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GE India’s microgrid offering close to commercialization

Micropower generation units, designed by GE‘s India R&D centre in Bengaluru over the past two years, are now close to the stage of commercialisation. The units are expected to be hugely beneficial to remote microgrid-dependent communities.

Business Standard reports that the technology is currently being used in two remote Bihar villages, Tayabpur and Behlolpur, some 2,000 km away, and also in some global locations.
General Electric
They are checking the real-time power demand in these villages at different times using GE’s industrial IoT software platform Predix and are accordingly feeding the grid with energy so that there is no wastage or short supply.

“It’s loaded with our Predix software that forecasts demand and automatically balances between solar, diesel and the battery so that the grid is stable,” says Vinay B Jammu, vice president and head of physical-digital analytics and digital research at GE Global Research. “The only person on the ground is a site engineer who we can contact via an SMS in case the solar panels have become dusty, or to fill diesel for the generator, or for any other maintenance.”

The 15KW hybrid power units in Bihar are two of five such units GE is testing globally to find a viable and cost-effective solution to power microgrids. While two other units are located in villages in Ethiopia, it has another one in a mining town in Australia.

All the locations picked for the pilots are so inaccessible that the company thinks they might never get connected to the grid.

“There are a lot of smart ideas that have gone into building these things. If we can predict and manage the load, then we can manage the costs in a big way. That is why this is not simply putting three things (solar panels, diesel generators and batteries) together,” says Munesh Makhija, chief technology officer, GE South Asia and VP & head of GE India Technology Centre.

In India, GE has partnered Tata Power to set up the grid, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to pick the right locations for setting up the microgrids, and Prayas Juvenile Aid Centre to deploy manpower needed for the operation of the power units.

GE has employed ‘Digital Twins’ at its research centre in Bengaluru, which are essentially digital replicas of the units on the ground, which when continually fed with data get better at predicting demand and switching between solar, diesel and battery to manage the energy demands of the villagers. This, the company feels, is the only way to make such units efficient and cost-effective enough to serve as a replacement for the grid.

While the cost of energy will be higher than that of the grid, at the current stage, it’s about 50-60 per cent cheaper than running a diesel generator.