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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/T004819/1
Title: SolaNetWork
Principal Investigator: MONDOL, Dr JD
Other Investigators:
ZACHAROPOULOS, Dr A Smyth, Dr M
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Sch of Built Environment
Organisation: University of Ulster
Scheme: Technology Programme
Starts: 01 June 2019 Ends: 31 May 2021 Value (£): 211,716
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Energy Storage Solar Technology
Sustainable Energy Networks
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Energy
Related Grants:
Panel History:  
Summary on Grant Application Form
More than 80% of Africa's electricity is fossil fuel generated leading to climate change effects which disproportionately affect the sub-Saharan region. Around 588 million people in sub-Saharan Africa live without access to electricity and consequently struggle to escape poverty owing to a lack of basic services such as lighting, motive power, and access to media and communications. The importance of providing modern energy to rural areas is a high priority. Electrical grid expansion is possible but suffers high up-front costs to government and individual households.

The SolaNetwork project builds upon the successful demonstration of 'entry level' energy access technology developed in the progenitor SolaFin2Go project that addressed the challenge of providing standalone solar systems to make available affordable clean electricity and hot water for off-grid households in rural sub-Saharan Africa. SolaNetwork will scale-up deployments of Solafin2go technologies interconnected to form virtual and physical node-to-node networks. The project will develop, and trial in the field, a unified monitoring and control system which will provide real-time business intelligence and deliver customer interfaces to enable a Distributed Energy Service Company (DESCO). A not-for-profit DESCO will operate and maintain the stand-alone units and grid network; manage and administer electricity trading between community prosumers; and deliver targeted training to promote off-grid solutions and develop local capacity in the sector.

Whole community energy security will be delivered by a suite of interconnected solar technologies forming a four-tiered approach: 1-A core community solar power, battery bank, and communications hub will provide electricity, hot water and internet access to support essential public services and facilitate battery trading. 2-A wired-micro-grid of interconnected home and business prosumers will support the nearby core community hub. 3-A cable-free-grid based on a battery trading will serve prosumers who are remote from the community hub. 4-A wireless communications network will connect the wired and cable-free prosumers to the core community hub and facilitate energy management at individual user level and whole community scale to ensure security of supply for all.

The proposed SolaNetwork physical and virtual infrastructure will consist of Distributed Energy Generators complete with integrated sensors, controls and two-way communications enabling formation of a node-to-node and node-to-hub DC power distribution network consisting of both wired-micro-grid and cable-free-grid battery trading elements. Operations will be managed by a DESCO formed of community representative and project stakeholders who will also organise training and employment of local technicians to ensure operational sustainability. The aim is to demonstrate an 'organic bottom-up' approach focused on achieving outcomes in 3 key areas: 1) Technology Scaling and Networking; 2) Service Delivery and Finance; and 3) Training and Gender Empowerment.

Project activities will specifically include a number of positive actions that will target female engagement within the project. Directed consultations with female villagers through householder information forums will be used to disseminate project information and implications for the householder and community. Using a 'Balancing Benefits' tool for gender mainstreaming and inclusion, the team will ensure equitable relationships between men and women and a more socially enabling environment.

The SolaNetwork project is a partnership comprising two academic institutions and 4 industrial/commercial partners and one NGO with diverse and complementary interests in renewables and energy, telecommunications, infrastructure, finance and international development. The project will partner with the local community and other stakeholders to embed knowledge and skills and ensure a legacy of long-term sustainable success.

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Organisation Website: http://www.ulst.ac.uk