It is estimated that about 2.8 billion people use solid fuels such as coal, wood, or charcoal as a primary fuel source for cooking. Many of these people also buy kerosene and candles to light their homes. This means that people without electricity are paying nearly 125 times more for energy than those with access to electric grids.
Furthermore, as burning solid fuels are more prevalent so are the cases of emphysema and other respiratory diseases. The Wold Bank contends that this is an expensive and lengthy problem to remedy. However, a new emerging technology could be the key to solving this global issue: the Microgrid.
What Is the Microgrid?
The Microgrid is described by Berkeley Labs as “a localized grouping of electricity sources and loads that normally operates connected to and synchronous with the traditional centralized grid (macrogrid), but can disconnect and function autonomously as physical and/or economic conditions dictate.”
Though seemingly complex, the theory is rather simple. Each grid has its own power source, distribution method and output. Each little self-contained grid can then be used to power a localized area. However, each micogrid can be connected to one another as villages grow into towns, which could eventually grow into cities.
Moreover, microgrids can even be “snapped” into megagrids (the traditional power grids that most of us are familiar with) should the need arise. The idea though is that each little town or village would have their own power generation methods to meet their own power needs. These power needs can be met much more efficiently on the micro level.
Berkeley Labs contends that a microgrid provides a number of benefits over the traditional megagrid approach. For instance, it appears microgrids are a much more efficient way to distribute electricity. By keeping the electric distribution on the local level, operators would have better control over loss reduction, congestion relief, and voltage control as compared to megagrids.
Also, microgrids would have a much smaller environmental footprint since it would only encompass the immediate area. Even when several microgrids are interconnected, in the event that one grid would go down, it would have a lesser effect on the other connected grids. The microgrid benefits coupled with sustainable energy sources could be a viable solution for the 1.2 billion people worldwide without electricity. So much so that microgrids are popping up all over the globe.
Solving Energy Issues
Using the mircogrid concept, Gyanesh Pandey and Ratnesh Yadav of Tamkuha, India used a modified gasifier to process rice husks into biofuel. This biofuel is then used to fuel electric generators. The idea was so effective that the two researchers have implemented about 80 mini-power plants that provide electricity to about 200,000 people in the countries of India, Uganda, and Tanzania.
They are not alone. The island nation of Tokelau located in the South Pacific was able to replace its diesel generator system with solar panels and battery banks using the microgrid concept, which supports most of the country’s power needs. Sine Moussa Abdou, in Senegal, used a microgrid concept in tandem with three different power generation methods: solar, wind and diesel.
Now, instead of paying about $110 per kilowatt-hour, the people of the area pay about $1.50 per kilowatt-hour.
It seems that the microgrid concept could bring electricity to the 20% of the world’s population that must go without. Additionally, used in conjunction with renewable energy sources, microgrids could also be the answer to many energy issues found in developed countries, such as greenhouse gases and energy efficiency.