India has begun setting up computerized smart mini-grids powered with renewable energy sources to provide electricity in remote, inaccessible areas. Earlier this month the country’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) commissioned the country’s first ‘renewable energy-based smart mini-grid system’ at Gurgaon, outside New Delhi. Similar grids are commonly used in advanced and developing countries.
The computerized electricity distribution system is equipped with sophisticated sensors and control devices to manage local electricity supply provides by a mix of solar cells, micro-hydro power plants, wind turbines, and biomass. The national power grid and small diesel-powered generators act as a back-up to the system in case the renewable energy supply fails.
Bibek Bandyopadyay, who heads the solar energy centre at MNRE, explains, “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. 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.”
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. The Energy and Resources Institute developed the smart grid with help from Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.
Subhesh Bhattacharya, senior lecturer at the Centre for Energy, Petroleum, and Mineral Law and Policy at the University of Dundee, Scotland, who is working on renewable energy systems in developing countries, says, “propagation of renewable energy-based smart grids could evolve as a viable policy for developing countries.” He also notes that a digitally controlled mini-grid helps “technological leapfrogging in the (renewable energy) supply and, if the systems are properly standardized, they can be easily integrated into the national grid.”