Smart Village Microgrids

Rural communities of developing countries rarely have the opportunity to connect to national electrical grids, limiting the potential growth of many villages. The creation of a microgrid will provide these localities with access to an energy source while creating opportunity to be connected to a larger national grid in the future.

The ultimate objectives of this project are to design and field test modular clean energy microgrids and develop an integrated micro-utility approach as a catalyst for rural economic development. This process of rural electrification can enhance livelihoods by improving family health, access to clean water, crop irrigation and processing, small business development, internet education and communication, and village wealth formation.

Mission

To enhance the livelihood of Rwanda’s rural village residents and accelerate rural development by establishing a Smart Village Microgrid, built on clean energy and focused on community well-being and local ownership, through:
• Establishing an inter-disciplinary and cross-cultural team to design, test, and validate energy-based solutions for rural African villages.
• Creating a scalable model of electrification that is affordable, customizable, and able to quickly deliver social benefits.
• Educating Rwandans through graduate programs at CSU to lead the solution long term by employing technical and business development methods.
• Cooperating directly with the national and local Rwandan leadership to define the system architecture, set standards, and establish sound processes for logistics, ownership, and regulation.
• Conducting ongoing Research and Development to measure rural region development, microgrid technology, and identify needed improvements.

Microgrid circle graphs

What is a Microgrid?

At Colorado State University, we define a microgrid as a small-scale electrical system that operates completely independent of national-grid power sources and can be run primarily on nearby renewable sources such as solar photovoltaics, wind turbines, and thermal or hydro power. This energy system can not only reduce carbon emissions but also provide more power reliability and increased energy efficiency. Inspired by the concept of Smart Cities, our Smart Village technology integrates energy, water, social services and transportation systems to produce better quality of life and lower environmental impact. Village electrification through a Smart Village can produce safer drinking water and improved health with less human effort—allowing labor to be reallocated to local industry and education, and leading to an overall improved quality of life.

Microgrid Design and Development

Through the creation of a Smart Village Microgrid (SVM) Laboratory at the Powerhouse Energy Campus, the SVM Team and any participating partners are able to gain a deeper understanding of village level electrification. This laboratory models a remote village with plug & play technology to allow for the testing of various microgrid products.

The lab is configured to accommodate a variety of research activities on microgrid subsystems, like metering and grid management, and other electromechanical topics like battery performance characterization and power generation integration. The SVM Lab contains four cells, each with a dedicated 6 kW power feed, in which experiments can be conducted. An independent internal power grid enables electrical interconnection of multiple cells for multiple power generation or distributed load scenarios.

Design and development of the SVM Laboratory is proceeding rapidly. Design of the electrical infrastructure is complete with a PV simulator power source, an AC Distribution donated by Schneider, and a 5kw DC natural gas generator from Kohler. Design of Village Modules that simulate the electrical load of approximately 150 homes is also ongoing. At the current stage, this allows 40-60 W per home, which is being tested for lighting and cell phone charging capabilities. The goal is to optimally allocate some of this electricity to economic development outside peak usage hours to support devices like a sewing machine, refrigerator, or grain mill.
A conceptual rendering of a Home Module containing a meter, cell phone and charger, and LED light bulb is pictured below. Design activities have and will continue to incorporate input from SVM Team Members, research partners, and industrial collaborators. The left-hand image depicts plans for building, which have already been completed and are shown in the right-hand photo.

SVM lab computer modelSVM lab

To the right of the computer-generated image is the realized facility as it stands now. The images currently show power distribution boxes and cable trays. While we have finished creating a lab that is physically accurate in terms of electricity load and technology as well as visually representative of electrification in a village setting, the project is transitioning its focus to usage of commercial off-the-shelf products with the goal of replicating the same testing capabilities at other research institutions.

Future research areas for the CSU SVM team include DC power distribution and AC/DC system efficiency compressions.

For more information on the Smart Village Microgrid project, and how to get involved, contact Lab Director Dan Zimmerle.