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Off-grid, decentralized rural electrification and coronavirus:

The importance of decentralized basic utility services and off-grid rural electrification in times of coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic has drastically changed the way of life for everyone. We have been thrown into a situation that no one was prepared for. Schools and colleges have been closed, businesses are working in survival mode, and entire nations are observing strict lockdowns. Discord and disorder have taken over what once used to be routine and orderly. In the ongoing crisis, the continuation of essential utility services is very important in maintaining order in an otherwise disarrayed life. If the delivery of essential services is disturbed, the whole social fabric can collapse under its weight.

While there are different services that can be categorized as essential, it is the electric power supply that forms the foundation upon which other facilities can be delivered. Whether it is the provision of clean water, emergency healthcare, heating and cooling, or communication, electricity powers them all. The importance of uninterrupted and independent power supply becomes even more relevant in the days when coronavirus is disrupting everything around us. Having a self-reliant, independent and renewable power solution like Turbulent can really make all the difference.

The emergence of coronavirus has made us adapt to the changed realities of life. Traveling to work is being replaced by teleworking, sign-ins to eCommerce portals are becoming more common than physical trips to the grocery stores and a doctor’s appointment can now take place virtually through telemedicine solutions. Life is finding new ways to proceed. In a way, coronavirus is forcing people into accepting that our dependence upon over-populated metropolises and urban living can be weaned off. Many have been proposing a new way of life that is off the grid, self-reliant, and independent - a concept that did not get major traction till now but seems very much plausible all of a sudden. This might kick start the decentralization of population away from major urban centers.

Famous futurist, writer, and Google’s current Director of Engineering, Ray Kurzweil had predicted that the rise of distributed energy grids, high-speed internet, and virtual reality/communication will make big cities obsolete. He proposed that the distributed population will be less susceptible to military and terrorist attacks. It will be interesting to add that a decentralized society that is powered by technology and off-grid renewable energy solutions will also be less prone to the likes of coronavirus and other infectious diseases.

Off-grid living enabled by distributed power stations does not benefit the overcrowded cities only. It can also spur the development process in the rural, remote, and marginalized areas. It is difficult to imagine life without something as basic as continuous electric supply but this is still a harsh reality of life for nearly 1.3 billion people. For them, continuous running water is still a dream and their lives become dark once the sun goes down. However, electric power supply can change that.

Ever since the discovery of electrical current by Michael Faraday in 1831, electricity has been at the forefront of technological progress and human development. It can play the same role in the advancement of rural and under-developed areas as well. However, connecting such remote areas with the central power grids is easier said than done. The cost of connecting the rural population that is distributed over vast areas becomes a great challenge. Any benefits resulting from rural electrification will be canceled by the associated expenditures. The answer to this centralized power distribution problem is again smaller, distributed power generating stations that use renewable energy sources.

Rural electrification, just like any other power project, involves production and transmission costs. As mentioned earlier, small pockets of populations spread over great distances can greatly increase these costs. This problem can be solved by using off-grid micro power stations instead of a large central one, developing these stations closer to the rural populations, and consuming electricity at the point of production. While there are different options for developing such power stations, small-sized hydro power plants are the ideal solution for rural areas that are close to a flowing water source such as a river, canal, or a large stream.

They require minimal construction effort and have low set up costs. Unlike solar arrays which only work in daylight, hydro power plants can electricity round the clock. Interestingly enough, the world’s most under-developed regions have the highest untapped small hydropower capacity according to the United Nations’ International Center for Small Hydro Power. Some of the regions with the lowest installed capacities in the world are listed below. (The percentages show the total capacity utilized till date):

· Western Africa - 3%

· Eastern Africa - 3%

· Southern Africa - 16%

· Middle Africa - 6%

· Southern Asia at - 17%

The low installed capacities imply that these areas have not been truly started their development journeys enabled by the electrification process. Therefore, it is not a coincidence that most of the countries hailing from these regions have the lowest Human Development Index. Tapping into the micro hydropower potential of these areas can set them on a path of development and improve quality of life. Having an off-the-grid hydropower station in a remote location could potentially mean continuous electricity supply to schools, basic healthcare centers, cottage industries, water filtration units, households and so much more. It could transform the rural areas and prevent the ongoing migration of population to the closest urban centers.

In a time when coronavirus is ravaging the world, topics like safety and wellbeing are on everyone’s top of mind. By similar analogy, while talking about the electrification of rural areas, it is important to consider and safeguard their local ecology and environment. Clean energy solutions that work in harmony with nature address this issue effectively. Turbulent’s power solution has also been designed on the same principles. It causes no damage to the surrounding environment, has the smallest footprint, and does not disturb the water and fish that flows through it. It also does not cause any air or noise pollution.

For an off-grid power system working in remote areas, downtimes can be costly to fix and difficult to manage. The effort and time it will take to reach those areas can easily be imagined. In case of frequent breakdowns, the problems can further multiply. Moreover, routine maintenance and monitoring of the solution can become a project in itself. This is more relevant in times of coronavirus when frequent trips to remote areas do not remain feasible anymore. Therefore, factors like maintenance, durability, round the clock power generation, and remote monitoring of the solution become very important. Turbulent’s smart turbines for micro-hydro power stations score well in all of these areas.

Turbulent’s design has a protective trash rack to capture large debris and avoid blockage while the turbine’s low turning velocity reduces the vibrations and mechanical stress of its components. The turbine can operate in harsh weather conditions as well as low water levels. All of these factors improve the robustness of the system and decrease its maintenance requirements. As a result, Turbulent’s turbines can easily be maintained locally. Moreover, there is also a remote management software that ensures 24/7 monitoring, enables predictive maintenance, and provides system updates.

In summary, among all the chaos that the coronavirus pandemic is creating, it also highlights the importance of decentralizing mega-urban centers and uplifting rural communities. Distributed hydropower stations working on green energy principles can lead this process by delivering essential services and improving the quality of life. The untapped small hydro potential of such areas can be a game-changer. Clearly, clean renewable energy holds the key to our future.

Do you have a site in mind? Have a look at our video to learn how to eyeball a suitable site for our Turbulent turbines

1 Comment

Dec 24, 2021

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