The prosumer is the future of electricity supply

I can still hear my mother scream into our neighbours phone trying to speak to a operator requesting a ‘PP’ (person to person) call to her sister in Cochin. I was in primary school those days. We did not have a phone, while my neighbours with a successful business could afford a phone. My neighbours used to tell my Dad that they could help pull strings and get us a phone within 3 years. The waiting period those days was 5 to 7 years in some areas of Chennai where I grew up. My father always refused, as it was an ostentatious signal for a middle class person like him. 

Cut to today, where my new household help from Assam walks into an Airtel store and gets herselfa cell phone connection, and is heard talking to her family. My Dad, God bless his soul will not believe this was possible!

What happened? Countries like India leapfrogged technology and jumped straight into cell phone technology instead of going through the entire land line stage. This was facilitated by costs dropping, and quality improving dramatically. Add to this the fact that purchase decisions were made by individuals and not by the utilities.

Using the cell phone industry model, the world has been debating the merits of a centralised Vs decentralised approach for the power industry in the developing world. Is it better for central power stations producing power and distributing it using thousands of kilometers of cables or is it better that every household produces its own power using a roof to solar installation? The answer is obvious.

As a nation we are still trying to install coal powered electricity generation stations and attempting to lay cables to get electricity to remote locations. Let’s examine a few facts. More than half the population in India does not have access to electricity at all.  32 – 50% of India’s electricity output is lost during transmission and distribution. India loses Rs 414,800 crore of our GDP, to electricity shortages.

The way to go for a nation like India is to aggressively take the roof top solar route for households. This will ensure we get electricity to remote parts of the country. This is now catching on globally. Homeowners in Bangladesh are installing solar PV systems at the rate of two per minute. Rural schools in Seirra Lonne are using solar to power their laptops in school. In rural Kenya, a micro grid project is on to provide electricity to 100 different villages in the Western counties of Kisii and Nyamira. More than 90,000 people will get electricity in the region.

The great news for us in India is that we have reached solar parity in many states and net metering systems are up and running. This means you can even sell back to the grid, the excess electricity you produce. With net metering, you don’t have to worry about storage, as you use what you produce and send the rest to the grid, because the grid then gives you electricity at a subsidized rate as you are a producer! For the first time the world is seeing the emergence of the ‘prosumer’, where the consumer of electricity is also the producer of electricity.