Microgrids lift villages out of dark age

Microgrids lift villages out of dark age

MATHURA, India - Salma Khan, a petite, young woman, shows off her one room store where she sells food products such as lentils, flour, packaged noodles and biscuits. She is particularly pleased about two recent additions to her tiny village shop. In the midst of the stacks of groceries is a pedestal fan that helps her combat summer heat of above 40 C, and high on the wall in one corner is a foot-long fluorescent light. Both are powered by a battery connected to a solar panel on the roof of the shop.

Simpa Networks, a company headquartered in Noida, a vibrant business district near New Delhi, supplied her with the energy pack that came equipped with lights, a small fan and ports that can be used for charging two mobile phones.

Bridging the "power gap"

It is not cheap. Customers have to make a down payment of 2,500 rupees (S$54.90) and then pay monthly installments of about 780 rupees over 28 months before they get to keep the kit. But in a country where about 400 million people have no access to power, Companies like Simpa are playing a crucial role in bridging the "power gap" in a country with a notorious infrastructure.

For every household in India to have electricity, 750 houses need to be connected every hour for the next 10 years, according to Arunabha Ghosh, founder of Clean Energy Access Network, an alliance of businesses taking clean energy to the nation's poorest communities. "That's the kind of challenge and opportunity we're talking about," he said.

"There's a correlation between being off-grid and being poor," said Nikhil Jaisinghani, co-founder of Mera Gao Power (Hindi for My Village Power). It is another startup that takes solar power to villagers in Uttar Pradesh. He said the "microgrids" set up by his company reach rural villages, unlike the national power lines.

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