Who, What & Where

  • Mlinda
  • Solar mini-grids for off-grid rural markets
  • West Bengal and Jharkhand, India

The Organisation

Mlinda is a Paris-based environment organisation working towards sustainable consumption and production.  In India, Mlinda is headquartered in Kolkata and one of the flagship projects is rural electrification through solar based mini-grids. To date, Mlinda has installed 310 mini-grids, spanning across households, markets and schools in Sundarbans and Purulia districts, West Bengal and Gumla and East Singhbhum districts, Jharkhand.  Total Installed capacity is 92 kWp, positively impacting  2750 rural and tribal families.

The Challenge

The off-grid markets in rural Sundarbans, West Bengal are a hub of commercial activity. The market size ranges from 20 shops to those having more than 300 shops and they are powered by polluting diesel gensets for four hours daily in the evening. Not only is this polluting the fragile ecology of the Sundarbans, but it is an expensive proposition as diesel prices climbing steadily. Some of the local shop owners are finding it difficult to cope with these increasing prices, and finally, have had to switch to kerosene wick lamps. 

Renewable Solution

Not satisfied with this status quo, few shop keepers approached Mlinda to design and develop solar mini-grids for the market space. They decided to give up diesel completely and switch over to a solar facility if it was affordable and resulted in savings. Mlinda conducted an in-depth assessment of the average loads of the market, existing diesel tariffs and paying capacities of the shop owners which in turn informed the technical designs of the market grids and the financial structuring of the same.  
The capacities of the market based mini-grids ranges from 250 W- 8 kWp. These are AC systems providing a 230 V 15 Amp supply. System supplies single phase power for lighting, aspirational and productive needs. The sub 2 kW systems are all rooftop mounted and the larger systems are ground-mounted behind the shops. 
The battery, inverter, MCB is housed within the shops and in larger systems it is housed in a room adjacent to the shops. Installed capacity in Sunderbans is 48 kWp for markets. In the bigger mini-grids, the markets act as the ‘anchor load’ and the surplus power is supplied to nearby homes (within 1 km) for meeting their aspirational demands. 
The systems are owned, run and managed by the local rural entrepreneurs. Mlinda acts as the overall integrator of the ecosystem – facilitating a soft loan for the entrepreneur from banks which they pay over a period of five years in easy monthly instalments, building the capacities of the local entrepreneur as well as taking care of the local repair and maintenance. This switch to a solar-based mini-grid results in minimum savings of INR 1000 (EUR 12.50) per month.