Serving Energy Customers with Power Distribution at the Bottom of the Pyramid

7. Affordable and Clean Energy 9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities 12. Responsible Consumption and Production 13. Climate Action

Overview

Energy availability is a direct indicator of social growth. The Gram Power team is working towards making energy ubiquitous among the folks through their alternative business model.

India is a nation with a population of over 1 billion, where there is a growing concern over energy efficiency, and with its ever increasing demand, there is a constant struggle in its quest towards striving for economic competitiveness. India is also a primarily agrarian economy, where over 60% of the nation population is living in rural areas, "Energy Theft" is a major challenge due to the lack of adequate energy supply and the financial constraints of the people. A development in India’s energy policy could have a great impact on the future of energy balances for Asia and the World. Keeping in mind the above challenges, we have taken up the company "Gram Power." This company aims to solve the above crisis by providing technology in the form of "Smart Meters" implemented alongside Smart Grids. These Smart Meters will eliminate barriers in providing affordable access to energy to the those sections in India, where the extension of existing grid supply is economically not viable. Therefore, to provide those areas with reliable and affordable power supply there is a need of centralized modular generation and distribution systems.

Authors

Reeju Guha

Reeju Guha

Sagar Srivastava

Sagar Srivastava

Utsav Basak

Utsav Basak

School

Indian Institute of Technology Bombay - Shailesh J. Mehta School of Management

Indian Institute of Technology Bombay - Shailesh J. Mehta School of Management

Professor

Ashish Pandey

Ashish Pandey

Innovation

Gram Power provides cutting edge Smart Grid technologies to address the electrification issues of developing nations. It set up India’s first solar powered microgrid in Rajasthan, providing energy for various uses. Gram Power's core innovation is in their Smart Distribution technology, consisting of their Smart Meters and Grid Monitoring Systems to provide on-demand, theft-proof power with a unique pay-as-you-use schedule that is determined by the end user. It has succeeded in integrating IT with preexisting grid technologies to harness the power of data. In achieving its objectives of clean, affordable, reliable power that is part of the larger energy grid, the company also creates a new dimension in the space of "Internet of Things."

Gram Power's microgrid is powered by a centralized array of solar panels that collect the sun's energy and converts it to DC electricity. The surplus solar energy is stored in a battery array, providing users with a continuous supply of energy even during peak usage times and at night, when the solar panels do not provide any electricity. DC electricity from the solar array and batteries is converted to AC electricity via an inverter, which is then distributed throughout the service area via small overhead power lines. The system is monitored wirelessly by Gram Power for energy theft or other usage abnormalities.

Serving Energy Customers with Power Distribution at the Bottom of the Pyramid

Inspiration

Yashraj Khaitan visited a remote Rajasthan village, there he noticed that there are 5000 people residing in around 800 homes which has less than 2$ per day as household income, there are no paved roads, no hospital etc. Teachers and kids don’t attend schools as there is no electricity and agriculture is dependent on rains. Few had solar lanterns or diesel powered generators that are extremely expensive. So in the absence of any other alternative, mostly kerosene is used. He realized that the need of reliable and affordable power supply in such areas is paramount and there is a scope of building a lucrative business model that can fulfill both the Societal and Financial aspects of the business. It can improve the lives of the people in those villages so that their living standards improve leading to increased energy demand.

He also recognized the potential for an electricity service after seeing the evolution in telecom industry, that showed how people are willing to spend for a service that is reliable and affordable. Gram Power caters to an entire demographic of people who don't have reliable sources of energy. Gram Power offers centralized electricity generation and distribution services through government backed initiatives. Their purpose was to introduce micro-grid solutions in remote rural areas which have low population density and low per capita power consumption. The company provides these people with services in ways that are easiest for them, such as prepaid energy coupons and online monitoring. These services ovations let consumers utilize energy as needed in the most efficient manner. Online monitoring helps them track their electricity usage and provides points of thefts if there are any.

The major innovation required in this sector pertains to financing of the micro grid projects as mentioned by Mr. Kunjan Gandhi from Gram Power. Smart metering and billing are two major innovations which needs to be implemented. The next 5 years will be an experimental phase that will see the seamless integration of hardware and software. Moreover, implementing the standardization of communication technology for smart metering communication is essential for the future growth in this sector. Gram Power aims to solve all these peripheral problems that linger, so that the central challenges can be address.

