Spice Village (SV) is a resort in India’s Kerala province, adjacent to the Periyar Tiger Reserve. It is an eco-traveler’s destination, where “birdsong takes the place of television.” Its energy profile, however, was harsh. The regional electric grid was undependable and SV used a diesel-powered generator eight hours per day — noisy and expensive.
To better align quietude and energy, SV overhauled its electric service. In 2011, SV hired TeamSustain, based in Cochin, India, to transition from rough-hewn to low impact. TeamSustain’s analysis showed that SV’s daily electrical load could drop from 750 kWh to 200! To meet that demand, TeamSustain designed a 65 kWp battery-based solar PV system. A new biodiesel generator is still required during the rainy monsoon months.
SV is the world’s first resort completely off-grid. In energy parlance, it is an “island” or “microgrid.” This success is worth a closer look. Microgrids can offer qualitatively better options for millions of people without electricity, or with undependable power, places where there either is no regional grid or expansion is not feasible.
Importantly, the SV project demonstrates that microgrid energy is not energy paucity — that it can be energy at impressive scale. After all, resorts demand a lot of power — for housing, appliances, lighting, service and administrative functions and, importantly, laundries and kitchens. SV’s solar-battery system is designed to support its full electrical daytime load — that’s a commercial load, not just a few lamps and ceiling fans. (It’s worth noting that SV’s 56 cottages are not air-conditioned.)
Big picture, creative thinking is required — technology and application are not cookie-cutter. SV’s solar hardware and placement, for example, were designed and selected based on regional climate, cloud cover and temperatures. This data informed PV film selection and assembly, careful choices delivering a 15 percent higher yield compared to more conventional approaches.
In remote locations, it’s hard to transport, install and service industrial-sized battery sets. The SV batteries were built by U.S.-based Trojan Batteries. They are engineered to deal with solar power fluctuations and the intermittent demands that characterize renewable energy systems. The batteries at SV have a 17-year life expectancy.
Romina Arcamone Garcia is market manager for renewable energy and backup power at Trojan Battery. She said the SV project “allowed us to prove that microgrid technology and components work well.”
Trojan participated in another solar-hybrid project in the Department of Choco, in western Colombia, a region without any links to the country’s electric grid, one of five projects backed by the Columbian government. People had power, but it was intermittent, just a few hours a day, and, of course, none if the generator was down.
Garcia said “solar microgrids have a better return on investment than microgrids powered exclusively by diesel generators” and that these systems “are at a minimum 50 percent cheaper than other technologies with the same expected life.”
The Choco projects, which powered up in 2016, provide uninterrupted energy to 431 households, including an indigenous community. It’s expected to last for 20 years.