At last a conference looking at microgrids reinvented. The “IDTechEx Show!” Berlin, April 11-12 will have 2500+ paying delegates, 220 exhibitors and nine parallel conferences but there is a difference this year. One of those conferences is now Off Grid Energy Independence alongside the usual ones on closely related topics such as IoT, electric vehicles and energy storage. Stripped of the baggage of the past such as diesel gensets and biofuels this Off Grid conference is firmly on the present and future with star innovators in microgrid design and innovation selected to speak alongside the giants of the industry such as Siemens, DuPont and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory USA. Indeed, NASA presents on power for spaceships. Microgrids on wheels? You have it in the new Energy Independent Electric Vehicles (EIEV) by land, water and air. These are pure electric vehicles that never need electricity because equipment on board makes it from sun, wind or water movement or several of these. This year’s coup is a presentation from Lightyear of the Netherlands on their gorgeous solar premium car launching soon. It will be a classic of motoring history. 

Hear of the boom in mobile solar and solar+wind desalination units needed for disaster zones and cities running out of water that have a panic during drought, like Cape Town today. The MIT versions in Puerto Rico use tough flexible CIGS solar for hurricane resistance and there is a whole new world of next solar technologies, two sided, as transparent windows (megawatt from a high rise?) as solar roads (a megawatt in your village?) and it is all in this event. Learn from Ubiquitous Quantum Dots of the USA on their future photovoltaics for skyscrapers.

Airborne Wind Energy (AWE) – think mainly tethered drones and kites - goes commercial this year and TwingTec of Switzerland Microgrids But Not As We Know Themreveals how this can tap winds above traditional wind turbines with one fifth of the materials, off grid being a prime target. Since the electricity generated increases as the cube of windspeed and wind is much stronger high up this is a huge win. Indeed, only that high wind increases at night as an elegant offset for solar dead at night, thus reducing and sometimes eliminating the need for troublesome energy storage. Instead of someone jabbering on about hammering another glass panel onto another boring building, IDTechExpresents rotating kites, new AWE microgrids applications for robot farms, the military and more in lectures by Airborne Wind Energy, Bladetips Energy and Sequoia respectively from Spain, France and Italy for this is a truly international conference.

However, most of the time we need that energy storage in energy independent microgrids. While the press and industry are praising lithium-ion batteries for that, the conference takes a surprising look at alternatives such as the underground rock/water scheme of Heindl Energy of Germany, the first organic flow battery courtesy of Kemwatt of France and the IDTechEx UK overview of future microgrid storage.

Just when the teaching is that “blue energy” - river, wave and tide power - is finding it almost impossible to compete and therefore small scale is not worth considering, IDTechEx takes the opposite view, advocating multiple power sources and noting that most of the world’s cities are on rivers or the sea as many seek to become energy independent. The conference presents from the USA, Differential Dynamics on “Speed Converter-Controlled River Turbines: Distributed Generation of Baseload Electricity” and from the UK, Witt Energy on grabbing rotational and linear movement “6D Motion Harvesting”. Initially it is for electrically driving multiple loads on buoys and boats and charging your phone from your rucksack but high power wave harvesting is also in their sights. Indeed, opening the conference IDTechEx covers the whole subject over the coming decade, using wind, infrared, ultraviolet, visible light and yes, waves, tide and other options in suitable form for 1kWto 10MW microgrids. 

Raghu Das CEO of IDTechEx says, “We are very excited about this subject. We now have 17 reports on the various aspects. There is already a 10MW solar car park powering a high rise in Saudi Arabia and there are now 110 solar road projects across the world: zero emission off grid electricity production and use is rapidly becoming a huge business and only in this event can you see all the ways it is being reinvented. Emphasis is commercialisation and the future. Many of the presentations cover emerging countries, remote communities and the coping with the violent weather. National grids are being taken down by cyberattack and collapsing poles and wires from ice, snow and hurricanes. There has to be a better way. It tells you something when Las Vegas casinos go off grid for lower cost and fewer outages and Tesla starts to take all its charging stations off grid – even the 1MW ones for trucks – to get lower cost and a completely green image.”

Off grid electricity free at point of use? It was the dream of Nikola Tesla 120 years ago and in the meantime civilised nations have introduced healthcare and education for all that is free at point of use so how about it? Several respected speakers discuss just that.

Off Grid Energy Independence will be held at the Estrel Convention Center in Berlin, Germany, on 11 - 12 April with expert led masterclasses on 10 April and 13 April. For more details see www.IDTechEx.com/Europe/OffGrid

By Dr Peter Harrop, Chairman, IDTechEx

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