It is crazy to think that in 2020, about 1.1 billion people don’t have electricity. And the poorest communities who live in and around those places with weak or no grids pay the most for electricity, which is in most cases generated using diesel. Delivering diesel to these remote places also comes at a premium. Utility companies find it difficult to extend the grid to those places as it can be quite an expensive exercise. For example, in Nigeria it costs about $150 per meter to roll out overhead lines. Just as the mobile telecommunications revolution helped developing nations leapfrog straight to the mobile phone age by quantum tunneling the fixed line network barrier, the best way out for these communities maybe to bypass the traditional grid network system altogether. And speaking of cell phones, a cost of charging index based on charging an Apple iPhone shows just how expensive electricity is in rural Africa.
According to Liquidstar, it costs $0.94 to charge an iPhone 8 annually in the US, and it costs a whopping $5.60 to charge the same 19.8 Wh iPhone battery in rural Nigeria. This disparity, where some of the people with less pay much more for electricity per kWh than some of the wealthiest, is what Liquidstar has set out to address. Early stage pilots show charging the same iPhone on the Liquidstar platform reduces this charging cost in rural Nigeria to $3.40 as shown in the chart below:
Co-founded by Scott Salandy-Defour, Conor Colwell, and Luke Johnson, Liquidstar wants to revolutionize the off-grid electricity market with its Decentralized Autonomous Utility (DAU) platform. Scott Salandy-Defour says, “Liquidstar’s platform runs on the utility rails of the future integrating a blockchain based stack to efficiently manage secure identity, transactions, and metering.” By taking out the expensive bits (the powerlines and power reticulation systems), Liquidstar’s ‘wireless’ battery-powered sustainable ecosystems aim to solve energy access challenges for some of the powerless 1.1 billion.
At the center of this ecosystem are what they call “Waypoint” charge stations. The Waypoints have been designed in partnership with Australian company Blackstump. Waypoints have been designed to be electricity source-agnostic and inputs can be from several sources, including wind, solar, and even some diesel generators to complement the renewable sources as needed.
In a Gogoro-style battery charging and swapping system, people can pick up a battery pack from a Waypoint and take it home to power the appliances and equipment they need. They are then charged a fee when they return to swap the empty battery for a full one. They are billed based on how long they had the battery and how much energy they used. This fee also depends on the size of battery they rented. In general, Liquidstar’s customers can save up to 20% of their current blended energy costs. For the majority of the potential clients, kerosene makes up a significant portion of their blended energy costs. Kerosene abatement programs would be very welcome in this part of the world, as besides being an expensive energy source, kerosene is also quite dangerous as it is flammable and breathing kerosene fumes regularly could have serious effects on their health.
Liquidstar’s portable battery packs come in several sizes, ranging from 10,000 mAh to 3.2 kWh packs. The heaviest pack weighs around 25 kg. Liquidstar has partnered with SunSynk and betteries on the battery packs. Liquidstar uses cylindrical 18650 cells in the smaller battery packs, which when used in a second life have on average 70% charge capacity remaining. Berlin-based betteries is repurposing second-life batteries to make sustainable and affordable battery packs, which we covered recently here. Liquidstar aims to put Waypoints within 1 to 2 km of most users. This would be a shorter distance compared to most people’s current commutes when they walk to charge their cell phones or to buy kerosene. Early stage nano-pilots are already underway in Nigeria with its partner Vista Advisory Partners. Another pilot is underway in Benin.
The Benin pilot is particularly exciting for us, as it brings out the incredible value that can be derived from this platform. In Benin, Liquidstar is working with the partners in the motorcycle taxi industry. The pilot involves replacing petrol motorcycles with electric motorcycles in the taxi industry powered by Liquidstar’s portable batteries. The Benin pilot is with the government on their Seme City Smart City, and a local solar solutions company called ARESS will be managing the taxi service. This is where the beauty of vehicle-to-grid tech really comes out. We know a lot of people, including ourselves, are excited at the prospect of a Nissan Leaf unloading some of the energy from its 62 kWh battery pack in a suburban home, and also excited by the potential of a fleet of these Nissans being involved in some form of market participation, e.g. in real-time frequency regulation.
Liquidstar’s Benin trial shows us another beautiful side of vehicle-to-grid applications at this lower end of the spectrum. The electric motorbike taxi can generate income during the day, with the leftover battery carried home. The remaining capacity can then be used at the home (vehicle-to-grid) to power the typical low power devices found in these rural homes. This pilot shows the beauty of solving the transportation and electricity access problem at the same time. Depending on the usage, the motorcycle rider can then swap out the empty battery for a full one at the nearest Waypoint the next day. During the day, those remaining in the home can also make use of a smaller battery pack. These “wireless grids” look to be a viable option to increase electricity access in the near future.
Images courtesy of Liquidstar
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