Q: How easy is it to apply this experience to the UK?
A: There are definitely challenges! Obviously, we don’t get anything like as much sunlight here in the UK as they get in equatorial Africa and other parts of the tropics, and while solar provides a more constant energy supply than wind, the amount of energy fluctuates with the weather and, of course, completely disappears at night. The dual challenge is therefore to find the most efficient way of obtaining the sun’s energy and then the most efficient way of storing it.
When it comes to generation, roof-mounted panels are limited by how many panels will fit on the roof, so we’re also looking at alternative ground-mounted options. In terms of storage, current lead-acid batteries are heavy and bulky, and lithium ion batteries need careful management, and here we are exploring more nimble alternatives. These include methanol fuel cells and even super capacitors but, for now at least, these are practical only for low-power systems. For example, they can be used to store power for running off-grid CCTV security cameras at remote sites.
For EV charging, an AC charging point is limited to the rating of the battery charger on board the EV, but the EV charging point itself is less expensive. Whereas DC charging points are more expensive, as they convert the AC to DC, but can charge vehicles much more quickly.
Q: Are there any existing examples where Dulas has already provided off-grid power solutions here in the UK?
A: There are several. For example, one of our major clients, a national utilities company, has a remote valve station which previously required regular visits by their staff whenever adjustments to the valve settings were required. These adjustments are now done through telemetry, with power supplied by a combination of solar panels and a lead-acid battery.
We’ve also provided solar and battery combinations for industrial sites that are self-sufficient now with regards to their use of energy.