Supporting Energy Access Ecosystem through Technology

The Technology Team in SELCO Foundation has organically grown in the last two years to support the work of the labs and other practitioners, and more recently it has started to look at how it can support the energy access ecosystem in India. A few key outputs are the development of products for the agriculture and garment sectors as well as development of testing facilities in-house to support our ground partners and the wider industry with low-cost product testing making use of the SELCO family’s grounded experience.

Decentralised energy systems are becoming more and more affordable as technology improves and the costs of components decrease. These technology improvements are within all parts of the system, and an understanding of the system as a whole, rather than just the generation source, is essential for optimisation of systems to improve energy access. This includes the load, storage, generation and system control; each of these parts has benefited from recent technological advances. The SELCO Foundation technology team’s main purpose is to bring these new technologies to energy access practitioners in India. We do this by directly working with them to develop new products and innovative systems as well as looking at interventions for the wider ecosystem.

The wide adoption of Solar PV internationally has greatly reduced the cost of panels. This was driven by a mass market resulting in economies of scale. However, although energy access practitioners are often not looking for anywhere near the scale of grid connected PV plant, they have none the less benefited greatly. A similar phenomenon is likely to occur in storage systems with the increasing adoption of electric or hybrid vehicles: the cells used in these batteries are also used in laptops and could be used in a solar home system.

Lead acid batteries struggle in many situations to provide a low cost storage solution. In particular there are two specifications that often limit their use: the cycle life of the battery at high C rating (the rate at which it is discharged or charged) and that their weight. Storage is therefore one key technology to investigate and the team is working closely on it. In particular we are currently reviewing different technologies available for critical applications and will move to lab and field tests of this technology.

Another key area is the energy consumption side. Energy efficiency is the first key to a lower cost system. At the first level, this could include replacing CFL with LED lights, or replacing an AC motor in a machine with a DC one. At the second level we try to understand in detail how a load is used to design the optimism solution. For example: a mill may be available to run on and off for 8 hours in a day, but the actual running time may only be 2 hours. We call this a duty cycle (in this case it is 25%) and we are training field staff to assess and collect this data from the end-users.

Apart from this core technology work, the team also looks at work for the energy access ecosystem. Two current projects include assessments of key past installations as well as reviews of new products. These will both aim to improve technology awareness amongst different practitioners.

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