Looking to the Skies to Reduce Microgrid Costs

Feb. 28, 2019
Are satellites the solution to reducing costs for off-grid microgrids? The European Space Agency (ESA) and the India Energy Storage Alliance (IESA) intend to investigate the idea through the recently launched Space4Microgrids – India.

Are satellites the solution to reducing costs for off-grid microgrids? The European Space Agency (ESA) and the India Energy Storage Alliance (IESA) intend to investigate the idea through the recently launched Space4Microgrids – India.

The program will use satellites to cut microgrid costs so that they can be more easily installed in remote off-grid areas.

Cristiano Cialone, ESA project controller, says that making use of satellite communications and Earth observation data can improve performance, system up-time and output, and maintenance and operations of off-grid microgrids.

Furthermore, “this has a positive social impact… as it also allows for the provision of services, such as tele-education, to these communities,” added Steven Braakman, senior advisor and business devleoper for the NEO Geomatics & Earth Observation, a prime subcontractor for the project.

Satellite tech for universal energy access

“The use of space assets in the design and operation of microgrids can reduce the investment risk compared to a classical project solution [that doesn’t include use of space data],” added Braakman in an interview. “For instance, using satellite-derived information for on-site suitability leads to better decision-making , which reduces project risks and average project costs.”

Use of satellite data also helps microgrid developers with key aspects of system siting and design, including measurement, assessment and monitoring of local renewable energy resources, such as wind or solar. This can improve a project’s bankability, Braakman said.

“If a microgrid was poorly designed, or the location turned out to be poor or unsuitable, the microgrid probably would not perform as expected, or even wind up inoperable. All design and installation costs incurred could be a loss as a result,” he said.

Data from satellite communications and earth observation could be integrated with microgrid data logging and SCADA systems. “This enables quick response based on near-real time data, leading to an increase of monitoring efficiency, improved system performance and longer system life,” Braakman said.

Leveraging a variety of European space-based assets

The project team members explained that Space4Microgrids – India makes use of a variety of space-based assets, among them:

  • Satellite earth observation data for mapping, monitoring, and evaluating the suitability of microgrid sites. Site suitability is normally defined by outcomes, such as the likelihood of flooding or fire, socioeconomic growth potential or the ability to harvest various forms of renewable energy.
  • Satellite communications for accessing data and allowing for communication in remote and rural areas in India, which can also be used for tele-medicine and tele-education purposes to enhance the development of social communities
  • Navigation assets, such as the ESA GNSS’ program’s space navigation Galileo and GPS, used for surveying, registering coordinates and securing microgrids’ components

Earth observation and satellite data provides an enormous step up in terms of the amount, precision and accuracy of data that can be obtained for analysis as compared to previous generations of GIS and remote sensing technology — aerial photography and data transported from radio frequency communications equipment, according to Braakman.

He added that Satellite Earth observation can map and monitor areas on a large spatial-temporal scale. “This can enhance the optimization of the in-situ surveys with a consequent reduction of the cost for traveling and on-site operation.” The project team has access to ESA’s Copernicus system, which incorporates Sentinel satellite data, a reliable source of earth observation data that’s free of charge.

In addition, Earth observation data from commercial satellite programs, drones and High-Altitude Platform Stations can be used to augment and complement Sentinel satellite data to provide more detailed and sophisticated microgrid specifications based on user needs.

“There are many operators in the field of satellite communications that can provide, at competitive price, ad-hoc data solutions, bandwidth and geographical-area coverage for instance, that allow for communication in remote areas,” Cialone added. “This allows to provide communication capabilities in remote areas for data relay.”

Who’s who in Space4Microgrids

The ESA-IESA Space4Microgrids – India project comes under the umbrella of the ESA Business Applications program, which supports the development, implementation and demonstration of downstream space-based services in a number of sectors, Cialone explained. The space-based services make use of “data from existing space assets, such as satellite communication, satellite earth observation, satellite navigation and human space-flight technologies in combination with other technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning,” he told Mircrogrid Knowledge.

The Netherlands’ NEO Geomatics & Earth Observation is the prime subcontractor for the project, having won an open, competitive tender for a feasibility study commissioned by ESA to identify and explore business opportunities for services making use of space to address the needs identified by IESA. TNO Netherlands and Eaton Switzerland are subcontractors.

IESA works with Indian microgrid stakeholders to identify and collect data regarding systems scale, scope and design and developer, operator and end-user needs and requirements. This data is used to explore prospective opportunities for cooperation with potential customers, as well as other purposes, Cialone explained.

IESA launched MICRO, the Microgrid Initiative for Campus and Rural Opportunities, in 2016 with a goal of improving economic sustainability of microgrids in India, according to IESA’s president, Rahul Walawalkar.

An IESA team worked closely with ESA during 2017 as part of the initiative to conceptualize the project. The public/private partnership is getting ready to present the program’s technical feasibility and economic viability assessments. Program costs were not made available.

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About the Author

Andrew Burger

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