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Case study 19 January, 2023 Battery / Energy StorageSolar PV Other Micro/Mini-grid

Power-Blox – Nano-grid Approach for Disaster Resilience & Productive Use (Vanuatu)

Who, What & Where

  • Power-Blox
  • Nano-grid Approach for Disaster Resilience & Productive Use
  • Lelepa Island, Vanuatu

The Company

Power-Blox is an award-winning Swiss company who produces swarm intelligence solutions for the industry. Founded in July 2015, it developed a technology which, supported by an algorithm, allows to easily combine different energy sources and battery systems, without the need for configuration and centralized control, enabling an automated and decentralised power regulation and storage within the grid (“the internet of energy”). The system is self-learning, autonomous and self-regulating. The nearly endless scalability of the system represents a breakthrough in energy technology.

The Challenge

Vanuatu has not yet found a comprehensive electrification solution for the approximately 60 inhabited islands, despite many efforts and support from various donors. Despite the implementation of some mini-grid projects, they have been so expensive that no scalable business model could be found. The remaining households had to rely on pico-solar systems, if there was any electricity at all. The country has good potential for productive uses in various areas – e.g., fishing or tourism –, which the solutions implemented so far have not been able to power.

In addition, Vanuatu is repeatedly hit by terrible storms that have destroyed part of the country’s infrastructure. This situation is particularly problematic for remote islands without fast access to specialised professionals. It also makes access to investments more difficult, as investors fear total infrastructure failure as severe storms increase due to climate change.

The existing difficulties were amplified by the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic that further isolated the island.

Renewable Solution

Power-Blox coordinated with UNDP to provide islanders with access to sustainable, affordable and ‘disaster-proof’ solar-based electricity that was reliable to supply energy needs for households and productive uses such as the health care facility. Furthermore, it supplies electricity to small businesses, schools and churches.

Power-Blox’s nano-grid approach met increasing energy needs thanks to its modular scalability and allows the locals to operate and maintain the solar battery cubes independently to ensure the long-term sustainability of the system. Electricity is sold to the connected households by local sales agents. Similar to prepaid mobile tariffs, the local households can choose among four prepaid electricity packages. After the purchase of a package, the local sales agent charges the customer’s credit by activating the package on the customer’s smart meter.

Project Financing and Costs

EUR 200,000

  • Power-Blox AG (project development & implementation)
  • UNDP (project financing)
  • PCS Ltd (project development & implementation)

Project Outcome

  • 140 households and around 500 people, a health care facility, school, shop and two churches were electrified in the pilot project on Lelepa. The number is projected to raise to 90,000 people, including 44,237 women, with a total of 17,785 households in the next project phases.
  • Two direct jobs created, and more indirect jobs expected, linked to productive use applications, that will be provided to produce souvenirs and food refrigeration. Indirect jobs derived from the entire project are expected to increase in fishing, poultry farming, fruit processing and tourism, accounting for 250 new jobs and USD 2.68 million per year in income.
  • An annual reduction of around 25,000 metric tonnes of CO2e equivalent is expected once the project has been fully rolled out to all 60 islands.
  • The project has enabled the economic development of the islands, specifically in fishing, post-harvest processing, food conservation, tourism, souvenir manufacturing and access to critical services such as water and communications. It has also strengthened disaster resilience and food security of the rural households.
  • Women are the main operators of the energy infrastructure and electricity trading in the business model.

Key Recommendations for International Funding Partners & Regulators

  • Providing tiered, blended finance models to implement a project of this scale is essential. For instance, risk minimisation in the form of a first loss guarantees helps to attract international investors.
  • It is essential to provide a guarantee with concessions or concession-like contracts to protect the investment and to regulate the potential integration into the national power grid in the contracts.