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Solar Nano grids for smart village power

Solar panels in nanogrid Indian village

The Climate Parliament's global executive director, Dr. Sanjay Kumar, accompanied the Secretary of the Indian Ministry of New and Renewable Energy to Chottkei village where a pioneering smart solar nano grid has been established, to gain firsthand knowledge and assess its replicability in India and other parts of the world through parliamentary action.

Village Chottkei is located deep inside a Tiger Reserve in Angul District of Odisha. Being located far away from the main grid, off-grid solution has been the only hope of Chottkei and such thousands of villages in South Asia (over 10,000 in India alone), Africa and Latin America.

Similar villages taken-up for electrification under the Remote Village Electrification Programme of Government of India powered with Solar PV and battery storage have faced significant operational issues, including failure due to frequent breakdown and erratic maintenance/ repair. Even minor faults could not be detected in time due to non-availability of trained mechanics in the vicinity. Many a times such minor faults put the whole system down. Trained solar power system mechanics are usually available in faraway centre and work independently. Faults could neither be reported in time nor the trained mechanics responded in time or adequately.

The poverty stricken Chottkei village was taken up for electrification with a radically different approach. A centralized solar PV generating unit of 30 kWp, with just a 20 kWp battery storage, connects all 140 households, 20 street light, 1 temple, 3 community services as well irrigation pumps, as well as provisions for supply to micro and mini enterprises such as poultry, stitching, food processing, refrigeration, oil mill, welding machines, tyre puncture shops, etc. All the electric load is connected to the Centralised Power Control Room in the village through underground power cables to save damage to poles and wires by wild animals. Optical Fibre Cable run underground alongside the power cables to collect live data from the whole system (starting from generating station to all load points), and feed it remotely to the Power Management Centre of the project developer about 70 Kms away near the District HQ through a VSAT connection at a 15-minute interval. A software, Nanosoft Remote, that provides for metering, billing based on differential tariff, alerts, payment, scheduling to match demand and supply particularly to the entrepreneurs, pinpointing faults in the system and switching-off a particular consumer in case of excessive drawl, etc., manages demand and supply to match each other in real time.

Uniquely also, the battery storage has been provided for only 20kWp to promote livelihood and entrepreneurial activities during the day time when solar power generation is at the peak, and to provide electricity to homes, community centre and street lights from 6 PM to 11 PM on battery load. In a typical project of remote village electrification, battery storage is provided for all the power generated, thereby increasing per capita cost and reducing business potential of such a village enterprise.

The data on the local servers is also synced on Cloud through the above VSAT, and is available for remote stakeholders such as sponsors, government agencies, project developers, O&M providers and remote experts for monitoring and timely intervention. This has ensured that the system has remained 100% up since it became operational three months ago. The new data management system has added around 20% to the capital cost of the project, but it has greatly enhanced the reliability of the system to promote business enterprise in this remote village.

Electricity is supplied as a paid utility, and the tariff is being determined on the basis of the O&M Costs as well as future replacement costs for batteries and other equipment. Villagers have been happily paying for the electricity charges; which has also been ensured because the system is now being looked after by a Village Electricity Committee (VEC) with responsibility for monitoring and maintaining the project. Local youth have been provided training by the developer to monitor, maintain and repair the system, and there is a already a well-defined plan for continuous upgradation of their skills. This team of trained village youth is employed on a contract rate basis by the VEC and is supported in times of need by the project developer’s skilled maintenance staff in times of need.

There is high potential for rapid replication and upscaling of this model, which is based on a more robust business sense. Government of India will be working on creating ecosystem for innovations in technology choices, creating business and financing models for diverse settings, developing supportive policies and regulatory frameworks, building of local capacities through structured programmes, and setting of specifications and standards.

The Climate Parliament will be collaborating with Government of India on the above and to link the business model with Sustainable Development Goals.

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