Smart Meters for Off-Grid Electricity

$1,000,000 | Stage 2:Testing at Scale | Energy

Gram Power | India

The problem: Powering off-grid communities

Gram Power aims to deliver reliable, affordable electricity to part of the 2.6 billion people in the world who lack it, including nearly 380 million in rural India. “Rural electrification is a critical development challenge in low-income countries,” said Ted Miguel, faculty director at the Center for Effective Global Action and a UC Berkeley professor of economics. “It promises great social benefits but also risks real environmental damage. With this grant, we have an unprecedented opportunity to study these two issues simultaneously. Ideally, we’ll learn how we can encourage the spread of clean, efficient electrification.”


The solution: Smarter payments for power

Gram Power

Gram Power, a start-up with ties to the University of California, Berkeley, provides power in places whose remoteness thwarts connection to a country’s main electrical grid. They combine locally generated electricity—typically via solar panels—with the company’s proprietary Smart Meters. The meters allow customers to purchase power in advance, much as they might buy pre-paid minutes for a cell phone, and track how much they’ve consumed. This pay-as-you-go approach lets consumers control their energy bills. Because the company locates its power sources close to customers, costs are low and little electricity is lost during transmission. Gram Power can also use its meters to detect any form of power theft on the electricity grid.


Researchers from UC Berkeley’s Energy Institute at Haas, Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA) and College of Engineering collaborated on the grant and will work alongside Gram Power to collect and analyze data on power usage by customers. By randomly selecting which of the communities enrolled in the study will receive Smart Grids, they will be able to compare household outcomes such as energy consumption, time use, and health, in communities with and without Gram Power-provided electricity. They will further evaluate incentives designed to encourage the adoption of energy-efficient appliances.


“Working with UC Berkeley and USAID is enabling us to accelerate the introduction of Smart Grids,” said Yashraj Khaitan, Gram Power’s founder and CEO. “This grant means that thousands of households will soon be able to use appliances that people in the developed world take for granted—electric lights, fans, mobile-phone chargers, radios, and TVs. They’ll also switch from burning kerosene, which is polluting and unsafe, to using renewable power.”

The potential: Cost-effectiveness, impacts, and implications

Gram Power installed its first microgrid last year, and, by November of 2014, will have installed 21. The company has identified nearly 300 villages in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh that are suitable for its technology. Support from USAID will enable Gram Power to install 40 of its Smart Grids in rural communities in the northern provinces of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, providing reliable power to about 30,000 people. It is estimated that Gram Power can provide electricity for 30% of the costs of kerosene.


“By partnering with Gram Power, we’ll have access to rich data on household electricity usage in the developing world,” said Catherine Wolfram, co-director of the Energy Institute at Haas and professor, Haas Economic Analysis and Policy Group, UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. “Never before have we been able to see how newly connected households use power, so we’ll be able to learn more about how it changes their lives and what works best to induce efficient consumption.” The UC Berkeley researchers will also partner with the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), a research network based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to collect additional data through detailed household surveys. J-PAL will collect data from a total of about 1,600 households with and without Smart Grids, and assess how electrification affects their welfare.



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Last updated: August 24, 2015

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