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Renewable power innovations in India – the world’s laboratory

Renewable power innovations in India – the world’s laboratory

India’s electricity system is a mess. While that is bad for consumers, it is great news for innovators and entrepreneurs who see an opportunity to earn money, to provide a social solution or to do both. Prayas Energy Group, a Pune think tank, now wants to provide more data for such ventures. Its concept is a finalist in the Google Impact Challenge 2013.

  • India has many different needs, markets and there are many different solutions
  • There are signs that the market has moved from ideating to tested, scalable solutions
  • Monitoring and data availability are a challenge

The markets for distributed power solutions are many: wealthy farmers who need power for pumping water, tens of millions of households without access to the grid, telecom tower operators who spend more time and money on energy procurement than on their core business, industries who face rising grid power costs or irregular power supply, and many more.

A host of companies are busy solving these troubles. Mera Gao Power, Husk Power Systems, d.light and Onergy are developing solutions for the rural market – often in the North. Greenpeace and GiZ have established trial village mini-grids. Signs are that some models are now approaching investment grade. In September, when the UN Foundation held a workshop on energy access in Bihar’s dustry capital Patna, it attracted interest from several international investors. Selco, which has set up over 100,000 solar home lighting systems in Karnataka and other states, runs an incubation center to mentor solar entrepreneurs with a social vision.

Telecom towers are another market, where the first wave of pilots (usually a couple of hundreds or thousands of towers) has been completed and solution providers are looking to roll out their concepts. They include companies such as OMC and Applied Solar. Intelligent Energy, a UK-based sustainable technology company whose offering includes fuel cell solutions, has just closed a round of fundraising with a specific view to the rolling out its India business.

Entrepreneurs are also targeting the residential customer market. A new breed of professional solar service providers with international experience and local reach, such as Orb Energy, Peetee Solar in Tamil Nadu or PTL Solar in Kerala, to name just three, has come up all across the country. The Indian start-up Gensol has developed a simple, integrated solar solution for households (1 kW) which is selling well in Kerala. Greenpeace is just running an innovation challenge for new solutions for sustainable irrigation pumps.

One factor that holds back growth in this market is the lack of data on the supply quality. To improve this, the think tank Prayas is developing a reliable database on supply interruptions and voltage levels at consumer locations in India with up to 2,500 Electricity Supply Monitors (ESM) in households, farms, and small commercial establishments.

This is to be combined with an intuitive web-interface that uses GIS to map the data to its locations and enable users to view and download the data of any region over specific time-periods (day, month or year). Consumers, civil society organizations, researchers, regulatory commissions and stakeholders can use this data to increase the accountability of electric utilities. The data can be used, for example, to verify whether the villages electrified through India’s rural electrification program get the mandated 6 hours of daily supply. The initiative is now one of the finalists of the Google Impact Challenge. More information on this can be found here.

Tobias Engelmeier is the Managing Director at BRIDGE TO INDIA.

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