Schneider Electric, a France-headquartered digital transformation of energy management and automation firm, has announced the launch of Villaya Emergency, a solar microgrid solution ready to use in any situation, including humanitarian crises. The solution combines Schneider Electric technologies and the expertise of innovative start-ups.
Whether due to the geopolitical context, natural disasters or climate change, emergency situations continue to rise in an increasingly uncertain world. With more than 68 million forcibly displaced people in 2017, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has seen an unprecedented number of people uprooted by war, violence or persecution worldwide.
According to Oxfam, an estimated 23.5 million were forced to leave their homes in 2016 due to extreme natural disasters. When these humanitarian crises occur, often in zones that are either cut off or away from electricity grids, access to easy, fast, clean, reliable and affordable energy is required to bring vital supplies (medicine, food, etc.) to impacted populations.
Up until now, relief operations have had to rely on fossil fuel energy, renowned for being dirty, expensive, noisy, difficult to transport and dangerous for health and safety.
Schneider Electric’s Villaya Emergency is a containerised mobile solar microgrid solution designed for ease of use in any humanitarian emergency and produced in its plant in Kenya.
The system produces a minimum of 10 kilowatts peak of electricity – enough to power a village, a health centre or individual/group areas in refugee camps – thanks to a system of easy-to-use and easy-to-move photovoltaic panels. The entire solution is fitted into a standard shipping container for fast, easy transportation or relocation to anywhere worldwide.
Born from discussions between UNHCR experts and managers of Schneider Electric’s Access to Energy programme, Villaya Emergency meets all critical needs of relief specialists. “Its main benefit is easy installation in less than half an hour after delivery,” said Olivier Jacquet, who is in charge of the Emergencies, Refugees and Conflicts team at Schneider Electric.
“Villaya Emergency can be handled by an on-site operator without any specific training nor requiring any specific maintenance. Another advantage is the solution’s robustness: We’ve made sure the system can operate in extreme heat and can be installed or dismantled as needed without any damage.”
As a longer lasting and more robust solution in the long term than traditional electricity generators, Villaya Emergency requires a larger initial investment but offers a higher ROI from the third year.
Schneider Electric teams are working on new business models, such as rental and leasing, which could improve access to this new offering.
Villaya Emergency includes an inverter and a battery developed by Schneider Electric for tropical environments. The functional unit can transform direct current (DC) into alternating current (AC), can operate in temperatures of up to 45°C without any performance drop, with a maximum operating temperature of 60°.
A comprehensive monitoring system enables users to check battery status, along with energy production and consumption levels, at any time. The data can be captured and sent by GSM, 4G or satellite, and analysed thanks to EcoStruxure Microgrid Advisor. It consists of an application for EcoStruxure for Energy Access, an affordable, flexible and open platform that improves the profitability and performance of electric microgrids.
With this technology, system managers can monitor and visualize in real time their worldwide installed base. The solution also integrates innovations by partner start-ups, such as FZSONICK’s “hot” sodium nickel chloride batteries that can operate at high temperatures. The batteries are free of toxic or environmentally harmful materials, they are maintenance free with high cycling/discharge characteristics and are unaffected by ambient temperatures between -40 to +60°C.
To guarantee easy deployment in less than 30 minutes, even on soft or uneven ground, the photovoltaic panels are ready to install, mounted on wheels, precabled and placed on a mobile system called EXOrac manufactured by a start-up named PWRstation.
Production of Villaya Emergency started early this year at Schneider Electric’s factory in Nairobi and will cover the needs of the African continent.