The Nigerian Medical Community Dr. Olajide Joseph Adebola, Leader in Global eHealth
Interviewers at Focused Sun were able to reach Dr. Olajide Joseph Adebola through our CEO, Rene Francis, who maintains a number of high-level connections on the African continent, and Nigeria in particular for their constant leadership in telecommunication technology (O'Grady, 2020). Dr. Adebola, Chief Technology Officer and Partner at Home Plus Medicare Services Limited, a telemedicine and eHealth company, is a Health Systems & Business Leader who maintains a number of prestigious positions in several professional organizations.
Dr. Adebola is a member of the ISO/TC215 - Health Informatics group where he serves as Chair of the Technical & National Mirror Committee on ISO/TC215 - Health Informatics. He leads the Nigerian Medical Community with experience managing the design, development, and implementation of telemedicine, eHealth & health ICT programs. While he leads pilot projects and the development of project management, he also manages the day-to-day operations of the Society for Telemedicine and eHealth in Nigeria, where Dr. Adebola serves as its Founder & pioneering President.
The Society and its co-founders support the development of national telemedicine and eHealth programs, promote the cause of telemedicine and eHealth within public and private health institutions within Nigeria and abroad, and contribute to the dissemination and exchange of knowledge.
In his role as Chair of the National Mirror Committee ISOTC215 - Health Informatics, Standards Organization of Nigeria, his team is currently coordinating the adoption of 33 International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Standards, updating the Technical Reports and Specifications for digital health standardization in Nigeria. This project dates back to April 2019 and highlights Dr. Adebola’s expertise in digital health, eHealth consultancy services, project design & implementation, and workforce capacity building.
O'Grady, V. (2020, March 12). Nigeria still top of african mobile stats. Developing Telecoms. https://developingtelecoms.com/telecom-technology/wireless-networks/9323-nigeria-still-top-of-african-mobile-stats.html.
1. What technical requirements do the Nigerian medical community have? (Energy, Power, Heat, etc)...
The rural clinics in the Nigerian community are made up of three levels of medical care: National, State, and Local. The primary and first point of contact is the National Health System. The National Health System offers specialty hospitals as headquarters for medical doctors. Then there are district hospitals that are run by the state government. Finally, there is primary care that is run by local government authority and managed by the State Primary Health Care Board. As a whole, we are looking at 74 local governments with roughly 10,000 primary health care centers for the country of Nigeria alone.
Each of these primary health care centers needs a minimum amount of electricity to keep these clinics running. Many of these remote clinics must rely on generators with equipment to power these clinics since there is a lack of infrastructure in Nigeria. Running costs are high with clinics depending on energy from an independent power supply, the national grid, or from other institutions. On top of high costs, clinics face blackouts on top of that. The Nigerian medical community faces many physical challenges outside of just blackouts. The cost to build the appropriate infrastructure can be anywhere from 100,000 to 300,000 dollars. A lack of reliable and consistent electricity is a major challenge for these clinics.
What is the process for setting up a Nigerian medical clinic? In order to set up a Nigerian medical clinic, you must first have a medical license for individuals and the facility. Then you must indicate what purpose the clinic will serve for the community. Once that is complete you must set up the national registration. The country will then inspect the site and award the license. The number of beds determines the cost of the licensed facility. The number of beds is also determined by the size of staff that exists within the clinic.
One thing that is missing is that there are no requirements by the government for sources of energy. If there were requirements, lobbying groups would come to fruition. The government will not enforce these requirements until they see more professionals become active in wanting to bring change.
2. What are problems to solve in providing medical services where it is needed most?
Manufacturing hospital consumables are scarce at the local and in-country levels. This is due to a weak supply chain issue that needs to be strengthened. There are also specific locations throughout Nigeria that face problems with pharmaceuticals and getting approval for generic drugs. Access to medicine needs to be more readily available. In order for this to happen, the medical community needs more energy to produce these drugs and import them.
Other areas to solve involve mental health and obstetrics. The Nigerian medical community faces high maternal mortality rates. This results from pregnant women not having access to skilled attendants like Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Getting different levels of care is a challenge throughout Nigeria.
3. How much electricity, heat, power, clean water, and cooling do Nigerian clinics use?
How much electricity depends on care, facilities, and services. The amount of electricity to run clinics depends on the care the facility provides, the facility itself, and the services it offers. The manufacturing of hospital consumables is another factor. Many of these consumables are now disposable but the process is delicate.
The need for water is a greater emphasis now more than ever with the pandemic. People are in need of clean water for sanitation purposes. People need water to wash their hands, do laundry, clean surfaces and provide sanitation.
Air conditioning is not of much importance to keep these clinics running. What is essential is to make sure the pharmacy is kept running efficiently. Medicine that is stored must be kept cool to ensure the drugs do not go bad.
4. What opportunities do you see with renewable energy in the medical community? In rural areas? At what capacity?
Clinics From a clinic perspective, the opportunities with renewable energy in Nigeria are vast. For starters, it will have a huge impact on our power supplies. This will allow our clinics to have consistent and reliable energy and not deal with issues like blackouts. With a Focused Sun microgrid operating locally, it can power clinics, and offer the opportunity to share with others. This can be guaranteed by integrating schools and other communities. Another factor to take into consideration is that the Foreign Exchange Market does not permit resources to be imported. Nigeria is only allowed to import 20% of its energy and manufacture 80% of it locally. If this can be accomplished this increases local employment.
One area we need to take into consideration is that there is very poor planning for Nigeria's energy sector. There needs to be a better-established roadmap to connect the national grid to industries that can pay for electricity. When Dr. Adebola visits his family in the United States, he can see the limitations that all health systems face, and is able to identify distinctly Nigerian obstacles and where unique solutions must be designed.
While all American clinics and hospitals are not the same, they are generally funded by organizations willing to spend money to improve service which in turn draws more patients into the system. For Nigeria, clinics located in industrial areas, like bigger cities, follow a similar model to urban areas in the United States. These industrial areas, run by private investors, are willing to pay for better service. This allows better care in a 24-hour day, where the cost of production, including energy, is factored into the resources required.
Dr. Adebola and the organizations he serves are looking into these metrics to develop a baseline study. What is the baseline for the cost of care at a level that is required for optimal delivery of healthcare at the most efficient cost? The national road map for service in the three levels, from National to State and Local, will be informed by this study. What procedures can be provided locally? How do State services compare?What National guidelines should be set? The national road map will navigate the answers to these questions.
Funding Do we know about grant opportunities with medical organizations? Local funding comes from the same investors seen in industrial areas. There are long term loans from the World Bank that are allocated towards renewable energy. Funding in rural projects involving social and health sectors is also available. Another area that may be of interest is that the Nigerian Energy Commission has renewable energy research at the federal level. Research looks into how local materials can be used to start building community renewable energy projects. Must be noted that this is limited at the local level.
Do grants exist for medical community leaders to meet clinic needs? There are funds to create a digital economy in rural telephony which also needs a power supply. Around digital health tools, this funding can be applied to the renewable energy infrastructure.
What sources of funding are available for the medical community and their projects? There are other sectors that offer funding like international funding. This funding can be applied to the medical community. The World Bank as well as other international parties may offer additional programs. In 2014, the “Basic Health Care Provision Act” was introduced. The fund allocates 1% of the consolidated national revenue. It is meant to pay for Nigerians “basic health care package,” with primary care for the vulnerable.
The National Primary Healthcare development gateway is one part of the 2014 Act, and the agency gateway is another. Primary healthcare centers have a primary healthcare administration. The government does not have access to those funds to prevent misappropriation. In each state, there are six states with the 7th state as the capital territory.
Each state has a primary healthcare board and the money doesn’t go directly to the board. The state provides some funds to assess the readiness and implement the funding. Once services are provided by personnel with skills, each primary care center deducts money from their own account. The money goes straight from the local and regional funds to healthcare. This is called “Performance-based Financing” where the management of the funds is giving after work is done.
