Energy for all
Village Infrastructure Angels (VIA) exists to provide rural villages in developing countries with the infrastructure they need to reduce poverty and improve living standards. This includes helping people access electricity for the first time.
Energy for all is a serious issue; 1.2 billion people around the globe lack access to electricity. As a result, many turn to kerosene lamps, burning $1 a week per household – the equivalent of $10 billion every year.
However, the side effects can be devastating; kerosene is the biggest attributer to fire-related, often fatal, injuries and can cause serious health implications. The risks are exacerbated in low-income and crowded communities, where dwellings are often made of wood or cardboard and crammed together.
Replacing kerosene lamps with solar powered devices has therefore become an essential solution. Solar not only provides a safe way of accessing light – if smartly designed, it also has the capacity to supply power to an entire micro-energy infrastructure, including community assets such as mills.
Such an asset has the potential to free 300 million women worldwide from one hour each of daily labour in processing crops, fetching water and collecting firewood. Those collective 100 billion hours every year could be used to generate additional income or to give more attention to other activities, for example, to children’s education.
VIA, in partnership with IRENA, began building projects in Vanuatu in the South Pacific – an area which is often overlooked due to its size.
With a population of approximately 250,000 people, half of which live in villages outside the main towns, and spread over many islands, transport and communication is difficult and expensive. The country has also been hit by a series of catastrophic natural disasters, including earthquakes and one of the largest cyclones on record, which destroyed homes, crops and infrastructure.
The mission of the local government is therefore to provide universal access to electricity and communication by 2020, and so relies on initiatives such as the projects built by VIA.
One such project is the development of solar agro-mills for the main crops of the country, which cannot be eaten without processing.
Agro-milling enables women in the area to reduce manual labour through cleaner, simpler, safer, and quieter solar-powered micro-milling technology. The mills are leased to a local female entrepreneur using pay-as-you-go technology to create an affordable finance package.
A mill therefore not only serves the needs of the wider community, it also becomes the entrepreneur’s livelihood.
To deliver what the entrepreneur needs to run her business, it is essential the system includes technology which effectively measures the DC energy being consumed. Without this data, VIA cannot design the system to correctly charge the batteries to work for the length of time required.
The system therefore needs connectivity – which is where the power of the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes imperative. Using a SIM card, the data can be automatically collected and sent directly to VIA.
Vanuatu has several mobile network operators. A SIM could therefore be used from any local operator, and if the device is being used in an area which has coverage, it will work. The problem however is that no one operator covers the whole area. This means entrepreneurs leasing mills cannot be assured of their connectivity.
With the grant support of the GSMA Mobile for Development Utilities Innovation Fund, VIA turned to Eseye, which delivers highly secure and resilient cellular data and connectivity services through its multi-IMSI/operator AnyNet Secure™ Subscriber Identity Modules (SIMs). These SIMs provide unique zero-touch, highly secure, remote device provisioning with the ability to roam across more than 440 worldwide mobile networks.
Because the project’s hardware requirements were not standard or available off-the-shelf Eseye supplied their AWS connected Hera 100 core module, adding peripheral sensor elements and application level software to the design.
Stewart Craine, Managing Director at Village Infrastructure Angels, says, “Eseye was tested amongst 15 suppliers – from the UK, to as far afield as Finland, Australia and China. We chose Eseye because it not only had the technical performance, but it was also cost effective.
“With the EseyeAnyNetsolution, all that is required is one single SIM and connectivity to any network is available. This is especially important as we start to deploy the technology in other areas of the world.”
Paul Marshall, Chief Customer Officer, from Eseye, says, “Devices for any type of business need to be operational 100 per cent of the time, without the concerns or barriers caused by data, roaming, billing, management, or support. For organisations such as Village Infrastructure Angels, which is working on projects that can change the lives of some of the most deprived people in the world, this becomes critical.”
The solution from Eseye has enabled VIA to not only have complete visibility of the cellular connection, but also the energy being used by the agro-mill.
Stewart Craine says, “We are now able to measure the daily power generation from solar panels and the daily power consumption via customers. This gives us a complete understanding of whether the service is being over or under-utilised so we can provision the system accordingly.
“As a result, the solution can provide our investors and donors with real time digital data directly from the mills within villages. This makes our business model far more investable, which is essential as we continue to meet our ambitious mission of catalysing access to energy for all by 2030.”
With Eseye’s help, VIA has used this valuable technology to open a new chapter on how pay as you go solar technology can be applied in rural villages.
“Data is important – but the reactions of the villagers is principal, and the feedback has been great”, says Stewart Craine. “Fundamentally, we’re helping locals to help themselves.”