Lightprints—visual evidence of energy usage—reveal a lot about global power distribution. By observing the earth from a satellite’s perspective in nighttime images such as this one, we’re able to see illuminated clusters of homes and businesses in urban areas connected by sparkling linear networks. And from this omniscient view, it is clear just how dispersed those systems are.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that nearly one billion people worldwide lack adequate access to electricity services and an estimated 300 million people in India alone live without access to reliable power. In an effort to remedy that, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the India Energy Storage Alliance (IESA) are looking to the sky for solutions. Together, the agencies are exploring opportunities to reduce off-grid microgrid costs through the use of satellites.
The program, called Space4Microgrids, hopes to capitalize on observational data from satellites to help reduce costs for remote off-grid microgrid projects. Both agencies believe that making use of satellite communications and data can, in the future, improve performance, system uptime, output, and operations of off-grid microgrids. Navigation assets such as the ESA’s space navigation and GPS surveying technologies can be used for observing, registering coordinates, and evaluating microgrid components.
According to Dr. Peter Lilienthal, CEO of HOMER Energy, “Satellites can be helpful in two ways: to improve the quality of resource data and to create a first-cut layout of a new distribution system.”
In line with this thinking, the Space4Microgrids program has divided the services that satellites will provide into two categories: 1) mapping to aid decision-makers in the strategic planning and design of microgrid installations, and 2) monitoring the operations, power generation, and maintenance of the projects.
“The use of space assets in the design and operation of microgrids can reduce the investment risk compared to a classical project solution [that doesn’t include use of space data],” Steven Braakman, senior advisor and business developer for NEO Geomatics & Earth Observation, told Microgrid Knowledge. “For instance, using satellite-derived information for onsite suitability leads to better decision-making, which reduces project risks and average project costs.”
Project developers explain that using satellites may also offer additional social benefits to remote communities such as providing enhanced medical support, televised educational opportunities, and more robust communications networks.
What are your thoughts? Do you think that space assets can help reduce costs for off-grid microgrids? What other benefits might they offer?