Solar Panels and Batteries: A Cheap Rural Energy Source

Geoffrey Heal, Donald C. Waite III Professor of Social Enterprise and Chazen Senior Scholar at Columbia Business School, shares how Columbia University faculty are bringing renewable energy to rural communities around the world. Professor Heal presented at the Chazen Institute’s India Business Initiative conference in Mumbai on January 15, 2018.

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For rural communities in tropical and subtropical latitudes, it’s already the case that the least expensive way of producing electric power is to provide what are called “community solar installations.” So you provide solar panels – not rooftop solar panels, which are still quite expensive – but ground-based solar panels scaled big enough to provide power for the entire community.

You then hook the community to that by what’s called a microgrid, a small-scale, low-voltage grid just running locally, and you provide some energy storage by a collection of lead acid batteries – old fashioned car batteries. And that’s a less expensive way of providing power for rural communities than, for example, building a centralized power station burning coal or oil and building out a high-voltage grid. It’s also a more efficient way of providing power than by relying on local generators, local diesel generators.

I have a colleague, Professor Vijay Modi, who’s in the Engineering School at Columbia, who’s involved in installations of this sort all over Africa at the moment. And these are the most cost-effective ways of providing power to remote, rural communities.

About the researcher

Geoffrey Heal

Geoffrey Heal, Donald C. Waite III Professor of Social Enterprise at Columbia Business School, is noted for contributions to economic theory and resource and...

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