Grantham Scholar Reena Sayani stands with Paloma Ortega from the Grantham Institute in front of a COP26 banner. They are both young women with dark hair hair wearing COP lanyards and smiling.

Grantham Scholar teams up with Grantham Institute on mini-grids

Our Reena Sayani and Paloma Ortega, from our sister centre the Grantham Institute, collaborate and publish on sizing solar mini-grids.

What are solar mini-grids?

Solar mini-grids are made of solar panels, wires and batteries and are normally used to provide energy to communities without access to existing energy grids. At the Grantham Centre, Reena researches the use of mini-grids to provide sustainable electricity to some of the 1 billion people currently without access to energy.

Recently, Reena teamed up Paloma Ortega and other members of the Grantham Institute (a sustainability centre also funded by the Grantham Foundation) on a study of solar mini-grids. And now they have a paper published.

Sizing solar mini-grids paper

Sizing solar-based mini-grids for growing electricity demand: Insights from rural India is an open access paper available now. It looks at appropriate sizing of solar mini-grids to meet current and potential future electricity demand in rural India. Also, it investigates the implications of demand growth and different sizing approaches on the techno-economic feasibility of solar mini-grids.

One key finding is that there is a cost-saving potential of around 12% when mini-grids are sized using a modular approach as demand grows. Plus they found that demand growth rate and cost decreases in solar PV and batteries have the highest impact on mini-grids costs.

Paloma explains how this fits into the bigger picture. ‘Understanding how the costs of providing electricity access via solar PV mini-grids vary can inform future electrification strategies. I would like this paper to be read by people focused on improving electricity access in real life, such as mini-grid developers, governments, donors, and international organisations.’

Covid inspires collaboration between Grantham Institute and Grantham Centre

As covered in our latest annual report, Reena and Paloma Ortega have been working together for some time. Their collaboration started because of the Covid pandemic. Prevented from doing further fieldwork they instead decided to team up and share data they already had.

For Reena ‘working across Grantham Foundation funded projects helped me keep the big picture in mind throughout this research collaboration, especially during two years of pandemic when we were all living through unknowns. We need collective efforts to solve grand and global challenges of environmental sustainability.’

Energy data from rural India

Reena and Paloma both had data from questionnaires on energy needs. Two regions of India were covered by the questionnaires – communities in Maharastra and Uttar Pradesh. Both regions have low levels of electrification but different climatic conditions.

First, they used their data to compare electricity access situation in both of these rural Indian communities. And they sized the optimal system to meet the electricity demand of these communities.

Overall, their focus was finding the most cost-effective system configuration to meet the current and projected electricity demand.

Findings could help provide sustainable energy

Findings in the paper have important implications for the feasibility of solar mini-grids in India and beyond. Reena says she hopes that ‘this work will contribute to the wider conversation on sustainable energy solutions’.

Paloma says she is ‘grateful that I had the opportunity to collaborate with Reena and the Grantham Institute at Sheffield University.’ She adds that collaboration was key to this project. ‘We were lucky to have data availability from real-world projects. I think this shows the benefits that collaborations between (and within) academia and organisations such as Oorja Development Solutions can produce.’

People and groups vital to this work

Reena and Paloma give their thanks to Dr Clementine Chambon, and the staff at Oorja Development Solutions Limited. Oorja provided access to surveys conducted in Sarvantara, as well support and invaluable insights.

Dr Philip Sandwell’s methodology was core to this study.

We thank Anshuman Lath, Kiran Auti, Swapnil Jadhav and Shreyas Bhalerao at Gram Oorja Private Limited for their constant support and guidance in the energy survey conducted in Shahapur.

More on mini-grids from Reena

How to make sustainable energy for all: interview with Reena Sayani. How can we make sustainable energy for all? Are mini-grids the answer? These are the questions Grantham Scholar Reena Sayani is hoping to answer with her research.


The main image shows Reena Sayani (left) and Paloma Ortega (right) at COP26.