LONGMEADOW, Massachusetts — Caterpillar Incorporated is investing time and resources into developing reliable, sustainable, and cost effective energy solutions to power rural communities throughout the world. As these technologies progress, the question of what types of communities can benefit from the new microgrid system arises.
Caterpillar Inc., has an extensive history of philanthropic behavior. In 2014, the Caterpillar Foundation invested $11 million into Africa by collaborating with organizations like Charity: Water, to deliver clean water to communities or One Campaign, to increase energy access in Africa. As these projects continue, Caterpillar is also developing ways to make ending poverty marketable and profitable.
Caterpillar’s new “microgrid” initiative brings reliable electricity to rural communities that were previously reliant on fossil fuels, car batteries, or other expensive methods of generating power. The microgrid system, however, uses renewable solar energy for power, thus empowering rural communities by reducing operating costs typical of other conventional energy production. These systems can be delivered to communities in any part of the world, since the pre-engineered systems are a standard kit which can be customized based on the need for energy (ranging from 5 kW to 100 mW).
Energy storage components that are charged during intense energy input (peak solar exposure) also ensure that energy flow is steady for up to 48 hours when it is cloudy or during the night. These systems are also monitored remotely to verify that the system is at optimal functioning, and provide local technician assistance if there are complications.
While some communities may combine microgrid systems with conventional fuel, Caterpillar Inc., sees renewable energy as more financially stable and better for the environment. By providing a marketable rather than philanthropic solution to the 1.3 billion people who do not have electricity in the world, Caterpillar is able to profit while this solution continues to find homes across the globe.
Caterpillar’s first project will take place in Indonesia where it plans to install microgrid systems on 500 islands through a government sponsored project. Caterpillar is partnering with Powerhive (a rural electrification startup) and First Solar (a solar energy company) to expand its reach through a $20 million investment deal.
In as little as 6 months after the initial planning, the microgrid system can be operational due to Caterpillar’s vast and already existent dealership network. Caterpillar states that these projects are not only better for the environment and more reliable, but that new analysis shows that in five to six years the projects will pay for themselves based on savings from not utilizing diesel or other fossil fuels.
Additionally, rural communities do not need to spend money to build the infrastructure for transporting or storing fossil fuels. This will empower rural communities to focus finances on other projects such as health clinics, schools, clean water, or agriculture.
Electricity can empower rural communities in myriad ways. Rural electrification has benefits such as providing energy for medical devices or sanitizing water. Basic lighting allows more study time for young students, charging mobile devices allows mobile banking or remote education. It also allows radio transmitters that are used to avert or mitigate potential natural disasters, machinery that can enhance agriculture and refrigerators that can keep vaccines cold so that they are brought to nearby isolated villages. The impact of internet access in of itself has countless advantages from education to communication and remote medical advising.
Caterpillar is uniquely poised with its partners to have an incredible impact on disenfranchised communities that for so long have suffered the ailments of energy deficiency. While simultaneously promoting the Earth’s health, this company will empower rural communities to enact long-lasting changes that will steer toward a more promising future.
– Patrick Tolosky