Dropping Solar Costs Help SunEdison Expand Rural Solar to India, Africa

Photovoltaic technology developer and services provider SunEdison is expanding its Eradication of Darkness program, which supplies off-grid solar-powered electricity to rural regions without access to grid power. Already established as a provider of rural electrification systems in India, the program is expanding to Africa, the Middle East and even rural parts of Europe. SunEdison has not officially announced this expansion, but a recent job advertisement reveals the development and a SunEdison official last week discussed the program’s expansion into Africa.

“As we look at solar markets globally, there has not been as much work done in developing nations, particularly because of the cost of solar. It just has not worked in the past to deploy solar at scale in developing markets,” said Tim Derrick, general manager of advanced solutions at SunEdison, during a presentation last Wednesday at the GreenBiz Group’s VERGE conference in San Francisco.

“And yet we are seeing now, as costs have come down tremendously over the last 10 years, it is beginning to be a viable solution. Particularly in areas that are not at all electrified,” he added. “It’s the classic leapfrog scenario, where deploying a solar power micro-grid at a village in India that has no power may be cheaper than running wires from the local grid to that village.”

In September, SunEdison announced it would supply solar-powered micro-grids to 54 villages in India by next March. The project includes 241 kW of PV with battery storage, which will supply power to nearly 8,000 people who currently do not have access to electricity. As part of the program, Derrick said a 14-kW micro grid is already up and running in the village of Meerwada. “This truly brought power to the village of Meerwada for the first time. It’s a very meaningful project.”

According to Derrick, SunEdison plans to expand the program to Africa.

“We just launched,” he said, adding. “We’ve been in South Africa for a long time, but we are excited about serving other underserved economies of Africa with similar rural electrification programs.”

SunEdison also is supplying solar-powered water pumps in India and Africa. “There’s something like 27 million water pumps in India,” which typically are powered by diesel generators. “It’s dirty and takes a lot to load up on a donkey and it’s expensive,” said the SunEdison GM. “We use very simply, off-the-shelf technology; nothing special here. That’s what makes it so effective.”

The company in September announced a grant to allow 200 salt farmers in the Little Runn of Kutch area in India to buy solar water pumps. The systems pump brine and enable salt production. Despite SunEdison’s rural electrification and water pumping efforts in India, most of its work in the country “is classic commercial DG [distributed generation] and utility scale,” said Derrick. “We are the largest developer there now,” he claimed. On Thursday, SunEdison said Karnataka Renewable Energy Development Limited awarded it a contract to supply five separate projects in Karnataka, India, totaling 150 MW of grid-connected solar power.

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