Smart Grid technologies that enable integration of renewable sources of energy and energy storage into the distribution grid, along with new energy management software solutions, are propelling the deployment of microgrids in college and business campuses and military bases.  The Smart Grid Dictionary 3rd Edition defines a microgrid as a small power system that integrates self-contained generation, distribution, sensors, energy storage, and energy management software with a seamless and synchronized connection to a utility power system, and operate independently as an island from that system.  Admittedly, that’s a developed world definition, and benefits include improved reliability for end users, decreased dependence on sources of energy that spew CO2, and more flexibility for grid operators to respond to peak load conditions.  For the developing world, a simple microgrid that creates and stores electricity from local, renewable sources of energy like wind or solar for limited distribution within a village can offer exciting possibilities of economic growth and social improvements. 

Such microgrids can exert profound and positive influences for 2.4 billion people living in energy poverty now.  In villages where young girls are routinely pulled from school to spend all day commuting by foot to and from remote water wells, a microgrid powering a local well can keep those girls in school.  Rural entrepreneurs can take the light from a single light bulb and extend working hours to build thriving local businesses that uplift everyone. 

That’s the vision of a new project from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Community Solutions Initiative (CSI) under the guidance of the Power & Energy Society (PES) program is working to create low-cost, low-logistics, open-source solutions for electricity generation and distribution for people in energy poverty.  Their first significant project to prove out this concept is a Solar Trailer that provides 1.4 kWh of electricity – the daily power needed by 40 homes for single-purpose uses.  Each Solar Trailer charges a number of 12V batteries that can be used around a village or town.  By functioning as community charging stations, the roaming batteries run small devices like LED lightbulbs, chargers for mobile phones or power tools, or small refrigeration units.  The first trailers have been deployed in Haiti, but the project is more than a technology effort – it is an activity that requires local community involvement from planning through deployment stages.  The end goal is to create local jobs and work with the Haitian government’s goals of delivering electricity to 75% of its unserved citizens.

In addition to the Solar Trailers, other community charging stations may generate electricity through pedal-power or wind turbines, or perhaps other innovative local generation technologies.  All generation technologies used in the CSI initiative will be open-source and based a Sustainable Energy Reference Architecture (SERA), because it is essential that local resources can develop and maintain their community operations.  The CSI website also shows a number of creatively cheap products such as battery-powered light sticks that can be made with bamboo and a few LEDs – very cool ideas that could translate into local businesses that create local jobs and address energy poverty.

The IEEE PES CSI team participates in the UNF MicroGrids Work Group that was described in my September 19 blog.  Their work will certainly contribute to the best practices for technologies, community involvement, and financing that will help turn microgrid concepts into reality for the developing world. 

In countries like the USA, microgrids can increase reliability at the distribution level, expedite integration of local renewable generation sources, and create new business models for campuses and neighborhoods.  For the developing world grappling with energy poverty, microgrids can cost-effectively expedite delivery of basic electricity services and have profound impacts on quality of life for 1.4 billion people.  These are Smart Grid benefits that are definitely worth pursuing everywhere. 

To learn more about how your company can get involved in the UNF MicroGrids Work Group or the IEEE PES Community Solutions Initiative, please contact me, or attend this webinar on  September 28 titled: Microgrids: Game-changing solutions for developed and developing electricity grids.