Outlets for Change: Renewable Microgrid for Rural Uganda
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This spring California - Renewable and Adaptive Energy (CAL-RAE) will pilot their solar microgrid design, bringing low-carbon, round-the-clock power to 15-20 entrepreneurs and families on Kitobo, a fishing island in Lake Victoria.
Your contribution will help CAL-RAE double the capacity of the system this summer and provide the momentum needed to extend this sustainable design to thousands of people in Uganda and beyond.
Globally more than a billion people have no access to electricity and find it difficult to study for school, safely store certain medications, and power machines for business. Many make their living from the land or sea, their livelihood dependent on a healthy climate. They need electricity to expand opportunity, and it must be clean.
In Uganda about 93% of the rural population has no access to the electric grid. These communities are not, however, sitting in the dark, resigned to their fate.
Local entrepreneurs and households invent creative solutions to make do with a few hours of electricity every day from inefficient, dirty, and noisy diesel generators. Many have no power at all.
The lack of reliability and high costs of these systems constrain business, health care, and education--all of which can improve quality of life in a sustainable way.
CAL-RAE breaks this cycle through innovative technical and financial models for affordable solar power systems in off-grid communities.
CAL-RAE is a UC Berkeley-based interdisciplinary group that researches and implements off-grid energy access in the developing world. The group won a United Nations SEED Initiative Award in 2013 for their design of an off grid system for rural Vietnam.
CAL-RAE is affiliated with Berkeley's Energy and Resources Group (ERG) as well as BERC. Its members come from not only engineering, but also the natural and social sciences, encouraging socially sustainable perspectives and durable systems.
The common bond is a committment to renewable electricity access as a tool for promoting community welfare. CAL-RAE believes that only ecologically and economically viable solutions will create lasting change, and focuses its efforts on removing barriers through technology transfer and alternative business models.
Kitobo Island, on Lake Victoria, Uganda has no electricity grid. Currently, a patchwork of diesel generators supply sporadic, dirty, and expensive power. Businesses rely on this to light their store fronts, refrigerate their products, and run equipment for the local fishing industry. Homes are lit by kerosene lanterns that cause toxic indoor air pollution and pose burn risks, especially among woman and children.
The local pharmacist describes how his business will benefit from refrigeration.
Residences and businesses are eager for modern energy; during CAL-RAE’s site visit, its researchers heard many stories from entrepreneurs about business plans that would only be possible with affordable, full-time electricity.
Inspired by lessons learned in both the field and laboratory, CAL-RAE has designed a lightweight, modular solar microgrid, designed to supply renewable, efficient, and reliable power to Kitobo. Customer electricity payments will cover system maintenance and provide justification for the private or public investment necessary for a broader impact.
The initial group of connections will include about a dozen homes and businesses that have explicitly demonstrated a need for reliable power. Construction of the infrastructure has begun. CAL-RAE has assembled nine of its custom-design "solar trees" and pre-wired all of the solar power electronics, at their California workshop (shown below). The full prototype system, Kitobo 1, is now en route to Uganda.
CAL-RAE team member Jonathan Lee assembles a “solar tree” rack for panels.
The first shipment of solar trees begins its journey from Northern California to East Africa.
Beyond providing electric services to the community, CAL-RAE will train local technicians to maintain the system, providing the necessary education and creating a demand for skilled jobs in the region.
A local shopkeeper included in the first expansion of the microgrid.
Renewable-based microgrids are affordable to operate, as they use available natural resources. Because the entire system is purchased up front, and many communities are unable to secure credit for a loan, some systems never get off the ground. CAL-RAE has secured funding to electrify a first group of customers. With your help, we will expand the reach of the system this summer, bringing more people the power they need, and creating the momentum necessary for a sustainable economic model. CAL-RAE is reaching out to its communities to fund additional connections at Kitobo and unlock income generating opportunities across the island.
A local child and the fishing fleet. Fisherman are eager to use locally produced ice to preserve their catch.
Goal: CAL-RAE intends to raise $15,000, which will provide electrification to the entire “city center.” With $25,000, the grid can be further expanded to reach more households.
- System power electronics: $6,000
- Solar Trees (panel and racking): $4,000
- Distribution lines: $2,500
- Metering hardware: $2,500