Here is a breakdown on how the Nigerian government allocates their funds and to where. 45% of the Basic Health Care Provision Fund is used in the National Primary Healthcare. The NHIS (National Health Insurance Scheme) pays the healthcare providers. There is a need to review the legislation as more people continue to use it. The more who participate, the more healthcare services will be reimbursed, so the effectiveness of the program grows in size.
The remaining 5% is for public emergencies goes through two sub-gateways. 2.5% goes to the National Center for Disease Control, the NCDC, and another 2.5% goes to the Dept of Hospital Services, the DHS, to support the National Emergency Medical Services, the NEMS. Pandemic and Epidemics can be managed with a contingency fund, which helps to help pay for the value chain including emergency services and ambulatory care.
5. What issues do you face with electricity? Downtime if any? What temporary solutions did you use? How was it solved?
An issue that is constantly having to be dealt with is the blackouts the clinics face. The clinics face plenty of downtime which hurts the care they provide and damages the drugs stored. For this meeting alone, a generator is powering it. It is a constant theme in fact in which most homes and businesses are run on generators. There are also LAN and phone networks that exist, but the carriers running costs are reduced
To deal with power outages, hospitals purchase their generators and moderate the usage when there is an emergency. Hospitals have set up a system called, “lights out time” and “lights on time.” This allows us to keep the hospital running sufficiently enough without incurring extra cost.
In order to reduce power outages, supply chain management would need to transition the generator salesmen and generator repairmen. The knowledge of the power industry will be valued as they move from generators to building renewable Local factories producing renewable energy and making medical supplies could solve these issues
6. How is the cost of renewable energy viewed in your industry of the Nigerian medical community and its constituents?
In the healthcare sector, the initial cost is expensive. The cost of solar panels for instance. This depends on the amount of power, the cost of the batteries, and the amount of electricity being used. When you compare that with a diesel generator, the running costs seem to be more affordable. The amount of energy depends on the oil and diesel prices which can drive up the cost of energy. When you don’t have the power to run the equipment, the cost of renewable energy looks more affordable.
While renewable energy may be more affordable, it’s not always available. When basic lighting and air conditioning cannot be powered by renewable sources, convention methods must be used, at the going price as a variable cost. When you can’t charge for services associated with those energy costs, those services are less likely to have power over more profitable services. In the big cities where the charges for electricity can be afforded, that drives up the cost for rural communities as the supply and demand curve is determined by urban economics and pushed onto rural communities.
7. What barriers are there when adopting renewable energy?
From the National Sector perspective, the organization of energy provision must be improved. The power generation company generates electricity, while the transmission company transports energy. The distribution company then takes the power from transmission and distributes it through the community. Ironically, discos receive the electricity first, and become brokers in the community for who receives power next. This seems to work as the center of the town’s culture is the local dance hall, and they are happy for this institution to receive the lion’s share of the power first, followed by other buildings like clinics and hospitals. This may be entertaining anecdotally, but it shows there is a strong need to regulate electricity, tariffs, and the need for stimulus to bring electricity into life-saving institutions ahead of discos. The real problem is transmission and distribution, where only money-making businesses like discos are able to buy the power, while rural hospitals compete for the same resources. The ability to create power and heat at the local level, while also producing medical equipment and supplies in the same factory where a solar microgrid is manufactured, starts to solve these problems of access to electricity and the costs associated. If the access to a power grid is itself a revenue stream in the local economy, the growth in equity allows for the growth in energy supply to grow with community need at the local level, as opposed to the economics of an urban area that force higher prices for urban communities from a central distribution channel.
Dr. Amber Alayyan & Massimiliano Rebaudengo Deputy Cell Manager (Medical) & Technical Consultant for Operations Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), Doctors Without Borders
The Focused Sun team was able to connect with Medecins Sans Frontieres (2021) through Dr. Amber Alayyan, Deputy Cell Manager in the Medical team’s Paris headquarters, and Massimiliano Rebaudengo, the MSF Technical Consultant for Operations.
For more information about the USA operation of MSF, Doctors Without Borders (2021), and to learn more about their Partner Program, visit https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/support-us/explore-donation-options/join-partner-program.
References: Doctors Without Borders. (2021). MSF partner program. Medecins Sans Frontieres - MSF. https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/support-us/explore-donation-options/join-partner-program. Medecins Sans Frontieres. (2021). MSF. Doctors Without Borders - USA. https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/.
1. Tell us about the technical requirements at MSF (Energy, Power, Heat)
The leadership and operations of MSF (2021) rely heavily on their global logistics supply chain, in which Dr. Alayyan is responsible for finding ways to get supplies to where they are needed in advance and at the lowest cost possible.
What is the process for setting up a remote clinic? The only power supply solutions that are readily available in remote clinics are non-green options like generators running on fuel. Because of the lack of infrastructure, that’s pretty much what you’ll find in a remote clinic or hospital with Doctors Without Borders.
If clinics are not totally remote, MSF is able to utilize the grid in the country and extend it with regulatory approval. Generators, on the other hand, require relatively little approval and are regulated more by the microeconomic buyers, sellers, suppliers, and technicians than any government agency.
While remote medical aid is starting to use solar panels and batteries for energy storage to heat and cool clinics and hospitals, they are still viewed as expensive. Pharmacies and ORs with Surgery (in Operating Rooms or Operating Theaters depending on the nationality) require a higher level of power supply and reliability. Pharmacies must keep certain medicines refrigerated and treatments cool, while operations may require more electricity with longer procedures.
Because of their expense, Solar Panels with batteries, when used, are still often supplemented with generators. Solar is not ideal for powering humanitarian medical aid as the electricity in photovoltaic panels is only produced when the sun is shining. As we learn about the Focused Sun microgrid, it’s clear that the oil used with concentrated solar to store heat can be a versatile and low-cost solution to alkaline and chemical battery storage.
Reference: MSF. (2021). How we work. Doctors Without Borders - USA. https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/who-we-are/how-we-work.
2. What are the problems to solve applying medical aid where it's needed most?
In addition to logistics and the operational challenges MSF faces, the answers to questions about solving problems where humanitarian medical aid is needed feed into the Principles shared by the American Doctors Without Borders organization (MSF Ethics, 2021). This includes their commitment to political neutrality, as well as a growing commitment to environmental protection that can reduce health risks associated with generators.
Among the leadership at MSF, there is a green movement in the Humanitarian Medical Aid environment. Starting with the number of planes doctors and field workers take, there is a lot of interest in becoming more environmentally friendly. The logistics warehouses, described by Dr. Alayyan as “an IKEA warehouse for drugs”, are located across Europe in Amsterdam, Bordeaux, France, and Brussels, Belgium, among other places. All medical supplies are shipped by boat or flown by cargo flight, but as mentioned with MSF leaders reducing the amount of flights they take, planes are frowned upon despite their convenience. Import options are increasing and the movement is slow to pick up, but there are creative ideas circulating to improve medical supply lead times while reducing the cost and the ecological footprint at the same time.
There is a Green Team in Paris headquarters working on this, the effort to reduce the costs on the triple-bottom-line of planet, people, and financial figures. To the question, all of these problems to solve in providing medical aid are looking for innovative solutions that may allow improvements that were historically unattainable.
Operational Support for MSF in Bordeaux will know specific technical requirements for a remote microgrid module like Focused Sun’s. The Focused Sun regional factory model would be useful for these technical requirements, as the ability to fabricate the parts on site will reduce uncertainty and shorten lead times for power supply as well as other medical equipment that can be made from these FSMicrogrid factories.
Sweden, where Focused Sun CEO Rene Francis serves the local government and runs his own international humanitarian efforts, has an MSF innovation unit where many of these technologies are researched and discussed. While the process at MSF moves at a pace that reduces risk and uncertainty, the technology landscape is evolving quickly to provide solutions like the Focused Sun Microgrid for remote heat and power at low cost and with versatile implementation.
