THE WORK OF GRAM OORJA SOLUTIONS – A VISIT TO GRAM OORJA SOLAR GRID SITES IN PUNE, INDIA
Visit by Practical Action (PA) Bangladesh and United International University (UIU), Bangladesh, May 15 to 20, 2019.
The Low Carbon Energy Development Network (LCEDN), the United International University (UIU) in Dhaka and the Practical Action (PA) Bangladesh country office are in the process of preparing a small community Solar Micro Grid to be demonstrated in char area of Sundarganj, Gaibandha. A critical component of this microgrid will be linking the power provided into productive enterprises, services to enhance livelihoods in the community over and above the provision of household energy.
The project will use the experience of Practical Action, UIU and Gram Oorja to explore a scalable model for community engagement and entrepreneurship in areas of Bangladesh where grid supply is highly unlikely. The participating organisations have already selected a site and completed feasibility study and prepared report, but before the preparation of the business case in Gaibandha, the LCEDN suggested a visit by the Bangladesh partners to similar grids run by Gram Oorja, one of the most experienced community energy organizations in India with a portfolio of 69 microgrids (at the time of writing) in Maharashtra and Jharkhand in India.
The India Visit:
The visit was completed in five days (15th to 20th May, 2019) as a learning trip to Maharastra, facilitated by Gramoorja Solutions Private Limited. The visit targeted a range of solar powered micro grid systems which demonstrated their ability to supply power for many different purposes including household lighting, enterprises, livelihoods and basic services.
The Bangladesh team already had experience of the use of community-focused solar power in houses for lighting, running fans, TVs, however the Gram Oorja team was able to show solar power in the communities running different SMEs such as pumping surface water for irrigation in infertile hilly land for growing groundnuts, community-based supply of drinking water, flour milling, packaging, as well as running refrigerators for keeping vaccines and other lifesaving medicines safe. The systems demonstrated were both grid-tied and stand-alone
The schemes visited ranged in age from newly installed to systems that were three years old. In all of the systems, Gram Oorja runs a model to ensure a good quality of all products supplied and that the systems required no/minimal repairs; they also emphasized safety in the generation, storage and distribution of loads. The systems were supervised by a caretaker/operator appointed by village energy committee, which worked with Gram Oorja to ensure the best mix of SME services were supplied.
The Gram Oorja sites:
The team from Bangladesh was very balanced in terms of focus and expertise in different aspects required for microgrid project analysis. While Dr Intekhab Alam from UIU focused on the technology, Mr Uttam Saha from Practical Action looked at the projects from a social and developmental perspective, which is a core component of Practical Action Bangladesh’s work. From his project work, Mr Arifur Talukder of Practical Action had experience both from the implementation perspective as well as of the technical and social aspects.
Mr Shreyas Bhalerao, Project Engineer with Gram Oorja who led the visit, said: “It’s exciting for me to travel with different people to our microgrids. Each person has a different way of looking at things and when I’m travelling with them, they help me look at the same village and conditions from different perspectives. It’s a great learning experience revisiting microgrids with experienced colleagues who can focus on different aspects of a solar microgrid. This visit in particular was special because of the people involved; I’d been to visit the new solar project site in Bangladesh and bonded with them while seeing what they had achieved in their country.”
One aspect that Shreyas noticed was that the sense of community was very different in Maharashtra than in Bangladesh. The people involved in Gram Oorja microgrids are used to paying as they use through metered connections and tariff collection for the energy supplied is done by the Village Energy Committee consisting of some residents of the village. Uttam from Practical Action thought that this would be a critical issue in the new Gaibandha project – he felt that the community worked together better and through more established pathways, because of the governance structure in India.
|Site Number||Day/date||Place Visited and System||Description|
|Little energy is currently used from the system. This system was supplied by Merrill Lynch’s CSR fund. Households pay a fixed charge of 50 INR and 10INR per kWh.|
|This system incorporates a Small business centre with a small refrigerator. Households pay a fixed charge of 50 INR and 10 INR per kWh.|
|This system is only used for drip irrigation. A filter is used to avoid clogging in the pipes.
|May 17||Brahman pada||This is a simple system incorporating a DC motor pump.
|5||May 18||Vadpada||This is a standalone system with an IP65 module. The system has an in-house battery and a cooling system with a fan.|
|6||May 18||Shiswali||This is a woman-led system being run with great efficiency. System data is all time monitored and stored through a mobile communication channel.|
|7||May 19||Pune||This constitutes a 54.4 kWp grid-linked model for the base-load of a service centre.|
Vanvasipada and Rahadepada
Tulyacha pada and Brahman pada
|Number||Village||Gram Panchayat||Taluka||District||Project type||Household numbers||Kwp||Battery capacity||Pump capacity|
|1||Vanvasipada||Khadki||Vikramgad||Palghar||Solar microgrid||40 HH + 1 School||8.82||750||-|
|2||Rahadepada||Dabhlon||Jawhar||Palghar||Solar microgrid||49 HH + 1 School||9.6||750||-|
|3||Tulyacha pada||Morhanda||Mokhada||Palghar||Solar irrigation pump||
10 pumping groups,
|4||Brahman pada||Aase||Mokhada||Palghar||Solar water pump||192 HH, 183 people||5.44||-||5|
12 HH + 1 Patravali (plate-making) machine
|6||Shiswali||Dahigaon||Shahapur||Thane||Solar microgrid||42 HH + 1 School||9.6||750||-|
|7||NCL Innovation Park||Pune||Pune||Pune||Grid-tied solar system||54.4||-||-|
Gramoorja is a private company in India with a long experience of undertaking feasibility studies, designing schemes and undertaking the procurement and installation of micro grid systems with a wide range of different functions, as the examples above show. As well as the technical implementation, Gram Oorja specializes in building the capacity of NGOs to form and train village energy committees (VECs) for the sustainable operation and maintenance of each system. Gram Oorja specializes in raising money for projects from Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds, mainly those of Banks, for grounding their rapid growth.
As often as is appropriate, the Gram Oorja model works through VECs using existing formal/informal systems where possible or setting up VECs where this is necessary. The (VEC) then collects money from all users and deposits the money in the bank account in the name of VEC.
Gram Oorja beneficiaries are mostly from tribal communities with very cohesive hierarchical structures which helps the project implementation and maintenance. For the most part, using existing structures is simpler and helps to avoid major conflicts/tensions in the shared use of power and collecting the monthly charge. Users fees are obviously critical to and collected for ensuring the longer-term operational sustainability of the system, however in the absence of a financial model which can leverage this income stream the user fees do not supplement capital costs. Although the grid can be made self-sustaining in the medium-/long-term, there is no mechanism for funding a solar microgrid as a commercially viable project, so that start-up costs require either subsidy or a grant from the Government/CSR sector/a donor.
Using the system knowledge and the experience gained in India and the combined consultation work already done with the community in Gaibandha, IU and the Practical Action Bangladesh country office will prepare and finalise the Gaibandha case and submit to LCEDN for funding. The role of UIU will be as technical advisors, and Practical Action will use their experience of working on such projects, along with local partners, to take on the role of engagement with the community and building local capacity to ensure the long-term operational sustainability of the scheme.