The low per capita electricity consumption in India is not only due to huge numbers of low income households but also due to the availability of electricity. India has about 60% of its population living in rural areas and though the government claims that there every house is electrified, multiple individual surveys by NGO and even Forbes suggest that more than 31 Million houses are yet to get electricity.
The average per capita electricity consumption in India is very low at about 2 units, whereas the global average is 8 units per day!
Just a casual visit to small villages done by a Pune based private company highlighted that the villages declared to be electricity sufficient by the government, actually has on an average only three or four common area lamp posts.
Centralised plants are those which are installed on a huge scale in one place and the generated energy is distributed to the required places through transmission and distribution system. On the second side, decentralised plants are those which are generally quite small in scale and are installed very near to the place of energy requirement, and do not require huge transmission and distribution system.
Currently the trend in India is that the government tries to fulfil all the energy requirement through traditional methods like centralised coal fired thermal power plants, gas based thermal plants or hydro-power plants. This is quite a viable system when the energy requirement is very high, dense and concentrated-like in cities. But in villages, which are distributed over a large area and not dense at all the cost of transmission is not viable. There are also various losses associated with the transmission and distribution system.
Another issue with the thermal power plants is that they produce a huge amount of carbon displacing the balance of nature. Good quality coal and gas and crude oil are imported and thus there is a massive outgo of foreign exchange to keep these plants running.
The government in recent years tried to address this problem by promoting Biomass energy for village area but it is not progressing on the required pace. Another issue with Biomass is that roughly 6kG of it is required for production of 1 unit of electricity. Considering the average of 4 units requirement per household for agricultural operations the total requirement is 25kG per day for this. Besides the high initial investment, maintenance and manpower requirement for biogas plant, it also generates carbon making it not so eco friendly.
Considering this to small decentralised Solar PV Plants they have a distinct advantage and the ability to solve all these problems. A 1kW of solar plant can generate average about 4 units in a day (taking into effect all the seasons year round). The expected life of the plant is also very high going upto 25 years and the maintenance required is minimum. As the system consists of no moving parts, the possibility of any component breakdown is also next to nil. The working of the plant is completely automatic and no manual intervention is required. Only drawback is that due to the working of the plant being restricted to day only, we need batteries to store the energy for night usage. The batteries require replacement every 5-6 years, though advances in the energy storage sector has increased this figure to 12-15 years for certain types of batteries.
Small solar standalone systems which can power 3 led bulbs and charge a mobile are also available and a much cheaper solution for the rural areas. These are extremely small and out of the box solutions, requiring no expertise or manpower to set up.
These small decentralised PV plants have potential to completely solve the power crisis in the rural areas especially in Kutch(Gujarat) and states like Odisha, Bihar and Chhattisgarh.