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Microgrids for Green ICT

Microgrids - small electricity generation and distribution networks - are becoming an increasingly common way to support ICT in remote areas. What distinguish a true remote ICT microgrid from a locally-powered remote piece of ICT gear like a base station? A microgrid is an integrated network consisting of one or more power generating systems, storage, control electronics and a diverse load. Imagine interconnected solar PV and with diesel generation backup powering not only that base station but also a community charging station for phones and tablets and a school's wireless router. To the extent that ICT microgrids support a significant proportion of renewable generation, they contribute to Green ICT and help bring urgently-needed sustainability to ICT4D. Here is a look at the big picture. Future updates will include implementations.

Pike Research forecasted 2011 that, "...the primary driver for remote microgrids over the next six years will be the integration of solar photovoltaics, a technology that will help reduce diesel fuel consumption…the global remote microgrid market will expand from 349 megawatts (MW) of generation capacity in 2011 to over 1.1 gigawatts (GW) by 2017, an amount that equals or perhaps even surpasses all other microgrid segments combined, whether in the planning stages or already deployed. That growth in capacity will translate into total projected revenue for the remote microgrid sector, under Pike Research’s average forecast scenario, of more than $10.2 billion by 2017. A more conservative base scenario – which may hold if the global economy continues to stumble – would still result in a healthy $4.5 billion market in 2017."

Pike has now merged into Navigant Research, which refined the forecast in 2013, "...global remote microgrid revenue will grow from over $3 billion in 2013 to more than $8 billion in 2020 under a conservative scenario." The company says that remote microgrids will be generating 980 MW to 1071 MW by 2020. This pushes out by a few years the 1 GW milestone from the original Pike forecast, but still represents significant, consistent growth in capacity for for developing areas.

Another forecaster, GlobalData, highlights the Asia-Pacific region as the highest growth area. "...the Asia-Pacific microgrid industry will be driven primarily by the need to increase electrification in remote locations across countries including China, India and Malaysia. Industry revenue in the region is forecast to reach US$5.7 billion by the end of the decade, from US$600 million in 2012, with China expected to maintain its market share of almost 40% over the eight year period.

Implementation

We first identified the use of ICT microgrids with a solar generating component when we covered military microgrids in Afghanistan. That post also has some growth projections for the deployment of military microgrids.

There is already much use of renewables to power remote ICT without true microgrids. Telecommunications and education are the two biggest applications.