Instead of relying only on large, centralized power plants, microgrids supply a small area with electricity from distributed sources—such as diesel generators combined with solar panels with battery storage. Microgrids are an extension of on-site generators, or dedicated power supplies, sometimes called captive generation. But they have several advantages over the simple backup diesel generators that are keeping many essential services in India going right now. They use a variety of resources for power, not just diesel generators, which makes them more reliable. So they can keep running, at least in a limited way, even if supplies of diesel fuel get cut off.
They can also be cleaner—if solar is used as part of the energy mix. And now that solar panel prices have fallen, distributed solar can be cheaper than running diesel generators alone for backup power. As India develops, it could become a network of many microgrids, each connected but able to survive independently. Outages that affect entire states could become a thing of the past.
Technology Review: How Power Outages in India May One Day Be Avoided