Solar Microgrids in Rural Villages

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Trevor Decker Cohen:

"As we sharpen our ability to store, manage, and use energy, the nature of the grid itself is changing. With solar panel systems that fit on a rooftop and batteries whose prices have fallen by 80 percent in five years, the need for a monumental grid may become obsolete. Places that have never had electricity before are skipping the need for centralized power plants entirely.

Nicole Poindexter runs Energicity, a company in West Africa that installs solar microgrids in rural villages. These are self-sustaining islands of electricity in a sea of energy poverty. Beyond powering LED lights in homes, which can replace expensive kerosene lanterns, Energicity’s microgrids are strong enough to power light industry. Before they electrified the village of Odumasi, Ghana, one family was forced to separate. The mother moved to the city in order to use an electric sewing machine for her seamstress business. It’s one story in a larger narrative of families adapting to a modernizing world. When Black Star Energy, the Ghanian subsidiary of Energicity, electrified her village, she could move her business back home. The family was reunited.

“Electricity doesn’t just power lights and TVs, it transforms people’s lives,” said Nicole. For many in the rural, developing world, microgrids can be a pathway into a new standard of living. Moreover, electricity can save lives. At a nearby health clinic, the microgrid allowed for an ultrasound machine to check for complications in pregnancy. These improvements reduced deaths of mothers during childbirth.

The 15 villages that Nicole’s business helped electrify have done something revolutionary. They’ve leapfrogged the need for a centralized grid based on fossil fuels. They jumped from no electricity to 100-percent clean power. Solar microgrids may become the first source of power for the nearly one billion people who still lack access to electricity."