SunEdison pledges solar mini grids for 20m people

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U.S. solar company SunEdison has announced its intention to bring electricity to 20 million people by 2020 via solar-powered mini grids.

The plans involve electrifying rural villages and communities that are so far underserved by the grid, and SunEdison is to work with a number of local partners around the world to help the company achieve its aim.

SunEdison Social Innovations – a global group focused on developing new business models and technologies utilizing renewable energy in rural areas – will oversee the project, which is charged with being economically sustainable and beneficial to local social and environmental sensitivities.

"Billions of people worldwide don’t have access to electricity," said SunEdison CEO and president Ahmad Chatila. "Without electricity they cannot access many of the things we take for granted – health clinics with vaccines, or schools with computers and fans, for instance. But by applying a mix of new business models, new technology and charitable donations, we are tackling the issue head on."

SunEdison is aiming to provide solar electricity to one million people by the end of the year, and hopes to have provided clean mini grid power to 20 million people by 2020.

Innovative technology and business models

In India, a flagship scheme involving SunEdison and Omnigrid Micropower Company (OMC) is already underway. Commercial solar customers are paired with local villages in an innovative way. A solar electric mini grid is built to power local telecommunications towers, which serve the commercial entities.

With this in place, OMC and SunEdison are developing additional mini grid capacity that can be sold to the villages. The high-credit telecom companies are paired with the low-to-no credit villagers to make the project bankable. The benefits are mutually evident – telecom companies use cost-effective solar to lower their bills, while the villagers can use the energy from their local mini grid to power their lights, fans and phones.

This scheme is targeting the development of 5,000 solar power plants over the next five years. Once complete, 10 million people will be served by mini grid solar.

In Nepal, SunEdison has partnered with SunFarmer to develop a 5-7 year rent-to-own loan designed for less affluent organizations in the region keen to install solar power. By spreading the cost of the array over a longer term, solar becomes more viable than the diesel generators so prevalent in many remote areas of the country.

Technology-wise, SunEdison has confirmed that its new Outdoor Microstation is now available for deployment. This standalone power generation unit is reliable and ideal for off-grid applications in hard-to-service remote areas, said the company.