LONDON, United Kingdom — For the first time, some of the world’s poorest and most remote areas are receiving a reliable supply of electricity as a result of new renewable technologies known as “swarm grids.” These grids work with renewable energy sources and are particularly beneficial to people living in impoverished and remote regions.
Development opportunities for about 789 million people in various parts of the world face severe hindrances due to their lack of electricity supply. The 2018 IEA World Energy Outlook states that one billion people lack access to electricity. That number represents 13% of the global population, most of whom live in South Asia and Africa. Further, around 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa (57%) and 350 million in developing Asia (9%) have no electricity supply. As a result, universal access to energy is one of the objectives that the U.N. Agenda for Sustainable Development plan outlines.
The world community is currently facing two major challenges: energy poverty and human-driven climate change. It will be impossible to resolve either of these issues without a radical change in the way the electricity system is organized. Economies have grown, and billions of people have an affordable energy supply as a result of a centralized electricity network. This success has shown that grid extension, associated with the generation of carbon-intensive electricity, can be the means of supplying disadvantaged populations with access to energy.
Off-grid Renewables: Closing the Electricity and Poverty Gap
Developing nations have the opportunity to resolve the electricity gap by applying off-grid renewable technologies. This is attainable without encountering a fossil fuels’ stage that would be difficult to maintain because of natural resources, cost and the global environment. The following African countries currently use renewable off-grid power projects: “Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, and Zambia.”
Considerably more off-grid renewable projects are being constantly initiated. Moreover, It has been shown that in vulnerable communities, ranging from Vanuata to Mozambique to Laos, inexpensive renewal energy projects can be a practical alternative to more costly large-scale grid connections. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) supports these projects involving the swarm grids.
UNDP’s Swarm Project and Renewable Technologies
UNDP supports the innovative swarm grid program, which Germany finances. The project comprises strong power cubes resembling large car batteries, which a solar array charges. Underground cables carry the power stored in the cubes to community buildings like health centers as well as to households. The interconnection of these cubes means a lower possibility of power outages; therefore, if a cube fails, the other cubes supply the power. Further, additional cubes may be connected as energy requirements increase.
The Vanuatu Government intends to extend the Lelepa swarm grid to even more of the nation’s off-grid islands. It also hopes to attain 100% renewable energy through the swarm grid despite it being a pilot project. UNDP Technical Adviser Alexandra Soezer, the author of the article, “Frugal Innovation Offers an Opportunity to Demoncratze,” states that the swarm grid is more cost-effective than the previous systems for Vanuatu’s islands. Soezer explains, “In Malekula Island, UNDP built a traditional mini-grid where each household connection cost around $6,000.00 In contrast, the connection per household on Lelepa island works out at around $1,200.”
Bringing Electricity to Millions
The success of these projects emphasizes the massive impact of electricity on some of the most disadvantaged groups on earth and the comparatively small investment required to achieve this. According to Soezer, there is considerable potential for enabling millions of more people to gain access to electricity.
The 2018 U.N. statistics reveal that as many as “789 million people still have no access to electricity.” Electricity could reach about 80% of this number by expanding such cost-effective swarm grid programs. Each connection would cost about $400 to $500. This means that each household would pay no more than $2 per month.
Human Development with Renewable Technologies
To achieve this, governments will need to obtain the required grants and loans with help from the U.N.-supported Climate Investment Platform. Provided that there is a political willingness to do this, the swarm grids programs demonstrate that universal, affordable, clean and reliable energy is practical and also technically possible.
Human development needs access to clean, inexpensive and sustainable energy. However, to achieve this, rural electrification needs innovation. Although many rural households cannot connect to the national grid through locally available sources of energy, it is possible to provide electricity to such households through decentralized renewable energy technologies. Such renewable technologies include mini-grids and solar home systems.
Since private investment is lacking, there are obstacles to the deployment of mini-grids. However, households can develop current SHS swarm grids to trade electricity. They can also supply further loads by using their excess electricity. Additionally, swarm grids can surmount some of the barriers encountered by regular mini-grids as an evolutionary bottom-up technique of electrification.
Contributing to the Movement for Renewable Technologies
Renewable technologies occupy an essential function in improving access to electricity. In order to provide impoverished and remote regions with a reliable source of electricity and improve living conditions, new approaches to energy technologies need to be discovered and funded. Initiatives such as UNDP’s Swarm Project and mini-grids help further the world population’s access to electricity.
– Aining Liang