The idea that everyone should have access to sufficient energy lies at the heart of the microgrid proposition.
People may experience energy deficiencies because of poverty, geography or calamity. It may be a daily condition, as we see in parts of Africa, or a temporary condition brought on by storms or wildfires, as is more common in North America. In all of these circumstances, microgrids are being built to ensure reliable energy.
Not having enough energy causes both personal and economic hardship. But how much is enough? And enough for what?
In its mission, the report cited the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals, a 115-country agreement reached in 2015 that, among other things, calls for “affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.”
Increasing income with energy
Reaching the UN’s goal will be nearly impossible under the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) current minimum standard, which is about 50 kWh per capita per year in rural areas and 100 kWh in urban areas.
What does that much energy give you? A few lightbulbs a few hours a day, a phone charge and the occasional running of a fan, according to the report, “The Modern Energy Minimum: The Case for a New Global Electricity Consumption Threshold.”
“For this reason, the current annual consumption threshold of 100 kWh is better thought of as an extreme energy poverty line, rather than as the international energy target for promoting development and greater incomes,” the report said. “Just as income is tracked above a poverty line and at other higher levels, the same framework could be applied to electricity consumption.”
The current standard fails to capture energy use outside the home. This shortcoming is meaningful, according to the report, because nonhouse use accounts for 70% of global electricity consumption. More importantly, power use outside the home drives economic activity.
“Just as income is tracked above a poverty line and at other higher levels, the same framework could be applied to electricity consumption.”
“If higher electricity consumption is supposed to help drive incomes higher, we should be paying at least as much attention to nonresidential uses,” said the report.
And the problem isn’t just lack of power but lack of reliable power.
“The negative impact of power outages, which include both unavailability of supply and low quality of power, are profound on firms, especially in Africa. Firms in low-energy consumption environments widely self-report that the cost and reliability of power is a first-order obstacle to productivity, employment and expansion,” the report said.
Modern energy minimum 1,000 kWh
Energy for Growth Hub and The Rockefeller Foundation are calling for a minimum standard of at least 1,000 kWh per person, of which 300 kWh would be assigned to the home and 700 kWh to other sectors, such as industry, commerce, transportation, agriculture and public services.
“At a practical level, the Modern Energy Minimum provides a target that could be used to influence planning and investment decisions by governments and the allocation of resources by the international community. And it should provide some guidance for prioritization and sequencing of policies and investments in the power sector,” said the report.
As a next step, the authors suggest that an international body, such as the IEA, the UN or World Bank, begin collecting data based on the standard so that it could become an international indicator of progress.
The standard is likely to have more meaning in places where incomes are low — the 1,000 kWh metric correlates with an income of about $2,500 per year, roughly the midpoint for lower-middle income status globally, according to the report.
But even North America has felt the hardship of energy scarcity, albeit temporarily, with Puerto Rico experiencing the longest outage for the continent following Hurricane Maria.
The microgrid proposition
Microgrids are a targeted approach to quickly overcome energy scarcity, especially in remote areas of the world without access to the grid. That’s one of the reasons Microgrid Knowledge has made this type of microgrid a feature of its annual Greater Good Award.
Here are a few examples of how microgrids get it done:
- Global Himalayan Expedition Wins Top Microgrid Greater Good Award: The India-based company won the award for a solar microgrid in Batambis, a remote Himalayan village almost 14,000 feet above sea level, with no roads or electric grid and cut off from the world by snowfall for six months out of the year.
- Renewvia Energy Builds Minigrids in Nigeria with an Eye to Grow Across Africa: The minigrids will help more than 400 households and multiple small- and medium-size businesses increase their activities, driving economic growth.
- African Campus Gets New Life with Microgrid Powered by Batteries and Solar Panels: Girls in Malawi, Africa, now have a chance to get a good education thanks to a new microgrid. A solar array, capable of producing 6.6 kW during peak, will electrify the school campus, providing the lights and the energy to run computers, printers and TV screens.
- Second-Life Electric Vehicle Battery Storage Helps Power Eaton Microgrid in South Africa: An Eaton production facility in Wadeville, South Africa, is reducing its energy and operational costs beyond its expectations thanks to a microgrid that uses first- and second-life electric vehicle batteries.
- India’s Largest Power Company Plans 10,000 Microgrids, Swelling the Global Count: Backed by The Rockefeller Foundation, the microgrid effort would bring power to 5 million households in India — 25 million people who lack access to a reliable grid.
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