Coexistence of Microgrids and the Government Grid in Rural India: A Study of their Respective Contributions to Social Well-Being at the Household Level
This paper examines the coexistence of microgrid and central grid connections for households in India and studies the relationship between these connections and their individual contributions to social well-being of rural households. As India’s government grid reaches new rural communities, solar microgrids once providing stand-alone energy solutions are now used alongside centralized government grid infrastructure. This provides a unique opportunity to understand how both electricity options compete and how each energy supply contributes to social well-being. Our research administered surveys to 149 households across 8 villages in Northern India with access to microgrids developed by Boond Solar and the government grid. Energy access of the government grid was measured using the World Bank’s multi-tier framework for energy access by surveying respondents about system capacity, availability, reliability, and safety. Social indicator measurements across economics, education, healthcare access, access to appliances and gender equity were also captured in the survey. Additional fieldwork was conducted in 4 of the surveyed villages to collect qualitative data in the form of semi-structured interviews to further evaluate energy consumption across microgrid and government grid sources. Although communities with government grid access now have greater energy capacity to power appliances, this study identified a high number of households that were unable to make use of their expanded electricity capacity due to the inability to afford household and productive use appliances. This demonstrates that providing greater energy capacity will not continuously improve social well-being on its own. There is a tipping point where higher energy access does not accelerate well-being, but instead income and the ability to purchase appliances to use the extra power capacity are the limiting factor. To improve social well-being status in these rural communities, expanded electricity capacity must be accompanied by a holistic economic development approach to improvement that includes opportunities to increase household income. The work also found that the extension of the government grid relegated microgrids to a backup role and significantly lowered the profitability of the microgrids.