Reference: MSF Ethics. (2021). Principles. Doctors Without Borders - USA. https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/who-we-are/principles.
3. How much electricity, heat, power, clean water, and cooling do remote clinics use?
To experience what we learned from Dr. Alayyan and Mr. Rebaudengo, readers of their response to questions about remote clinics may wish to watch one of several MSF Documentary programs (2021), where viewers can perceive first-hand the challenges doctors face in these remote clinics, hospitals, and pharmacies, each with its own unique energy needs.
While clinics run from 7 am to 5 pm in daily operations, a neighboring pharmacy must be cooled overnight and run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. When these energy demands are met by using a generator, the generators must be refueled, which often occurs at night. The noise and exhaust of the generator are troublesome, and the refueling requirement adds cost and pollution. Each remote site will use multiple generators in different locations, so refueling is time-consuming and cumbersome as the number of required fuel increases.
Hospitals run 24/7, along with their pharmacies, with both the large and small hospitals in the MSF network. The figures on consumption in clinics are about one-third that of the hospitals, with the 8-hour clinic schedule compared to the 24-hour hospital schedule.
An average US hospital uses 31 kilowatt-hours ( kWh ) of electricity and 103,600 Btu of natural gas per square foot annually (Snohomish County, 2021). Remote hospitals may be in the ballpark of 20 kWh per year, putting each remote clinic at about 7 kWh per year. (Snohomish County, 2021).
References: MSF Documentary. (2021). Access to the danger zone. Doctors Without Borders - USA. https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/who-we-are/films-about-msf/access-danger-zone. Snohomish County. (2021). Municipal Healthcare and Hospital Energy Usage. Business energy advisor, E-Source Companies LLC. https://snopud.bizenergyadvisor.com/article/hospitals.
4. What opportunities do you see with renewable energy in global medical aid? How about in rural areas? At what capacity?
MSF serves in the area of Humanitarian Medical Aid, which requires Emergency and Long-term Development of infrastructure. Not just MSF, but many organizations work in this space: Save the Children, Action Against Hunger, CARE, International Community Red Cross (ICRC), Unicef fund the work, World Health Organization (WHO) funds governments, and also there is the Relief International and the International Rescue Committee (IRC).
MSF is one of the only purely medical organizations, MSF and ICRC, whereas IRC and the others are more general, covering water, sanitation, etc. “Multi Sectorial” is the term used to describe these other organizations, while MSF is medical only in nature.
Long-term, how much can we use renewable energy? We may need to change the mindset from one of accepting the system currently in place to a willingness to make bold decisions. The renewable energy MSF chooses to replace generators will have lasting impacts on the economy, and this is a part of the ongoing internal discussion of operations and logistics. MSF can certainly use renewable energy in this changing mindset.
Do we know about grant opportunities for renewable energy sources? From generator economics in Africa to European nuclear and German PV, all energy sources come with their own complications and each is received into various regional limitations. Development is longer-term direct assistance that starts to change the other variables. While increased spending is not a guaranteed solution to problems, development certainly helps. The capacity for energy infrastructure must be aligned with the local economy for energy use, and this is a slow process to shift, as anyone can relate in their own countries transition to renewable energy sources.
Are there grants for doctors and hospitals to install and fund clinics? MSF funding for these projects would mostly come from private donations, where the topic of renewable energy and private sector funding has evolved over time. Governments and development agencies focusing on environmental issues are popping up. There are funding opportunities for these technologies in Humanitarian Medical Aid, which can come from private as well as public sources in certain regions.
What are the sources of funding available for remote medical aid? Financial aid is provided privately, medical aid by doctors, the technology is delivered by MSF. All of these networks are governed by the central MSF body with local representatives, and the allocation of resources goes through a rigorous process to ensure funds are allocated properly.
5. What issues do you face with electricity? Downtime if any? What temporary solutions did you use? How was it solved?
Authors have pointed to the challenge of accurately reporting on humanitarian medical aid (Grais, Luquero, Grellety, Pham, Coghlan, & Salignon, 2009). The study of Grais et al. (2009) points to the importance of this interview with Doctors Without Borders (MSF), specifically when it comes to the accuracy of reporting the electrical needs and solutions available in the field.
Electricity issues are a part of everyday life at MSF. There is a daily failure of electricity in most countries MSF serves. The shortages can happen at random or come as scheduled outages, planned to conserve electricity. Power cuts for electricity can happen one hour at a time, but this becomes problematic when power usage for lights and refrigerators continues even at night.
Grais, R. F., Luquero, F. J., Grellety, E., Pham, H., Coghlan, B., & Salignon, P. (2009). Learning lessons from field surveys in Humanitarian Contexts: A case study of field surveys conducted in North Kivu, DRC 2006-2008. Conflict and Health, 3(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/1752-1505-3-8
6. How is the cost of renewable energy viewed in your industry of Humanitarian Medical Aid?
Humanitarian medical aid organizations treat a number of medical issues (2021), and each medical issue has particular needs with various equipment and logistical processes. While MSF runs clinics that operate one 8-hour shift during office hours, they also run hospitals requiring 24/7 care. As we discussed in Question 3, annual remote power usage may average 20 kWh per year in a hospital and 7 kWh for a clinic, with 103,600 Btu of natural gas per square foot as an annual figure for each independently. County-run Public Utility Districts often publish this data for their local constituents, which can be used to plan scenarios and register the costs associated with various energy sources (Snohomish County, 2021).
The fact that renewable energy is less available is the biggest challenge Importing solar panels is possible but it requires an extra step and a mindset shift When a generator is running and it works, doctors have other problems dealing with The entire team of doctors, nurses, logistics, administration, security Also project coordinators and a massive staff of expatriates
The whole team just wants to have electricity Does it work? The generator works and is less of a priority Embassies in foreign countries will need to source their energy Consulates and embassies clustered in countries as an energy showcase for MSF field operation
References: Medical Issues. (2021). Medical issues MSF faces. Doctors Without Borders - USA. https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/what-we-do/medical-issues. Snohomish County. (2021). Municipal Healthcare and Hospital Energy Usage. Business energy advisor, E-Source Companies LLC. https://snopud.bizenergyadvisor.com/article/hospitals.
7. What barriers do you have to adopt renewable energy? While barriers to renewable energy adoption are not listed as the challenges faced in the MSF list of frequently asked questions (MSF FAQ, 2021), the increasing issues of climate change tied to polluting fuel sources is related, which ties to the organizational concern of “Having the necessary reserves to allow us to respond to new emergencies as they occur”. While financial reserves are explicit, energy reserves from renewable sources are implied.
In addition to their effect on global warming, fuel sources emitting carbon into the atmosphere also harbor direct negative health impacts. Protective gear is required for people working around generators to avoid inhalation of fumes as a part of their daily work. The road to improvements and replacements is long, and this lengthy process feels like the biggest barrier to adoption. While the time to adopt is a challenge, there is a change happening and the willingness is there. MSF is committed to the process of improving renewable energy.
Part of this discussion concerns whether MSF will position itself at the center of a global debate about green energy. The core principle of political neutrality allows MSF to operate with relative autonomy in the various regions where humanitarian medical aid is being delivered. This conservative risk aversion comes from a concern of maintaining political neutrality. Having conversations to making progress has always been a part of the MSF process.
Dr. Alayyan plans budgets for countries on the supply side, where the common question her team answers is “Are we shipping or flying materials to the aid site?”. It sounds like an easy question, but there are several variables that make it hard to strike a balance between the triangle of speed, cost, and environmental impact. Flying is fast, expensive, and has greater environmental costs. Shipping takes longer, is cheaper, and the environmental and economic costs are lower. When it comes to saving human lives, where do you draw the line on how fast you need supplies, what it’s worth to spend, and when the environmental costs are too great?
