HomeMagazine ArticleElectrifying the rural world, one microgrid at a time

Electrifying the rural world, one microgrid at a time

Figure 1: SharedSolar: “Pay-As-You-Go Electricity via mobile Telephony”

While the developed world views the microgrid as the answer to increasing grid reliability, the developing world has focused on the microgrid as a realistic and financially sustainable alternative to traditional grid electrification.

In the Annobon Province, an island off Equatorial Guinea in Central Africa, residents have only five hours of electricity access per day and spend almost 15-20% of their salary on additional energy resources such as kerosene. This is about to change, since in March this year the government finalised the ‘Horizon 2020 National Development Plan’, a project to bring renewable energy to Annobon. On completion of this project, the island will see the installation of 20,000 solar panels in four arrays that will supply 5MW of solar electricity to the entire island’s population.

The government of Equatorial Guinea has selected MAECI Solar together with GE Power and Water systems and Princeton Power Systems to design Africa’s largest self-sufficient solar microgrid, handling 100% of the island’s energy demand.

Currently, the Annobon community, like many of the world’s rural populations, is reliant on diesel generated power, oil and kerosene to provide light. The need for clean and sustainable power has never been more apparent than it is now, with over 1.3 billion people globally living without access to electricity.

Decentralised, modular energy systems, or microgrids, as they are commonly known, continue to be a vital part of many electrification schemes in the developing world. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has presented a scenario (Energy for All) for universal modern energy access by 2030. In this scenario 70% of rural areas are either connected with mini-grids or small-scale stand-alone off-grid solutions [World Energy Outlook 2011].

These small-scale energy systems make it possible for remote communities to put an end to their dependence on fossil fuels. The declining cost of solar photovoltaic (PV) technologies and growth in the energy storage market are seeing the proliferation of solar microgrid deployments, especially in India and Africa, where sunshine is plentiful. This abundant energy resource makes rural electrification a possibility; it creates a viable alternative to extending the grid in isolated areas where the cost of new transmission infrastructure is prohibitive; difficult terrain and logistical challenges make expanding the central grid unfeasible.

Senior Analyst for Navigant Research, Peter Asmus, puts it this way: “A widening recognition of the contribution renewable energy makes to rural development, lower health costs (linked to air pollution), energy independence, and climate change mitigation is shifting renewable energy from the fringe to the mainstream of sustainable economics.

“Remote microgrids can serve as the anchors of new, appropriate scale infrastructure, a shift to smarter ways to deliver humanitarian services to the poor.”

Columbia University’s Earth Institute, through the Millennium Villages initiative, took on the challenge of devising ways to increase electricity access in rural…

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