Large, corporate power suppliers often cite baseload [the amount of energy needed to satisfy the minimum energy demands of a given society] as the reason for dismissing solar power. Solar panels/arrays don’t work at night so solar must be useless for baseload.
On the surface, the need for baseload power does appear to leave solar out in the cold, but…all baseloads are not the same. In India, there are tens of millions of people for whom baseload equates to just one light bulb. These are the people living in distant rural areas, or city slums, or simply on the pavement. They are poor in a way we in the West cannot even imagine because, despite their poverty, they have to spend a significant portion of their tiny monthly incomes on kerosene for their lamps, or batteries for their torches. All because they are too poor to tap into the electricity grid.
And this is where Piconergy comes in. Founded by a group of young, well-educated, clever young men, Piconergy has created a super small-scale solar power plant called the Helios [from the Greek word for ‘sun’]. This is the product description from their website:
– Strong and sturdy Power Box which can be easily carried around and/or wall mounted, housing our battery management system & a 6V 4.5 Ah Absorbent Glass Mat (AGM) technology based sealed maintenance free battery.
– 5 Watts-peak Solar PV Module with 4m cable & connector.
– Three LED Light Bulbs producing up to 200 lumens each with 3m cable & switch to cover maximum area for illumination.
– USB port for charging mobile phones.
– Optional SMPS Adapter to charge battery from grid supply.
And this is the product:
Piconergy are making the Helios available to families in the slums of Mumbai:
- so the children can study at night,
- so cottage industries can make more products to sell,
- so families do not have to live in the dark
I cannot tell you how much the dedication and commitment of the young men at Piconergy warms my heart. They are not just talking about social inequality, they are doing something practical to help. But my admiration for them goes beyond questions of social conscience – I want a Helios for myself!
Why? Why would a middle class woman in Australia with solar panels on her roof already want such a small-scale solar device? I’ll tell you why. I want my own Helios because the solar panels on my roof are tied in to the grid. When the grid goes down, my solar panels are turned off as well. In a word, they become USELESS.
I cannot tell you how many times we have sweltered during a 40 degree day because the grid was down. No aircon, no fan and no landline telephone. If our mobile phones aren’t charged then we are literally isolated from the outside world. And then there are the nights when we need torches and candles just to get to the bathroom. Again, because the grid is unreliable.
After the fire that destroyed homes south of the river a couple of years ago [in Warrandyte], SP Ausnet is finally putting in heavy duty powerlines and some underground cabling, but for now we continue to lose power, and I continue to keep torches and candles dotted throughout the house.
For us, the potential for sudden, energy poverty is very real, and I intend to do something about it. More on that later.
For now, though, if you care about those less fortunate than yourselves, may I suggest you give Piconergy a boost in social media. After all, ‘Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.’