This leads to the question of, “OK, do we put in the standard list of solar panels to power our existing buildings, or build new buildings to improve the infrastructure? We can only do one at a time.” Solar panels are suggested as an item to add to the list of materials, and we are seeing more of them being installed. The current number of barriers is fewer than it was in the past.
Reference: MSF FAQ. (2021). Frequency Asked Questions About Our Work. Doctors Without Borders - USA. https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/what-we-do/faq-our-work.
Nashwell Partners folder for Ogallala Greens here: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1yTTJjyVxSSuUHDt687oSSgfNUg4Yil8R?usp=sharing
1. Tell me about the technical requirements at Ogallala Greens?
https://amhydro.com/commercial-hydroponic-greenhouse-packages/ Download from the AmHydro website for their 15,000 plant system here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1lCbBNpbGB8E1loEG-dozD8zqvXdrzUtW/view?usp=sharing
Heather at Crop King in Columbus, Ohio https://www.cropking.com/ 10-36 system (ten-foot channel with 36 pieces) can grow 540 plants Two-day grower’s workshop to answer questions and provide information
Crop King systems can be customized to reach the 15,000 plant AmHydro system: Hort Americas is another supplier, based in Houston: https://hortamericas.com/ https://hortamericas.com/catalog/controlled-environment-technology/the-growrack-from-greentech-agro/
Freight Farms is another example in Boston, MA: https://www.freightfarms.com/ Square Roots does the same thing in New York: https://squarerootsgrow.com/about_us/ (Kendell Musk’s company, selling at $20K per “farm”) https://squarerootsgrow.com/team/
Little Wild Things Farm in Washington, DC: https://littlewildthingsfarm.com/ (Jonathan Patty from Kitchens in Burning Man is with Little Wild Things)
2. What are problems to solve in hydroponic greenhouses?
Access to healthy edible greens is a challenge. The link above is an example of access. Growing greens in hydroponic systems require energy but with payoffs. Supplying the greenhouse with electricity on an ongoing basis or the plants will die. Heat storage to heat the greenhouse in the winter. Water and electric challenges exist. Cooling in the summer months.
3. How much electricity, heat, power, clean water, and cooling do hydroponic greenhouses use?
Electricity: $3.50 per square foot per year = $10,000 per 30’ x 96’ greenhouse per year https://www.quora.com/How-much-electricity-is-required-for-hydroponic-systems
Heat: Natural Gas costs are estimated at $800 per four months in 2016, so $4000/year today: https://blog.zipgrow.com/greenhouse-business-start-up-costs-profits-and-labor
4. Are there opportunities you see renewable energy making an impact in the farming industry? How about in rural areas? At what capacity?
Farmers, being traditionally conservative, are often slow to accept renewable power sources, however this is changing. The new generation of farmers are using technology and app-controlled systems that make farm management tasks possible from a smartphone. As this generation looks to invest in their farms to enhance their earning potential and reduce risk, renewable sources are a becoming more of a conversation.
With each generation who takes over a family farm, there are other who are consumed by larger corporate factory farms who are more interested in the bottom line and may not be interested in renewable energy infrastructure if it doesn’t equate with their accounting practices as a way to maximize profits. There are, however, growing opportunities to exploit government subsidies and marketing opportunities, as well as generating the valuable carbon credits that have benefited Tesla Motors’ balance sheet.
Do we know about grant opportunities with farmers? Grants for farmers to install a hydroponic greenhouse are limited, but the federal subsidy and tax implications are powerful economic motivators.
In addition billions of federal dollars will be available for farmers to transition in the Biden Administration.
The farming is done by the farmers, the technology is done by Ogallala Greens. When money is just sitting there, there are C-Suite and/or Sales Manager opportunities.
5. Have you faced issues with electricity? How long was downtime if any? What temporary solutions did you use? How was it solved?
Investors are interested in high returns and rapid scalability. The uncertainty in the Texas power grid that ERCOT has raised in their response to power failures means that Texan investors are looking to eliminate this risk. To tie rural greenhouses to a renewable energy source is attractive, and the concentrated solar power source with heat storage meets the needs of a greenhouse with heat and power.
The downtime caused by the power outages in Texas created downtimes of days at a time, motivating greenhouse owners to run diesel generators at high cost and environmental detriment that can tamper with crop nutrition and damage the valuable brand equity of environmental awareness that can drive consumer behavior.
The microgrid solution of powering not just the greenhouse but the surrounding rural infrastructure is a very attractive alternative as a backup to the power grid, which may fail. Rather than run diesel generators, the renewable energy solution boosts brand value and motivates consumers, while also providing resources to the local community beyond the transactional commodities of produce alone.
6. From your perspective, is renewable energy expensive in your industry?
It is not considered expensive with new construction. The cost of renewable energy, when added to a discounted price for hydroponic greenhouse equipment, can provide an affordable combination of reliable growing equipment coupled with an power-supply asset with heat and electricity. This fixed price for construction and power increase the scalable profit margin and decrease the risk of rising electricity costs and natural gas prices.
Without new construction, especially if the greenhouses are paid for, the relatively low outlay for utilities may seem desirable for operators who are not concerned with environmental implications of their power sources. Some may be interested in the upgrade to renewable energy to lock in pass-through rates and to begin to pay off an asset as opposed to navigating the uncertainty of rising fuel prices.
7. What barriers are there when adopting renewable energy options?
With rural greenhouses used for hydroponic agriculture, the primary barrier a farmer will face is getting power to the remote site. Traditional agriculture has relied on the natural sun, as our greenhouses will at Ogallala Greens, which is abundant in the open fields where our base of operations is located in West Texas. For water irrigation of crops, farmers have traditionally used pumps powered by the old-fashioned windmills that have become iconic in this area of the country. Also iconic in this region since the dawn of the 21st century are the electric wind turbines towering over the landscape between Lubbock and Dallas, Texas. The challenge, in this context, to run wires and cables from the source of the electricity and the power plant to rural sites away from the city.
The Focused Sun Microgrid provides electricity at a local level using concentrated solar, the same solar heat and power that makes our greenhouses work. This allows the heating of the greenhouse in colder months while the generator converts additional heat into electricity, keeping the lights on at night and the pumps running to channel the water in our hydroponic growing process. In short, the barriers to adopting renewable energy options in greenhouses, other than cost, have to do with the remote nature and getting wires through the power utility from the energy source to the point of use. While cost of renewable energy can be perceived as a barrier, a remote microgrid like the Focused Sun module comes at a cost that pays for itself, especially when you take into consideration the cost of running remote cables if the power company either won’t provide wires at all or charge the customer for the cost of installing them.
Focused Sun has partnered with Green Energy Resources and Services to develop their CorrCon concrete thermal storage for our Microgrid modules. We have created a simple viable option for power generation with capacity.
As shown in the figure below, CorrCon uses corrugated culvert pipe as the basis of its heat storage. A small diameter (2 ft, 0.6 m) concrete-filled inner pipe collects and stores heat. A larger 6 ft (1.8 m) diameter corrugated pipe is surrounded by fiberglass insulation to reduce heat loss from the concrete; it also serves as a weather barrier.
Concrete bolsters along the length of the pipe assembly holds the pipes in place. Concentric to the outer pipe, the inner pipe is held in place by low heat conduction supports. It stores heat as it gets hot. Mounted above the concentric pipe assembly are Focused Sun Microgrid modules, held in place by mounting posts embedded in the concrete bolsters.
The key to the CorrCon storage design is its modularity. While the rendering above shows only a short string of storage and modules, module and storage strings can be extended to make long rows and large arrays from long rows.
