Solar Magazine’s News Highlights, March 2–9 Week

Myanmar, Togo join growing list of developing, lesser-developed countries turning to solar-storage for rural, universal electrification; Belgian Scientists beta test hydrogen-producing solar panel; IKEA’s innovation lab to take blockchain-based, community solar-storage microgrid prototype on world tour.

Solar Energy News Highlights Cover: Mar. 2–Mar. 9, 2019

- Togo offering solar home system vouchers in drive towards universal electrification

Togo has begun offering subsidies to citizens to cover the cost of off-grid solar home systems, a measure that could accelerate rural electrification and emissions-free energy production and use across Africa , according to an industry executive. Togo will issue monthly vouchers to households with BBOXX or Soleva solar home energy systems to help cover the hardware costs. They’ll only have to pay for the energy they consume.

“This pioneering initiative is a major stride forward in tackling a key obstacle to achieving universal electrification in Africa – this being that many customers are still living in poverty,” BBOXX CEO Mansoor Hamayun was quoted in a news report.

Just 27 percent of Togo’s population (~7.5 million) has access to reliable, safe sources of electricity, according to a USAID estimate. That drops to anywhere from 6–21 percent in the countryside. Togo’s government aims to raise national electrification to 50% by 2020, 75% by 2025 and 100% by 2030. Solar energy figures to play a leading role in realizing these goals.

Togolese Solar Mamas Successfully Install a Solar System - Making Their Village Clinic Off-Grid
Togolese Solar Mamas successfully install a solar system, making their village clinic off-grid. Photo: Lar Bolands

Togo’s Project CIZO is a strategic plan that aims to meet 50 percent of the West African nation’s electricity needs with solar power by 2030. Launched in August 2017 with a USD975,000 grant from the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) African Sustainable Energy Fund (SEFA), the European Union (EU) contributed between €20 million–€25 million in capital via AfDB in mid-October, one of the goals being to install off-grid, home solar energy systems and minigrids to serve 550,000 Togolese households by 2030.

A pioneer in Sub-Saharan Africa’s emerging off-grid solar energy systems and services market, U.K.-based BBOX’s Togo subsidiary has emerged as a key private-sector player in Togo’s solar minigrid and rural electrification initiatives. BBOX won a government tender to electrify 300,000 Togolese households that lack grid access last year. Another off-grid solar power company, Soleva, a partnership between Aphilon Energy and Wawa Energy Solutions, did similarly last August.

More than 285,000 SHS were sold in Africa during the first six months of 2018, according to off-grid energy industry association GOGLA. Revenues are expected to reach USD6 billion–USD7 billion by 2022, according to a Reuters report. Around 10,000 kits were installed in rural Togo last year. Another 100,000 households are due to be connected by 2020, and a total of 550,000 by 2030, according to the news report.

- Belgian Scientists Advance Solar Panel That Makes Hydrogen to Beta Test

Scientists at Belgium’s KU Leuven announced they have created a solar panel that uses sunlight to produce hydrogen gas from the moisture in the air. The carbon emissions-free technology could be a major breakthrough in efforts to create a hydrogen clean energy economy in which the volatile gas is used to heat homes and buildings, as well as fuel vehicles.

The hydrogen-producing solar panel can produce up to 250 liters of hydrogen gas a day, Professor Johan Martens, who has been working with his team to develop the technology for a decade, according to a news report.

“Over an entire year, the panel produces an average of 250 liters per day, which is a world record. Twenty of these panels produce enough heat and electricity to get through the winter in a very well insulated house and still have electricity left over ,” added research team member Jan Rongé. A typical home would need about 4 cubic meters of hydrogen storage, which is about the size of a typical fuel oil tank, he noted.

KU Leuven’s Hydrogen Solar Panel
Photo: KU Leuven

A prototype of the panels is soon to be installed at the nearby home of Leen Peeters. An engineer, Peeters’ home serves as a real-world laboratory in which she tests and evaluates energy conservation technologies. According to the news report, “her well-insulated house has solar panels that power a solar water heater and a heat pump. It is not connected to the local natural gas supply. Only in the winter months does she use electricity from the grid.”

Additional, ground-mounted panels will be installed around Peeters’ neighborhood to help heat the homes of 39 neighbors if the home test proves as successful as results in the lab. Surplus hydrogen could be stored for use the following winter, according to the news report.

“We wanted to design something sustainable that is affordable and can be used anywhere,” Prof. Martens explained. “We work with cheap raw materials and we do not need precious metals or other expensive components.”

- Myanmar looks to solar, renewables to energize rural areas

Myanmar’s Minister of Electricity and Energy U Win Khine said the government will make use of local, renewable energy resources, such as solar, wind and biomass, to provide electricity to off-grid areas across the country, according to a news report.

The Energy Minister also pointed out that the government is working on a renewable energy law, as well as ways and means to best implement it.

Myanmar’s National Renewable Energy Committee met for the first time on March 1. The committee is made up of the Ministry of Electricity and Energy, related government ministries and private-sector organizations.

Thi Thi Soe, deputy director of Myanmar’s Ministry of Science and Technology’s renewable energy research department, said that an institutional policy and strategy is needed if renewable energy projects are to attract investment and be implemented. Greater public awareness, research and infrastructure development is required, as well, she added.

Just one solar power plant is up and running in Myanmar at present, a 170-MW solar farm. Another two, each with a maximum-rated capacity of 150 MW, are planned. Myanmar also has signed with China’s Three Gorges Corporation to develop a 30-MW wind power plant, which, if and when completed, would be the country’s first.

