Virtually battery-free, 100% renewable, remotely-managed rural utility is coming

Husk Power Systems, an early pioneer in developing micro-grids for poor, rural communities in India and sub-Saharan Africa, plans a 7-fold increase in its power plants to 600 within 5 years, expanding into a fully-fledged rural utility that delivers reliable 24/7 grid-compatible power and better customer service than incumbent utilities.

Husk has already developed and deployed hybrid micro-grid systems that combine and synchronize biomass gasification and solar PV, which CEO Manoj Sinha says are the most affordable micro-grid systems operating in the world today.

A Husk Power Systems biomass micro-grid. The company is now focused on solar-biomass hybrid systems. (credit: Acumen)

“We realized around 2013 that customer aspirations were for more than 5 to 7 hours of nighttime power, which is what our biomass-only system offered. They wanted to be able to switch on any appliance at any time,” Sinha told Power for All. “That’s when we decided to only do 24/7 on-demand power at an affordable price point for customers”.

Husk’s hybrid system, which takes just about a week to install, has allowed the company to significantly reduce its CapEx, and made the need for batteries, which are a major system cost, minimal. And while it is focused on biomass over the coming years, Husk is open to integrating more storage with solar if the economics improve.

Husk Power Systems co-founder and CEO Manoj Sinha

Husk benchmarks its performance the same way as similar companies in the US and Europe do, on a CapEx per watt or per kilowatt and a Levelized Cost of Energy (LCoE) basis. Sinha expects Husk systems to break even within 6 years from commissioning in India, and 5 years in Tanzania. He added that within one year of deploying the hybrid system in India, commercial customers, on an aggregate basis, doubled their energy consumption across all operating hybrid sites, indicating significant latent demand.

Husk micro-grids are grid compatible and the company is already testing grid interoperability at the sub-station level in India.

But Husk is different from traditional utilities in that it is very customer centric and focused on not only remote monitoring, which it currently does, but eventually remote management as well. “That is the only way we can truly scale,” notes Sinha. Similar to consumer goods companies, Husk conducts an annual Net Promoter Score (NPS) to track customer satisfaction, and uses the feedback to improve services.

Husk currently has 85 sites, and plans to have about 400 in India and 200 in east Africa within 5 years. It employs 170 full-time and 80 part-time staff in India and 15 full-time in Tanzania.

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