How Remote and Off-The-Grid Communities Survive With Renewable Energy

Some places are so remote that there is no electric grid to connect to

Apr 27, 2019

Living off the grid is a tremendous environmental concept that many aspire to, but in many areas of the world, especially in remote villages, there simply is no electrical grid to hook up to. Renewable energy is not only the best way to get power, but it may also be the only way.

Over 65 percent of the developing world, some 1.2 billion people, still do not have electrical power in their homes and are missing out on the many social, economic, and technical advantages that electricity can provide, according to the World Atlas.

In many places, people are using kerosene generators to provide electricity, but these generators are incredibly costly to run and cause a lot of pollution. A much better way to produce electricity is by using renewable forms of energy like wind, solar, hydro, or geothermal generators that can provide a stand-alone power system for electricity that is reliable and cheap.

In rural Africa and India, there is no access to electricity because communities are too far from the national electric grid to connect to it. A pilot program in Ikisayna, Kenya is underway to provide solar power. Researchers from the University of Oslo established an energy center that is providing the community with essential lighting and electrical services. According to an article in ScienceNordic, the energy center, which also lends out lamps, offers mobile device charging and hosts computer services.

"The pilot energy centre in Ikisaya demonstrates that the model can be economically sustainable," said Kirsten Ulsrud, project initiator and leader from the Department of Sociology and Human Geography at the University of Oslo. The revenues that are generated can cover the operation and maintenance costs.

Renewable Outback

For some towns in the Australian outback, being off the grid is also the only option. Until recently, the energy for most communities has been provided by diesel generators, but that is changing, according to Cnet. There is a new initiate in Coober Pedy, a mining town 1,700 kilometers west of Sydney, that is surrounded by desolation.

The weather conditions in Coober Pedy are so extreme, with summer temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius, that its residents must live underground. But the town is now using its harsh environment to its advantage. In July 2017, thanks to the Cooper Pedy Renewable Hybrid Power project, the town was able to switch on 1MW of solar, 4MW of wind and a 500KWh battery, according to the article. Renewable energy is now providing around 70 percent of the town’s power needs. Now, they can use their diesel power station as a backup.

Autonomous Power Stations in Alaska

Remote off the grid locations are also prevalent in Northern Canada and Alaska in the US. In those areas, populations rely on micro-grids that consist of small, local autonomous power stations, according to Science Daily.

In Alaska, more than 200 communities depend on micro-grids for electricity. Reducing the high cost of shipping diesel fuel into their remote communities, is the driving force to converting to renewable energy. Erin Whitney, a researcher at the Alaska Center for Energy and Power, told ScienceDaily, "Some communities are so remote that they can only get fuel delivered once or twice a year when the ice melts and a barge can move up the river. This situation translates into some of the highest energy costs in the nation."

The Alaska Energy Authority (AEA) has been working on small-scale solar projects to move away from the use of diesel fuel. In Northwest Alaska in the Seward region, solar panels were installed on the office building of the Bering Strait native Corp. This saved 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel. A solar thermal heating unit is being used at the Denali Education Center near the national park. According to the AEA, the solar system includes a quarter-mile hot water loop fed by 1,300 square feet of solar thermal panels. Other AEA projects operate on much larger scales. In Kaltag and Lime village, solar panel arrays are used to reduce the amount of diesel fuel used to produce electricity.

Hydro and wind power are also being harnessed in Alaska. The Kodiak Electric Association (KEA), a rural electric cooperative is committed to providing 98 percent of its energy sales with renewable power solutions. According to Lloyd Shanley, power generation manager at KEA, the primary source of KEA’s power is an alpine lake that lies in the mountains above town.

With a little creative engineering, KEA ran a penstock from the lake’s steep outflow stream, channeling the water into a turbine system that contributes about 80 percent of the community’s power needs. An additional 20 percent comes from a handful of wind turbines on the ridges around town." He said, “Our conversion to renewables has resulted in no increased cost to consumers in nearly 20 years,” Kodiak is an obvious success story.

Most places that are off the grid have some form of renewable energy sources that can be used to provide inexpensive, accessible, and reliable electrical power. The results of these small scale or pilot programs can be duplicated to improve the lives of people living in remote communities worldwide.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.