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Monitoring and Maintenance of Rural Mini-grids Crucial to Delivering Reliable Power

Mini-grid developers operating plants in remote locations face considerable challenges in keeping their plants up and running efficiently. Harsh environmental conditions and the high variability of both supply and demand considerably impact the life-time and performance of generation, storage, and transmission equipment in a mini-grid.

While distributed renewables possess great potential to provide reliable electricity, like any technology, they require careful planning and monitoring to keep them running smoothly. Smart Power India’s new publication, Technical Monitoring Guide for Solar Hybrid Mini-grids lays out processes and strategies for mini-grid developers in achieving high levels of technical performance from their mini-grid assets on-ground.

The Guide presents a detailed overview of equipment performance over the short- and long-term, along with protocols and practices for reliably gathering critical plant data. This provides the basis for targeted maintenance and other interventions that will maximize the potential of the mini-grid.

Take for example the mini-grid operator Tara Urja that operates over 50 mini-grids across the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, supplying electricity to over 3,500 customers including households, shops, commercial enterprises, and institutions. Issues with electrical equipment at some of its plants were causing unnecessary energy wastage, such that over 40 percent of the expected output was getting lost. A thorough 3-day technical audit exercise was undertaken by Smart Power India and its technical partners to identify the sources and causes of loss. Each part of the electricity pipeline, from solar panels to power electronics to batteries to customer connections, was tested and analyzed. The recommendations from this activity allowed Tara Urja to improve the efficiency of its plants by as much as 30 percent. In addition, their local team was involved during the process and was trained to strengthen daily routines for equipment monitoring and maintenance.

“When we were started out as a mini-grid developer, we spent a lot of time and effort reactively troubleshooting faults at our mini-grids, trying to understand what the problem was and how to fix it,” says Narinder Abrol, Business Manager, Tara Urja. “Since the technical audit and training were provided by SPI, we’ve gradually been shifting to a more proactive strategy, where we collect technical and operational information as a matter of course and use pre-defined metrics to quickly pinpoint where interventions are required. Availability of reliable technical data and set processes have really freed up our time to focus on our customers and our business.”

Running a viable mini-grid in rural areas that deliver maximum value to operators and customers is a hard business, and technical difficulties add to this burden. This Guide aims to facilitate and automate technical operations by highlighting key causes of inefficiency, and the practicalities of identifying and counteracting them. We believe it will be a useful resource for mini-grid operators around the world that are striving to provide clean and reliable power to under-served communities.

[Energy Access India]

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