. With the added benefit of cloud-based remote monitoring, vital diagnostics are always available and maintenance is simple.

When physically not connected to any energy utility is known as off the grid. Off-grid homes, buildings, or communities therefore rely completely on their own energy sources, which can often be renewable energy sourcessuch as the sun and the wind. A micro grid can operate when connected to the main power grid, or also function in a stand-alone “island” mode. Therefore, the latter operate completely off the grid, and are not connected to a central power source at all. These are known as “remote micro grids” and usually run in areas that lack access to an affordable power source nearby.

Micro Grid Working

Electricity grids connect central power sources to homes and buildings over long distances through a network of underground or overhead cables. A micro grid works on the same principle, connecting distributed energy sources like generators, renewable resources like solar panels and batteries to such as homes, communities, businesses or factories.

In order to a better understanding of what a micro grid is, it’s useful to specify that micro grids can operate independently of the main power grid and are often managed by sophisticated software systems that that increases and decreases the resources and production as needed. The micro grid will also include the hardware necessary to distribute the energy it self-produces benefits of micro grid systems?

Micro Grid in India

Micro grid in India was pioneered in 1990s by West Bengal Renewable Energy Development Agency (WBREDA) when it installed a 25KWp solar PV system in Sundarban delta region. Subsequently Chhattisgarh Renewable Energy Development Agency (CREDA) initiated a solar plant in Bilaspur district. Indian Prime Minister declared India a cent per cent electrified country in 2018. However, this claim is based on a definition that many may not agree with, and is sometimes challenged by the beneficiaries themselves. A village is declared cent per cent electrified when 10 per cent of all homes and public offices get electricity. While this is a big step in connecting a village to a central grid, it does not really mean that cent per cent of the population is getting electricity.

In the Indian context, only 1,191 of some 600,000 villages are not electrified, as per the GARV website. The current definition of electrification means having more than just a single wire in the village connected to the grid. According to new government regulations, at least 10 per cent of homes must be connected for a village to be called electrified. However, villages are just one part of the puzzle; it is households that are the real challenge for last-mile connectivity and quality supply.

While quality should include issues like voltage and frequency, at the very least it should start with not being load shed. Even so, household connections are growing, and as per some estimates, it remains a matter of time before most homes in India are electrified, especially in light of the Central Government’s Saubhagya household electrification scheme. Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar YojanaSaubhagya is to provide energy access to all by last mile connectivity and electricity connections to all remaining un-electrified households in rural as well as urban areas to achieve universal household electrification in the country.

In November 2019, Tata Power—India’s largest private power company, with annual revenues of US$5.5 billion—announced an initiative to build 10,000 green micro grids in rural villages. The initiative will be undertaken by Tata Power Renewable Micro grid (TPRMG), a subsidiary of Tata Power. TPRMG estimates that these micro grids will reach about 5 million households and approximately 25 million people in the next 5 to 6 years. TPRMG also plans to electrify 100,000 rural enterprises and provide irrigation to 400,000 farmers.

In its first year of operation, TPRMG set up microgrids in villages in the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the first of which was commissioned on February 7, 2020. The program rollout was slowed by the outbreak of the COVID-19 100th microgrid on January 26, 2021, less than a year after the installation of the first. By March 31, 2023, it had 200 microgrids up and running, with a total installed capacity of more than 6 MW, and was serving more than 20,500 unique customers.27 The dramatic effects of the microgrid’s arrival are illustrated in photo 2.7. In coming years, TPRMG plans to install microgrids in other states, such as Assam, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, and Odisha. 

All TPRMG microgrids will initially be non-interconnected. In each village, TPRMG will install both a new microgrid generating system and a separate new distribution system. The absence of an electrical connection to the local Disco means that the TPRMG microgrid will not initially be able to make power transactions with the Disco. The microgrids could conceivably interconnect to the local Disco in the future, if interconnection were to become commercially advantageous for both parties. For this to happen, however, changes will likely have to be made in the Indian regulatory system, at both the central and the state levels, to provide economic incentives for the Disco and TPRMG to switch over from a non-interconnected to an interconnected microgrid.

In the meantime, TPRMG is complementing the efforts made by local Discos to provide electricity to rural consumers. It encourages its customers to purchase lower-priced Disco electricity whenever it is available. However, Discos are not always a reliable source of electricity (especially during summer daytime hours when the load requirement is very high across all the states of India).

TPRMG’s microgrids are able to provide reliable electricity supplies at all hours. Their greater reliability is especially important for businesses engaged in time-sensitive agricultural production and processing.

COP-21Ratification 

After ratifying the Paris Climate Agreement, India has pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 35 percent from 2005 levels and generate about 40 percent of its electricity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030. India accounts for about 4.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Sources of renewable energy are usually in remote locations – waterfalls, deserts or offshore wind in the oceans. Micro grids can be a plug-and-play solution. Their modular nature makes them easy to install and run in remote and hard to access locations. They integrate with multiple distributed generation sources, including conventional diesel and gas, and/ or renewables such as solar photovoltaic (PV), wind, hydroelectric, tidal and even thermal schemes like combined heat and power (CHP), together with energy storage. Such a technology will ensure that the nation balances growth with green or clean energy – providing access to electricity simultaneously reducing emissions.

Micro grid is particularly valuable in times of natural disasters when the main power grid may be unreliable. In such situations, having access to electricity becomes a significant advantage for conducting rescue operations. Conventional electricity is becoming unstable. And, the world is switching to renewable energy sources like solar. But, solar works during the day. To ensure a 24×7 energy supply for everyone, we need a storage capacity that runs in Gigawatts. This is not feasible as of now. But storage for small scale plants is available. Thus, the transition to RE resources becomes easierwith micro grids. In remote regions where grid infrastructure has not reached, a localized energy system provides a consistent energy supply. In urban areas, businesses can also opt for micro grids to power their operations.

Micro grids are not as popular in bigger towns and cities as they are in more distant and smaller locations, despite irregular power connections. These cities are well-connected to the central grid, so perhaps residents have hopes of getting uninterrupted power one day and do not see much benefit in investing in an alternate system. However, to deal with blackouts, it is common to use diesel generators.

To conclude, as India plans to bring power to more and more people, it is important that this expansion happens with green resources in a way that takes us towards a decentralized smart grid and promotes local businesses without impacting the environment. Apparently, the question is not of why, but how, to make that happen.