Shown below is a rendering of a 100 kW array discussed in my previous blogs: technology, economics and a comparison to large solar farms. The array has 400 collectors, each with over 24 ft2 (2.2 m2) of collector area and a 50 ft2 (4 m2) footprint; it will require 0.6 acres (0.25 Hectares) installation area. In addition to 100 kW of electricity, the array delivers 300 kW of low-grade heat. Electricity comes from converting the concrete’s stored energy thermodynamically in an Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC) engine. Leftover heat from the conversion process can be used for space heating, process heat and desalination.
Each row has 20 collectors, making each row 130 ft (40 m) long. Between each row is a service aisle where a waterless cleaning system assures clean reflecting surfaces of the linear Fresnel reflectors. Since the reflectors are already designed for 150 mph (240 kph) winds, they can withstand desert climates.
In addition to self-cleaning and high strength, the Focused Sun-CorrCon partnership brings to market the true potential of a 24/7 microgrid. Combining storage with concentrating solar collectors allows efficient power delivery during extended periods of bad weather. With or without grid connection, backup boilers or demand generators can eliminate both demand charges and power quality issues. This complete package enables islanding when required, can serve as a distributed energy resource and responds to any site load within design.
The microgrid is especially useful for small utilities. Often rural, these utilities have a lower customer density than cities. Typically they buy electrical energy from high voltage transmission companies and step down the voltage in substations owned by the utilities. Substations distribute the energy locally through feeders that deliver it to customers after further voltage drops from local transformers.
Since our Microgrid can be set up on near the feeders themselves, no substation improvements are needed. In rural settings, feeders often fan out radially from the substation. Switchable connections between feeders improve reliability by providing alternative paths during power outages. Locating small generators along the feeders further improve reliability with steady power day or night. When a substation has several feeders being supplied by a Microgrid array, system performance is improved.
Below is a flow diagram for the Microgrid Storage system. The sun’s energy reflects off the Microgrid module mirrors, focusing onto its absorbers. Here only 3 modules are daisy chained together, but in an actual system there would be 10 or more.
Solar energy heats the mineral oil heat transfer fluid (HTF) inside to high temperature (red color). At the end of the absorber, the hot oil is pumped down to the insulated concrete storage. As it flows through the concrete it gives up its heat to storage as cools (blue color). The cool HTF flows up from the storage and back into the string of absorbers. This forms the “Solar Loop.” Over a day, HTF heats the concrete storage. The high grade heat is available for the next 19 hours to produce energy.
The “Power Loop” is a second loop that extracts heat from storage and pumps it to the ORC turbogenerator where it generates electricity. The low-grade heat from the turbogenerator supplies heat for various applications: space heating, process heat, desalination or hot water for laundries and hotels.
Our new partnership with CorrCon adds energy storage to a microgrid. This is a system that you can build in local factories. It supplies energy night and day with self-cleaning, backup and the lowest capital and energy costs (LCOE) available.
Focused Sun approach is to make solar energy inexpensive. Our competition is not other solar energy panels, but rather the cost of energy itself. We wanted to do solar the best way possible so that solar could compete with energy from other sources: fossil fuels, hydro, nuclear and other renewables.
When I say “compete” I mean compete economically. For any energy resource the final judgment is its economics. Economics gets down to a single parameter: return on investment. A system’s return on investment (ROI) is its savings per year divided by the system’s cost. Payback period is another way to measure the same parameter. Instead of savings divided by cost, it’s cost divided by savings.
For the best ROI, we want the system that delivers the most energy savings at the lowest cost. We started with the hybrid panel, one that captures both electricity and heat from the sun. We and several other manufacturers get over 70% of the sun’s energy instead of the 18% to 24% that current “electricity-only” panels get. Hybrid panels capture four times more of the sun’s energy than conventional PV panels. They have the best savings in the world of solar.
OK, using a hybrid is a good start. But what about the other part of a high ROI: low cost. Ron Petrich and I designed the MIT/Chevron solar panel in the last solar boom using this technique. We knew as aircraft designers that sandwich fabrication had the lowest costs of any structure.
Why is sandwich fabrication required? One answer: wind loading. Wind is the enemy of a solar energy system. Wind specifications for any structure on a roof in America requires that it withstands 150 mph (240 kph) winds. Most other countries have the same requirement. If it weren’t for wind loads, solar panels could be made of tissue paper. Dead loads, loads due to gravity pulling on the structure, are about a tenth of the maximum wind load a structure must have. It’s those once-a-decade winds that can destroy a solar structure unless its design is hardy.
In a hybrid, the primary light gathering structure is its mirrors. They must be large to capture enough solar energy, but still be strong enough to withstand high winds. Sandwich fabrication is ideal for solar mirrors where the wind loading is distributed over the mirror’s surface. Using sandwich fabrication for the mirrors of a hybrid collector gets high savings at low cost.
After a recent presentation, I was told that our technology was “a good idea”. I disagreed. “It’s not just a good idea, it’s the best idea.” “How so?” I was asked. “If you put all the good ideas together, the best idea is the one stands out even in that elite group,” I responded. “We use a hybrid collector that captures the most savings and we use sandwich fabrication to make the lowest cost. You can’t do any better than that.”
A product having the best economics is the best start. But it must also be easy to deploy. In the solar energy world, that means a simple way to produce and install this technology. We approached this second important question by designing our module to be made locally without high-tech skills. Any building trades worker – plumber, electrician, carpenter, roofer – can learn to make these panels in a week. Even those without building trades training can learn in less than two weeks.
The panels can be made in a two-car garage (40 sq m). Of course, most factories are bigger than this for efficient production. Still, a facility as small as 100 square meters (1000 square feet) could produce enough modules for a 5-man factory. A typical 5-man crew includes a salesman, two makers and two installers. See my Verge Fund lecture (http://www.focused-sun.com/fs/about/events/index) for how to start a solar factory.
Making the modules locally also means we have something else to offer: jobs. It may not mean much to a big city, but smaller cities and towns can use those jobs that a solar factory would bring to the local economy.
Having a local factory brings another important advantage: low raw materials prices. A product's price is the sum of its “variable costs” (mostly the cost of raw materials) and its “fixed costs” (mostly the salaries of its staff – engineers, salesmen, clerks, accountants, managers and bosses). Variable costs added to the fixed costs is the product’s price.
In Western countries, fixed costs typically equal variable costs. That means the price of a product is twice its fixed costs. Ok, ok, I left out some costs like fixed overhead (the cost of the factory itself), direct labor (the wages of the workers that make the product) and profit (incentives to get investment). But each of these is about 5% of the price for a mature product. For the big picture, they can be ignored.
Our factories can get low raw materials costs by buying them directly from suppliers. These suppliers can be local to support the local economy. Or these can be global suppliers to get the best prices worldwide.
Consider making the modules in a central factory. If so, then we would have to charge much more for the module than if you made it yourself. We would have all those fixed costs that are tied to the salaries of our professionals. Those fixed costs would double the price we’d have to charge you. Better to have those extra costs go to the factory itself.
Our plan is to have places where you can buy the raw components at the very lowest price. In this marketplace or exchange, raw materials will be available for suppliers to sell and for factories to buy.
Some of the raw materials like sheet metal have little value added except perhaps to cut them to size. Other raw materials can have minor machining steps added. For example, the cross beam that supports the mirrors is a rectangular steel tube cut to length with holes drilled to accept the motors or axles. A factory could make or buy cross beams. If the factory has a drill press or vertical mill, they could buy the tubes and drill the holes themselves. But if they didn’t have machine tools, they could simply buy them from the exchange.
To summarize, Focused Sun’s biggest advantage is that it has the best economics. It gets the most savings, a hybrid, and has the lowest materials cost, sandwich fabrication. These two combine to make the best return on investment in solar energy. In addition, we provide local jobs and we let factories buy raw materials at the lowest prices.
With these advantages, our factories can compete against the cost of other energy whether fossil fuels or renewables, with or without incentives. We will make solar fuel as inexpensive as it can possibly be.
