Smart grids in developing countries - 04 Jan 2011

Although the devastating earthquake in the island nation of Haiti in early 2010 destroyed much of its infrastructure, the country had already been plagued with energy problems. Only around one-quarter of the population had access to its meagre energy resources, with almost half of the electricity being stolen, and those citizens who were able to afford it paid a hefty premium – around four times as much as in the United States. 

Haitians could spend up to 30% of their earnings on basic power, mainly candles, kerosene, and timber, and with wood being the country's principal energy source, over 98% of the nation’s tree cover has been clear cut. 

It would therefore be an understatement to say that Haiti has a serious, long-term energy emergency on its hands. 

However, Green Energy Corp (GEC), a Colorado-based company which has provided software and engineering services to over 100 utilities in the smart grid market for over 25 years, is seeking to provide the framework and software solutions in Haiti to achieve 100% renewable energy. 

The company has also developed what it states to be the first universal plan designed to provide developing nations with renewable power, and has dubbed the pilot project the Global Energy Model, or GEM. 

Daniel Gregory, the company’s founder, witnessed Haiti's devastation first-hand as part of a philanthropic envoy, and the decision that it was an ideal place to launch GEC's first pilot project eventually led to partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative, with the goal of developing a GEM Working Group to make the project a reality. 

Although Haiti lacks infrastructure, it has a number of unique characteristics which make it an ideal location to launch and implement GEM, with natural resources such as the sun, wind and water which can be used to generate electricity in a renewable way. Instead of building one 120MW coal plant to feed fossil fuel power around the area of the capital of Port-au-Prince, for example, GEM imagines twelve 10MW solar plants surrounding the city, each feeding into a smart grid. And because Haiti is a mountainous country, the differential in elevation makes pumped hydro storage a clean and efficient supplemental energy option. 

The model also incorporates a biomass plant, a wind farm, and vehicle-to-grid generation. GEC aims to reduce the costs of transmitting energy by focusing efforts on a distribution model that would link smaller-scale renewable sources together closer to the load. The model also gives Haitians the opportunity of setting up small wind or solar farms, creating jobs and energy. In addition, because the pumped hydro storage needs man-made lakes to store water, villages could be constructed around the lakes, thereby providing improved irrigation and an attractive alternative for displaced Haitians. 

GreenBus, GEC’s software platform, will coordinate the generation from all of these renewable sources. The software is revolutionary in that it's open source technology that can be used on any control system. While traditional control systems are complex and use proprietary software for control functions and communication, GreenBus is based on open standards and all of the software is published to an open-source community. 

Having 25,000 control centres in the US means having another 25,000 different software configurations, and this is simply not efficient. A ubiquitous solution is required so everyone can plug and play. 

Although GEC admits that this is an ambitious project, the company has found both public and private partnership in the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, the UN Environment Programme, Duke Energy, and EarthSpark International. 

Initially the strategy is to phase in the project beginning with an 8-hour daytime power and gradually build up to a 24/7, 100% renewable energy system. If successful, GEC hopes that Haiti will become a model for other developing countries such as Ethiopia, Sudan, Pakistan and the Congo. 

GEM is a model that will evolve over decades as it is applied, tested, and adjusted by the CGI GEM Working Group. The pilot in Haiti helps form and stress-test the GEM model. Other GEM pilot projects are expected to begin in other developing nations during 2011. Similar pilot projects will produce measurable results against milestones, but it will take more than a decade to realise the true impact of GEM on any nation. The point of GEM is to provide a coordinated roadmap for energising developing nations.


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