According to reports, Myanmar’s government aims to generate 8 percent of electricity from renewable energy sources by 2021 and 12 percent by 2025. More broadly, Myanmar’s government aims to raise energy access to 50 percent nationwide by the end of this year, and 100 percent by 2030.

Currently, Myanmar’s power generation capacity totals 3,500 MW, according to the news report. Electricity use is growing rapidly, at a 15 percent annual rate. The Ministry of Electricity and Energy aims to see that increase another 394 MW in 2018-19, 450MW in 2019-20, and 1,712MW in 2020-21, the news report says.

- Solar Panel-Level Energy Storage Holds Promise of Reducing Rooftop Solar-Plus-Storage Installation Costs 40 Percent

Yotta Solar and PanelClaw, a leading manufacturer and vendor of flat-roof solar energy racking systems, recently announced PanelClaw would integrate Yotta Solar’s SolarLEAF as an attachment to its rooftop racking solutions, according to a news report. “PanelClaw’s flat roof racking systems will come pre-engineered and fully equipped for the SolarLEAF™ attachment, making the addition of energy storage simple for solar developers and utilities by eliminating the design and site-specific complexities that come with centralized storage,” according to a press release.

Each SolarLEAF includes a 1-kWh lithium-iron-phosphate (LiFePO) battery with built-in solar energy optimization, Yotta Solar co-founder and CEO Omar Badkoobeh explained in an interview. “The demand for cost-effective energy storage is rapidly growing and will be critical to the future growth of solar. We created the SolarLEAF™ to make adding energy storage seamless for solar developers and utilities by eliminating the design and site-specific complexities that come along with centralized storage,” Badkoobeh said for the press release.

Yotta Solar's Energy-Storing Devices Kept Under Photovoltaic Solar Panels
Photo: CNN Business

Yotta Solar says its new SolarLEAF lithium-ion battery energy storage system can lower the cost of residential rooftop solar-plus-storage energy installations from 100 kW-500 kW as much as 40 percent on average. SolarLEAFs can store and then dispatch electricity for a period of four hours when paired with a standard 60-cell or 72-cell PV module, according to Badkoobeh.

Furthermore, “SolarLEAF’s proprietary architecture allows installations to be scaled to any system size with an appropriately paired inverter. This is the highest possible efficiency architecture since DC solar charge the DC battery and is only converted to AC once as needed by a shared inverter,” Badkoobeh was quoted.

Achieving anything even close to a 40-percent reduction in installed residential solar-plus-storage costs could completely change the economics of home solar energy production and storage, making it possible for many more home and business owners to become clean, emissions-free energy “prosumers”.

- IKEA’s Innovation Lab Unveils Prototype Blockchain-based, Community Solar-Plus-Storage Platform

Space10, IKEA’s innovation lab, has built a 1:50 scale model of SolarVille, a village in which homes and buildings are equipped with mini solar panels that are networked to a community battery-based energy storage system (BESS) that enables electrical energy to be shared among them. A blockchain distributed ledger would reduce operations and maintenance costs by eliminating the need for a middleman, or centralized exchange, to record, process and account for energy transactions among residents, according to a news report.

The system’s design is simple and all the software needed to run the blockchain is free, Space10 says, according to the news report. “Centralized energy systems are often too slow and economically inadequate to reach the billion people who remain locked in energy poverty,” Fast Company quoted Bas Van De Poel, Space10’s creative director. “SolarVille showcases that, when working in tandem, technologies such as solar panels, microgrids, and blockchain open new opportunities: off-grid systems allowing people to leapfrog traditional grid electricity.”

Located at Space10’s new public gallery at present, IKEA’s innovation lab intends to take SolarVille on a global tour of IKEA stores where the public will be able to see and interact with the prototype solar village. SolarVille’s designers put tiny LED lights in the scale model that light up when electricity is flowing through the circuits and how the system enables neighbors to share emissions-free energy. Blockchain data visualization software reveals when and how energy transactions between neighbors take place and are recorded, according to the news report.

IKEA’s Space10 Taking SolarVille Model on a Global Tour
Photo: Irina Boersma/courtesy Space10

The SolarVille prototype is right in line with IKEA’s broader-based sustainability goals and initiatives, the report points out. “For instance, one segment of IKEA’s business, a franchise called Ingka that runs IKEA stores in 30 countries, has pledged to bring affordable solar technology to homes in all of these markets by 2025. IKEA has also been selling solar panels in the U.K. since 2013 and launched a battery and solar panel kit in 2017, also in the U.K.”

IKEA isn’t the only company working to leverage and capitalize on the falling costs and improving performance of solar PV,  battery energy storage technology, blockchain software and digital information and communications technology to develop commercial and industrial-strength energy platforms that make use of little, if any, carbon-based resources.

In February, 37 households and a retirement home in the Swiss town of Walenstadt began participating in what’s known as Quartierstrom, a blockchain-based solar power trading market.

Also in February, Spain’s Iberdrola announced it had completed a blockchain renewable energy project that guarantees that 100 percent of the electricity delivered to a consumer, Kutxabank, comes from renewable energy resources. In a first proof-of-concept test, Kutxabank was able to track the energy from various points of origin — Iberdrola wind farms and a hydroelectric power plant — to their points of consumption — Kutxabank’s headquarters in Spain’s Basque Country and Cajasur in Cordoba.

LO3 Energy, which developed and runs the Brooklyn Microgrid, last August announced it was working with the Energy Web Foundation (EWF) to advance development of data standards and the systems architecture for an open-source, blockchain-based, distributed energy resources trading and management platform. comment↓


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