I keep getting more questions on our Microgrid module. One question is how does a small Microgrid solar array with cement storage and ORC engine compare to Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) installations. See my previous blogs on what such a system is like and its economics.
The question comes from a simple fact: CSP solar farm electricity generation is 40% efficient. Solar energy heats steam to as high as 550C, then using the common Rankine Cycle steam turbine. “Carnot” thermodynamics (an ideal turbogenerator) shows that efficiency at these temperatures should be 40% or more.
Indeed, the U.S. Dept. of Energy says, “the current lowest-cost state-of-the-art commercial standard is estimated to be a central receiver configuration which utilizes a molten salt HTF [Heat Transfer Fluid], coupled with 10 hours of thermal storage, to deliver heat at ~550°C to a steam Rankine power cycle with a designed thermal-to-electric conversion efficiency of ~41%. As of 2013, this configuration was estimated to deliver an LCOE of approximately 13 ¢/kWhe without subsidies.”
Meanwhile an Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC) engine running at 300C gets only 20% efficiency: 20% of the sun’s heat is converted into electricity. How can a 20% efficient ORC engine compete with a steam turbine having twice the efficiency?
The answer is heat. We use the heat and they don’t. Either turbine – steam Rankine or Organic Rankine – produces heat as a result of the thermodynamic process of generating electricity. It’s called “low grade” heat because it has less value than the “high grade” heat the turbine uses. But low grade heat (heat with a temperature below boiling, 100C) is valuable for many processes. District heating (space heating of homes and businesses in cold climates), desalination (purifying salty or brackish water), absorption chilling (cool air for homes and buildings or make ice for transporting farm produce to market) and process heat (industrial heat for laundries, fabric processing and food processing) all use low grade heat.
The problem is that those efficient steam turbines can’t usually use the low grade heat they produce. With power in the 10 MW to 1000 MW range, these large installations typically need over 25 m2/kW of land area. The 100 MW Shams Solar Power plant (UAE) needed a site a mile on a side (2.5 km2) for its solar collectors. The 392 MW Ivanpah plant (USA) needed a site over 6 square miles (16 km2).
Most large CSP installations are in the desert where low diffuse radiation favors concentration with mirrors. These usually aren’t installations that are near a city. Large solar farms are sited far from population centers that could use the low grade heat they produce. Their low-grade heat is simply discarded. One method dumps the heat into rivers or the sea. Another uses cooling towers to dump low grade heat to the environment. If you’ve spent so much effort to capture solar energy, why throw most of it away?
By contrast, a 100 kW installation requires a half acre (0.2 ha) site for its solar collectors. Such a site can be near population centers that can use the low grade heat produced. For instance, a gated community in the U.S. can provide electricity to its homes while heating the same homes in the winter. An agricultural microgrid can run fans with its electricity while heating greenhouses at night. A rural microgrid in Egypt can pump water and power local villages day and night while desalinating salt water with its heat.
If the microgrid’s heat is used locally, its economics become more compelling. In my earlier economics blog, I showed that the heat energy revenue stream is about equal to its electrical energy revenue stream. Both energy forms deliver the same revenue stream. By using the heat, we have twice the savings with our microgrid compared to a desert solar farm. Doubling the savings makes up for the 2:1 efficiency difference between high temperature steam turbines and our lower temperature ORC turbine.
As I showed in the section on Microgrid Economics, the cost forecast of our system (Microgrid modules, concrete heat storage, ORC turbogenerator) is between $2.7/W (low cost labor) and $3.2/W (high cost labor) for only the electricity. By comparison, the Ivanpah solar farm cost $5.6/W for its electricity. The large solar farms can cost nearly twice what our Microgrid Module plant costs.
Capital cost is one comparison. Another is energy costs: the Levelized Cost of Energy or LCOE. By using the heat locally, we forecast an LCOE of electricity at $0.075/kW-hr. We get this low value by using the heat. We allocate half of the plant to electricity and half to heat – they both have the same revenue streams. As noted in my earlier blog, this is well below the $0.18/kW-hr LCOE of electricity from Concentrated Solar Power (see IRENA_RE_Power_Costs_2014_report at www.Irena.org), the category into which large solar farms fall.
Other advantages stem from a smaller installation. As already noted, small 100 kW plants are easier to site near population centers where their heat can be used. But these same plants can be installed by far smaller engineering firms. The 392 MW Ivanpah plant in Nevada USA was installed by Bechtel, one of the largest engineering firms in the US. Even a small engineering firm can install a 100 kW system. For smaller projects, costs are easier to finance, environmental impacts are less and approval times are shorter.
Our production methodology of sandwich fabrication means captive factory economics reign. Instead of buying solar collectors fabricated by a central factory, each solar factory makes its own solar collectors. Raw materials bought on the global market can save as much as half the costs of the system’s collectors compared to purchasing already-built collectors. Of course that’s why our LCOE is low: we take into account these savings.
Last is jobs. We bring jobs to a local community. Once a microgrid system is installed, those same factory people can produce FourFold modules that deliver heat and PV electricity at smaller scales. Solarize your community in the best way possible. Capture 70% of the sun’s energy instead of only 20%.
Some of you have asked about our Microgrid module and how it could be used to power a microgrid. Here’s the details. I envision the smallest microgrid plant to produce 100kW of electrical power. Larger plants would use multiples of 100 kW, for example a one MW plant would be made of ten 100 kW plants. This is on the small size for current turbogenerators because efficiency drops quickly if they are even smaller. A 100 kW plant can power 20 US homes at 5 kW per home.
The big reasons for picking a small plant is the land area needed and the engine size needed for efficient mass production. Since we are partnering with the Xiang Yang Institute in China, we want the size to be consistent with the area needed for the solar array. A 100 kW electric plant would require 300 of our Microgrid collectors, each requiring 4 square meters of land area. That’s 1200 square meters for the solar array and another 400 square meters around the array for the turbogenerator facility, a periphery walkway and a security fence. At 1600 square meters, the land required is 40 m on a side. That’s about a half acre or 4 tennis courts. Smaller plots are easier to find than larger ones.
A second reason for a small plant is the turbogenerator size. A 100 kW unit – about 130 horsepower -- is the size of a truck engine. That’s something that can be made easily on an assembly line. More important, its turbine can be made on machine tools of reasonable size. China has trained tens of thousands of NC (Numerical Control) machinists in the 500 vocational training centers set up in small cities throughout China. It's these NC machinists that could mass-produce the 100 kW turbogenerator.
Back to the microgrid solar array, each collector covers a length of 2 m (79”) x 2 m (79”) where the width includes 1.2 m (47”) of module. Each row of modules requires a 0.8 m (30”) service access walkway between rows. That’s where the 4 square meters per module comes from. Each Microgrid module is raised 2 m (79”) above grade level. Beneath the module is thermal storage. While we are also looking into various types of phase change storage, the simplest heat storage is concrete where heat is stored as “sensible” heat. Sensible heat is the heat required to raise the temperature of the concrete; no heat of fusion or molten salt is involved. Here’s a schematic of how concrete could be used as a storage material for the Microgrid module.
Below each module is a horizontal cylinder of concrete 600 mm (24”) in diameter and 1.8 m (72”) long. Heat transfer pipes pass through each cylinder to both add and withdraw heat from it. Each cylinder is supported on concrete blocks to reduce its conduction heat loss to the ground. The cylinder is surrounded by fiberglass batting (glass wool) insulation to prevent convective and radiation heat loss from the cylinder. A cover protects the storage and insulation from the weather. Essentially each cylinder is thermally isolated from its surrounding.
Microgrid modules are “daisy-chained” together in long rows in the North South direction. The output of one module’s absorber flows directly into the next module’s absorber. Flexing unions keep thermal expansion stresses low. In a similar way, the storage cylinders are daisy-chained together. The heat transfer pipes of one cylinder flow into the heat transfer pipes of the adjacent cylinder. Again, flexing unions reduce thermal expansion stresses.
