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    How Solar Based Microgrids Could Bring Power to Millions




    The village of Tanjung Batu Laut seems to grow out of a mangrove swamp on an island off the coast of Malaysian Borneo. The houses, propped up over the water on stilts, are cobbled together from old plywood, corrugated steel, and rusted chicken wire. But walk inland and you reach a clearing covered with an array of a hundred solar panels mounted atop bright new metal frames. Thick cables transmit power from the panels into a sturdy building with new doors and windows. Step inside and the heavy humidity gives way to cool, dry air. Fluorescent lights illuminate a row of steel cabinets holding flashing lights and computer displays.

    The building is the control center for a small, two-year-old power-generating facility that provides electricity to the approximately 200 people in the village. Computers manage power coming from the solar panels and from diesel generators, storing some of it in large lead-acid batteries and dispatching the rest to meet the growing local demand. Before the tiny plant was installed, the village had no access to reliable electricity, though a few families had small diesel generators. Now all the residents have virtually unlimited power 24 hours a day.

    Many of the corrugated-steel roofs in the village incongruously bear television satellite dishes. Some homes, with sagging roofs and crude holes in the walls for windows, contain flat-screen televisions, ceiling fans, power-hungry appliances like irons and rice cookers, and devices that need to run day and night, like freezers. On a Saturday afternoon this summer, kids roamed around with cool wedges of watermelon they'd bought from Tenggiri Bawal, the owner of a tiny store located off one of the most unstable parts of the elevated wooden walkways that link the houses. Three days before, she'd taken delivery of a refrigerator, where she now keeps watermelon, sodas, and other goods. Bawal smiled as the children clustered outside her store and said, in her limited English, "Business is good."

 

 

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