Overall impact

There are several inherent problems that the power sector of India is suffering from. Some of the chief concerns regarding it, and how Gram Power aims to tackle it is below:

  1. Arriving at the optimal fuel mix - The model that Gram Power aims to perfect is going to target each of the above problems. Through their smart meters they can monitor the cost of power realtime, thereby varying prices for different sources of power such as thermal, solar, wind etc.
  2. Problems with the Cooperative model - The facilities they provide allow the end consumers to monitor the nature of their power consumption. Everything from the amount of power for respective appliances to amount of power consumed and money left can be monitored through the prepaid service. This leads to a variety of benefits, such as allowing people more control over their expenditure, and it results in a more efficient power distribution with incentive for the consumers to reduce power wastage.
  3. Power theft - Power theft which is a major issue in India, is being addressed through the infrastructure they have put in place. The meters are capable of power theft in the network and identify the critical areas where this happens. This helps in curbing the theft of power, thereby increasing profitability for the firms.
  4. Optimal distribution models - With real time data for each consumer, the resultant patterns can be identified from the collected data. This provides valuable insights into the power consumption patterns and allows the company to expand, consolidate and grow in a more sustainable manner, generating value for all the stakeholders involved.

Society

Energy is a precursor to societal development. All sorts of indispensable amenities are dependent on electricity. There are rural places in India, where mobile phones are abundant yet electricity is lacking. And the local community has developed their own unique solutions for them. There are places where the community bands together and assigns a person to collect all their mobile phones and take it to the nearby villages which has electricity to get them charged. This appointed person do so against a fee. Thus without affordable electricity, media and communication channels become impossible to obtain. To develop, these amenities need to be provided, a social revolution cannot be achieved unless all of these people can reach them, influence them, and propel them towards the future. Energy is the great enabler, and with the prepaid model, these people can allocate their money to access the facilities in a much more efficient way.

Thus energy availability is a direct indicator of social growth. And the Gram Power team is working towards making energy ubiquitous among the folks through their alternative business model.

Environmental

In India, due to surging energy consumption CO2 emissions are on the rise sharply, and the power sector is greatly accountable for this. Moreover, air and water pollution are also aggravating.

Business benefit

Providing on tap power, developing efficient dc appliances, eliminating theft and system loss reduction up to 6-10 times as compared to conventional transmission line. Designing modular system that are flexible enough to reach villages from 20 homes to 1000 homes village. Also the Business model is quite lucrative.

  • Typical system of about 12KW requires $4 a watt to design.
  • Capital subsidy for 3$ a watt is provided by government.
  • There are 36000+ villages where there is a huge $7.7 bn opportunity.
  • Climate benefits: 83% less power used, 99% less CO2 and 84% less subsidy needed to run Gram Power micro-grids.

Social and environmental benefit

As the company grows, the technology of smart grids and smart meters would be widely accepted and adopted by people all over India as it also utilizes renewable sources of energy, which is better from the environmental viewpoint. The innovation benefits the society by providing electricity in all villages and rural areas in India having less or no power connectivity. It also solves the problem of power theft by keeping a track through centralized servers. In addition, it educates the common man as to why he should spend judiciously on power, by proving a Smart Meter that can be recharged like a prepaid mobile connection, and would indicate the duration for which the recharge would last. And as Gram Power quotes, their aim is to provide electricity to all, intelligently!

Interview

Mr. Kunjan Gandhi, Head of Business Development

Mr. Kunjan Gandhi, Head of Business Development

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Gram Power

Gram Power

Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

Business Website: http://www.grampower.com/

Year Founded: 2010

Number of Employees: 11-50

Gram Power is an energy technology company founded out of Berkeley, California. They have developed disruptive smart grid technology to radically change the way electricity is supplied to and consumed by users. Their technology enables rural and urban consumers to get access to reliable and clean energy, control and optimize their electricity expenses using their phones, pay for power just like they purchase recharge coupons for cell phones and interact with their power distribution companies like never before. The technology also helps eliminate theft, pilferage or non-payment of power bills. Their work has resulted in designing the lowest cost smart meter in the world, the most advanced power distribution management technology and a smart micro-grid solution for energy access in remote areas.