At each end of the module string, the absorber pipe is connected to its associated storage cylinder. A heat transfer loop is formed where mineral oil pumped through the Microgrid absorbers collect solar energy. Each module in the string adds solar energy to the oil, increasing its temperature. At the end of the string, the oil is hottest. There it flows down into the storage cylinders where it transfers heat to the concrete. As hot oil flows through each successive cylinder in the string, it loses its heat to the concrete. Arriving at the beginning of the string, the oil is pumped once again through the modules’ absorbers.
The entire loop is called the “solar loop” because it stores solar heat. Oil flowing through successive absorbers gets hotter and hotter until the end of the string. There it reverses direction and flows through the concrete cylinders. Heat is lost to each cylinder in succession until the oil is at its coolest at the beginning of the loop.
Heat is removed from the concrete by oil flowing through a second set of heat transfer tubes called the “user loop”. Mineral oil pumped through this second loop starts at the same module as the solar loop. As its oil passes through each storage cylinder in turn, it gets hotter and hotter. It is hottest leaving the last cylinder where it flows to the turbogenerator.
There the oil flows through a heat exchanger to heat the turbogenerator’s working fluid, converting its heat to electricity in a thermodynamic cycle. After leaving the turbogenerator, the oil is still hot, on the order of 100C. This “low grade” heat can be used locally to double the plant’s return on investment. For each kW-hour of electrical energy produced by the plant, 3 to 4 kW-hours of low grade heat is available from the turbogenerator. The heat can be used commercially for heating hotels and restaurants, district heating, laundries and air-cooling. Industrially it can be used for thermal desalination, absorptive refrigeration, food processing, fabric processing and other process heating applications.
The two loops – solar loop and user loop – act like a counter-flow heat exchanger. The module absorbers have their highest temperature at the last module in the string. The storage cylinders have the same arrangement: the temperature is hottest at the last module. The arrangement assures that the turbogenerator receives the hottest oil available.
While our Chinese partners are considering various turbogenerators to generate the Microgrid’s electricity, the simplest one available is an Organic Rankine Cycle engine or ORC engine. An Organic Rankine Cycle differs from its more common cousin, the Rankine Cycle, by the working fluid used. Steam (gas phase water) is the working fluid of the Rankine Cycle. It is the standard for generating electricity in most of the world. Organic Rankine Cycles use other molecules than water as its working fluid. ORC engines are available from many sources including German manufacturer Siemens and Japanese manufacturer Mitsubishi through their Italian subsidiary Turboden.
For you thermodynamics folks, we expect the temperature range of the storage will vary between 200C and 300C. The hotter the better, of course, if we want the highest Carnot efficiency. We think the Microgrid modules can deliver 300C (572F) heat at useful flow rates using vacuum jacketed tubes (see http://www.focused-sun.com/fs/technology/hybrid_absorber). As the storage temperature is depleted, the delivery temperature drops to perhaps 200C (392F) during normal operation. Most Microgrid arrays will have a backup generator to handle the possibility of a week of cloudy weather. Backups can be diesel generators, biomass generators or even boilers that add heat to storage when little solar energy is available.
My earlier blog (Apr. 14, 2015) showed a preliminary design for a Microgrid module system with concrete cylinder storage. What capital costs ($/W) could be expected for a complete system (collectors, storage and ORC engine) if it were produced in China? What will be the cost of energy over the plant's lifetime?
I think the answer to the first question is about the same capital cost as a current natural gas fired generator if you include the distribution costs. The big difference is that the Microgrid system would provide electricity day and night for no fuel cost.
Most microgrid systems divide into 3 cost categories: collection, storage and conversion. For Focused Sun, collectors are the array of Microgrid modules, storage is the concrete cylinders and conversion is the ORC engine. Understand that the costs I’m presenting are forecast costs: the costs you could expect after a few dozen of these systems have been installed.
First consider collection. Here we assume the system is NOT built in the West. According to our BOM (Bill of Materials), the collector cost assuming pilot production quantities is $400 for raw materials, labor and the Focused Sun royalty. An array of 300 Microgrid modules would cost $120,000 or $1.2/W for the 100 kW system. In the West, labor costs are typically 10X higher. The same Microgrid modules made in the West modules would cost $170,000 giving a cost per Watt of $1.7/W.
Heat storage is the cost of concrete cylinders and their heat transfer piping at $70,000 or $.7/W. Each Microgrid module has 30 kW-hr of heat storage. The concrete has a cost of less than $5/kW-hr and lasts for decades. Compare this with batteries at $400/kW-hr that last only a few years.
We think the 100 kW ORC engine can be mass produced in China for about $80,000 or $.8/W. I’ll discuss why I think the Chinese can make ORC engines this size in more detail later. All told, the plant cost is $270,000 or $2.7/W. In the West with our higher labor costs, the estimated costs are $320,000 or $3.2/W. If we were only producing electricity for the microgrid, these costs are more than the going price for a PV solar farm.
But wait. We have leftover low-grade (less than 100C) heat from the ORC engine. That heat can double its return on investment. That's the same as cutting its payback in half. It’s the combination of heat and power that makes this system economical. Applications should use both electricity and heat. Heat uses in the commercial/industrial market are hotels, district heating, desalination, air-cooling, laundries, refrigeration, food processing and fabric processing.
But how to apportion the capital cost of the heat versus the electricity? Focused Sun uses a computer analysis to forecast the heat and electrical energy we could expect from a 300 module Microgrid system. Back in the day, we were among the first to use monthly weather data to estimate performance of our MIT solar module. We could only get weather data from 10 cities. Today it’s much easier: the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (Golden CO) does it for nearly 200 US cities (http://rredc.nrel.gov/solar/old_data/nsrdb/1961-1990/redbook/).
Where I live Las Cruces, NM is closest to El Paso, TX. Using NREL data for “DIRECT BEAM SOLAR RADIATION FOR CONCENTRATING COLLECTORS (kWh/m2/day)” for El Paso TX gives the monthly averages of solar radiation of various types of reflecting solar collectors including our single N-S rotational axis with horizontal collectors (http://rredc.nrel.gov/solar/old_data/nsrdb/1961-1990/redbook/sum2/23044.txt).
Using this data, our computer analysis based on NREL collector type says the 100 kW system will deliver 260,000 kW-hr of electricity a year plus 870,000 kW-hr of low grade heat (less than 100C) each year. Assumptions we use include a reflection efficiency of our mirrors at 88%, collector heat loss at 10%, ORC electrical generation efficiency at 20% and heat delivered to it and ORC engine heat loss at 10%.
In the US, heat from natural gas typically costs $0.04/kW-hr; electricity costs $0.12/kW-hr. At these energy costs, the system’s electricity savings are $31,000/yr and its heat savings are $35,000/yr. The combined savings total $66,000/yr. Then 47% of the total savings come from electricity ($31K/$60K) and 53% come from heat ($35K/$66K). Note that heat savings double the total savings; heat produces as much savings as the electricity.
That means 47% of the plant’s $270,000 capital costs are apportioned to electricity ($127,000) and 53% apportioned to heat ($143,000). The cost per Watt of electricity is $127,000 for 100 kW of electricity or $1.3/Watt. This is a little less than the going cost of a PV solar farm that doesn’t have energy storage. Note that the economics of the entire system requires that the leftover heat from ORC engine is used locally. If the heat isn’t used, then the cost per Watt is much more: $270,000 for 100 kW of electricity is $2.7/W.
ORC engine pricing is based on Mitsubishi’s Turboden Division that have sold ORC engines since 1980. Small engines (100 kW) are priced at $2.5/W, bigger engines (1 MW) at $1.6/W and their largest engines (10 MW) at $0.8/W. When you look at the Turboden website, most of their installations are in the 1 MW to 10 MW range. Far fewer are as small as 100 kW. Clearly, they are not set up to mass produce the smaller engines that we need.
