Bringing Power to Remote Communities Around the World

Burkina Faso

Mar 18, 2019

By David White

For the average person it is difficult to imagine having to live with limited access to energy. Most people don’t think twice when they turn on the lights or a computer, but there are countless communities in Canada and around the world that experience energy inequality. Access to a secure, long-term energy source is key to the prosperity of any community, but for those located in remote, underserved communities this access can have a transformational impact.

A scalable solar power hub, enabled by IoT technology, is one example of a solution that can be used to bring reliable energy to communities who need it most. Naturally, there are many challenges to overcome both from a technology and logistics perspective, but the right combination of tools can unlock energy potential for all communities — no matter their location.

Take the central Burkina Faso town of Pâ, for example. For years, the town relied on expensive, unreliable, and, at times, dangerous diesel generators to fulfill its electrical needs. But all this changed as the community took a major step toward reliable, safe, renewable energy.

Partnering with Burkina Faso’s University of Ouagadougou and Calgary-based NGO The Strongest Oak, Schneider Electric’s charity arm, The Schneider Electric Foundation, built a solar powered community hub that provides the town with a stable and safe source of energy. Not only does the hub offer long-term energy to the community, it affords a safe workspace for locals such as the Sougrinooma Women’s Cooperative, a group who mill shea butter for export to cosmetic companies worldwide. What’s more, with internet connectivity and multiple charging stations for lamps and cell phones, local teachers have access to learning materials and students are now able to study after dark, having previously relied on candlelight.

A solar based system was a natural choice for this project as this region sees extended periods of sunshine over the course of a year. In addition, these systems can often generate more power than they use and have minimal emissions, making it a great fit as a remote power solution.

With maintenance being one of the most critical challenges to these projects, an IoT connected system makes all the difference. Using Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure platform, a team can monitor the health of the facility remotely from Canada and alert local maintenance teams to upcoming or potential issues. The IoT system relays information on the function of each system and solar array, allowing for proactive repairs and maintenance and ensuring nothing interferes with generating enough energy to meet daily needs.

For example, knowing after a long month of use that maintenance to electrical panels may be needed allows a team to be dispatched to address the concern before it becomes a production-halting issue. Alternatively, if a solar panel is not providing optimal energy production, this can be identified and addressed through the system, mobilizing the necessary resources before the problem escalates.

An IoT monitoring system oversees the health of a system such as a solar or wind power grid functions, similar to one that would oversee the health of a power plant, manufacturing floor or building. In place of the operational technologies of a semi-automated supply line; however, the system measures the power generation of each solar panel or wind turbine, and monitors the health of each connected item, such as lighting or computers. In doing so, it allows a remote team to ensure a healthy and efficient system is running for the local users. Further, in monitoring these systems, teams can work proactively to maintain and protect the system and its functionality, limiting what could be days of down time by identifying and replacing or repairing stress points before they reach failure and become real-world problems.

Clearly, remote monitoring and the ability to proactively problem solve is paramount to the success of remote energy projects, and IoT-enabled systems can easily solve many of the challenges faced in these complex projects. Bringing a sustainable power solution in the form of a solar grid to a remote location is an exciting endeavour and has the ability to change lives, but without maintaining it and ensuring it continues to function optimally, it can make itself more of a hindrance than a solution.
The community of Pa is just one example of how IoT and solar technology can be used to bring reliable, sustainable energy to remote communities around the world, and helps bring us one step closer to improved energy equality for everyone.

David White is the Director of the Schneider Electric Foundation, Business Process Excellence and Training. With over 30 years experience in the electrical industry, David has led a number of business units including, manufacturing, engineering, sales operations, quality and customer satisfaction, and has held an executive leadership role at Schneider Electric for many years. David is a champion of excellence within his organization. As the first Certified Six Sigma Master Black Belt in Schneider Electric North America, David led process reengineering efforts achieving two Six Sigma Gold Awards and a Bronze Award amongst his global peers.

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