Running Out of Gas: Can This Innovative Solar and Battery Electric Generator Fight Energy Poverty – And Climate Change?
Editor’s note: This post is part of the NextBillion series, “Offline Innovation,” one of several topics we’re covering through special series this year. Click here for more details on our 2018 series.
Following the release of the UN IPCC Report warning that the world has 12 years to limit a climate change catastrophe, demand is increasing for solutions that can curb carbon emissions, and quickly. The challenge is twofold: to develop clean technological alternatives to meet our society’s power needs; and to educate consumers – and ultimately change their behaviour – in order to reduce our collective carbon footprint.
Innovation in software and online connectivity has contributed extraordinary solutions to societal issues, but climate change requires physical solutions. We need hardware if we’re going to truly slow climate change, while also meeting the needs of our planet’s 7.5 billion people (and counting).
The need for portable power
Countless industries require portable power to provide energy in areas where the electrical grid is not available, including construction, entertainment, communications and disaster relief. However, even after 100 years of developing generator technology, internal combustion is still only 30 percent efficient. By today’s standards, this technology would be considered a failure.
Globally, there is a huge reliance on generators, with the market predicted to grow to US $27.24 billion by 2023. As the industry’s size and value grows, so too will the need for the fuel to power it. Therein lies our challenge as we try to manage carbon emissions and reduce global warming, while providing solutions for industrial and economic growth.
Generators are typically powered by gas – a fossil fuel which we know to contribute to climate change. Without a sustainable alternative, it is unlikely that industry leaders can, or will, abandon the use of traditional generators. However, all of this drives home an essential point: This multi-billion dollar industry is primed for transition.
Now there is a solution: a new technology developed in the last 2.5 years as a sustainable alternative to fossil fuel-powered generators.
Innovation as a solution
Portable Electric’s team of engineers builds the VOLTstack power station – a portable, battery-electric unit that is 100 percent emissions-free and is three times more efficient than the traditional fossil-fuel generator. In addition to its fast-charging capabilities from traditional power sources (units charge from empty to full in just 2.5 hours), VOLTstack power stations are solar and wind rechargeable, meaning they are a completely renewable, mobile microgrids when connected to solar panels and wind turbines. These features were included specifically with off-grid applications and emerging markets in mind. As a result, those with limited access to grid electricity or fossil fuels benefit from clean, safe power available whenever needed.
We are already delivering emissions-free battery-electric power to challenging, fossil fuel-intensive industries, ranging from film and entertainment to construction. In disaster relief and developing countries, we see not only an opportunity to scale our company, but also to create sustainable markets in which clean energy can thrive – all while promoting the integration and adoption of climate-friendly power sources.
Unexpected uses for solar-powered generators
Our focus on disaster relief is growing, and it was inspired in part by a crisis. Following Hurricane Maria, which claimed over 3,000 lives and saw mass devastation across Puerto Rico in 2017, we received hundreds of calls from individuals, companies and organizations, seeking safe, reliable generators to help power relief work.
Traditional generators were being used out of necessity. However, access to the fuel required to power them was limited, or in some cases non-existent. Moreover, these generators could not be used indoors, as emissions contained poisonous carbon monoxide gas and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. As a result, victims of this hurricane were left without power – and desperately seeking help.
In 2017, we were unable to rapidly mobilize in response to the requests for aid that followed in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Knowing storms of this magnitude would come again, we developed a disaster response kit of VOLTstack power stations and portable solar panels which we could deploy to help with subsequent disaster relief.
Unfortunately, the reality of climate change means an increase in the frequency of natural disasters. Just 12 months after Hurricane Maria, communities were being threatened by yet another impending hurricane, this time in North Carolina.
On September 27, 2018, a team from Portable Electric travelled to North Carolina with 10 VOLTstack power stations and portable solar panels. By lending the units to areas affected by long-term power outages and flooding, our team was able to help households and community groups to effectively accelerate their rebuilding efforts. Seeing first-hand the devastation these communities were coping with after national aid organizations had pulled out, the team left with an even greater understanding of the need for microgrid technology to reduce reliance on the grid in the aftermath of such disasters. The VOLTstack technology has so far been successfully used to power communications devices, construction and power tools, fans and dehumidifiers, as homeowners face the difficult task of tearing down and rebuilding their homes.
Supporting emerging markets
Clean, portable power stations are a technology that was built to thrive in situations where fossil fuel generators cannot – and disaster recovery is just one of their applications.
Currently, there are over 1.1 billion people worldwide living with no access to electricity – about 14 percent of the world’s population. When we think of how reliant the developed world is on electricity and fossil fuels, we begin to understand the impact that providing portable, microgrid technology to isolated areas will have.
That’s why powering emerging markets with clean energy is a company priority for Portable Electric. In early 2019, we will travel to El Remate, Guatemala on a charitable excursion, bringing 2k and 5k VOLTstack power stations, plus solar panels, to a school within an orphanage. With their current fossil fuel generator, the school has enough power to sustain lights for just two hours per day, meaning children’s education is capped by the limitations of an old technology. One VOLTstack unit, charged via solar panels, will provide continuous, reliable power to the school – a simple solution that will dramatically change the level of education these children receive.
By 2020, our aim is to have this technology adopted and installed in multiple countries throughout the developing world. We are developing partnerships with international organizations and companies around the globe, to scale efforts to bring this technology as an affordable and long-term solution for people everywhere. In doing so, we will create jobs, tap into new markets around clean energy solutions and drive innovative business.
If we want to slow climate change in the next 12 years, we need fast, effective solutions. By providing a clean alternative to traditional fossil fuel generators, we will displace the multi-billion dollar incumbent technology, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reshape the industries dependent on it. This is just one example of how technological innovation will move us toward a more sustainable world, while also powering the lives of the next billion.
Image courtesy of organization.