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Can Microgrids Eliminate Energy Poverty?

Christine Hertzog's picture
Principal Technical Leader, Cyber Security Strategic Initiative Electric Power Research Institute

Christine Hertzog is a Principal Technical Leader focused on OT Cyber Security research at EPRI.  She conducts research on new technologies suitable for OT environments and informs industry...

  • Member since 2010
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  • Sep 23, 2011

We take electricity for granted.  In the USA and other developed nations, we are wired up with electricity that is readily available.  Blackouts are infrequent, notwithstanding causes based in natural disasters or human error.   But for the 1.4 billion humans who have no access to electricity, every day is a blackout.  Another billion have unreliable access to electricity.  That is energy poverty.

Consider life for those 2.4 billion people living in energy poverty.  It limits the amount of time they spend in work or education to daylight hours.  It limits connections to the outside world to communications equipment operating on battery power.  They can’t rely on refrigeration systems to keep food safe or water purification systems to ensure potable drinking water.  They suffer from health problems which cannot be addressed with any medical devices that require electricity or refrigeration.

Reliable electricity has profoundly positive implications to developing economies.   But existing ways of planning, building, and delivering electricity – defined by centralized generation, transmission, and distribution systems, are cost-prohibitive and time-consuming to deploy.  What is needed is an innovative Smart Grid solution to eliminate energy poverty for one third of the world’s inhabitants.

I recently spoke with Terry Mohn, Founder of General MicroGrids, Inc., a company that specializes in sustainable energy solutions.  For him, the answer is yes, microgrids will become the prevalent energy delivery solution to eliminate energy poverty.  He is putting his expertise to work as Co-Chair of the United Nations Foundation’s MicroGrid Work Group with the mission to leverage industry experience to achieve this objective.        

 The UNF Project Underway                               

The United Nations (UN) recently organized an effort through the UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change to commit UN member countries to address energy poverty.   The effort is led by UN-Energy, a collaboration of 20 UN agencies, as the UN Campaign on Sustainable Energy For All.  It has three main objectives to meet by 2030:  1) Achieve universal access to modern energy services; 2) Improve global energy intensity by 40 percent; and 3) Produce at least 30 percent of the world’s energy from renewable sources.   

The UN Foundation (UNF) plays a key supporting role to drive concrete actions on energy access at the national level. The UNF has oversight of global awareness and education campaigns and fosters private-sector engagements.  The Work Group that Terry co-chairs is building a practitioner network focused on addressing the barriers to achieving the project goals.  According to Terry, “we need to bring together global stakeholders to develop a more integrated approach to energy access planning and execution than has previously been done. We intend to catalyze the scale-up of renewable and low-carbon technologies and spur the market toward universal energy access. It will focus in particular on the removal of barriers to the effective delivery of energy services by promoting the development of new technologies and innovative financial and business models. It will also identify and disseminate best practices and foster strategic partnerships to promote energy access.”

The Work Group is reaching out to companies that have experiences in planning, building, and financing microgrids.  The answer is yes, microgrids can help eliminate energy poverty.  But there’s more to this story, and the discussion about microgrid market opportunities, barriers, and ongoing projects continues in next week’s blog and will also be explored in an upcoming Energy Collective webinar. 

Here’s a coda to my previous articles on data analytics – I’ll be moderating a panel session on September 21 for Agrion in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Focused on Distribution Automation (DA) and advanced communications, we’ll discuss the role of analytics in DA and converged networks.   

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