China manufactures products less expensively than Western production because China does not have the high fixed costs (mostly professional salaries) of Western companies. In my experience – 5 years running a sourcing company in China – China can price a product at half the Western price. My choice of $0.8/W for a 100 kW ORC engine reflects lower Chinese pricing as well as the economies of scale of mass production. If a Western company like Turboden can produce a 10 MW engine for $.8/W, Chinese manufacturers should be able to match that price/Watt for mass produced 100 kW engines.
The bottom line is that a Focused Sun microgrid system produces steady power for about the same capital cost as utility electricity if the heat produced is also used. But that’s the capital cost.
What about the plant’s cost of energy? For energy costs, the Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) is the cost of energy over the plant’s lifetime which we’ll assume is 20 years. As noted above, the electricity portion of the plant costs $127,000 and produces 260,000 kW-hr of electricity annually. The heat portion costs $143,000 and produces 870,000 kW-hr of heat annually. To find the LCOE, we also need to know the maintenance and operation costs. Let’s assume a two man maintenance crew working single shift at $2400 annual wages in a non-Western country. Annual maintenance expenses are estimated at 2% of the initial capital cost. The total cost of about $10,000/yr means $4700/yr goes to maintenance of the electricity portion and $5300/yr goes to maintenance of the heat portion.
Given these parameters, we can calculate the LCOE for each type of energy independently. The LCOE equation can be found on the internet, for example at http://large.stanford.edu/courses/2010/ph240/vasudev1/. Using a 10% discount rate to include the time value of money gives an LCOE of $0.075/kW-hr for the plant’s electricity. Using the same formula for heat delivery gives an LCOE is $0.023/kW-hr. Both these values are less than utility heat and electricity in most places. In fact, to calculate the solar savings of our microgrid plant, we used average US energy values of $$0.04/kW-hr and 0.12/kW-hr respectively. And since we’re storing energy, we can deliver heat and electricity from the ORC engine 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. That’s steady power for less than utilities charge. By comparison, the chart below shows LCOE electricity values for various types of energy from the International
Notice that $.075/kW-hr is below all Solar Photovoltaic, Concentrated Solar (CSP) and Offshore Wind. It’s about equal to Biomass, Geothermal, Hydro and Onshore Wind. It’s also lower than the average Fossil Fuel power. Not bad for delivering steady power day and night. And that price won’t go up in the future since the capital cost has already been paid.
In many regions, electricity is not only less reliable – 6 to 8 hours of power a day are common in developing countries – but more costly. I’ve calculated the cost of electricity by diesel generators in Africa and found it costs $0.35/kW-hr. Even in America, electricity can cost $0.44/kW-hr if you are a Tier 3 consumer in northern California.
Island communities also pay high prices for electricity. We have had interest from many island nations like Malta, Indonesia and the Philippines. There the fuel to produce electricity must be imported making energy costs especially high. Renewables are a much better deal than fossil fuels for these island communities.
Another comparison is the cost of heat. At $0.023/kW-hr, our heat LCOE is very low. While America has used fracturing to tap into its bountiful gas energy, even natural gas heat in the US is $0.04/kW-hr to $0.05/kW-hr. Heat from other sources is more pricey. I recently switched from propane heat to natural gas heat when Zia Gas put a gas line out our way (we live 2 miles past the Las Cruces city limits). I was pleased to see my heat cost drop by better than half. Propane, at $0.12/kW-hr, is three times more expensive than piped natural gas. It's also tied to the cost of oil which is likely to increase as the world uses more oil.
A last concern with economics is risk: new products have a higher risk than old, reliable products. We combine three components: collector, storage and conversion. Only our collectors have not been proven in the marketplace. Cement has been used to store heat at 300C by the Europeans for decades. ORC engines have been made by substantive companies like Siemens and Mitsubishi for decades. Only our linear Fresnel collectors have not yet been proven. Yet the linear Fresnel concentration method is itself decades old, invented by Francia in Italy in the 1950s.
What we bring to the party is a low cost way of making linear Fresnel mirrors. Sandwich fabrication, which we pioneered on solar panels with Chevron in the 1980s, is the lowest cost method to make the mirrors. We have squeezed the costs out of linear Fresnel to make the most economic solar energy approach available today.
I’m Shawn Buckley, President of Focused Sun. This is the first of a series of blogs to begin a dialog with those that want to learn more about our solar technology. Anyone can read the blog, but if you wish to respond to it, you must be registered. Registering has another value: it let’s us know who you are and what are your needs.
First let me tell you about those that have already registered. You represent 25 different countries around the world, covering every continent except Antarctica. The USA represents about a third of the 60 registrants that want to start a solar factory. But other countries South Africa, India, Egypt and Nigeria also have many registrants. While I’m sure many of you may just have a passing interest, others are actively beginning to start a solar factory. Many of you already do solar energy installations and are interested in this new technology.
CHINA: My wife Margo and I are just back from 3 weeks in China. We’d been there 42 times before this trip – but had not gone in 6 years. Margo is a China scholar with a degree in China History from the University of California, Santa Cruz plus work toward her Master’s in Indigenous Chinese Philosophy at San Jose State.
Our task was to establish a relationship with the Xiang Yang Institute. One of you asked if there really was a Xiang Yang Institute: they could find no mention of it on the web. I tried myself and only found references to our own press releases.
Yes, it does exist. It is a new institute formed jointly by Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST) in Wuhan China and the Hubei University of Arts and Sciences (HUAS) in Xiang Yang, China. Hubei in central China is the province in which both universities are located. HUST is one of China’s top technical universities and where I’ve been a consulting professor of mechanical engineering since 1993. Many in China think HUST has the best ME Dept. in China.
That said, the new facility for the Institute is not yet completed. Its temporarily location is at HUAS, a 20,000 student university in Xiang Yang. The facility is being built at a high tech park closer near the new bullet train station in Xiang Yang.
Only the parking lot and first floor are done now but the entire building is to be finished by year’s end. When completed, the Institute will have a 16-story high main building and 3 smaller support buildings.
Focused Sun and the Xiang Yang Institute have signed an agreement to jointly develop our technology for use in China. XYI will set up a pilot production plant that will produce FourFold modules. They are also working with the city of Xiang Yang to fund a demonstration of our Microgrid module.
The partnership with XYI has two important aspects. First, China sourcing will be a part of the development. Many of the components we use for energy conversion and control are made in China. The best prices for our solar factory will be among the best prices worldwide. Second, we will have access to the China market through the Chinese government. The purpose of the FourFold factory is to make enough modules that can be demos elsewhere in China. Hubei Arts and Science University is a teacher university well suited to train others in China how to make and install Focused Sun panels
I learned other important things in China. One is that China has advanced incredibly in the six years since I was last there. Bullet trains are everywhere, all with brand new train stations. What was once a 17-hour train ride from Shenzhen near Hong Kong to Wuhan where HUST is located is now a 5-hour bullet train ride.
These were not photovoltaic (PV) panels, they were solar water heaters about the same size as our FourFold module. In the US, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a solar water heater.
Chinese solar water heaters are quite advanced. Their collector is an evacuated tube with coatings on the tubes to prevent infrared losses, much like those in our Microgrid module. They use the thermosyphon effect to pump solar heated water into a storage tank above the collectors.
More important, China has an infrastructure for installing water heaters into local buildings: customers that have already been sold on the value of solar, installers who know how to connect to the building’s plumbing, components such as insulated tanks that are about the size of a FourFold tank.
In the US, we tell customers that we have a solar PV system that also provides hot water. In China we can tell customers that we have a solar water heater that also provides electricity. One could replace each of the water heaters in China with a FourFold module and cut 300 coal powered power plants in China.
In summary, it was a good trip. China represents both a partner with whom to commercialize our product and a market where that product be sold.