Pioneering an Electric Grid in the Middle of Nowhere:
Chapter 1 — How a hidden gem in a remote corner of Mexico will become a model for energy sustainability and community development
MEET THE VILLAGE
San Juanico combines the best of the “California’s” (i.e., Baja California Mexico and California USA). It is a blend of Huntington Beach and Palm Spring with a “South-of-the-border” twist. Set in a very rural environment, it is able to maintain and enhance its rich and diverse Spanish and Mexican heritage of both countries.
In many ways, San Juanico is the remote paradise that stories are made of — a small, remote fishing village in Baja California, difficult to access and reserved for those either in-the-know or for the most adventurous visitors determined to get there. There are only two routes for driving to San Juanico. The first is the North Road, which requires hours on an unpaved rock and sand path with no signage or clearly defined road. The second and more preferred option is a slightly paved highway starting at the same point in San Ignacio, but that tacks on an additional 8-hour drive around the peninsula.
With a current total population of less than 900, 150 of which are expats, this small but growing village has been gaining momentum in its economic and community developments, not only to better the lives of long-time locals but also to introduce innovative solutions for the primitive, remote village with seemingly insurmountable barriers to modern development.
Geographically, roads into the village remain desolate and rough, even for vehicles with 4-wheel drive. John Fields, a long-time local resident and an American expat who has lived in San Juanico since 1997, maintains that even now “it is very hard for most people to get to this location. You really have to want to come here.” The village’s physical isolation poses significant obstacles to development and sustained growth. Even recently, the fundamental markers of the 21st-century modern life are still struggling to take root here, with the most basic services such as reliable electricity and water still posing as real challenges.
Improving infrastructure, especially access to electricity and water, is critical for unlocking opportunities for jobs and growth in the local community. In developing regions such as in Asia and Africa, businesses cite lack of access to reliable electricity service to be the main hindrance to business, and it poses as an even greater hindrance to business than lack of finances. Until SanJuanico’s recent push in development, electricity in San Juanico either came from the village’s sole electricity utility powered by a single diesel generator, or for those fortunate enough to have their own solar panels and generators.
The cost of power in San Juanico is extremely high as fossil fuel largely the only available power source — a compounded issue since access to such fuel is difficult, unreliable, and expensive for such a remote location. Depending on fuel availability and generator performance, the village grid gets power twice a day, and only on a good day — five hours in the morning and four hours in the evening. Most days, the village utility’s sole diesel generator is only powered during the evenings. However, with spotty and fluctuated electricity on the village’s grid means that many electronics belong to businesses and locals end up getting destroyed by the intermittent power surges. San Juanico’scostly electricity services stem from its over-reliance on fossil fuel generated electricity, highlights the village’s mounting social, security, and environmental challenges, with implications that reach far beyond economic costs and service reliability.
An unforgettable reminder of the potential consequences of dependence on fossil fuel for electricity was brought to light in September 2014 when Hurricane Odile made history and brought the strongest ever-recorded hurricane to the Baja California Peninsula. Hurricane Odile’s most significant impact on San Juanico was how it wiped out all of the roads leading into the village for several weeks until it could be safely fixed and paved. This repair was a united effort by the locals and expats who used hand shovels and their own personal vehicles for the job. San Juanico was an island in emergency conditions; it lacked access to most goods, services, and help from the outside.
The village faced a constant risk of shortage in necessities such as fuel, food, and water. The 2014 hurricane season brought the highest number of major hurricanes on record to the Eastern Pacific. 2015 followed in suit with the earliest recorded landfall by powerful tropical storm Blanca. This recent trend of super storms signals a new norm facing the Baja Peninsula. The unpredictable pattern of the Baja Peninsula’s tropical storms that are becoming longer and are causing more destruction.
A NEW LOCALLY-DRIVEN FRONTIER
It became evident in San Juanico that the local electricity services’ dependence on fossil fuels was a challenge that could not be ignored, particularly due to increased negative consequences regarding safety, reliability, adaptability, resiliency, affordability, and growth for the village. Unreliable and costly electricity services made it nearly impossible to maintain a reliable infrastructure for healthcare, education, and business. It was this dim and constrained landscape, both figuratively and literally, that sparked some of San Juanico’s local residents to search for a new path towards sustainable development. A locally grown movement centered on the values of self-empowerment, self-sufficiency, and self-reliance began to take root in San Juanico. The village pushed the definition of “off-the-grid” to new levels and strived to become a model for what community-driven energy systems and shared regenerative economic development can look like for communities around the world.
THE FIRST WAVE OF WHAT’S BEEN DONE — Technologically & Intelligently Off-The-Grid
Lacking public utility connections, municipal services, and reliable access to resources, San Juanico’sresidents took the initiative to tackle head-on the mounting technological, social, and economic problems that hindered the village’s sustainable development. Their first goal was to address barriers to electricity service’s safety, reliability, adaptability, resiliency, and affordability that San Juanico faced due to its centralized grid that depended entirely on fossil fuels. With the mounting challenges of natural disasters, population growth, climate change, and inadequate infrastructure, San Juanico recognized that it desperately needs a new approach to energy production and distribution that residents could afford.
