Community Level Power

Overview: Electric power and lighting for entire communities, as opposed to individual households or customers.

Generally delivered by installing central renewable power sources that are either connected to homes through wiring systems (mini-grids) or charge batteries that customers take home.
Central generation plants (range 35-120kW), are most often biomass powered (AVANI, DESI Power, Husk Power Systems), but sometimes use other sources such as hydro (Practical Action Peru), or smaller (1kW)wind/solar (blueEnergy).
Some social enterprises train communities to maintain systems collectively, but install power through stand-alone solar panels in individual houses (Light Up The World), or use rechargeable lanterns owned by a village committee (Sunlabob).
Central generation systems are usually unaffordable for communities ($10-15,000 for a blueEnergy wind turbine, $200,000 for a DESI Power plant installation). These systems are generally funded by donor subsidies or revenue from selling the power the generator produces.
 

1. Delivering power at the community level is much more complex than delivering at an individual or household level.

  • Community-level systems require proper incentive structures for maintenance (since no individual owns the system, sometimes no one takes responsibility for upkeep).
    • Sunlabob creates a village committee which owns all lanterns and looks after the charging station.
  • Community-level systems are generally more complex to run than smaller-scale systems, and require extensive community training or village-based staff.

2. Community-level systems (esp. biomass plants) are large enough to bring the cost per kilowatt much lower than most smaller-scale systems.

3. Non-subsidized models require enough revenue to run a large, expensive system profitably. Often, village populations do not use enough power to cover costs (many only need lighting 3 hours per day), and installing systems for broad geographies is complex and can overextend enterprises.

Husk Power Systems owns and operates village-based biomass power plants in Bihar, India which gasify rice husks to deliver 35-100kW of electricity to power households and small businesses.

  • Husk’s model is designed to be a turnkey solution which can easily be put into as many villages as they have capital for, and their model is focused on scaling as rapidly as possible while keeping power as cheap as possible for villagers.
  • Husk's plants cost less than US $1,000 per KW to install and less than 10 cents/kWh to run.
  • Most users pay US$1.75 per month for husk power, as opposed to $5-7 for kerosene.
  • Husk has designed its plants to be simple enough for a high-school graduate with 3 months of Husk training to operate, which allows it to trains people from the villages in which it operates to run its plants.
  • To achieve its goal of 2,000 villages by 2014 (and training the needed 8,000 staff), Husk is now developing Husk University, a standardized training program for village engineers which will have a centralized location for every 30-40 plants.
  • Husk is also using its power plants as channels for the village-level sale of corporate goods, which further cover costs.