Open Source Tech Improves Microgrids in Southeast Asia

Share Button

In villages in Southeast Asia, a person often must sit inside a powerhouse to manually control the flow of water in small hydro microgrids to ensure the systems operate safely.

microgrid operators

Green Empowerment’s latest project focuses on opern source controls for consumer appliances. Pictured is a freezer powered by a microgrid for a small family business. Photo courtesy of Green Empowerment

“The operator will watch the system parameters and open or close the valve to the turbine to regulate the flow of water and therefore quantity of energy generated as the demand changes,” said Dan Frydman, project engineer for Green Empowerment, which aims to boost access to renewable energy in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. It’s not easy to do this 24/7 and meet high standards, he said.

Green Empowerment is bringing open source technology to Southeast Asian villages to help ensure these communities have the tools needed to operate micro hydro-systems and other electronics safely and more efficiently.

With open source technology, local people can build the technology themselves and develop products they can sell locally. They can also share knowledge that allows people to learn from one another.

The run-of-river hydro systems in these communities are small, in the range of 20-100 kW, and generally have one point of power production. They’re seen as microgrids because they’re not connected to any national grid and are owned and operated by the communities they serve.

Balancing supply and demand electronically

Villagers turning on just a few too many appliances can spark problems, and micro-hydro operators might have to work in pitch black to reconnect breakers.

Micro-hydro systems need some kind of control system to balance the generated energy with demand. While this can happen manually, another option is to use an electronic load controller (ELC) with a fixed water flow rate and fixed power generation. The ELC systems can balance power on the electrical side by dumping excess energy into a heating element, basically wasting it to keep the system balanced, said Frydman.

“Electronic load controllers are used when automatic flow control is considered too costly to implement based on the capacity of the system. Electrically speaking this means you get a steady 50/60Hz instead of a supply with varying electrical parameters or turbines which can go into runaway speeds,” he explained.

But equipping these communities with this type of smart technology can be expensive.

To help bring reliable renewable energy to these regions, Green Empowerment just completed a project that provided open source ELCs to communities in seven remote villages, benefiting more than 1000 people.

Smart grid for small grids

In a new project, Green Empowerment is now looking at providing open-source load management systems to regulate non-essential consumer demand. This would make these small systems with limited capacities more reliable and would optimize the utilization and cost of the systems. The organization’s work is much like smart grid technology that’s now being implemented in the US and Europe on larger grids, Frydman said.

Overall, the goal is to supply technology that boosts the accessibility, efficiency and reliability of low-cost community energy systems. In addition, the organization aims to increase local manufacturing and skills so that projects can be managed locally.

Free Resource from Microgrid Knowledge Library

How to Optimize Energy Storage in a Microgrid
In this paper, new voltage sensitivity indexes are proposed to search and evaluate the candidate buses in a microgrid, where the energy storage systems can be installed to contribute most effectively to the system. To learn more about optimized energy storage in a microgrid download this white paper.
We always respect your privacy and we never sell or rent our list to third parties. By downloading this White Paper you are agreeing to our terms of service. You can opt out at any time.

Get this PDF emailed to you.

“This will have applications on small capacity grids across renewable technologies,” Frydman said. “Both the completed project and the upcoming project are intended to be built in situations where budgets are limited, however as the technology is and will be open source, anyone can also use, modify and contribute to make improvements,” he said.

The organization has supplied its low-cost load controller systems to micro-hydro operators working with indigenous communities in Malaysian Borneo and the Philippines, where local people have manufactured and installed their own units, cutting costs and improving the sustainability of their projects. Green Empowerment has also provided in-person training and support to micro-hydro operators in numerous countries across Southeast Asia.

See the open source design materials here .

With the new project, Green Empowerment is essentially creating a demand management system that allows certain non-essential consumer appliances to react to how much power is available.

“This should help the system operate with a higher utilization factor and enable consumers to use more appliances without risk of overloading their installations,” said Frydman.

Under the project, devices are categorized as either primary or secondary. During off-peak periods, the system can activate the secondary loads. “This increases the use of available power for social and economic value activities,” he said.

This also allows more appliances to operate without glitches on small capacity systems. And it can provide insights into the performance of the micro-hydro systems over their lifetimes and help predict maintenance requirements.

The work of Green Empowerment

But those aren’t the only important benefits of the program. Green Empowerment’s goal of bringing efficient, resilient, low-cost and renewable power to communities means community members will have lights at night, which allows students to read and lets businesses stay open longer, reaping higher revenues. Electricity powered tools can help businesses boost income.

The renewable power and its smart systems can also bring jobs and business opportunities to communities.

What’s more, the environmental benefits are numerous. Green Empowerment supports regions that are home to the most biodiverse corners of the world, including ecosystems, rivers and wildlife. Renewable energy has a low impact on these important resources.

“It makes sense to support them with minimal impact on the ecosystem,” said Frydman.

Track news about microgrids globally. Subscribe to the free Microgrid Knowledge newsletter.

Share Button

Sign up for our newsletter and get the latest microgrid news and analysis.

Comments

  1. ““The operator will watch the system parameters and open or close the valve to the turbine to regulate the flow of water and therefore quantity of energy generated as the demand changes,” said Dan Frydman, project engineer for Green Empowerment, which aims to boost access to renewable energy in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. It’s not easy to do this 24/7 and meet high standards, he said.””

    This is the “irony” of so called “poor countries” and technology. Most of the silicon IC manufacturing is in some of these “poor” countries. Many of these ICs are assembled into control boards in these countries and are made into assemblies like micro controllers “Arduino” or cheap PLCs, Programmable Logic Controllers. A few current transformers clamped around electricity feeders and a feed back loop to a gate actuator or large solenoid valve controller could do the job 24/7.

    “The ELC systems can balance power on the electrical side by dumping excess energy into a heating element, basically wasting it to keep the system balanced, said Frydman.”

    This could become the back up to a shut down event. IF the PLC system fails in some way, use the ELC to keep the system out of run away.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Open Source Tech Improves Microgrids in Southeast Asia […]

Leave a Comment

*