In 2016, several community residents and business people came together as a grass-roots effort and began collaborating with the AI Grid Foundation (formerly known as POMCube). The AI Grid Foundation is a non-profit organization that advocates for global applications of decentralized renewable energy solutions to provide safe, reliable, and affordable, sustainable energy services for communities. San Juanico’s local-driven but globally-collaborative efforts seek to overhaul the village’s existing fragile energy infrastructure to make way for reliable and self-sufficient energy. The Foundation will support San Juanico’s tight-knit community with renewable energy generation and storage technology to increase the availability and reliability of locally-produced renewable energy. From site-based renewable power generators to energy-efficient upgrades that include modern home DC appliances to eliminate wasteful AC-DC-AC conversions, San Juanico strives to become self-sufficient “one building at a time.” What began in early 2016 as a few expats converting their homes to go off-the-grid has since then transformed into the much more ambitious goal of exchanging energy between households and businesses in the San Juanico community to increase energy resiliency and security.
As can be seen in the growing number of lithium battery storage systems and solar panels sprouting up on buildings around the village, The Foundation has played a pivotal role in providing early- adopting residents and businesses with a smart network of battery energy storage systems and energy storage management platforms. By introducing San Juanico to the networked blockchain platform with AI algorithms-driven energy management software to harmonize the local renewable energy supply with the village’s energy demand in real time, San Juanico is already a step above and beyond the current model of off-the-grid “eco-villages” found in other parts of the world. What this means is that residents who have the resources to implement renewable energy technology now have a newfound capacity to seamlessly share their home produced and stored electricity with other community members. This approach results in much more balanced energy supply and demand for the village without the prerequisite of costly centralized grid infrastructure investments.
John Fields is a long-time community member who frequently hosts traveling enthusiasts at Juan yJuan’s, which features surreal views overlooking San Juanico’s beautiful bay. John was the first local resident in San Juanico to implement POMCube’s fully integrated NetZero Energy Management System (EMS) that can automatically charge, and discharge batteries based on real-time demand, and can simultaneously maximize usage of rooftop solar power. “This new system was revolutionary and does everything I’ve hoped a self-sufficient energy system could do. I am now able to run my compressors, A/C, freezer, and fridge, which a generator could not power all at once in the past. Before NetZero, we were dependent on when power would come from village once a day or would have to turn on the generator, which is noisy, smelly, and costs a lot of money to operate per hour.
Before NetZero was installed, I was relying on the generator. I had to pull out the generator in the early morning, plug it into the house, flip some switches, make sure I had fuel, then start the thing. I was always afraid I would wake my neighbors up before I could even make something as simple as a cup of coffee”.
John continues, “Now, with more systems like this coming to San Juanico, it’s just like having grid- connected power, but even better. Energy is now sustainable and abundant in a way that I have not experienced in all my years here. We can keep everything running in the house all day knowing the energy is environmentally friendly and abundantly unlimited beyond my own consumption needs.”
In the past two years, John Field’s shift towards producing his own energy has become a catalyst for many other residents who, likewise, have changed from being energy consumers to energy producers and become independent from the village’s unreliable power grid. More importantly, a developing conversation is beginning to emerge for San Juanico’s new energy producers who are taking “off-the-grid” even further by working with the AI Grid Foundation to implement intelligent, AI-driven energy management systems.
Since early 2018, roughly 50 out of 400 buildings in San Juanico are now self-producing their own energy, though at varying amounts. It is important to note that a large number of local residents and businesses are still completely dependent on the unreliable village grid and fossil fuel generators. This is especially true for the village’s predominantly rural fishing population that lacks the necessary up-front capital to enjoy the benefits of producing their own renewable energy. However, the Eloncity Model of community-based renewable microgrid and blockchain smart contract platform, spearheaded by the AI Grid Foundation and San Juanico’s grass-roots efforts, will pave a new path of exciting potential for the community. Through the collaboration between the village and the Foundation, it became evident that with proper configuration, energy production, storage, and distribution could be innovatively structured to allow for San Juanico’s new independent energy producers to produce excess energy to share with other residents and businesses lacking adequate on-site renewable energy production capacities. San Juanico’scommunity-shared energy approach will help make locally renewable electricity more affordable and accessible for everyone. This innovative development will center on the wide-spread adoption of blockchain-enabled energy storage systems as well as decentralized renewable energy systems for more homes and businesses in San Juanico. The Eloncity Model implementation strategy has been designed to fully harness a specific characteristic and underpinning of San Juanico’s community — collaboration. As they say, “the tide will raise all boats.” The Eloncity Model aims to unlock the full potential of what it means to develop “community-based off-the-grid solutions” and demonstrate a replicable community-driven model for other villages’ development in the future.
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Official Website: http://bit.ly/2IlfdGV