At least 100 homes in central northern India are now harnessing the sun's power, thanks to social enterprise start-up company Oorja.

The company, founded in 2015 by social entrepreneur Amit Saraogi and Imperial College London PhD student Clementine Chambon, recently installed an 8kW mini solar grid in the village of Sarvantara, which is located in Uttar Pradesh.

Sarvantara was nominally electrified by the state government nine months ago during election season when electricity poles from the local grid operator were placed in the village. However, the poles were never connected to the grid. Oorja’s mini-grid is the first time that the village has had access to a reliable source of electricity.

The mini solar grid provides around 1,000 people with energy for affordable lighting, phone charging and fans to cool homes, according to Chambon. The renewable energy generated will also power pumps to provide irrigation services to farmers.

20170724_EETI_Oorja-solar-power_02 (cr) Figure 1: Villager charges his phone at home. (Source: Imperial College London)

According to the company, 40 of the 100 households in Sarvantara will be fitted with smart meters to enable remote monitoring of energy generation and consumption in real-time. The data will help Oorja to analyse the performance of the system and improve the services they provide.

"Demand for electricity is high, especially for pumping water for irrigation. The onset of the monsoon seems to be delayed this year and poorer rainfall than average has been predicted. Farmers are reporting the effects of climate change and the risk it poses to them in the form of crop failures," Chambon said. "Villagers are particularly keen to sign up to receive energy from our system for affordable irrigation services. They are very relieved that an alternative to expensive diesel pumps will be available, especially as the diesel price in India is expected to get much more expensive, following recent deregulation of the market."

20170724_EETI_Oorja-solar-power_03 (cr) Figure 2: Chambon and locals at the official ribbon cutting event in June 2017. (Source: Imperial College London)

Oorja's goal is to use renewable energy technologies to maximise the social and economic benefit for communities while reducing their reliance on kerosene and diesel generators, which could lessen their impact on the climate by reducing emissions. The team is looking to raise more funding to enable them to roll out dozens more mini-grids to other villages in 2018.

In the future, Chambon and Saraogi plan to pilot a hybrid mini-grid that will generate electricity from solar energy and biomass. This could provide a bigger supply of electricity to power small enterprises, such as grain mills, sewing cooperatives and water purification stations.