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Below is a Google Trends graphic that shows an impressive rise in interest in the term ‘microgrid’ over the last several years.
Indeed, solar microgrids are playing an important role in ensuring that communities living in remote areas away from main power have access to electricity in East Africa in a region where nearly 80 percent of the population has no access to grid power.
But the biggest and most unique feature of the growing concept is the ability of companies offering the service to leverage and use mobile phone technology to run their businesses and save on costs.
Consumers use mobile money — M-Pesa in Kenya, for example — to purchase power units as well as monitor usage and get an alert when the amount of power purchased is going low. That option means that no staff is deployed to read power meters and no bills are due at the end of the month — users purchase power units in a pre-pay arrangement that uses crowd computing.
One such company is SteamCo, and according to founding director Sam Duby, the firm has invested in 24 solar sites in Kenya and Tanzania all in remote countryside where hope of ever accessing main grid electricity remains a mirage in the foreseeable future, even as sun as a resource remains available all year round.
“Our company never needs to send bills to consumers or even hire meter readers,” Duby said in an interview. “Everything is automated like a 21st century vending machine and consumers only buy power when they can or need it.”
Duby’s company uses high-capacity solar panels at a power hub — a power station from which power is tapped and stored in high-voltage batteries, harvesting up to 5.6 kW, enough to supply stable electricity to nearly 100 households and business premises depending usage and distance from the hub.
In Kenya, the government thinks that these microgrids will be critical in the country’s Last Mile Connectivity project — a World Bank-funded project meant to ensure that all rural schools and shops have access to electricity. The government has identified microgrids and will support them to ensure universal access to power by 2020. They are approving new higher power tariffs for microgrids to help them play the important role of connecting remote communities while ensuring that the companies remain viable businesses and return on investment.
Source: Renewable Energy World
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