Renewable nanogrids: climate change and a potential for development and gender equality
With climate change come more frequent and intense extreme weather events. Such events cause grids to fail. Rescue and assist operations that need the energy to provide relief must generate their own power. Ensuring medical care, clean water, communications, refrigerators, and mobility depend on a stable energy supply.
Usually, this means diesel-powered generators, thus forcing bringing along the fuel and keeping a logistic line open to ensure resupply. Valuable cargo space and means must divert to keep feeding fuel.
Enters Sesame Solar, a startup that created a nano, portable, 100% renewable grid. It combines a PV array, lithium ferrophosphate batteries, and a green hydrogen fuel cell to ensure power, in a close loop, 100% off-grid.
The PV array generates power and feeds the batteries. When batteries are at 35%, a fuel cell taps stored hydrogen and provides energy to the inverter. When power demand is low, the process inverts, electrolyzing water to refill the hydrogen tanks. The system can also plug small wind turbines.
The nanogrid has two primary formats: a trailer and an ISO container. All versions can be forklifted, carried by truck, rail, boat, plane, or helicopter. Depending on the model, they generate from 3 up to 20 kW of solar power, with battery storage of 15–150 kWh. The system allows connecting units to increase the capacity of the nanogrid.
The nanogrids can be set up in 15 m by one person with minimal training. Nanogrid helped relief agencies in Dominicana after hurricane Maria in 2017, telecoms to keep data streams after hurricane Ida, and the US Army to supply energy in remote off-grid locations without the need for fossil fuel resupply.
From now on, I will speculate based on the vision of Sesame Solar.
Over 2 billion people still have little to no access to electricity. When and where infrastructure is deficient, even access to diesel for generators is scarce and too expensive.
People in distant off-grid communities without access to electricity, in a way, live in a disaster area all their lives.
Guaranteeing water can take hours and may not always be potable, leading to disease. Cooking based on firewood becomes time-consuming and unhealthy. The wood collection takes time; cooking in wood stoves takes time and attention, while its smoke inhalation indoors is a serious health hazard. Access to refrigeration would further help.
For women particularly, this takes a toll since these are all roles traditionally falling on women. Besides, the physical burden is also a time sink. Women can not take jobs, and girls can not study because fetching and bringing water, collecting firewood, and cooking soak up so much time. In addition, electrification would allow reliable lighting; a single LED light would go a long way in helping in providing extra time for study.
With renewable electricity, water pumping and purification become possible. A single led light in the house changes the lives of its inhabitants, opening time at night. With more power, refrigeration becomes possible. Ideally, with enough power, electric cooking becomes an option.
And for distant off-grid communities, the development of renewable self-contained nanogrids may provide a way for the electrification of remote off-grid communities.
Where connecting to power lines is not economically viable, a turn-key renewable nanogrid, with add-ons for water cleaning and pumping, house lighting, and some capacity for electric cooking, could make a significant difference. It would help achieve more gender equality and women’s literacy.
If deployable nanogrids become cheaper and increasingly rugged, they open the potential for such off-grid communities. They are still probably more expensive for a large number of communities. However, they provide an economic advantage; operational costs will be low. Nature provides the fuel for generating electric energy.
Electric energy is the ultimate energy source. It allows for easy conversion to other energy sources. We can easily convert it to thermal energy (heating things up, cooling things down) and kinetic/mechanical energy (moving, pushing, and pulling things around).
Nanogrids, open this richness electricity provides and we take for granted to these off-grid remote communities.