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Member Spotlight

Mlinda Foundation

Mlinda work in India includes a rural solar electrification project on a remote island that lies outside the electric grid in the Sundarbans and it has expanded greatly from there to the district of Purulia in West Bengal and the districts of Simdega, Gumla and East Singhbhum in Jharkhand.

Can you tell us a little about Mlinda?

Mlinda was founded in 2009 with a vision to reduce the negative impact of economic growth on the environment. Mlinda aims to tackle the threat of climate change by coming up with sustainable, scalable and self-sustaining models of economic growth that have environmental and social benefits. In this regard, Mlinda’s first project involved setting up and managing pico grids in the rural and tribal areas of West Bengal and Jharkhand. Under its current Rural Electrification Project, Mlinda sets up solar powered mini grids in rural and tribal areas of Jharkhand. Mlinda works with the communities for productive utilisation of electricity with the aim of increasing local incomes and improving the village economy.

What is the business model you follow? Who are your target consumers?

Mlinda works in the rural and tribal areas of Jharkhand. The communities in these areas are one of the most disadvantaged ones with annual household income of less than INR 50000. Mainly subsistence farming and cash crops form the mainstay of the economy. Limited access to electricity for irrigation and markets for their produce limits enterprise. Villagers spend significant resources on kerosene for lighting and expensive charging services for devices such as cell phones. Farm machinery is run on diesel which is price-volatile. Beyond a reduced quality of life, economic opportunities are constrained. Better irrigation facilities, increased farm production, introduction of farm produce based businesses, connectivity to urban markets, quality electricity can transform their lives in terms of economic development.

Mlinda installs and operates mini grids in these villages. Each mini grid is of capacity ranging from 20-30 kWp. The mini grids provide 24*7 access to reliable and clean energy and can power both single phase and three phase domestic, commercial and productive loads. Mlinda works to build capacities of the village level operators and technicians to run the mini grids in conjunct with Mlinda Field Officers, who stay in the villages, as well as address repair and maintenance issues related to the commissioned grids. Mlinda Charitable Trust works in the communities to prepare them for sustainable energy and effective usage of mini grid power plant. They are made aware of the farm based value addition electric devices like irrigation pumps and rice hullers. The consumers pay an upfront amount as connection fees and thereafter pay for energy usage through prepaid meters. There are different day and night tariffs.

To ensure commercial viability of the mini grids and to bring about an increase in local incomes using energy as a trigger, Mlinda also develops Micro Businesses based on adding value to the local agri produce. Currently Mlinda has incubated Micro Enterprises based on oil expellers and wheat milling machines. Village level entrepreneurs have been capacitated on running these machines and its maintenance. Mlinda facilitates connect of these micro business with local and urban markets. This growth in micro businesses improves local incomes by encouraging farmers to bring more land under cultivation and consequently enhances the commercial viability of the grids by ramping up utilisation of energy produced.

What have been the challenges and success in this?

An impact assessment study done by our Monitoring and Learning partner Sambodhi informed us of the results on the socio economic indicators of our intervention on the first eight mini grids installed. Following are the results:

  1. Increase in per capita GDP in the project villages of 10.6% against the 4.6% GDP growth in comparison villages
  2. Reduction in CO2 equivalent of emissions per capita of 13% against 1.5 % in comparison areas
  3. Increase in energy efficiency of GDP by 115% as against the 15% increase in comparison areas
Following are the challenges that we have faced :
  • Ramping up utilisation of energy from the mini grids to reach over 90% utilisation in a short time frame.
  • To build adequate throughput of raw materials through the village level micro businesses so as to motivate farmers to bring more land under cultivation to cater to the demand of local micro businesses.
  • To build capacities of the local entrepreneurs/ farmer producer groups to run the micro businesses.

How has the work of Mlinda evolved over the years? What are the highlights?

Mlinda initially set up pico grids in tribal villages of West Bengal and Jharkhand. A total of 310 pico and micro grids were set up with an installed base of 105 kWp by 2014. However we soon realised that to address the growing energy access aspirations of the communities and to actualise productive gains for the community from electricity, it was important to evolve beyond lighting needs and to meet holistic energy demand.

  • In July 2016, Mlinda commissioned 4 SPV based mini grids in rural and tribal areas of Gumla district of Jharkhand. This was followed by 4 more mini grids in January 2017. Each of these grids was of capacity ranging between 20-30 kWp.
  • By June 2018, 9 more mini grids were commissioned in Gumla district to make it a total of 17 mini grids covering 18 villages with an installed capacity of
  • The following are powered by Mlinda mini grids:
    1. Households: 2266
    2. Small irrigation pumps (<= 2 HP): 318
    3. Big Irrigation pumps (>5) : 17
    4. Rice Hullers (7.5 HP): 13
    5. Oil expellers (10 HP): 6
    6. Pulverizers (2 &3 HP): 12
    7. Cold Storage (5 HP): 2
    8. Shops: 21
    9. Poultry coops: 62

What are your plans for the future?

By December 2020 Mlinda plans to power 50 villages to include :
  • Households: 5000
  • Number of KW installed: 1150
  • Number of Jobs created: 155 jobs
  • Reduction in GHG emissions: Reduction in 900 tonnes of GHG emissions per annum
  • Change in income: 10-15% increase in incomes
By 2023: 125 villages will be powered. The aim is to electrify 250 villages by 2025 and enable other organisations to replicate the model in order to reach 1000 villages. .

Finally, what role do you expect CLEAN to play in the work you are undertaking?

T Mlinda has received the following support from CLEAN:

  • Optimizing remote control and monitoring of battery banks and grid performance
  • Support in helping us identify the right machinery for conversion from diesel to electric and in technical trials
  • Connect us with peer organisations in order to emulate best practices in the industry.
  • Training of engineers and mini grid operators
  • Booklet on design, installation and operation of mini grids
  • Allowing us to use clean platform for job openings.

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