Solar Microgrids & the Developing World

mgp-505_073112090359 Almost 400 million Indians, do not have access to a power grid. Nikhil Jaisinghani and Brian Shaad, cofounders of Mera Gao Power (MGP), want to change that. MGP’s goal is to provide 400 million rural Indians access to clean light (as opposed to kerosene-fueled lamps) and the opportunity to charge their phone without taking a trip to their town’s recharging kiosk. With the falling cost of solar panels and LEDs, the company aims to use microgrids to dispense power throughout rural India. Microgrids offer many advantages to developing countries. Because the installation cost can be spread across a village instead of an individual basis, microgrids offer poor villages an economically feasible option for power. The microgrid system can also use more efficient, larger-scale generation and storage systems to lower operational costs. For $2,500, a 100 homes can be wired up to two generation hubs, each consisting of a pair of solar panels and a battery pack. To ensure the most efficient organization of distribution lines, the village is carefully mapped and an innovative distribution system is designed. To save money, the grid uses 24-volt DC power, which allows for the use of aluminum wiring instead of the more expensive copper wiring required for higher-voltage AC systems.  For 100 rupees (~$2), each household receives 0.2 amps for seven hours a night (enough to power two LED lights and mobile-phone charging point). When you take into account the fact that kerosene lamps and recharging kiosks generally cost the average Indian household 100-150 rupees per month, MGP’s microgrid provides villagers a great convenience with a minimal increase in cost. MGP’s first commercial microgrid was deployed last summer. Since then eight more villages have been wired with solar microgrids. Now using a commercial business model, MGP expects to scale up its services to reach 1,000,000 people by 2017. Although MGP’s microgrid is not a replacement for grid power, it is what many in Indian want and can afford right now. Currently the technology supports only lighting and phone charging, but the company is exploring ideas to include information services and community entertainment centers.

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