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Report

Expanding Opportunities for Renewable Energy-Based Mini-Grids in Rural India

Today, nearly 240 million Indians lack access to reliable electricity, and 90 percent of them live in rural areas. Despite the government’s ambitious plans to accelerate universal electrification by 2018, challenges remain in providing reliable and sufficient energy to the last mile. Distributed renewable energy (DRE) solutions, and in particular mini-grids, have emerged as a reliable complement to the government’s electrification programs by providing rural areas with access to reliable and high-quality electricity at a much faster pace. The growth of the DRE sector will be an important fillip in serving last-mile customers.

Smart Power India (SPI) is an organization that implements The Rockefeller Foundation’s Smart Power for Rural Development (SPRD) to build viable and commercially oriented mini-grid ecosystems in India. This report explains the Smart Power mini-grid model and explores the drivers of success. Analyzing early results from a cohort of the Smart Power mini-grids operational as of 2017, SPI provides data on commercial performance as well as recommendations to further accelerate the rural mini-grid business.

The report reveals that the 23 top-cohort plants have an average unit-level profit margin of approximately 30% after the first year of operations. It also highlights that villages receiving electricity from SPRD mini-grids show early signs of social and economic impact (also see Understanding the Impact of Rural Electrification). SPI has observed that site selection, a strong focus on operations, support for demand generation and marketing optimized for rural customers, are critical to the continued improvement of mini-grid operations. Finally, the report provides recommendations to address external challenges such as the need for increased financing, stronger policy support, and further technological innovation.