Minigrids empowering communities

SolarCity’s non-profit GivePower Foundation has launched a minigrid programme to power communities in the developing world.
Published: Tue 06 Sep 2016

Minigrids and microgrids powering small villages or clusters of buildings are identified as a key technology for achieving electrification, with the expectation of contributing as much as 40% of the requirement to bring electricity to all. [Engerati- Minigrids - A High Impact Technology For Rural Electrification]

The number of initiatives to develop such minigrids is growing at national and regional levels. For example, the Green Minigrid Market Development Programme is focussed on Africa, while the Alliance for Rural Electrification and the OPEC Fund for International Development are focussing on developments in Bangladesh, India, Mali and Mozambique.

Minigrids to deliver community services

Now joining these is a  new global initiative, which comes from GivePower Foundation, a non-profit founded by Solar City to supply clean energy technologies to deliver community services to the developing world.

The minigrids are typically expected to comprise up to 50kW of solar power and additional battery storage technologies. What distinguishes the progrmme is that the minigrids will be applied to projects that impact seven specific sectors – water, food, health, education, conservations, economic development and telecoms.

The programme is seen as an expansion of GivePower Foundation's previous work to bring light to a school in need for each megawatt of solar power that SolarCity installed. To date, solar systems have been installed in more than 1,500 such schools in 13 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

First minigrid in DRC

The first minigrid system under the programme has been installed at the Virunga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and Africa's oldest national park. Virunga is home to nearly a quarter of the world's critically endangered mountain gorillas.

Solar energy will provide new power sources to three sector posts within Virunga, enabling park rangers to utilize essential tools, such as security lights and radios, for their work protecting the gorillas and other park wildlife. These systems now bring power to remote areas of the park, contributing to existing infrastructure in order to provide reliable and sustainable sources of electricity. The project complements the ongoing work of the Virunga Alliance, which is committed to bringing peace and prosperity to communities in and around Virunga's borders through the responsible economic development of the park's natural resources, with a bold plan to bring clean energy to the four million people who live within a day's walk of the park's borders.

“When we visited, we realized just how critical reliable power is to the rangers of Virunga,” comments Alyssa Newman, executive director of Empowered By Light. “We’re honoured to work [with GivePower Foundation] to serve the rangers and to help ensure Virunga remains a resource for future generations.”

The project is being carried out in partnership with Empowered by Light, an organization dedicated to improving lives and the environment through renewable energy technologies, and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. GivePower Foundation is providing the solar power installation, engineering, design and training for the Virunga community. Canadian Solar has provided the PV modules and Tesla's battery storage technologies are also being used so that park rangers are able to utilize solar power around the clock. Portable solar systems for use in the field were provided by Goal Zero.

Future minigrid projects

GivePower Foundation and Empowered by Light are currently collaborating on two further minigrid projects in the Amazon Basin and the Navajo Nation, which are expected to be online by the end of the year.

Additional minigrid projects are also planned for Latin America and Africa. In Ghana, in partnership with a local solar company a 30kW solar power system is being developed for an ICT college and tech incubator programme. In rural Nicaragua, solar water pumps can provide water for reforestation as well as supporting sustainable organic food production by irrigating bio-intensive gardens.

Another project under development is for remote islands of Indonesia, where solar minigrids could improve the communities’ main economies of fishing and rice production by powering mills locally and enabling refrigerated storage for fish to minimize food spoilage.

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