Look Ma, no grid! Five life-changing microgrids with no tie to a central grid

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In modern electrical infrastructure like the US, microgrids usually operate connected to the utility grid except when they temporarily withdraw because the grid is down or because disconnecting offers price or energy management advantages.

By lzf/Shutterstock.com

But worldwide, many microgrids have no grid connection because, well, there is no grid, or at least none that is stable. Called remote or stand-alone microgrids, they are often found in rural India or Africa or on islands and far-flung outposts.

The arrival of a remote microgrid can dramatically change a community, especially for those that previously had no electricity or depended on diesel fuel generators for it. 

Here are the stories of 5 remote microgrids and how they changed people’s lives, sometimes in unusual ways.

  • Safety from snakes

The 300 residents of Kudagaon live in isolation, especially during monsoon season when their river island is hard to access. In March 2019 sustainable technology developer SunMoksha brought a nanogrid to the island.

The Kudagaon solar and storage nanogrid was among the 60 projects nominated for this year’s Microgrid  Knowledge 2022 Greater Good Awards. The application described the island’s transformation this way:

Significant changes have been observed in the community after the implementation. Many parents have set evening studying hours for their children, and are hopeful to have a tuition center in the village so that their children get additional guidance. A village mother said that she wanted her daughter to become a teacher, and now is certain that her dream will come true! Home lighting and street lights provide safety from the snakes in and out of the house. Streetlights have enabled socializing and entertainment in the evening – men play cards, women visit neighbors, relatives visit and stay longer as there is light, fans and coolers, and relish quality family time. Women are the happiest lot as they can now complete chores at their pace and don’t have to depend on the sunlight.

Local businesses have started to emerge. Two farmers have invested some of their savings to run a rice and flour mill. Grocery stores have reported that their business runs till late evening, fetching additional income. Farmers want to switch from diesel to electric pumps for irrigation and practice agriculture all year round. And to top it up, the villagers who have seen grid electricity off the island, prefer [the] microgrid over the grid systems, for its quality, consistency and dependability.

Watch the full story here.

Join us at Microgrid 2022 for a special  June 2 discussion: “What Remote Microgrids Can Teach us all about the Future of Energy.”

  • Protecting the rainforest

Backed by funding from the Australian government, Volt Advisory Group is developing a microgrid in Queensland’s Daintree rainforest. The microgrid will displace diesel generation with an 8 MW solar farm, 20 MWh of battery storage and a 1 MW clean hydrogen plant.

“This is a major win for communities in the Daintree Rainforest, which will see reduced pollution and noise from diesel generators, and will be a valuable demonstration of solar to hydrogen technology,” said Angus Taylor, minister for industry, energy and emissions reduction.

See Australian government awards $18.7 million contract for Daintree Microgrid

  • No thanks, California!

California’s electric grid has gained notoriety over the last few years because of public power safety shutoffs — sudden power outages created by a utility to avert wildfires. As a result, microgrid development is thriving as a backup to the grid. But the Bluehouse Greenhouse microgrid is taking the unusual step of foregoing any connection to California’s grid — not something that typically happens when a grid connection is available in the US. Bluehouse Greenhouse, which specializes in sustainable indoor agriculture, determined that it was too expensive and too difficult to interconnect. This project also made our list of 22 intriguing microgrid projects to watch in 2022. Listen to Ari Kashani, CEO and founder of Bluehouse Greenhouse, speaking at Microgrid California. 

See Bluehouse Greenhouse chooses a microgrid over the grid

  • When help is hours away by plane

Shungnak, a village above the Arctic Circle, is another Microgrid Knowledge 2022 Greater Good Award nominee. Launch Alaska, a start-up incubator that nominated the project, says it is the first community-owned solar plus storage system in rural Alaska. Here’s what Launch Alaska says about how the microgrid has changed village life.

Most of the 86 children that go to school here have seldom had a day without the constant hum of the diesel in the background, the smell of exhaust, or the taste of diesel fuel in the air — despite living in this pristine wilderness. On the occasion the diesels have been silent the lights in their homes are out too. With fuel that costs 8.25/gallon or more, residents can spend up to half of their annual income on electricity and heating. The newly installed community solar includes an energy storage system and microgrid controls that enable Shungnak — as well as their neighbor community of Kobuk — to operate for days at a time on 100% renewable energy (diesel-off) under the midnight sun of the summer. 

The system was developed as an answer to the burden of high energy costs, the challenge of shipping fuel on rivers drying from the effects of climate change, and the need for reliable and resilient power hours by plane ride from outside help. Owned by the regional borough and the Village of Shungnak, it was built by local business Alaska Native Renewable Industries and employed Shungnak residents for much of the construction.

 Watch the full story here.

  • Kudos to the microgrid builders

What gets forgotten in discussion about remote microgrids is how hard they can be to build…how hard it can be to even reach them.  The Global Himalayan Expedition is a company worthy of recognition for its hard work trekking into the far reaches of the Himalayas to install microgrids in villages the electric grid can’t reach. Another one is Cygni Energy and its partners for their work on the Manipur Microgrid Project. Workers traversed many miles of steep, mountainous, often unpaved terrain to install inverterless, DC solar-storage microgrids in 3,026 homes across 112 villages in 10 districts spread out over a large area in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur.

“People in these villages have lived in total darkness for generations as there was no grid connectivity prior to this intervention,” said Venkat Rajaraman, Cygni CEO, in an interview with Microgrid Knowledge. “When the power becomes available, it opens up numerous other opportunities, the first one being the higher disposable income earned, either due to increased productive hours or due to savings due to reducing kerosene usage,” Rajaraman said.

See Traveling the toughest miles to bring light: the Manipur Microgrid Project

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About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of MicrogridKnowledge.com. She has been writing about energy for more than three decades for top industry publications. Her work also has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.