Renewable Energy On and Off the Grid

A couple of items in today's scan of cleantech news invite us to compare and contrast the differences in providing renewable power for large, grid-connected energy versus local, off-grid projects. In China, where the government has a goal to get 170GW of electricity from wind power by 2020, wind power providers are trying to figure out how to cost-effectively connect - and stay connected - to the electric grid. Massachusetts-based A123 Systems, a maker of nanophosphate lithium-ion energy storage systems will supply batteries to a Chinese  manufacturer of wind turbines called Dongfang Electric Corporation. The batteries will be capable of storing 500kW. According to the A123 press release, only about 72% of China's wind power capacity is connected to the grid. Energy providers in rural India do not face the grid problem. In fact, winning technologies there are designed specifically for communities that do not have access to the grid. A Bloomberg article highlights two renewables  firms that  received early funding and support from tech firm Cisco Systems and venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson. Both have moved on from the blackboard stage and are now supplying systems to rural villagers. Husk Power Systems builds small, 40kW biomass gasifier power plants that run on rice husks. The husks, a waste produce from rice processing is one of the few types of biomass that does not already have another use by villagers. Currently, rice millers use some of their supply, along with diesel, to power their operations. HPS's plants can light up to 500 households and cost just under $40,000 to install. The company and its partner Shell, have installed 60 mini power plants in the Indian state of Behar. Meanwhile, Cisco and Draper have also supported D.Light Design, a solar lamp maker that is leasing 120,000 lighting kits in homes in the southwest state of Karnataka. The price per family is the equivalent of $5-$8 a month. The lighting replaces light provided by kerosene. More than half a billion people in India live off the grid or are connected to unreliable service. Right now, they depend mainly on fossil fuel-powered devices. Both China and India are increasing government spending for clean energy. Though technologies like A123 Systems, and creating a reliable and effective electric grid that can handle solar and wind energy have gotten a lot of attention, it's important to realize the immense size of the market for technologies that serve off-grid populations. The technology - and social - needs for village-scale power are very different.

Author: Melody Bomgardner

Share This Post On