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Friday, 19th March 2021

Solar for SEED

By Rebecca Dallimore

As we continue to fight the climate crisis, one of the key questions is how we can move away from fossil fuel energy. Our planet is home to some truly incredible natural resources and one such resource we have in abundance is the sun. The technology we have to capture its energy is a key stepping-stone to making renewable power accessible, and it is advancing every year.

What is solar power?

In literal terms, solar energy is the heat and light energy radiated from the sun. Solar power is the concentration and capture of that energy and the generation of electricity from it. A solar panel is the consumer-friendly name for a Photovoltaic Module and each module is made up of photovoltaic cells. These cells are “excited” by the light energy in the sun’s radiation, this excitement causes the creation of an electric current. A series of photovoltaic modules, or solar panels, are typically interconnected which allows the flow of electricity through the entire system. At the end of the chain, this solar powered electric current can be fed into the grid to provide electricity to multiple destinations, directly into a private circuit (e.g. an eco-home that generates its own power supply), or into what is essentially a battery which allows the energy to be stored to provide power on those not-so-sunny days.

How can renewables contribute to climate change mitigation?

Why solar energy?
Only 15%

of people in Madagascar have access
to electricity (World Bank, 2018)

 
2,800 hours

of sunlight per year in Madagascar

 
Over ⅓

of the UK's electricity in 2019 came
from renewable energy sources

 
1 hour

of the solar energy beamed onto
the Earth could meet the world's
energy needs for an entire year!

Solar, wind, and hydroelectric systems generate electricity with no release of polluting emissions in the energy creation process. Geothermal and biomass renewable systems do emit some pollutants, but the emissions are much lower than those of coal- and natural gas-fired power plants. It is the transition from coal and natural gas fuels to renewable that will help curb emissions significantly.

Solar, wind and hydro power are also all able to generate electricity efficiently and cost effectively which makes them an appealing swap for energy supply – currently what we lack is infrastructure, and the upfront funding to implement these systems. Importantly renewable energy has the power to create alternative fuels such as hydrogen which coupled with the advances being made in engineering for sustainable fuels will help to transform some of the most polluting industries such as aviation and logistics.

The shift from fossil-fuel derived power to renewable is an investment in more than just reduced carbon emissions. It is investing in improved wellbeing for all life on Earth, improved air quality, reduced human health costs, lower water consumption, cleaner cities and overall a reduced impact on people and the environment by climate change.

Why is SEED moving to solar energy?

SEED relies on a constant and stable stream of energy to help keep its main office in Fort Dauphin running – something which right now, it is not getting. Fort Dauphin is reliant on Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) generators which are environmentally damaging, poorly managed by the power company, and expensive. As a result, the SEED office faces big monthly bills, and regular power outages and blackouts. These blackouts and increasing energy bills reduce our capacity to work on our vital projects in the communities which most need it and undermine our ability to rapidly respond to crises.

 

Our Deputy Director, Tsina Endor, on Solar for SEED!

The aim of our Solar for SEED project is to move 85% of our energy consumption in Fort Dauphin to solar power, with the goal of improving the reliability of the electricity supply and decreasing costs. Simultaneously this will decrease our reliance on harmful fossil fuels in an area that is critically vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

The project will include the installation of roof-mounted solar panels and a large battery bank which will store the energy overnight. Although Madagascar experiences around 2,800 hours of sunlight per year (out of a possible 4,383), the system is designed to last for several days without sunlight to keep us covered on those overcast days. If, after several days of little sunlight, the batteries are starting to get low, the system will automatically fall-back to the local power grid. Though this means we will still be occasionally using fossil fuel energy, we anticipate this being a fairly rare event.

In making the transition to predominantly solar and being able to power our staff reliably for full working days, we will be able to increase our capacity to work towards our mission by 10% and divert more than £200 a month away from paying for unreliable power and into running projects instead.